“The good old man buried quite alive,
Near the great river through false suspicion:
The new old man ennobled by riches,
Captured on the road all his gold for ransom.”
– Nostradamus, Century 3 – Quatrain 72
(Back to the nerd action with another piece by PSS contributor and nerd extraordinaire Bill Thomas. Enjoy! – jb)
Not all predictions of future events come to pass. (Let’s hope the Mayans were off a century or two, or else we only have about 150 more good days left till the end of the world). But there is no other way to read the first two lines of those prophetic words from Nostradamus, written over six centuries ago, than as follows: “Netrunner, once thought dead, is coming back!”
Yes, you heard me, Netrunner, one of the first, and possibly best ever CCGs, is coming soon to your FLGS and on-line retailer! The latter half of this precognostication clearly foretells of the economic distress I will soon be in from the expense of another card game…
An addition to its other healthy licenses, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) recently announced its plans to re-skin, re-purpose and reincarnate (or to use their lingo: “reimagine”) Netrunner, a great game from the past, under its expanding line of “Android” products (Board game, card game, books). Originally imagined by Richard Garfield (the creator of Magic: the Gathering) in 1996, Netrunner was elegant, smart and exciting. Looking for something richer than Magic, Garfield relished a game where “you played the cards instead of the cards playing you.” (you know, like they do in Soviet Russia – jb) His solution: Netrunner, with its sexy setting, interesting asymmetric game play and innovative rules, which not only allowed, but encouraged bluffing. Many in its day regarded it as one of the best CCGs on the market; some would look back and still agree. Beset with competitors, and unable to thrive in the shadow of its big brother, it folded after only one expansion in 1996.
Perhaps a game way ahead of its time, FFG’s announcement of Netrunner’s re-run has created quite a buzz. (Shoot, MTV even scooped us on this one – sorry faithful readers, we will endeavor to try harder next time). They even scored the “blessing” of Garfield, who gave nothing short of a glowing endorsement.
If you are not familiar with the property, it was set in the “Dark Future!” of the “third decade of the 21st century,” (lets see, if my math is right, that would be…ummm…carry the one…eight years from now!!), drawing heavily on R. Talsorian Games Cyberpunk ® roleplaying system. The game accommodated two players, (thus the “asymmetrical” mechanic). Player one, a “Runner,” (like the characters Neo, Trinity or Morpheus from the Matrix films, or the programs and users in the Tron universe), try to hack well defended, world dominating corporate computer systems to liberate classified information known as “agendas” from his opponent, player two, a faceless, merciless mega-corporation who will stop at nothing to protect itself. (“End of line!”)
The Runner utilizes Hardware, Programs and other resources to break through ICE (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics), traces and viruses, thrown in the way to slow the Runner’s progress, or outright destroy them. Runners make street contacts, tap legal and illegal hardware and software, and gain assistance from other Runners. Using a computer that jacks directly into the Runner’s brain, they navigate a virtual-reality global computer network known as the Net, purportedly established to facilitate commerce. By directly connecting to the Net, the Runner is vulnerable to attack, which could cost them their lives. However, perhaps the Net carries a more nefarious purpose, and so, the Runner fights to undermine its objectives, whatever they are.
The Corporation has access to research and development facilities, an executive headquarters, and Netspace data forts. The goal of the Corporation is to complete secret “agendas” despite the Runner’s attempts at theft and vandalism.
In addition to characterizing it as his best card game, Garfield considered it his “best board game design,” because it played more like the latter. That acclimation was one of the game’s main problems, according to him. The original game’s rules set imposed few limits on deck construction, allowing players to run any number of any card they chose, and then later imposing a limit of four. As a result, its model as a CCG was unsupportable. As a sealed deck game, Garfield believed it was unbeatable. But Wizards of the Coast, Magic’s owner, did not have time for two games, and neither did most CCG players.
Fantasy Flight promises much with its re-release, noting the game will retain its “gritty, noir, cyberpunk feel and the tense, strategic action” of the original. They also tout a revised rule-set to address problematic wrinkles with its predecessor which balanced the game and “plenty of exciting enhancements.” (They have confirmed that the familiar deck construction rule of “limit three per card” will be in play.) One of the new appealing elements is the introduction of more well defined “identities” (“colors,” “factions” or “clans” to borrow terminology from other games), which represent the different deck building options players will have to match their play-style. There are seven of these “themes,” four competing corporations, and three runners. Oh, and there will be plenty of bluffing!
Former top players have been chatting about the release, commenting on the aspects of the original game that were most appealing to them. Some describe game play as “a tight, exciting game of cat and mouse with oodles of bluffing and trap laying.” Still others point out that the fundamental problem of the original game was that “power deck of the week” match ups turned things into a rock-scissors-paper kind of environment, with one specific deck type being built, meta-ed against then superseded. As we know now, that is the nature of CCGs, developing then defeating the “environment.” While the rules set has not been released, some card images have, and they are beautiful.
Android: Netrunner will be a “Living Card Game,” (LCG) a much different model than a CCG, with smaller fixed sets, frequent releases and no random assortments. The base set, suggested for wide release later this year, (likely with some availability at Gen Con), boasts 252 cards. The FFG LCG model typically features themed blocks of 6-8 sets of 25 unique cards each (with full play sets of three of each non-unique card), on a monthly release schedule, with periodic maxi-releases. Oh, and there will be an “Icebreaker Tournament” Saturday night at GenCon at 5:00 in the card hall! Bring your Runner and Corp decks!
What are your thoughts on the reimagining of this classic? What other games would you like to see rezzed? Chime in with your responses, and heck, maybe, just maybe we can make it happen together!