Have you ever tried to play a game against someone who is playing essentially a different game? That sounds pretty chaotic, right? In Android: Netrunner by Fantasy Flight Games, that’s exactly what you do, but it’s not as chaotic as it might sound. There are two separate sides – that have different kinds of cards, different objectives, and different way of achieving those objectives – playing essentially two different games against each other. One side plays as the Corporation (Corp) and the other as the Runner.
The Corporations have four different faction options that are represented as mega-corporations with different options to hurt the progress of the runner, including brain damage, meat damage, net damage, and tagging. The Runners have three faction options that focus on different ways of playing the game, including but not limited to viruses, making a multitude of runs, and focusing on central servers. The game comes with a rule book that is 30 pages that includes background on the world that the game is set in, one that falls in the cyberpunk genre, but I will spare you the 30 pages of rules and instead focus on how well the game manages to use checks and balances to make each side of playing fair and as equal as possible.
But first, some background is useful. Netrunner started as a collectible card game (CCG) designed by Richard Garfield, who also designed Magic: The Gathering. To read more on the original Netrunner, click here. Eventually, Fantasy Flight Games received license to revamp the original. According to an interview with Damon Stone, who is one of the current Android: Netrunner developers, Lukas Litzsinger, the other developer, designed the Core set for the current game. Android: Netrunner was released as a living card game (LCG), so players know exactly what cards they will get when they buy any of the current expansions to the core set. In the same interview, Damon Stone discussed how he and Lukas Litzsinger strive to make the expansions stay true to the Android world while also keeping a good balance between the Runners and the Corps.
There are a multitude of checks and balances that naturally occur during every game play that keep the sides fair since essentially two separate games are being played against each other. There are two ways to win for each side. One is to score 7 agenda points, which is an option for both runner and corp, but they go about scoring those agenda points in separate ways. The other way to win for the corp is to “flatline” the runner by damaging them, to the point that they have to discard a card from their “grip” (hand) when they have no cards that can be discarded. The other option to win for the runner is to force the corp to draw from Research & Development (R&D) when there are no cards in R&D to be drawn. Another way of balancing game play is how players’ turns work. The corp always goes first, and they draw a card from R&D without it counting toward their turn. They then have three clicks (actions) that they can do things with, including but not limited to gaining a credit (money), drawing from R&D, and advancing agendas. The runner however does not get to draw from their “stack” at the beginning of their turn without it counting towards their clicks; however, the runner does have four clicks that they can use to install a card, gain a credit, draw a card, and more. Game play continues back and forth like that.
Layout of cards- from Android: Netrunner Rules of Play with the Core Set
Additionally, the corp can protect all of its servers with ICE but can only score agendas from remote servers (servers that are not his hand (HQ), discard (Archives), or draw pile (R&D)). The runner though can score agendas from any server but faces the risk of running on ICE that he cannot see the consequences of. Another more obvious check and balance in the game is tags on the runner, which can allow the corp to cause damage to the runner or trash their installed cards, and bad publicity for the corp, which gives the runner an extra credit at the beginning of every turn and can allow for some extra benefits to the runner. However, tags and bad publicity are usually only given from card abilities or struggles between the corp and runner, not just randomly assigned. So, even though the runner and the corp are playing separate games against each other, the game keeps a good balance between the two.
Android: Netrunner is often overlooked, except for in select card gaming communities. But its ability to maintain balance in a set up that is different than is typical for similar games makes it stand out for its innovation and ongoing creativity. The ability to play as either runner or corp makes for a different experience each time along with different deck-building opportunities, making it quite a unique game.