What’s Android: Netrunner like Out of the Box?

It’s a tricky thing, nostalgia, and it’s been pulling at me lately. See, those wicked folks at KerSplatt! Comics and Collectables got in some new kit recently – and one of the items was a copy of Android: Netrunner – The Card Game.

Netrunner was one of the jewels of the mid-nineties Trading Card Game glut that died an un-deserved death. I played it a lot back in the day, although the day was pretty much over by the late 2000s. I’ve fond memories of visiting a small gang of fellow players in Willoughby for games, of collecting scads and scads of cars, of winning a “Full Body Conversion” card signed by the creator of Netrunner and Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield at a tournament in Sydney (the fun bit? I already had one of these ultra-rare cards in my collection).

When we re-organised our finances this week, I managed to talk myself into putting some of our spare cash toward giving Mal and Amy at KerSplatt! some shelf space back!

So just a few hours in, what’s it been like getting back into Netrunner?

Android Netrunner OpenedUncompressed Archive

Well, for starters, it’s a whopping great box. Seriously, it’s about a foot on edge. It’ll be impressive on anyone’s shelf, although portability isn’t fantastic.

It turns out that there’s a lot of empty space in the Android: Netrunner box. The exterior is honest about what you get – around 250 cards plus rulebook, counters and a Fantasy Flight Games catalogue – yet there’s still this slight disappointment when you look at the two piles of cards in their ziplock bags. Is this it?

Well, rose coloured glasses and all, there’s a lot more in here for your money than you’d get if you bought two Netrunner starter decks back in the day. You’d have to come up with your own counters for the original Netrunner, which only included the rulebook and cards yet needed you to keep track of bits (currency), agenda points, advancement tokens and all the other indicators you could lay on your cards. Android: Netrunner gives you everything from credits to trace counters, and its rulebook is huge and definitely more user friendly.

The colour scheme on the back of the cards is a straight up red (netrunner) and blue (corporation) as opposed to the original’s green (runner) and purple (corp).  It’s not a big deal, unless you’re my nostalgia which misses the old colours. Still, nostalgia’s nor trustworthy: When I first got the cards out of the box, I thought they were smaller than those of the original game, but when I compared them to the only original Netrunner card I still have the sizes were virtually identical.

As you can see, old and new Netrunner cards are virtually the same size - why, yes, that is my signed Full Body Conversion. Why do you ask?
As you can see, old and new Netrunner cards are virtually the same size – why, yes, that is my signed Full Body Conversion. Why do you ask?

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One factor where I find the new game comes up quantitatively short is in terms of deck building. One thing you were virtually guaranteed of with the old Netrunner was that you could play the game straight out of the starter deck. While customising decks of cards has always been one of the main attractions of a trading card game, a newcomer could always buy a starter set, get a friend, shuffle up the decks and go.

In contrast, Android: Netrunner gives me lots of cards to build my own decks with, but requires me to deck-build right out of the box, before I can even get a feel for how the game works. The cards on both sides are split up by faction. Most individual cards are duplicated at least once, and all the duplicates are together.

The rulebook introduces the comcept of deck building as an extra activity on top of the fun of play, yet before you can play, you’ve gotta build a deck. And sadly, the rules only give an example of building a deck for the Runner side, not the Corpration side. If you and your friend want to get playing quickly, you’re going to have to hit the web for someone’s Corporate build (and hope you can find one that only uses the cards in a single core set – some gamers buy multiples just to make sure they have at least three of everything).

In giving you everything you need to play, Android: Netrunner neglected one thing – the opportunity to let you learn how the game worked by playing it before getting into deck building. It’s a sad omission that Fantasy Flight could have fixed with a single sheet of printed paper.

UPDATE 25 FEB 2013: That is actually quite incorrect; Android: Netrunner is playable out of the box. The manual directs you to shuffle together the cards from a given faction and the neutral cards and you have one Runner deck and one Corp deck ready to play!

It’s still on my agenda

But you know what? I’m still happy I got it, and am looking forward to getting some games at the next Cairns Boardgamers get together. I jsut need to build a deck or two first…

Are you curious?

How did you feel about someone’s rejuvenation of something you dug in the day?

If you enjoyed this, I reckon you’ll dig:

Fantasy Flight Games’ Android: Netrunner product site

My interview with the lead designer for Android: Netrunner, Lukas Litzsinger (Update 25 FEB 2013)