New Rules (and Cards) Have Given 'Netrunner' a Second Lease on Life
The cyberpunk, competitive card game has been a critical darling for years, but a new Revised Core Set and some big rules changes could help it find an even bigger audience.
All art courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games
On September 12 Fantasy Flight Games, the developer and publisher of Android: Netrunner, announced that the game was going be getting what is called a "Revised Core Set" (RCS) of cards. Then on September 27th Fantasy Flight announced, by way of a blog post by Michael Boggs (the game's newest lead designer) an update to the NAPD Most Wanted list, Netrunner's ban and restricted list for competitive play. A lot of people I know who enjoy and play Netrunner were both shocked and excited about where the game was going. I saw people who had once played, but had since stopped, saying that this might be the time to jump back in. Similarly, I saw curiosity from those who were familiar with Netrunner, but never had gotten around to playing it, asking if now was the time to start running nets.
So, is it? Here at Waypoint a few months ago I suggested that one of the best ways to start playing Netrunner casually would be to grab a core set and a copy of the Campaign Expansion Termanal Directive. I still think that's true.
However, if you're interested in Netrunner as not just a kitchen table game you play once a year, but a game you could see yourself playing seriously, either competitively or at casual meet-ups, I think the release of the Revised Core Set (and the update to the Most Wanted List) means now is the right time to jump into the game's ever evolving meta. In large part, this is because the Revised Core Set refines what made Netrunner great at the core of its gameplay, while addressing cards and game strategies that were known for bad player experiences.
But the Revised Core Set also signals that Fantasy Flight is going to continue to support Netrunner in the foreseeable future. This is huge, because at this year's Gen Con (the world's largest tabletop and board gaming convention) Netrunner was noticeably absent from the flurry of product announcements made by Fantasy Flight Games. The announcement of the Revised Core Set, and the simultaneous announcement of the next cycle of Data Packs (the Kitara Cycle, set along the shores of a futuristic Lake Victoria at the borders of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania) is a huge relief.
Basically, it means that we can keep playing the game and know, with some confidence, that Netrunner isn't being put out to pasture in lieu of Fantasy Flight devoting more resources to other card games, like the presumably profitable Star Wars: Destiny.
To add to the flurry of activity in the game's meta, this is happening on the eve of Netrunner's first "rotation" of cards, which is sure to shake up the game in ways we still don't know.
So if you're still interested in starting or returning to Netrunner, what does the Revised Core Set, and the new Most Wanted List, actually do?
Netrunner is built around several sets of cards because it's what Fantasy Flight calls a "Living Card Game". Cards are released in sets called "Data Packs" on a relatively fixed schedule (usually somewhere between every 2-6 weeks). These cards are then supplemented with a number of cards from the Core Set, 3 Deluxe Expansions, and the Terminal Directive Campaign Expansion. All of these "big boxes" will never leave the game irrespective of rotation. This is because the cards in these boxes make up what the designers want to be the "core" of Netrunner's play experience.
The cards in the Data Packs, however, will leave the game eventually. That's because the game has a set maximum of card cycles.
On October 1st, 2017 the first two cycles of Netrunner (the Genesis Cycle and the Spin Cycle) will leave the game, and with them, some of the most iconic cards in Netrunner (such as Jackson Howard, a card which spent years as a must-have across deck types. The Netrunner community has known about rotation for a while, and there was a significant amount of anticipation for it as a result.
some cards from both the Genesis Cycle and the Spin Cycle (like trusty ol Pop-Up Window or the slow-rolling AI, Darwin). More importantly, however, the RCS removed a number of cards from the original core set and, as a result, has completely changed the game. These are cards that were expected to always exist in the game because of their place in the core set. Now that they have been removed, the whole game is different.
Some, like Lemuria Codecracker, made no sense, and were woefully underpowered, and never found even niche gameplay.
Others, like Account Siphon or Parasite, were so powerful that the entire game was shaped by their presence. These cards were uniquely capable of making it so Corporations were functionally unable to play the game they wanted to play, because it was certain they would run into either — en masse — during a tournament. By nullifying the corp's board state and ability to advance their game, it was hard for deckbuilders and competitive players to not constantly be thinking about how their decks would deal with either of these very powerful runner cards.
The new Most Wanted List, likewise, has taken the disappearance of cards from game one step further. Previous versions of the Most Wanted List added to the influence cost of cards—limiting their inclusion in decks, but never permanently banned them from play, nor did they put restrictions on how many one could put in one's deck. The Most Wanted List 2.0 has changed that entirely, introducing two brand new categories: restricted and removed. You can only put one type of restricted card in your deck, and removed cards are just that: never to be played again.
Past designers have prided themselves on never banning cards, but as the card pool got larger and larger, it has proved to be impossible to cut down on the dozens of ways cards can interact and ruin the game. With cards removed via the Revised Core Set, and now the Most Wanted List, Netrunner can, in its own way, become something different (while hopefully retaining why players fell in love with it in the first place).
With rotation, the release of the Revised Core Set, the upcoming Kitara Cycle, and the Most Wanted List 2.0. Netrunner, for the time being, has many of the signs of a healthy, evolving card game.
It helps that in my opinion, it's one of the best games ever designed. So, whenever the Revised Core Set comes out, and you think that a card game that foregrounds the struggles that we see every day both online and off sounds fun, I think you should pick one up.