Cyberpunk And Visions of a dark future


Android Netrunner


A "living card game" (LCG)


I was able to try this game with some friends at Essen 2012, most of them were keen to get to know it better, but you wish! My copy, bought on the first day of the fair at a French booth, was the only one in our group of players. So I was able to teach one or the other, but when asked "where can I buy this" I had to pass on the answer. As the game was allegedly so much in demand in the America, it was spring of 2013 until the first copies were available in Vienna; unfortunately at this point in time the interest was dead, also due to the fact that collectible card games are only of marginal interest to members of Spiele Kreis Wien. Most fans of the genre did have a fling at collectible card games in the late 90ties and at some point since the turned their back on that - expensive - genre. The more recent wave of "living card games" has taken care of the hunt for "rare" cards and therefore does not deplete the games budged as intensively, but there was nothing really interesting coming recently.

It remained for the nearly forgotten "trading card game“ (TCG) Netrunner to blow away the cobwebs from the monotony of fantasy-space-horror-monster or cards for kids.


Retrospect: At the beginning of the 90ties the term of Cyberpunk appeared in books and role playing games; this term is used to describe a future in which humans can communicate directly with computers due to implants and similar devices.  Thanks to advanced "Neurobiology" human thoughts are stored and also used for controlling highly developed machines featuring artificial intelligence, for instance androids. All-powerful corporations do not only control most of the resources, but dominate all segments of life of humankind. Heroes of cyberpunk universes are ingenious hackers = Netrunners, who fight those corporations by intruding into their computer networks, stealing or disabling their programs in order to undermine the corporation's power and to unmask them.

Of course, the corporations try with all legal and illegal means to trace the Runners, to destroy their equipment and even to kill them; all of this makes a Netrun very dangerous and renders it attractive only for the best and most courageous. „Cyberpunk“ has found its way also into board games, PC games and evidently also into trading card games as well as role playing games, for instance "Shadowrun".


Today's Netrunner - published in 2012 by Fantasy Flight as a Living Card Game is a revised and adapted new edition of the trading card game by the same name, designed by Richard Garfield and published in 1996. This game then had only few fans and has been stopped after only one expansion. Richard Garfield, still active as a game designer - for instance of "King of Tokyo", 2011 - is also the designer of "Magic the Gathering" and is deemed to be the "father" of TCGs. Besides the still going strong, heavily played and 20 year old "Magic the Gathering" he designed several other TCGs, among them "Battle Tech", "Star Wars" and especially two of the most ingenious collectible card game ever, "Vampire" (originally "Jihad", which is the best multiple player TGS ever (produced far into the first decade of the new century, and still intensely played world-wide) and the very "Netrunner". Netrunner was far ahead of its time and got overlooked in the then flood of new collectible card games, probably also due to the fact that in the middle of the 90ties only a few people hat an idea what to associate with the scenario "Cyberpunk", virtual worlds and other such terms.


Contrary to a TCG there are no "rare", "ultra-rare" or common cards in a Living Card game (LCG), each pack contains the same cards. The basic game, called "core game" of "Netrunner" with 248 cards is enough to provide endless fun in very many variants. The expansion boxes all contain 60 cards, that is, three copies each of 20 different cards and have more allure for deck building fans - experienced players can strengthen and personalize their deck.

"Netrunner" is and asymmetric game for two players. One player is the "Runner", the other the "Corporation", both card sets are of different colors; you can choose between three different runners and four different corporations. Asymmetric not only because of different cards, but also due to the fact that attacker and defender are determined from the start and do not change. The Corporation player must develop projects and programs, so-called agendas, which yield victory points; the runner will steal exactly those cards; if you accumulate seven points you are the winner. Furthermore, the Corporation wins instantly if the Runner player is out of cards in hand at any point in the game. Therefore, Runners, pay attention! Keep it in mind! Cards in your hand are life points!!! On the other hand, the Runner or hacker wins instantly when the draw pile of the Corporation is empty. Admittedly, the sudden defeat of the Runner is the more frequently occurring variant.


Now to the description of the game: "Netrunner" comes in a relatively big box in which - after you have removed the inlay - there is enough room for the expansion boxed that I mentioned. The cards are accompanied by two reference cards, which list the possible actions for both factions very nicely structured, and also two action marking cards on which you mark the number of implemented actions with card board markers. The rest of the components is made up by diverse card board counters: 1) Money 2) Bad Publicity" / "Tags" (marking damage for the opponent which happens when certain cards are played; 3) Generic tokens with a blue and red side, these tokens are placed on certain cards in order to strengthen or weaken them (for instance "virus" and 4) Brain Damage in the shape of a stylized brain; they reduce the number of cards in hand for the runner (Life points!)


The rules of the game are clearly structured, extensive with lots of examples and really precisely worded (far away from the nightmare of Sid Meyers Civilization, where structure and explanation are good, but so overburdened with accompanying flavor text that quick reference checks are nearly impossible, as you must read through lots of verbiage to get at the core of the matter).

In addition to the rules themselves there is a glossary, an alphabetic index and a "time schedule for a Run"-scheme that demonstrates step by step what happens and then interactions are triggered. Praise is also earned with the chapter on deck building with thoughts and examples - for newcomers to the genre of LCGs not only motivation, but also assistance.

On top of all the scenario and the background of the different factions (Corporations and Runners is described, clearly recognizable as set-apart flavor text. Exemplary! Netrunner is definitely not a game that is easily mastered, also due to the texts on the cards - typical for games of that genre - and to the special inside jargon which one picks up rather easily, though.


Flow of the game:

The two opponents decide who will play who, each player displays his chosen identity card. A starting capital of five credits is given and both players draw five cards from their deck; if you are not happy with your hand you can discard it once and draw five new ones (Mulligan).

The Corporation always begins the game; you draw an additional card and can then implement three out of eight possible actions, in any order and also the same action multiple times. Possible actions are:

1) Draw one card; 2) take one money; 3) play one card (= install) - face down!, when played open-faced, you must pay the costs immediately. To uncover an installed card (= rezz) takes no action and can be done any time in your turn, provided that you can pay the cost. Only revealed cards are active, which means its ability is available. 4) Play one "Operation" card (is called "Event" in case of the runner); such a card has an instant effect and end up on the discard pile instantly (this is called "trashing" the card), 5) Advance one card, that means improve it or develop it further by placing an advance-tile on it. Two kinds of cards can be advanced: "Agenda" and "Asset". When an agenda card has acquired a pre-set number of advance tokens, the Corporation player can reveal the card (does not take an action) and score the victory points printed on the card (the card is placed into his "score" area.) "Asset" cards are traps for the Runner, as they are placed face-down and show Advance tokens, too so that they are similar to agenda cards, but the improvements increase damage for the runner. Other asset cards yield money for the corporation, but must be revealed to do so; they do not entice the opponent into a trap and a runner can destroy them with a run. 6) Trash resource cards of the runner; 7) remove all virus counters (these counters weaken the defense of the Corporation), but this uses up three actions! 8) Triggering the ability of an installed card.


When all three actions have been used up, you need to discard surplus cards in hand - there is a limit of five cards. Before I mention the actions of the opponent I must describe the playing era of the Corporation - take care, lots of insider jargon:

Next to the identity card, the score area and the "click tracker (marking used-up actions= there are many "servers": three central and any number of "remote servers = RS". The draw pile is called "Research & Development", the hand cards are called "Head Quarter" and the discard pile is the "Archive" - all three together are the three central servers. RS are installed over the course of the game, they are created by depositing a face down Asset or Agenda card and should be carefully placed so that they are easily distinguishable. For each server you can only install one of the two card types (either/or); money sources - assets are sensibly "rezzed" (revealed and paid for) before you start your own turn, so that they are active and can yield money. Each server (central or remote) can be protected by "ICE" cards that are placed crosswise in front of them, nearer to the opponent; you can use several ICEs. ICE means "Intruder Countermeasure Equipment", barriers against intruders. Behind the servers (nearer to the player) you can install upgrades, those upgrades intensify an ICE or trigger nasty events for the attacker.


A reminder: Face-down, unrevealed cards are not yet paid for, the Corporation player must be able to pay for them first, before they go active; bad luck for him if he has not enough money - Runners! Attack from the start!


Now to the hacker / Runner:

He has also an identity card and an action counter on the table, but he can do four actions in a round, but he cannot draw a card automatically at the start of his turn, contrary to his opponent. He has seven possible actions at his disposal: 1) Draw one card; 2) Take one money; 3) Install one card, always face-up, costs are paid instantly; 4) Play one event; 5) remove a Tag (cardboard tile - received from the opponent - they render the Runner vulnerable to attacks by the opponent; 6) Do a "Run" - this is the central element of Netrunner, and finally, 7) trigger the the ability of a laid-out card.


Ad 3) The runner has three different cards for installation: "Hardware", "Programs" und "Resources", which assist him in executing an attack and yield the necessary money.

Ad 6) In theory you could do four runs with four actions; in practice this is only possible at the start of the game, while the servers of the Corporation are not yet protected by ICE. The attacker names a server and announces that he will make a run. When ICE is in place at that server the defender must decide if he wants to activate (rezz) it and can activate (he has to pay for it); if yes, only now the Runner can identify the kind of barrier that is installed and if he himself has the respective programs (ICE Breakers) laid out. There are four different ICE, each has a certain strength which the attacker must overcome with the appropriate program. When the ICE is stronger, the Breaker can only interact with it, when the difference is evened with money. At that point so-called subroutines (additional barriers) are triggered which the Runner can overcome, but not always needs to overcome (e.g. "End of Run" is a routine he must eliminate; on the other hand he can suffer a Trace action if this doesn't weaken him too much). When the intruder has eliminated or overcome the barriers (usually with money) he has penetrated this ICE and can - when present - attack the next one or abort the Run (Jack Out). When he has passed all ICEs, he can now access the content of the server: In case of an RS an Agenda (=victory points) or an Asset (bad luck, causes damage). In case of central servers access is different: At "Headquarter" the intruder draws a random card - if it is an Agenda he gets it, each other he can check and, if desirable, discard it to the Archive, at the cost of money. At the "R&D" (draw pile) he takes the top card (in some cases more than one) - with a bit of luck it is a victory point card; if not, he can "trash" the booty - at the cost of money - or put it back on the server. The third central server is the Archive (discard pile), at this server he looks at all cards and is allowed to take all Agendas, the rest is replaced. Normally, the Corporation player tries to avoid placing victory point cards at the archive, but there are actions that force him to discard a card without looking at it ….


As already mentioned - when one of the opponents has accumulated seven victory points, he is the winner.


At long last, a bit of pertinent jargon: Hand cards for the Runner are called "Grip", the Runner's discard pile is named "Heap" and his draw pile "Stack". I own the English edition of the game and have only taken a quick look at the German version, the translation as regards to the special vocabulary is a bit rugged, but all in all the German rules are as exemplary as the original ones.


The time to play can vary considerably - from 20-30 minutes to 1-2 hours - I myself am a rather slow player compared to the young card professionals - when I watch them chop-chop-chop-done I get envious.


Summing up, "Netrunner" is a refreshingly different LCG - lots of fun to play for two players - also because of the contrary strategies that are demanded from the respective player on both sides. Due to the all in all seven different factions the variation is once again enhanced considerably, not to mention the always and again new tactics allowed and introduced by the expansion packs; and deck building is extra additional fun, admittedly not for everybody; The starting box comprises - as already mentioned - 248 cards and represents a complete game, which provides lots of varied entertainment, even without any expansions. As the old Netrunner featured more than 500 cards there is enough surplus material for Fantasy Flight Games to get into boxes. If I could make a wish it would be for an edition featuring the cards which were not present in the game in three copies (for instance Aesops Pawnshop) or to provide those cards in coming expansions, for instance instead of the threefold superfluous identity cards.

The graphics of the game is technoid-colorful, absolutely well done, despite my liking the graphics of the old game a tick better, it was a bit more matter-of-fact.


"Netrunner" is a top game for two players, also having both of the weaknesses that are inherent to the genre of the game: Sometimes the best deck will not work because important cards have ended up too far down (of course, there are search cards, but they can come too late, too!) and then there are the texts and symbols on the cards which make accessing the game difficult at the beginning. Per se, this cyberpunk game is not too difficult or complex, only the first steps are laborious for beginners. In my opinion, "Android Netrunner" is a game for a bit more experienced players with curiosity for the unusual and a good opportunity for them to forget their renunciation of "Magic" and others; they will be rewarded with an interesting game rich in variants and providing lots of fun in playing.


Dr. Christoph Proksch


Players: 2

Age: 14+

Time: variable

Designer: Richard Garfield

Artist: Michael Silsby and Team

Price: ca. 30 Euro

Publisher: Heidelberger Spieleverlag 2013

Web: www.hds-fantasy.de

Genre: Living Card Game

Users: With friends

Special: 2 players

Version: de

Rules: de en es fr pl

In-game text:



Bleak Future vision

Fantastic, challenging mechanisms

Core set already provides a plethora of interesting possibilities


Compares to:

All Living Card Games from Der Herr der Ringe to Warhammer Invasion and Star Wars


Other editions:

Fantasy Flight Games, Galakta, Game Harbor and Age Entertainment 


My rating: 6


Christoph Proksch:

A top game for players that are interested in direct, asymmetric confrontations for two players, more deck building than trading card game and good for many hours of challenging entertainment.


Chance (pink): 1

Tactic (turquoise): 3

Strategy (blue): 2

Creativity (dark blue): 0

Knowledge (yellow): 0

Memory (orange): 2

Communication (red): 0

Interaction (brown): 3

Dexterity (green): 0

Action (dark green): 0