"Netrunner was designed to be as different as I could make it from Magic."
- Dr. Richard Garfield

NetRunner dates from the venerable days of Deckmaster games and the beginnings of Wizards of the Coast. The collectible card gaming craze spawned a plethora of games several years ago, many of which were not viable and simply attempted to capitalize on a trendy idea. NetRunner was not one of those games. It enjoyed modest success and has even today a loyal fan base, and several attempts have been made to rescusitate it.

Created as the third Deckmaster release, NetRunner drew its thematic material from the gritty cyberpunk universe of R. Talsorian's role-playing game CyberPunk 2020. Characters and ideas from the RPG are liberally integrated into card names, art, and flavor text. The design of the cards is quite distinctive, generally futuristic and contains a great deal of rendered art.

In terms of gaming history, the most noticeable accomplishment of NetRunner is that it was credited as being the first asymmetric card game. Garfield was particularly proud of NetRunner because it pulled off this mechanic without getting unnecessarily complex and arbitrary. Next to RoboRally, he claimed it was his favorite out of all his creations.

This isn't to say that the game's rules are simple; I personally found that there is a high learning curve at the beginning in mastering the mechanics of the game, especially for the Runner. As the mechanics become increasingly familiar, the game plays well and there is not a lot of confusion with the turn structure.

The game's win condition is based on victory points. As mentioned, the game is asymmetric -- there are seperate card pools for the two opposing players, The Corporation (hereafter referred to as Corp), and the Runner. Essentially, these two sides play a classic game of defense and offense. It is a very finance-oriented game, where both sides must generate income if they wish to accomplish anything.

The Corp focuses its resources on scoring particular agenda which gain it agenda points and sometimes a substantial benefit, and on protecting its resources from intrusion and theft by the runner by raising various defenses in an attempt to thwart the Runner. The Runner wins by stealing liberating agenda from behind the data forts, bypassing or breaking through the Corp defense to score its agenda points, or by decking -- forcing the Corp to draw a card when there are none available.

An interesting aspect of NetRunner is that it lends itself to a rather cerebral game of strategy because it is very mathematical and the turn sequence is well-defined. The Runner must deal with a high level of uncertainty, because the Corp can bluff, installing cards face-down - whether it can afford to activate (rez) the card or not. These factors and NetRunner's financial orientation combine to create a game of calculated risk.

NetRunner is unique in other respects, as well. The composition of its starter decks was designed to produce a playable game right out of the box, and a good deal of the powerful cards are commons. Its lack of more than a handful of "must-have" powerful rares was probably a major mark against its long-term commercial viability, especially as a collectible card game -- if you can have a decent game with minimal cards, it's simply not necessary for a casual gamer to invest in large numbers of cards to acquire the multiple rares needed build usable and competitive decks. Of course, NetRunner doesn't escape from having its own "power cards", but on the whole the rares are specialized cards around which one might need to build a deck.

NetRunner enjoyed a brief resurgence in November of 1999 when Wizards released what was to be the last commercial expansion set, called Classic. Unfortunately, after the acquisition of Wizards by Hasbro, the planned re-entry did not happen. Since then, efforts have been made by fans to attempt to acquire the rights to the game, but so far this has not met with success.

NetRunner and its expansions:
  • Basic Set (v1.0)
  • Proteus (v2.1)
  • Classic (v2.2)

  • 1. from an interview with Richard Garfield, http://www.casualplayers.org/article/get.php?action=getarticle&articleid=325
  • http://www.wizards.com/vault/main.asp?x=nr/welcome,3
  • http://www.zdi.net/jwa/nr-failure.html
  • http://www.rpweld3.com/netrunner.html

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