Article by Matt Bramley. You can visit also Matt’s blog at “No Games. No Glory”.
It’s been a really long time since I played any kind of collectible card game. Back in the mid-late 90’s, during the CCG boom, I collected and played a great many of them, Magic (shudder), Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Files, Bloodwars, Shadowrun, Mythos and, to a lesser degree, Netrunner.
Back then Netrunner was produced by Wizards of the Coast, being created by Magic creator Richard Garfield and was based on netrunner class in the RPG Cyberpunk, itself based on the works of novelists like William Gibson. It was an asymmetric game that pitted the anarchistic netrunner, a futuristic hacker, against the computer mainframes of the dystopian corporation in a battle to control information. Like most CCG’s Netrunner had one pretty large flaw, one that eventually caused the CCG industry to collapse: the fact that the packs were randomised and so the game could be won by the person with the largest wallet and not the most skill.
As I said, I fell out of love with CCGs and that was for the very reason that many of the games and their companies disappeared. I disliked the pay to win model. I focussed more heavily on other types of games, predominantly RPGs and I got my dose of cyberpunk there with such games as Shadowrun and Cyberpunk.
Fast forward 15 years (which makes me feel old) to 2012 and some friends of mine tell me that Fantasy Flight Games are re-releasing Netrunner based on their Android setting, which I knew nothing about, and that it was going to be a Living Card Game. I didn’t know what a Living Card Game (LCG) was, though I did know that FFG had a Cthulhu based card game and made one of my favourite board games in Arkham Horror. Besides, I didn’t have a lot of interest, I had my fill of card games back in the 90’s and so I listened politely and didn’t think any more of it.
A few more years passed, I had an introductory game of Netrunner at some point in that time but wasn’t really interested, because also I found my personal circumstances changed. I’d gotten pretty heavily into X-Wing and its tournament scene but I was finding making time for games to be increasingly difficult. Late in 2015 (mid November I think), having amassed a complete X-Wing collection and desiring something new to play and collect, I started to take another look at Netrunner.
Now, in the meantime I had found out what a LCG was and how it worked and I’d considered Netrunner as a couple of friends were quite heavily involved in the local scene, but I’d thought that the ever escalating buy in cost was going to be prohibitive especially since I tend to compulsively buy everything very quickly.
The first thing I did was arrange a couple of intro games, core box only. I did this with another friend who I’d persuaded to consider playing, and I got one of my fully invested friends to supervise and provide guidance. I’ve played a lot of different games over the years and so, despite the fairly detailed rules, I picked up the game quite quickly. I found that I was enjoying it immensely and that the style and the theme fit exactly what I was looking for at the time and I pretty quickly decided to buy in.
As I’ve said, I know myself, I know what I’m like when I buy a new game and how obsessed I can be so I don’t take buying into a new game lightly as it gets very expensive, very quickly and, at the time, looking at £10.00 per datapack, £25 core set and £20 for the deluxe expansions, which was optimistic at best, that was £345 (€420, $480) and that was just with a single core set. However my buying habits have changed a little over the years and so this is my first tip to anyone buying in, join a Facebook group.
I’m part of a gaming buying and selling Facebook group and I quickly found someone selling a Netrunner collection. I picked up a core set, 5 datapacks and the first deluxe expansion for a total of £50, about half price, and this was a pretty solid way to get into the game as it gave me enough to get started deck building but didn’t break the bank and, most of all, wasn’t overwhelming.
This actually taught me something I didn’t know about collecting the game and I couldn’t have even guessed at and that’s tip 2 really, when buying into Netrunner, do it slowly. If you can afford to go and buy everything at once and you can actually source it all then good for you, but it’s not the best idea. Netrunner has A LOT of cards, around 750 unique cards to date (up to Democracy and Dogma) and that’s far too many cards to even begin to try to understand all at once. By buying in slowly, a couple of packs at a time, you’ll get far more familiar with the cards and how they interact and deck building will be much less daunting.
Tip 3 is to try to find a community as soon as possible and, if possible try to get involved in a beginner league or tournament as soon as possible. The Netrunner community is a good one, online resources are excellent and I’ve played some excellent players who have never criticised my naivety or deck choices and have all taken the time to help me get better at the game, even at tournaments. By getting involved in a community and getting involved in a league or tournament for beginners your reduced card pool won’t be a hindrance and you’ve have a chance to experience playing the game and learning it the same way people who have been playing since the start have.
So that’s what I did, I signed up for a Core box and single Deluxe tournament nearby and 10 days into playing Netrunner I attended my first event: a Winter Kit tournament with Ice Wall as the alt art card. I took Noise Anarch as my runner of choice and tried to get a mill deck working (where you mill all the corps cards to either win because they run out of cards or to find enough agenda to win in the traditional way) and a Making news NBN deck, mostly because I like NBN.
Unsurprisingly I didn’t do very well, coming joint last but I learned a huge amount about playing the game, not least of which is that SeaSource, Scorched Earth, Scorched Earth (commonly known as SeaScorch) is a thing and it’s horrible that finds your runners house and burns it to the ground.
After the tournament I had a better idea of how I wanted to play the game, and that’s important because your individual play style will massively influence the decks you find success with. Like most competitive games Netrunner has strong decks, ones that dominate the meta because of a particular combination of powerful cards but that doesn’t mean that just netdecking (the term for copying a particular deck from the internet) will guarantee you success as you will have your own style.
Now, for some months into Netrunner, I still don’t quite have a full collection, I’m still down by a few datapacks because I’ve been very careful to not overload myself with options and because I’m cheap and I don’t want to pay full price for expansions. I’ve been very astute with my collecting, only picking up the packs I need for my decks and then generally ones that are low in price on Amazon, usually sold by third party sellers.
The Netrunner bug has bitten me hard though, I knew it would and that’s why one reason I resisted for so long, but I’m pretty deeply invested in the game now, going so far as to run tournaments and to write articles about it on this site and on my own. I go out of my way to get hold of alt art cards, which is something of a personal obsession, and I try to play as often as I can. Netrunner is a fun and ever evolving game with a great community and I’m pleased that I finally took the plunge and gave it a shot.