“The Dixie Flatline is a famous computer hacker named McCoy Pauley, who earned his nickname by surviving three “flat-lines” while trying to crack an AI. He was one of the men who taught Case how to hack computers. Before his death, Sense/Net saved the contents of his mind onto a ROM. Case and Molly steal the ROM and Dixie helps them complete their mission.”- William Gibson Wiki.
Last October, Netrunner closed its FFG era after 6 years of adventures and runs in one of the best card games I had the chance to try. The Flatline started also as one of those runs: a weird experiment (at that point) to celebrate the possibilities of the game outside the game: alt cards, 3D IDs, community tournaments. The game changed, mutated into a really interesting new dimension, directed by the players and for the players, surviving the flat-lines as the great Dixie. As in Neuromancer, community is the final hacker cracking the game of Netrunner.
This article is a double report of 2018. I really thank a lot the fellow runner Craig Vanaman for the amazing report he sent me. I hope that my part and pictures will also work as well as Craig’s story.
>Craig> On the 27th March 2017, I went to Berlin for the first time; and this is where I first played Android: Netrunner.
In June the previous year the UK had voted to leave the EU after 43 years of membership. My girlfriend and I immediately decided that leaving the country was the only sensible overreaction and so, in order to check the lay of the land, I travelled to Berlin with a friend of mine to see what was what and if I thought my partner and I could be happy there. What I found was a large city that felt like a small 12 small towns stitched together, united by great food, kind people, wonderful transport and a slow pace of life that was entirely unexpected.
Travelling together for any amount of time can be a strain for any good friends, but for British men this enforced intimacy can be particularly dangerous; the chance of accidentally showing or having to respond to male vulnerability goes up with every passing hour. And so to deflect this ahead of time, I decided to find a small, interesting game that I could take with us and that Dave and I could play at pubs and bars as we adventured around the German capital.
I wanted a game with enough depth to last us for 5 days of play; something that was small enough to take around with us and with a theme that we could both get behind. Investigations led me to Android: Netrunner, a mysterious two player card game set in a cyberpunk future. The evocative art style, asymmetrical game play and obvious depth of skill made Netrunner seemed like the perfect pub game to get stuck into during downtime. And so I bought it, spent 5 hours learning how the hell you were meant to play it, and put it in my bag as we left for the airport.
As Theresa May signed Article 50 two days after our plane touched down, Dave and I found ourselves having to explain what had happened to every enquiring German who asked us where we were from and what we were doing in Berlin. It was a week of apologies, confusion and drowning our tears in excellent German beer. But alongside all of that, we played Netrunner. We played Netrunner in bars, in cafes, in our room and in restaurants. I read rules on my phone while we rode the S-Bahn and built my first Making News deck while sitting by the river Spree. We played and played and eventually we stopped because Dave was bored; bored with the cards, bored with the rules, bored with clicking for credits and bored with losing. And I thought he was mad. Netrunner was the best game I’d played in years and I couldn’t understand how anyone could think anything else.
Eleven months later I was packing my bag for another trip to Berlin. I had clothes, a toothbrush, Euros and an umbrella; a jumper incase I got cold and a light shirt incase it was too hot. In addition to these superfluous items, I had my essentials – an HB Stronger Together deck with three Jinjas and two copies of Distract the Masses to deal with flood. For my runner, I had a well tested Shaper kit deck with a dangerous last minute change to swap Data Sucker for Takobi because, if I was reading the rules on that card correctly, it was nuts. And I had my train ticket to Berlin because, unlike last time, I would be taking a 3 hour train ride from my new home in Münster, on the other side of Germany.
In the months that had passed since first going to Berlin, I had moved to Münster with my girlfriend, taught dancing for the summer and gone back to my day job in the winter. I had made new friends, learnt some German and found a country that was welcoming and friendly in a way that no one had prepared me for, and alongside all this, I had continued to play Netrunner. I had taught all my board game and video game friends in the UK and then all my new board game buddies in Germany. I had taught my friends at work; I had taught my girlfriend (despite her protests) and I had started playing with people on the internet when all others had had enough of me. I had taught anyone that was silly enough to sit down near me and ask “So what’s Netrunner then?”.
However, teaching others only gets you so far and so I decided to take the plunge; I signed up to a beginners tournament in Berlin called Hack the Egg.
>Efe> I grab always a Anarch and a Jinteki deck when I don’t have any idea of what I should play. For that Regional, the last official Regional, it was not different. Play red-red is always fun, even in the times of pre-last-MWL. The tournament was really amazing, but the thing captured my attention was the cheerful atmosphere. I think I was expecting to see the more pessimistic side, but everyone was exchanging ideas and having the best time of the Regional weekend. I got it too, as a virus that made me enjoy the tournament in the same way as I did it in 2013.
Hack The Egg was billed as a beginner friendly tournament that ran with a restricted card pool and welcomed new players. It was a single day event and came with an interesting side game of “hunting the eggs” – each player had two 2/0 agenda cards that they had to protect from getting stolen when playing as the Corporation. When playing as the runner, they had to get as many as they could from the opposition. At the end of the day the player with the most eggs would get a special prize and hopefully much fun would be had along the way.
The deck building conditions were a single revised core, one big box and all the latest cycle – a severely limited card pool that made it welcoming to beginners but allowed enough variation for some very exciting deck building and powerful combinations.
The tournament was held in a delightful cafe with a closed off room at the back just for us to play in. When I came in clutching my backpack, wondering how to ask in German if this was where the card game tournament was happening, the staff saw my confusion, pointed me the right way and wished me luck with my games. I registered my decks, put my bags down and started to wonder how the hell I had got to this moment; I could tell by the playmats that I was going to be totally outclassed. I could already see people discussing cards and runners that I wasn’t even familiar with and from what I could make out, despite being a beginners tournament, most of the players were far from new to the game.
Just as I was preparing myself for a day of losing games and having to apologise for not speaking enough German, the absurd acts of generosity began. It started with me being given a prize for being a new player – it was my first tournament and so they gave me a choice to pick something from the new-player welcome prize pool. I didn’t have click trackers and there were a pair right there. Incredible! Now I had click trackers to use in my first tournament!
The rules explanation for the tournament began – take-backs were allowed; be friendly and generous if your opponent is less experienced than you; feel free to ask to look at cards if you don’t know them; if you have a question, just ask the organiser and they will come and help. I had expected to be completely out of my depth but it felt like the floor was being brought up to meet me, to put me on an even standing as a beginner with those that had been playing two or three or four years longer than me.
After the rules explanation was the reading of the pairings for the first round but, before that, was some form of special announcement. I managed to make out “come from far away” and “Münster” and, looking around to find people staring at me, suspected that I was the topic of this announcement. Then, for having travelled so far to come and steal these kind peoples eggs right out of the hands, I was awarded a playmat. A playmat that I knew, without having to read the text, was the Winter 2015 Store Championship mat with the Day Job artwork, my favourite artwork in Netrunner. I knew this because I had been hunting for on ebay for 3 months and come up empty; and now I had one in my hand and it was all thanks to these lovely people.
We played seven rounds throughout the day, each round consisting of a single 40 minute game where one of us played as Corp and the other as Runner. The pairings were made so that you would go up against someone with a similar score to you each round because, in the words of the organiser, “Netrunner games are most interesting when you play someone of a similar level and we want everyone to have a good time”. And a good time was exactly what we had.
One thing I have often been told about Netrunner players is that, as a bunch, they are friendly and welcoming and if you aren’t meeting new people and trying to steal their agendas, you are missing out on the best thing about Netrunner. After having played seven games against people I’d never met before, who were kind enough to forgive my mistakes and acknowledge my successful plays that surprised both of us with their results, I can confirm that the players who were at Hack the Egg were a friendly bunch indeed. I managed to take three wins and was shown the foolishness of my ways in the remaining four games and I thoroughly enjoyed every one. Between matches we went outside and chatted, getting fresh air and recounting our mistakes; the cafe owners made us feel welcome to eat, drink and play all day and the tournament organiser was always at hand to help if you had any problems.
I placed very near the bottom of the group at the end of the day, second only to a kind gentleman called Jan who prides himself on coming last at every tournament he plays in, and as I tidied up my cards and tried to shake from my mind the mistakes and misplays I’d made throughout the day, I was invited to a birthday party on the other side of town by one of the other competitors. It was a great day, a wonderful experience and a sad elation swept over me as I wondered how long it would be until I could do it again.
I am trying hard now to build a play group in Münster so that I can share some of that feeling I had in Berlin with others. Players at Hack the Egg gave me spare promos and posters to help me try to run a beginners tournament of my own and I am working hard to get posters up to draw in the Magic addicts and the hardcore Euro gamers I see at local game nights.
I want to share fun of playing a game that is exciting, evocative and different every time you sit down; to help make new friends and have new experiences and meet people that, at some point, had to look at FFG’s run timing chart and decide that, yes, this was a game they were going to stick with; and I want to share the joy of Leg Working 5 points from your friend’s hand and watching his face crumble then laughing about it later.
It is something very special that can bring people together like that and inspire you to do try to do the same. For me, playing Hack the Egg in Berlin was a big part of that.