Sunday, October 28, 2012

What is Netrunner? (Gameplay)

This is my second "What is Netrunner" post.  The previous one (found HERE) went into the background of the game, and this post will delve a little bit into the general gameplay of the Netrunner LCG.  I wont dive too deep in explaining ALL the rules of Netrunner as the game can be a bit complex.  For those looking for the actual the Netrunner rulebook, they can be found HERE.

Netrunner pits Runners against Corporations as each side attempts to score agendas, or in the case of the Corp, kill the runner.  It features a unique, mechanic that breaks free from the traditional rigid "phases" of other games.  There's also a subtle (and not so subtle) bluffing mechanic player's can utilize that I have yet to find in any other games as well.  Finally, Netrunner is game more about a player's skill and the decisions they make during a game and less about how well they can build a deck.  Unlike other games, there is NO "autopilot" decks found in this game!

Still interested?  Well, I've got a lot more to say!

The Decks:
1 person plays as a Corporation and another plays as a Runner.  Netrunner is always Corp vs Runner.  Runner vs Runner or Corp vs Corp is impossible.  In general, after the 1st game the corp & runner players switch sides for the next game, with the previous corp player now being the runner and vise-versa.  As such, tournaments will require a player to have (and use) both a Runner and Corp deck.  Thus, a competitive player will have to build 2 tournament worthy decks, as opposed to other games where a single one will suffice.  (Again, for those interested in more info, check out FFG's support section)

Winning the Game:
The Corporation wins if it can score 7 agenda points OR it "flatlines" the runner.  When a runner is damaged, they are forced to discard cards at random equal to the damage, a runner is "flatlined" and the game lost if the runner takes more damage than he/she has cards available to discard.  A runner can also killed via "brain damage".  "Brain Damage" is a permanent, stackable type of damage, that lowers a runner's max hand size by 1.  5x "Brain Damage" flatlines the runner as well.

This Agenda is worth 2 points, indicated
by the number on the center-left side.

The Runner wins if it can steal and score 7 agendas as well.  They also win if the corporation player runs out of cards in their deck.  That is basically the only two methods for a runner to win.  It should be noted that in general, the consensus is that it is easier for a runner to win than the corp, at least while we only have access to the core set only!

The "click" mechanic:
One of the key features that sets Netrunner apart from other games on the market is it's "click" mechanic.  Unlike other games like MTG which feature an "untap phase", a "play phase", and an "attack phase", Netrunner gives more control and decisions making to the player.  Instead of rigid phases, each players have a number of clicks they can spend each turn, and they are free to spend them however they wish, even by doing the same action more than once in a turn.  A couple of examples of things you can do each turn with clicks: (the (C) stands for a "click" in this case)

(C) - Draw a card.
(C) - Gain 1 Credit.
(C) - Install (play) a card.
(C) - Make a "Run" on a specific target. (runner only)
1 Credit + (C) - Advance a card. (Corp only, for scoring agendas)

That is not all  clicks are used for however, several cards force players to spend clicks to activate abilities.

Runners get 4x (C) to spend every turn, while a Corporation gets 3x (C), reason being, the Corporation has to draw a card at the start of their turn, while the only way for a runner to draw cards is either by spending a (C) or as an effect from certain cards.  Players are free to spend their clicks each turn as they see fit.  As the runner, want to draw 4 cards? Go ahead!  Want to make 4 runs this turn? Go ahead!  In general, most people will do a combination of actions, and the fact that they can be performed in any order creates a very dynamic gameplay based on a player's ability to decide what to do and when.  Often times, no two rounds ever proceed the same way!

The numbers in the right corner indicate deck size and
 influence.  In this case a 45 card deck size and 15 influence to use
on splashing in out of faction cards.

Deck building basics:
Players start with an Identity card for either a Corporation or a Runner.  The Identity card you choose also shows what the minimum deck size is (and in the case of the core set cards, each deck is 45 cards) and a max number of "influence" you can utilize to splash in out of faction cards into your deck. (in the core set, each deck has 15 influence to spend)  The little blue bubbles in the corner of the cards display how much influence each card uses up when thrown into an out-of-faction deck, typically 1-4 in the core set.  This can lead to some interesting deck building options and gameplay possibilities.  Finally, a player can have 3x copies of a single card in their deck, and in the case of the core set Corporations, they must include 20-21 points worth of agendas in their deck.  (This number fluctuates depending on deck size) 

A Shaper card.  To put this into an Anarch
or Criminal deck uses up 2 influence, indicated
by the blue bubbles on the bottom right.

Runner general gameplay:
The runner in general is on the attack, the main goal: to steal agendas away from the Corporation via making a "run".  Agendas can be stolen from several different targets: the Corp player's deck (R&D), the Corp player's hand (HQ), the Corp discard pile (Archives), and the corporation player's "in play" area (remote servers).  when a player makes a successful run on R&D (the corp's deck) the runner looks at the top card, if it is an agenda the runner immediately steals it and adds it to his total points. (Remember, 7 points wins the game)  If the runner makes a successful run on HQ (the corp player's hand) they get to draw one card from the corp player's hand, and if it is an agenda then they steal and score it.  Same with a run on Archives (discard) or the remote servers. (in play area, for lack of a better term)  A run on archives lets the runner sift through the corp discard for agendas, as often times cards are "trashed" (discarded) face down into the discard pile, and cards in the remote server are kept secret as well.  The Corporation will be installing "ice", programs designed to impede, harm the runner, or in general just stop them from accessing cards.  In order to bypass those defenses, the runner will need to install "ice breakers", which act as loop holes to a corporation's defensive programs.  More on those later...

Icebreaker example, this one breaks Sentries.

Corporation general gameplay:
So, if the runner is all about attacking, the Corporation obviously tends to be on the defensive.  The runner will be striking out at multiple targets in search of agendas, and the only defense is installing ice to protect your servers. Ice can be installed to protect you hand, discard, deck, and any number of remote servers.  Each ice has a set strength, "subroutines" which can do things like harm the runner or end the run, and a "type", either a "Code Gate", "Sentry", "Barrier", and "Trap", and in order for the runner to bypass the installed ice they'll need an "Ice Breaker" that breaks that specific type as well as matching the strength on the ice.  Which  will cost the runner precious credits to use!  Ice gets installed face down, so the runner typically won't know which type is protecting a server until the runner encounters it during a run and the corp player pays credits to "rez" it. (i.e. flip it over, making it playable)  Ice is also installed in a "chain" in front of a given server, and when a runner makes a run on that server, they must encounter and resolve each rezzed piece of ice one at time starting from the top, and the runner only gets to access a card if they can get through every piece of ice.  Ice never gets destroyed, merely "bypassed", so should a runner make another run at the same server he/she must go through the whole process of breaking the ice all over again!

An example of a piece of Ice.
This one is a Sentry from
Haas-Bioroid with a rez cost of 4.

Aside from flatlining a runner via damage (usually caused by ice subroutines) the only way for the corp player to win is by scoring agendas, and agendas will need to be "advanced" in order to so.  First though, before an agenda can be advanced, it must be played (face down) onto a remote server, and it's usually pretty smart to make sure that remote server is well protected with ice as a runner is sure to make a run at it when they realize there's an agenda there.  Each agenda will have a specific amount it will need to be advanced before it can be scored, and as I've shown earlier, advancing an agenda a single point will cost 1 credit and 1 click.  Several agendas cannot be installed, advanced, and scored in a single turn, so you're bound to have a potentially vulnerable agenda out on the board at some point during a game!

A Weyland Consortium Agenda.  The amount this
agenda needs to be advanced before it can
be scored is located in the upper right (3), while the how
much this agenda is worth is located in the center-left side (1)

Poker face:
I've already mentioned how the click mechanic makes each round dynamic and gives a player lots of choices to make on their turn, but another aspect of this game that I've never seen in anything else is the sheer amount of bluffing that can often win a corporation player games!  A key mechanic for the Corp player are traps.  When a runner encounters a trap during a run on the corp player's hand, deck, or on a remote server, the consequences usually involve the runner taking damage or trashing (discarding) programs.  The trick is setting up the opponent to run into your traps, bluffing can often be the key.  Several traps can be installed on remote servers and advanced just like agendas, and often times just the threat of a potential trap can give a runner some pause.  I've at one point thrown out both an Agenda and a Trap onto remote servers, advanced both once to force the runner to make a hard choice.  You can take it one step further by throwing an Agenda out unprotected, while placing the trap in your well protected remote server to potentially throw off a runner.  Continually swapping between traps and agendas, protected and unprotected can completely mess with a runner.

Also just how well you protect something can be a call for the runner.  Not installing ice to protect something can subconsciously say to the runner "no agendas here" and can be used to your advantage as well.  On the flipside, over-protecting something can scream that you have something worth protecting, even if you may not.  Even the order in which you place down your cards can be a subtle cue as to what's there.  Place something in a remote server, followed by an ice, may send the signal that protecting it was an afterthought.  On the other end, placing the ice THEN placing a card in the server could be subtle cue that it's worth protecting.  It's something subtle that I keep in mind, especially when I'm trying to bait a runner into a potential trap.

Finally, there is even some verbal bluffing and subtle facial cues that can be used as well. (although some may consider such tactics to be "cheap") An example would be when a runner makes a run on the corp player's hand the corp player can make a subtle hissing sound when the runner reaches for a certain card when the runner is actually NOT pulling an agenda.  The same can be done with your eyes, though a bit more subtle, making your eyes go wide for a brief second when the runner tries to read your face as he tries to decide which card to pull can likewise direct him to a certain card.  I've even thrown out a random "oh geez!" when something secret is sent to the trash, only to have the runner make a run to find out is was nothing.  There's all kinds of stuff you can utilize to get inside a player's head!

Well, I think that pretty much sums up the general gameplay, and some of the things that help set Netrunner apart from other games.  Thanks for sticking with me through the whole thing!  In my next "What is Netrunner?" article I'll be taking a look at both the Runners and Corporations in the core set, and briefly go into their general play styles.

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