Netrunner is Dead, Long Live Netrunner

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  • Sitting across from each other in a repurposed bank vault, Ryan and I mourn the death of Android: Netrunner. Fitting, for a game about criminals and corporations run amok, multi-faceted hackers and multi-national tech monstrosities sowing chaos in the name of ideology, anarchy, or pure capital. We blitzed the stages of grief right quick, bemoaning Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight Games, the middling profitability of “living card games,” the ubiquity of Magic: The Gathering. More than all that we cursed our busy adult lives, the kind that complicate scheduling for regular table-top duels.

    But after a few sips of our tea, I sheepishly admitted to a sense of relief. Ryan sighed and laughed he felt the same, though he was wary to say so. I taught him how to play, along with almost everyone else I regularly played against—about six people, each from scratch, learned the basics of this classic asymmetrical card game of bluffing, resource management, crippling combos, and whimsical luck. And with every new player I’d have to admit that it’s not an easy one to learn, but also not as convoluted as it is intimidating. Most people familiar tabletop gaming can pick it up in a single session; the main fibrous barrier to entry is the lingo and the sheer number of cards that’s so daunting.

    Netrunner is the game most of my friends associate with me, though I’m nowhere near as obsessive as most other fans. It has a fiercely dedicated worldwide fanbase, and enjoys heaps of respect around any reputable gaming space. But it’s also a significant investment if you want all the cards, and unless you hope to stick with just a couple of different decks, you want all the cards. As of this writing that is proving damn near impossible if not simply expensive, and after October FFG is required to stop selling any leftover stock. As such, they low-balled the printing of the final expansion Reign and Reverie, which appears to be one of the most dynamic and game-changing boxes for the game. Suffice to say, most fans feel like the bed has been shit through with the ending on this one, a rightfully sour taste lingering in all our mouths.

    So why were Ryan and I feeling guilty relief? Because to have kept up with the likes of Netrunner was an exercise in futility, unless you’d dedicated your waking days to it. It’s a lifestyle game, and like the word implies, to live the Netrunner life is to let it consume your thoughts at all times. To get so caught up is easy though, in such a rich and immersive world that is much more inclusive and indicative of a shrinking globe as this tweet thread lays out. It’s more than mere flavor—Netrunner has been described as one player building a labyrinth while another tries to break through, and how one builds and breaks that maze is up to the pilot. At the same time, I could not live that competitive life, micro-tuning the perfect solitaire-style deck that ends the confrontation before things have even begun or reducing the game to a bone-cracking grind of misery. I grew bored stealing company time to pore through a forum and a Slack channel, losing myself in the unceasing stream of cards, strategies, calculations, data. Keeping up with a meta has never been my forte.

    My favorite part of Netrunner has always been the bluffing, the threats, the dares—when a Hail Mary Maker’s Eye goes right for once and you rip a game-winning trio of agendas right before the end, or that foolish runner busts headlong into your plans to blow up their apartment, these are the succulent moments of the game. I don’t aim to disrespect the competitive scene, they are truly neuromancers wielding intricate plays and reflective combos that dazzle gray matter. I’ve just enjoyed the game exponentially more in person, with handshakes and sharing memories of implausible wins and tragicomic failures, checking out the hand-soldered click trackers, 3D-printed credit tokens, and laser-etched custom ID cards.

    And now that the game is dead, I can teach even more people to play without the caveat of further most-wanted-lists of card adjustments and errata, mechanics that necessitate a breakdown of the thin timing between ICE encounters and trash abilities. I love all this, but I love having a chance to breathe, to catch up, to play a game that isn’t made of pure mercury anymore. Plus, knowing Netrunner fans, they’ll be cooking up the best cyber dishes yet to come. There has already been one homebrew narrative campaign (easily outperforming the rather lackluster official one), with others announced on the subreddit, all of which have me very instantly intrigued. Alternate tournament modes have been in the mix for a long time as well, and there’s even word of an underground association looking to expand the card pool on their own.

    I want to teach this game for as long as my cards hold up, I want to be more confident about playing in illicit online formats, I want to combine cyberpunk role-playing games with Netrunner for the pure nerdiest analog-to-digital experience possible. These very desires exist way beyond me, auguring that this game will only truly die when the last fans forget, after high quality backup scans are devoured by a sentient AI, leaving only a whisper of one of the grandest designs of card game history.

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