The title should be enough, but yeah. Netrunner. It embodies everything I could have asked for in a trading card game. The distribution format eliminates the stupid randomness of booster packs that saps my wallet dry and leaves me drowning in a pool of common cards and disappointment. The game itself isolates its core mechanics and shields them from the cards themselves. You can always bluff. You can always take risks. You can always do big plays. The cards just facilitate the action.
I haven’t been playing for more than a few weeks and I’m hooked. The cyberpunk aesthetic is captivating and it’s woven into the mechanics so well. It’s quite telling when a game compels you to teach it to all of your friends. That’s the mark of greatness.
But I’m not just here to praise Netrunner. Quintin Smith of Shut Up and Sit Down already has that covered. 😉
No, I’m writing this post because I’m a game designer, and I think that there is a lot in Netrunner that applies to video games.
1. Isolate the Core
Netrunner lets you do the important stuff all the time. This is key. Some card games are about making attacks or summoning monsters, but you may often find it hard to do so (unless you have a $500 deck you loser). Netrunner treats all of the cards as a means of enhancing what is already there. The first thing that hit me when I played was that there were all of these things that I could do regardless of my cards. This is a paradigm shift, ladies and gentlemen. A card game isn’t about the cards. It is about the core actions. The cards should assist the player in performing these actions.
2. Let Me Be Myself
I love factions. Not in real life, of course. They kinda suck in real life. But in Netrunner they give such an amazing feeling of identity. I mean, on the Runner side, there are identity cards. Each faction of Runner and each Corporation has a feel all its own and they have inner variants that make aesthetic sense. There is a story to Netrunner. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s fun to get it in bits and pieces. When I saw Dinosaurus and realized that he was Chaos Theory‘s Console (computer), it blew my mind. It’s so cool to see that everything is connected and it makes me trust that the developer actually thought things through instead of the “MAKE MOAR DRAGONZ AND MAGICS AND STUFFS” mentality of certain other card games.
3. But Let Me Be Other People Too, Just a Little Bit…
Some card games “encourage” (read: force) specialization by creating a system where similar cards simply give too much power to each other. Netrunner gives no inherent advantage to same-faction cards. The faction-identity of a card has no effect on gameplay. On top of that, there is a cool “Influence” system (that I totally won’t explain here but peep the link for the info) that regulates card splashing and allows one to measure the “faction-ness” of a card. This system creates just enough of a constraint, keeping deckbuilding from becoming too daunting.
All of these things make Netrunner amazing and OMG I just wanna finish this article and play some more. Oh yeah, video games. I’ll figure that stuff out later…