Fantasy Flight Games recently released a Netrunner data pack that has a couple of my cards in it! The art itself was completed about a year ago, so it’s not NEW new, but it’s new for you guys #justfreelancethings
I got to do Sage and Errand Boy, which were some really cool deviations from my usual work. You can find them in The Source, which is part of the Lunar Cycle collection.
It’s that time of year again, folks! One week from today, I’ll be back in Indy for the Gen Con Art Show with a few new pieces and some classic favorites. Debuting this year is my companion piece to last year’s headliner, completing the Introspection // Introcession diptych, as well as two new Netrunner cards from the Lunar Cycle.
If you’re around that neck of the woods next week, come by and say hi!
Netrunner, while technically a portable game, is different from the handheld titles we typical feature here. For one thing, it’s not an actual tiny cartridge or digital experience; it’s a Living Card Game — think of it as like Magic the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh, except it’s much cheaper since you don’t buy booster packs filled with random cards, instead picking up monthly data packs that contain all the cards for that particular release.
It’s also an asymmetric, two-player competitive game that pits resourceful hackers (think Shiren the Wanderer, pulling tricks out of his bag to survive any situation he encounters) versus huge megacorporations, sinister companies with hidden agendas protected in servers meant to keep those “runners” out, if not outright kill them.
I chatted with the game’s lead designer Lukas Litzsinger about Netrunner recently, but we mostly discussed its future and competitive scene. Just a quick warning: if you’ve no familiarity with Netrunner, maybe check out this intro video/tutorial, consider buying a Core Set, and come back in a few months after you’re acclimated with the game, otherwise none of this will make sense to you! Or just scroll through the article to laugh at the googly-eyed cards (credit to the Netrunners with Googly Eyes tumblr!).
Type: Upgrade: Hostile Cost: 1 Faction: Corp Haas-Bioroid Faction Cost: 1 If the Runner is about to break a subroutine on a piece of bioroid ice protecting this server you may rez Tyr’s Hand. [Trash]: Prevent a subroutine from being broken on a piece of bioroid ice protecting this server. Trash: 1 Set: Creation and Control Number: 22 Quantity: 3 Illustrator: John Derek Murphy
Let’s learn how to play Netrunner with this fun game ⊟
I’ve made a few mentions of it here — and many more mentions on Twitter — but Netrunner has become my second gaming obsession in the last year (after portable games naturally). I really want everyone to play this card game!
But learning Netrunner can be difficult, as there are a lot of mechanics and rules you need to learn, and you really need someone well versed in the cyberpunk game to walk you through it. Thankfully, Nagnazul made a neat web game that introduces you to the game’s world and systems.
Nagnazul’s Why I Run is a web-based visual novel (made with Twine) that requires no prior experience with Netrunner, and it’s a fun standalone diversion even if you’ve no interest in the card game and just want the rush of hacking a megacorporation’s security to rummage through their secret files. It acquaints you to many of Netrunner’s concepts while feeling like a game, not a tutorial.
My entire life, I’ve been disappointed by “cyberpunk” video games, even the ones I thought were good. The reason why is simple. Plenty of games let me walk around in rainy, neon-lit urban dystopias, and yes, I love this as much as anyone. But what these games often focus on is the experience of shooting people in these environments, or maybe of punching people with cybernetically enhanced arms.
You know, meatspace stuff.
What I wanted more than anything from a cyberpunk game was the experience of entering cyberspace, a realm of pure information, making a run on some megacorp’s priceless data, and encountering some deadly, seemingly impassable piece of ice the corp has in place. Then would come the thrill of slamming just the right icebreaker into my rig to exploit some infinitesimal weakness in the corp’s code, something that lets me carve a hole the size of a pinprick in the corp’s defenses, but that pinprick is all I need, because this is cyberspace, and here, a hole a needle can’t even fit through is endlessly vast because the only thing that needs to pass through it is my consciousness.
Expecting games to transport me to a realm as abstract and spiritual as this may be a bit much (though at times, Rez comes close). When cyberpunk video games do try to work hacking into their play, the experience is often so mundane that I wish they hadn’t bothered at all. But last year, I found a game that gives me what I’ve always wanted from a cyberpunk game–Android: Netrunner, a card game for two players in which one takes on the role of a corporation and the other plays the part of a runner who is trying to hack into the corporation’s servers.
I never expected the game to do it to be a card game, but now, of course, it makes perfect sense. With William Gibson as my escort, my earliest trips into cyberspace were facilitated by my imagination. There’s no reason why it should be any different now. What I love about Netrunner is the way in which every deck I put together has stories woven into it; stories about the life of a particular runner or the unscrupulous operations of a particular corporation, and when my deck collides with that of my opponent, those stories play out.
This happens because the theme of the game and its mechanics complement each other seamlessly. With almost every card, its mechanical function and its description mesh in such a way that a narrative takes shape over the course of a game. I understand and get invested in the life my runner is living, or in the happenings at the corporation I’m running.
For instance, this is Noise, one of the game’s many runners:
And this is Wyldside, a seedy club.
Wyldside has the benefit of giving you two cards, but that comes at the expense of one action. (Normally drawing one card costs one action, so with Wyldside you net one extra card, but with the downside being that you don’t have a choice; you lose that action no matter what if this card is in play.)
So with Wyldside in effect, part of my experience of the game becomes the idea of Noise (or whichever runner I’m using) staying out too late every night in this seedy club, making connections there, getting his hands on new hardware, new software, the stuff that lets him fuck with the corporations during the daylight hours when he finally drags his ass out of bed after partying too hard at Wyldside the night before.
I love this game’s cast of characters. There’s Kate “Mac” McCaffrey, who’s as skilled with nuts-and-bolts hardware modification as she is with beautiful code that can create doors in corporation ice where none exist.
There’s Elizabeth Mills (seen here on the Scorched Earth card), a ruthless executive for the Weyland Consortium, one of the game’s four corporations.
From a narrative standpoint, my favorite runner is Valencia Estevez, an investigative journalist digging into the corporations’ doings to give a voice to the voiceless.
I imagine her risking her own life to be a thorn in the corp’s side, using the work she does…
…to put the squeeze on the corporations and hold them accountable.
I find myself thinking about Netrunner all the time. I admire the elegance of its systems, like influence (the number 15 you see on all the runner cards in this post), which lets you pull in cards from other factions like you’re calling in favors. I build hypothetical decks in my mind, wondering about strategy and the effectiveness of pairing this card with that card, sure, but also thinking about the narrative possibilities. Can I build a Weyland deck, for instance, that’s all about how vicious and vindictive that corporation is (see Scorched Earth above) and how it tries to brush aside the human consequences of its projects by presenting those projects as as progress, rejuventation, and urban renewal?
Android: Netrunner is a living card game, and the newest series of cards, called the Mumbad Cycle, focuses on India. I love that both the game’s world and its mechanics are alive and in flux, constantly becoming richer and more colorful. I’m just as eager to discover the narrative texture of each new “data pack”–the people and locations, the hardware and software–as I am about seeing the actual functioning of the cards.
The way it all fits together is beautiful. And when I make a run on a corporation’s server, using my icebreakers to slip past their defenses, dive into their systems, and swipe some precious, glowing core of data, it feels just like I always imagined it would.