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Tapping the Source Code

In our first preview, we looked at some of the reasons Fantasy Flight Games is excited by the upcoming release ofAndroid: Netrunner, the reimagining of Richard Garfield’s classic 1990s card game of megacorps, runners, and cybercrime. Today, we’re pleased to share Mr. Garfield’s thoughts on seeing his game reimagined, the introduction of identity cards for each of the game’s two sides, changes to mechanics like trace attempts, and more!
How do you feel about seeing Netrunner reimagined?
I am delighted to see the Netrunner design alive again. It has some mechanics in it I was very pleased with, and I was sad they didn't get broader exposure. The Fantasy Flight Games treatment has been respectful of the original and yet has layered on some design additions and modifications that could bring a lot to the table – something I have seen them do again and again.
With what part of the original game were you most pleased, and how do you feel that Android: Netrunner has handled that aspect?
I would say the best part of Netrunner was the space for head games that would take place between the players. Sometimes, in trading card games, it feels like the cards are playing you; the card you draw each turn defines the game. In Netrunner, you definitely play the cards, and you have enormous latitude in how you play them. One measure of this is the question, “How much would it affect things if I knew my opponents’ cards?” For a game like Magic: The Gathering™ (and even more so with many Euro-style games), for a lot of players and a lot of situations, the answer is, “Not much.” You have to be very good (or find yourself in an unusual situation) to bluff in Magic™. In Netrunner, even the most casual player will very quickly start bluffing and wishing they could see their opponent’s cards.
This part of the Android: Netrunner design seems completely intact; it is exciting to see!
Another part of the original I really liked was the sense of humor, something that is fun to see in the new version as well.
What were some of the challenges in designing the original Netrunner?
The biggest challenge for the Netrunner design was that the property really called for an asymmetrical design, or an indirectly interactive one. It was a given that players were going to be hackers. If players were going to play hackers, then they would be competing directly with the organizations they were hacking into. Those organizations could either be played by the game system (creating indirect interaction between players) or by another player (making the game very asymmetrical). I played around with several designs where all the players were competing to run missions against a world deck; this worked okay but lacked the bite that direct head-to-head competition gives.
I guess another challenge was simply the fact that when Netrunner was designed trading card games were very young, and what was possible, as well as their natural strengths and weaknesses, were not as apparent. These days, a trading card game has ample examples of successful designs and unsuccessful designs with brilliant components from which they can draw inspiration and view as cautionary tales. We were still flying in heavy fog back then.
What do you think about the game’s new identity cards for the corporations and runners?
These are fun. They give a starting point for strategy and deck-building, and they are flavorful.
How do you feel about the changes to some of the mechanics, like trace attempts?
Almost all are reasonable simplifications or elaborations on the original mechanics. Some changes seem clearly good – like broadening the runner's ability to participate in trace attempts, while others are judgment calls. I am confident that care was taken not to change for the sake of change.
Android: Netrunner limits decks to three copies of a given card. What kind of impact do you think this will have on the game?
It will have little effect. The game was either released with or quickly moved to a limit of four copies of a card. My standard in those days was to attempt to design to allow unlimited numbers of cards, but later to limit the players in post-publish metagame rules. Going from four to three is not a big deal, and if anything, it will increase the variety of possible designs.
Many players suppose naively that more choices is more variety, but if you are forced to play with fewer of your favorite cards, you have to add more of your second-tier cards, and variation is introduced with this choice.
Is there any card or specific mechanic from the original game that you’re excited to see get new life in Android: Netrunner?
I like how the Corp has three inherently vulnerable points that can be attacked by the Runner: the hand, the deck, and the discard pile. It feels “hackery” to allow my opponent to rummage through these three collections of cards unless I defend them, along with the more traditionally vulnerable spots – the various assets put into play during the course of the game.
Thank you, Mr. Garfield!
As fans of the original Netrunner, we’re excited to reimagine its classic struggles between vast megacorps and subversive runners, and we’re glad that Android: Netrunner has earned the blessings of the game’s original designer.
We're confident that you, too, will enjoy the exciting challenges of cybercrime and futuristic enterprise in Android: Netrunner. It won’t be long before you have the chance to begin you runs; Android: Netrunner is coming to Gen Con Indy 2012!

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