Looking at the copyright dates from the original Netrunner makes me feel old. Very old. 1996 was a long long time ago and things have changed quite a bit with the hacking and, of course, with CCGs. While they were riding about as high as you could imagine a game for nerds would be in 1996, very few have survived. Most, like the original Netrunner, they died off after a short run or even one set (SUPER DECK!). We can count on one hand the number of CCG’s that are left and active; even the big names are now gone or changed over to the LCG format (Jyhad, Shadowfist). Yet MTG is alive and going very strong– so there is a market for collectible card games out there and Netrunner, now number 6 on Boardgamegeek.com, is scratching away at that itch–and it feels real good.
15 years is a long time–as I said, quite a few of the things that were friggin’ science fiction in the original Netrunner are a REALITY now, such as all the touch screen walls and iPads and whatnotall that we waste all this time with when we should be outside or cleaning the house. Going through the old cards, there are a few choice pieces of art, and the cards themselves are that old school thickness, but overall the design is dark and crappy and the art for the most part consists of a photo of someone that has been computerized (Codeslinger) or some Maya-driven 3d abortion (SeeYa). The beauty (and financial failure) of the original Netrunner is that you could have a bunch of fun with just two starters and two boosters– so much so that there was very little desire to buy anything else for the game. What’s more, the lack of any ‘clans’ type thing did little to inspire– there were just generic runners and generic corporations going at it. I think players with games like this with hundreds of cards NEED some sorts of divisions, however arbitrary, to sort things out for them.
In any case, I went in for the Fantasy Flight version of Netrunner, now an LCG, and I have had the opportunity to play it a few times. While I remember the old game as being solid, we only played it 20 or so times and never bought any new cards. This is the very reason Netrunner is absolutely perfect, probably THE most perfect, game for the LCG format. You will get a ton of play out of the base set and it’s seven potential decks (3 for the runner, 4 for the corps). Granted you have to switch out the neutral cards to make a complete deck, this is a small price for the asymmetric decks on top of asymmetric sides.
How is the new set? Frakin’ Great. The art and design is far better than the rather dark, cloudy cards from the ’96 version, the rules are cleanly and clearly presented. The big difference, and it’s a good’un, is that both the Corp and the Runners now have an avatar card of sorts that has some power or effect (like doing damage when an agenda is accessed). So you start by selecting your faction, then one of the avatars within that faction (i.e.: Wizzard or the Waylan Corporation). The runner side has actual people, and the corp has some different powers for the same Corp. You can surprise your opponent with your choice here, especially due to in my first few plays I forgot to even look at the avatar power before it bit my virtual buttcheek.