Marc: Hello! We had a long hiatus since our last review, but now we’re back to give our opinions on developments in the world of Android: Netrunner. And man, hasn’t a lot changed?! You go away for a couple of months and twelve data packs disappear from tournament play. This is due to “Rotation”, a policy Fantasy Flight Games introduced for their Living Card Games that takes the cards from the earliest sets of expansions for Netrunner and makes them illegal for competitions. This keeps the game fresh and exciting and allows a general re-balancing of the game.
As well as Rotation, the other big news is that Fantasy Flight Games announced a Revised Core set for Netrunner. Some cards that were going to rotate out of the game were all of a sudden saved from Rotation by being included in the Revised Core, and cards that were expected to last forever were removed to make room for them. A massive shake up of the game!
But what does this mean for the game of Android: Netrunner? Has the Revised Core set improved the game as a whole? Is the Revised Core a good entry point for new players? These are questions that I hope to answer in this article.
The Revised Core removes 40 cards from the Original Core, and adds in 59 cards, all of which were released in the first two sets of expansions for Netrunner; the sets that have been taken out of the game by Rotation. This decision was taken, I imagine, not to annoy long time players by forcing them to buy a completely new Core set. You still get pretty much the same total number of cards though, as more cards are included in the Revised Core as a single copy relative to the Original Core (you can have up to 3 copies of a card in your deck). I’ll come onto which cards have gone and which have stayed in a bit, but this is by far the biggest change between the two.
To give seasoned players a reason to buy the Revised Core, though, new art has been commissioned. By and large, this new art replaces old art that was done in a cartoon style. Clearly Fantasy Flight has a better idea now of the art direction it wants for Netrunner, so it makes sense to bring old art, from when they were experimenting with different art styles, up to date. I think my favourite new piece of art is the art for Red Herrings, which is just gorgeous. Some of the art decisions in the Revised Core I don’t like though. Test Run and Modded, for example, have very similar compositions making them difficult, at a glance, to tell apart. I also find the new art on the HB ICE very samey, again, making them difficult to distinguish.
Chris: Back in my day they made ICE that you could tell apart! Not like this newfangled ICE the Corps are using nowadays.
The new art in the Revised Core set has also given Fantasy Flight a chance to flex their story telling muscles, and in this respect they’ve nailed it. The best example is Gabriel Santiago. In the Original Core he was a young upstart, performing elaborate bank heists, shovelling money into bags. In the Revised Core, though, he’s depicted as a grizzled con man who’s seen it all, who now prefers stealing money by skimming it off the top of deals as an employee of the bank. This is a really nice touch, and I’m glad that so much thought has gone into this product.
What is it like for new players?
Any card game’s Core set is important for the game. It’s almost guaranteed to be the first thing a new player buys, and is likely to be their first experience of the game. For some, it’ll be the only experience they’ll have of the game; I know a couple of people who bought and played the Original Core set for Netrunner as though it were a board game like Dominion. It is, therefore, essential that the product gives as much of an overview, and a general feel for the game, as possible. Thankfully, the Revised Core succeeds in doing this, and I think does so to a better extent that the Original Core.
This view is based on the cards that have been kept, which in my opinion, do a really good job of highlighting the faction specialities. Anarchs are meant to cause chaos by trashing the Corp’s plans, hence the inclusion of Imp, Singularity, and Hemorrhage. Criminals generally make the Corp poor, are good at breaking Sentry ICE, and pressure the Corp’s hand (HQ). Emergency Shutdown, Faerie, and HQ Interface, respectively, highlight these qualities. Finally, Shapers have a program for every occasion, and are now able to search their deck for the perfect one with Test Run. This isn’t to say that the factions weren’t distinct in the Original Core, but I feel that the cards that have been kept emphasize the differences.
I also think that the Revised Core set promotes much more interesting deck building options. Take the Anarch IDs, for example. Noise, from the Original Core, wanted lots of viruses in his deck. However, there were no Shaper or Criminal viruses in the Original Core. Reina however, from the Revised Core, wants to make the Corp as poor as possible. To help her do this, she can import cards from Criminal such as Forged Activation Orders and Emergency Shutdown. On the Corp side, the Weyland ID wants Transaction operations in their deck, and the Revised Core contains Green Level Clearance, a 1 influence HB card, guiding newer players towards how to use the Influence system. There are other examples, but the takeaway is that I think there are a lot more cards in the Revised Core that promote thinking about how to construct your deck and how to spend influence, which is an aspect of Netrunner I really enjoy.
Another point to raise is that the rule book included in the Revised Core is now more of a Learn to Play guide, as opposed to the Original Core’s rulebook, which was much more of a rules reference. What I mean by this is that the Revised Core’s rulebook isn’t an exhaustive list of rules for Android: Netrunner. It just gives you some of the bare basics, and basically tries to get you playing as soon as possible. Hell, the recommended decks that the Revised Core rulebook advises you learn the game with are nowhere near tournament legal, constructed instead to avoid certain mechanics like Traces and Link. I think this is a really positive change, as Netrunner is really fun to play but can be difficult to learn. What better way to get you excited about the game than throwing you in as soon possible! Rather than forcing you to read a rule book that makes the game out to be horrifically complex, as the original rule book did. One of the rules left out concerns ‘unique’ cards, where two copies can’t be active simultaneously. However, nearly every ‘unique’ card in the Revised Core is only included as a single card anyway, and when this isn’t true (in the case of Consoles), it says the limitation on the card. Although this was almost true in the Original Core (only 1 unique card was available as 2 copies), this highlights how streamlined the new rule book is in the Revised Core; it saves the nitty gritty to a separate, online rules reference, for after you’ve fallen in love with the game.
Although I’m singing its praises, there are a couple of decisions about which cards to keep which seem strange to me considering the Revised Core as a standalone product. Underworld Contact gives you money if you have two Link. For Criminal, however, getting two Link using the starting decks (all cards from a faction mixed with all neutral cards) is very difficult, making the two Underworld Contacts in your deck largely dead cards. The same is true of Demolition Run, which is much weakened by the removal of Medium from the Core set. If I’m being kind, perhaps this is intentional to guide new players towards the idea of refining their decks. In the above example, perhaps you remove Underworld Contact from your Criminal deck, or include two Rabbit Holes to increase your chances of getting the card working. However, for some this gentle nudge might not be obvious, potentially leaving a sour taste in your mouth if you’re a new player who wonders if you’re missing something when a card seems to not do anything.
Effect on the game as a whole
Considering the effect of the Revised Core on the game of Netrunner as a whole, it removed a lot of cards from the game that were very powerful, and therefore warped the design space for the game. The IDs removed from the game are a good example of this. Every HB identity’s ability released had to compare against the raw economic efficiency of Engineering the Future, similarly with new Shaper IDs and Kate. Likewise, Noise meant that Fantasy Flight had to be careful about the number, and the credit cost, of Virus cards they released. Other instances of removed cards warping the design of other cards are Yog.0, which nullified a lot of Code Gate ICE, and Desperado, another very efficient card against which all other Criminal consoles had to compete. One of the big power cards to leave was Account Siphon. In the Original Core itself Account Siphon was not too bad, but in an expanded card pool decks were able to keep playing copies of it, and were able to mitigate the disadvantages of it, making these decks oppressive to play against.
Rotation was announced for Netrunner when Android: Netrunner was 2 years old. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the cards released in the first couple of cycles were designed alongside the Original Core without consideration for whether the cards would leave play. As such, many staples were released during this time. The Revised Core saves a lot of these staples, like economy cards such as Liberated Account and Celebrity Gift. The Revised Core also balances up the factions a bit when it comes to their Agendas. Two point Agendas which require three advancements (3/2 Agendas, for short) are powerful Agendas as there are a number of ways of installing and scoring them in a single turn, and they provide some of the best advancement requirement to points ratios of any Agendas. Previously, different factions had different numbers of these Agendas, but the Revised core saves the 3/2 Agendas released for each Corp faction in the Genesis cycle, such that each faction is more balanced when it comes to these powerful Agendas.
I just bought the Original Core and now I feel like an idiot!
Firstly, don’t worry; worse things happen at sea. Second, that’s fine! The Original Core set still gives you a fantastic introduction to the game of Netrunner if you’re playing casually, and what’s more, many of those cards you’ve just bought are still tournament legal if you decide to start playing the game more seriously. I also have not doubt that play groups will host “Legacy” style tournaments that use rotated cards. Importantly, just because the cards are illegal for tournament play doesn’t mean Fantasy Flight will kick in your door if you try and play them! (Chris: Just don’t tell anyone, their spies are everywhere!) Both the Original Core and the Revised Core provide a great experience, and you aren’t missing out on that by getting the Original Core.
The Revised Core for Netrunner provides a fantastic entry point for new players to Netrunner, with the revamped rule book lowering the barrier to entry considerably. The choice of cards emphasises deckbuilding and the influence system much more than the Original Core set in my opinion, which is an aspect of the game I like. What’s more, the positive effect the product has had on the game as a whole shows that Fantasy Flight is somewhat committed to keeping the game alive and well, which should be reassuring to people wanting to make Netrunner a ‘lifestyle’ game.