In the past, I’ve played a fair amount of Magic: The Gathering. It’s a fun game, generally, but of course, it has at least one notorious downside: It’s crazy expensive to keep up with new card cycles, because the card distribution system has been finely tuned to bring in as much money as possible by printing cards in different volumes, ranging from “common” to “uncommon” to “rare”, and since some years ago even “mythic rare”.
Keeping a full set of 4 copies of each card (the maximum you can have in a deck) would be an exercise in expensive futility. I’m sure some filthy stinking rich person is actually doing it just for the hell of it, but I have experienced regular fits of despair over that game, because I have the mindset of a librarian who hates collections that have holes in them. To not ruin myself, I have just had to accept from the very beginning that I cannot, and should not ever attempt to collect 4 copies of every single Magic card in existence.
If you want to make a good deck in Magic, you’ll have to plan it in advance. Build the deck in an online deck-builder, then buy the specific cards you need (and only *then* can you truly test it. Too bad if you made a crap deck!)
I have now turned over a new leaf. I am playing Netrunner. It’s a fun game, and my inner librarian loves it. It’s beautiful.
Netrunner is a Living Card Game produced by Fantasy Flight Games. What that means is no ridiculous artificial scarcity, no buying random booster packs in the vain hope that you might get one awesome card, no hunting for rare cards on ebay, no sitting with millions of common cards that you have no use for, etc.
Every month, a new Netrunner expansion is released as a datapack, and every year, a deluxe expansion is released. In that datapack (or deluxe expansion), you will find 3 copies of each card of that expansion, 3 cards being the maximum you can include in a deck.
I spent a few thousand kroner on this, and I now own all of the expansions released so far (except for two of the first datapacks, both of which are scheduled for a reprint within the next few months.)
Now I just need to keep up with datapacks as they are released, which is like, a very minor monthly expense.
My inner librarian is having frequent orgasms over this.
No, no. It’s a metaphor… I mean… I’m not actually deriving sexual pleasure from maintaining a complete collection or anything… Don’t be silly. Hmm…
You want to know the other beautiful thing about this? Netrunner is an asymmetrical game where the two players use two completely disjoint sets of cards, which means that one collection is sufficient for two people to be able to play against each other with any permutation of decks. Just because I have all the cards, doesn’t mean my friends need to have them just to be even. They can borrow my cards when we play, if they want to test some crazy idea they had for a deck, and there’s zero chance that I might have occupied any of the cards for my opposing deck.
But what kind of game is this, you might ask? Is it actually more fun than Magic somehow?
Well, for me it is. And not only because I get to have ALL OF THE CARDS, NEATLY ORGANISED!
There are two players in a game, one plays the megacorp and the other plays the runner. In the corp deck, there has to be agenda cards worth a certain amount of agenda points. The goal of the megacorp is to then either score 7 points worth of agendas or to flatline (that is, kill) the runner by emptying their hand (which for the runner counts as hit points). The goal of the runner is to either steal 7 points worth of agendas from the corp, or to exhaust their deck.
The corp has three central servers: HQ (hand), R&D (draw pile), and the Archives (discard pile). In addition to this, the corp can create any number of remote servers by installing cards into them.
To score an agenda, the corp has to install it in a remote server and advance it a certain number of times.
To steal an agenda, the runner has to make runs on the servers to be able to access cards (if you access an agenda, you get to steal it!). A successful run on:
- HQ (hand): Lets you access one card at random from the HQ.
- R&D (draw pile): Lets you access the top card of R&D.
- Archives (discard pile): Lets you access all of the cards in the Archives.
- A remote server: Lets you access all of the cards installed in its root.
Every card the corp installs goes on the table face-down. The corp may then pay the card’s rez cost to rez them (turn them over and activate them) as needed. Furthermore, if any unrevealed card is discarded or trashed, it remains face-down in the Archives.
The corp protects their servers by installing layers of ICE in front of them.
When the runner makes a run, they try to break through the ICE of a server using Icebreaker programs and any other tools they have at their disposal.
Some ICE will end the run if the runner doesn’t break its subroutines, others will let them through, but deal damage to them, or eat their credits (money), or something more sinister.
The play styles are completely different.
Being the runner is an exercise of being perceptive, and finding out when and where you will get the most out of running.
Being the corp is often a game of subterfuge. You can lay traps for the runner, distract them, mislead them, discourage them from making runs on the right servers. Bluffing is often a valid strategy.
As the runner, you will sometimes feel like you’re scaling a mountain full of buzzsaws.
As the corp, you will sometimes feel like you’re building a leaky dike in front of your servers, constantly having to plug little holes as the runner squishes through them.
Each player has a number of clicks (time units) to spend each turn. Those clicks can be spent on anything from drawing cards, to gaining credits, to making runs, to installing cards. And I think this is one of the crucial differences between the game structure of Magic and Netrunner, and one of the reasons I find it more fun and interesting:
If your hand is empty in a game of Magic, or you’re not drawing land cards, you will quite often just have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re screwed, and there’s nothing you can do.
If your hand is empty in a game of Netrunner, or your credit pool is dry, or your stuff was just trashed, you can still do things, you can still be effective! Sure, you may be in a desperate situation, but if your turn has just begun, you can always start by drawing more cards or gaining more credits. Or if you’re the runner, and you feel like it, you can attempt a (possibly suicidal) run to uncover that one last agenda you need to win.
At this rate, I may just decide to sell off my old Magic cards.
I’ll leave you with one of the weirder Netrunner cards. It’s a card used by the runner, and it does exactly what it says: The runner gets to see the top card of R&D, and then the corp can choose to draw it.
If your Magic-addled brain just exploded, and you want to figure out why on earth this card was ever printed, you’ll just have to try playing the game! (Mwahahaha!)