About the only major issue there was with FFGs reboot of Netrunner in the Living Card Game format was that the starter box encouraged deckbuilding but didn’t give you the tools to do it. Whether it was the somewhat mean choice to only supply one or two copies of powerful cards when the maximum was three, or the limited pool of cross-faction cards, it didn’t quite make the grade when it came to constructing your own decks.
But Living Card Games of course get boosters from time to time. Now the first ones are available for Netrunner labelled, rather curiously, as Trace Amount and What Lies Ahead. The names may appear rather meaningless. But I’m glad to say that between them they pretty much perfect Netrunner as a system.
Each booster set contains three copies each of twenty cards. Doesn’t sound a lot, especially when you consider that each has a couple of identity cards which, for production cost reasons, you get in triplicate when you only need one. But they’re targeted to address key areas of weakness in the base game alone.
I wanted more corporate ICE in my decks, and now I’ve got it in both faction-specific and generic flavours with a variety of complementary effects. There was a dearth of Agendas tied to particular factions in the base game, forcing you to fall back on generic alternatives to score your points, limiting options and weakening the theme. That’s fixed now.
For the runner there’s now a way to defend yourself against the relatively uncommon but devastating meat damage effect. There’s also some more ways to make money, something a lot of factions struggled with. And you’ll need it since there’s a some smoking new hardware and software to run, capable of scattering corporate defences like dry straw in the wind and with a price tag to match.
Perhaps the most important improvement is a power boost for Jinteki, commonly seen as the weakest of the corporate factions. I’ve not played enough to really comment on their respective power, but I do love their tricky, slippery cards which add further layers of subterfuge and double-bluff to a title already rich with mind games. It’s good to see them get a boost.
Jinteki also get my favourite card of the two expansions, Snowflake from What Lies Ahead. I didn’t want to get into detail on individual cards, there being plenty of discussion about that elsewhere, but I can’t resist on this. It’s an ICE card that causes the two players to secretly choose between 0 and 3 credits, and ends the run if their choices are different.
Right there you’ve got psychology, greed, stealth and yet they’re kept tied tightly to rock-solid game mechanics and resources. Just wonderful. It’s almost a shame that the runner will usually just bypass it with an icebreaker. But then again, there’s always the temptation for them to try and save a few resources by engaging with it. That whispering allure is what Jinteki is all about.
What Lies Ahead that’s overall the better, more widely applicable and more interesting expansion of the two expansions. Unfortunately it’s Trace Amount that generally does the heavy lifting to improve Jinteki, also having a new identity and a vicious agenda to sit alongside Junebugs in giving the runner jitters.
By now my personal faction sympathies are probably showing strongly. But most factions get some interesting new toys of play with. Best of all, everything introduced in these expansions bolsters the emergent theme that’s the best feature of the basic game. We’ve already talked about Jinteki. But the Anarchs get cards that cause more chaos, Weyland cards that suck in money. Shapers become more flexible and versatile. It all slots together, building an amazingly rich picture of the near future from a mere handful of cards.
The near future of Android: Netrunner is going to be filled with a lot more of these booster packs, and inevitable, tedious arguments about killer combinations and nerfing certain deck types. It’s almost a shame that we can’t freeze-frame the game right now because with these first two the base game feels like a well-oiled, well-balanced machine with plenty of intriguing combinations and nothing excessively over- or under-powered. If you plan on playing the game as anything other than an occasional curiosity from your collection, they’re pretty much essential.