Favourite CCGs: mine's Netrunner, what's yours?

I'm something of a Richard Garfield fanboy, having cut my teeth on Magic circa Revised at 12 or 13 years of age. I even had a subscription to The Duelist, and spent countless hours building and tuning decks. When Garfield's cyberpunk-themed (and CyberPunk 2020-licensed) CCG, Netrunner, was released, I remember being very interested in trying it out. The problem was, CDN$25 for a starter deck was a bit too rich for my teenage blood. I stopped buying Magic cards just after the release of Visions, because Wizards were releasing new sets too rapidly for my wallet to sustain. I allowed my Duelist subscription to lapse, and when I left for university, I didn't take my cards.

Netrunner only lasted a few years in the CCG market -- the cyberpunk fad died out not long after its release. There was only one formal expansion, Proteus, and then a subsequent mini-expansion, Classic, featuring a few dozen cards that would have formed part of Netrunner's never-completed second full expansion. A few summers into university, I found myself back home at the same time as one of my junior high gaming pals. This was at the tail end of Invasion block, when Apocalypse was released, and we picked up some cards and had a blast. It was on one of these treks to the local hobby shop to buy Apocalypse packs that I noticed a stack of Netrunner starters gathering dust in the display case beneath the cash register.

"How much do you want for those?" I asked. The shopkeeper named a very reasonable price, and I went home with a starter and a handful of booster packs. Being a game system nerd, I went straight to the rulebook.

It was love at first parse.

I should confess, here, that Neuromancer is one of my favourite books, and I've read pretty much all of William Gibson's novels. I'm also quite fond of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. The thought of attaching a trojan to some valuable data in order to get the approximate address of a hacker who happened across it, and then contracting an airstrike to level the entire city block encompassing the address... well, let's just say I found it appealing.

Netrunner was the first -- and, I believe is still the only -- "asymmetrical" CCG. In other CCGs, each player theoretically drew cards from the same pool, and the same rules always applied to both players. In Netrunner, there were two well-defined roles, and a player could only take on one or the other at a given time. Those roles were the Runner and the Corporation.

The runner was a hacker, or a cracker, out to "liberate" information from corporate servers. The corp, attempting to advance its agenda, protected its secret plans by building "data forts" filled with "intrusion countermeasures electronics," or ICE. There were two separate pools of cards (with different card backs) and two separate sets of rules for the runner and the corp, which is why the starters were so expensive when the game first came out: in contrast to Magic's 60-card starters, Netrunner starters contained 60 runner cards and 60 corp cards.

My friend and I all but abandoned Magic for a while after that, and I bought up the hobby shop's entire stock of Netrunner cards to distribute among a handful of interested people. My friend and I generally alternated equally between runner and corp, maintaining decks for each, but I always felt slightly more at home as the corp and he always felt slightly more at home as the runner. His tactics were aggressive, heedless of the brain damage that can ensue from unwittingly stumbling into particularly aggressive pieces of "black" ICE; I hid my secret agendas behind exactly that sort of ice, waiting for the crucial mistake that would allow me to trace him and then flatline him using the information gleaned from the trace.

The game mechanics were excellent. There was just enough complexity to be interesting, but not enough to be dull, and there was room for lots of bluffing (most corp cards were played face down). The game also had great flavour -- if you like black humour. Cards like Fall Guy and Expendable Family Member allowed the runner to avoid being traced and tagged by the corp; Loan from Chiba granted an immediate infusion of cash but might cost you your organs later; the corp had access to viral marketing with cards like BBS Whispering Campaign (and this was in 1996!); truly unscrupulous corporations could engage in Political Coups or Bioweapons Engineering; murderous corps such as my own could use targeted airstrikes under the guise of of Urban Renewal; aggressive runners could use the brain-damaging Lucidrine Booster Drug, which also came in Drip Feed form for the true speed junkie. Flavour text was always appropriate and often humourous. Fall Guy's flavour text, for example, read "What I like about you, Neal, is that you trust me." Poor Neal probably never knew what hit him.

We still play the game, years later. I buy up stock of Netrunner cards when I happen to see it in stores, which is almost never. I still have my "tag 'n bag" corp deck, my friend still has his risk-taking runner deck. We both have two or three other decks as well, and try out new ideas even now. We play whenever we get together, and invariably have a blast.

So, what's your favourite CCG?

I'm quite proud to say that my addiction to CCG's started and ended with magic. I spent a little while playing online and have purchased a couple starter decks and boosters that I play with my little brothers, but the cost vs my student income convinced me to stop and I've never looked back. I still play with my little brothers when I'm at home but I haven't made any purchases in years.

Also spent a little while playing yu-gi-oh through my job at toys'r'us. I can see why it was so popular, especially considering that it had its own tv show/advertisement. But it always seemed to be a little unbalanced to me, so I never moved past the free deck I was given when we started hosting saturday morning tournaments.

I guess I am one of those rare gamers that never played CCG's or RPG's. Neither of them really appealed to me. I did play UNO though. Does that count?

I have nothing but antipathy towards CCGs, unfortunately. It's no fault of the games; they're a wonderful past time, and they were immensely popular and successful. But my taste for them was soured by the fact that CCGs singlehandedly destroyed our college's gaming club. What once was a gathering place for serious roleplaying and intense tabletop wargaming quickly became ... the fantasy equivalent of a bridge club. It was all cards all the time. Dark days.

But I suppose it was for the best. The beating CCGs gave to tabletop games prepared me for the atomic destruction that video games would inflict on my teenage RPG hobby... I don't know if I could have survived the onslaught if Magic hadn't hardened me to what was coming.

It's true. He has a pack of Magic cards stuck to the wall of his office with a dagger through it and the name "Yoko" painted across it in blood.

Fletcher, you promised not to talk about Yoko in front of our friends.

Though not TECHNICALLY a CCG, I'm still in love with Killer Bunnies and the Search for the Magic Carrot. Also, two words: strip bunnies, good stuff.

Ajar, did you ever happen to play the underlying Cyberpunk 2020 game that Netrunner was based upon?

No, never. I've actually never played a sci-fi RPG of any kind. I've been reading up on sci-fi RPGs, though, because I'd like to have a rulebook at my disposal if I decide I want to run a sci-fi game. Apparently there was a semi-recent iteration of the Cyberpunk franchise, Cyberpunk 203X, but it has garnered mixed reviews. There's also Shadowrun, a pretty old GURPS cyberpunk supplement, and an obscure one called Ex Machina.

Mentioning Cyberpunk 203X is a bannable offense on the Escapist forums. OK that's not actually true, but it is true that most of the people involved in the creation of the magazine were involved in a long-running Cyberpunk 2020 campaign and we love the game.

Apart from my horribly expensive love/hate affair with Magic, there was a CCG called "Let's Kill". Basically, you had victim cards, weapon cards, random occasions, etc., all done in stick-figure pencil art, and you got points by killing in horrible and inventive ways. It was the only game I remember playing that made me laugh uncontrollably, there was nothing better then drawing "Weed Whacker And A Pound of Cocaine" to win a game. Good times.

I have a bunch of cards. The ones we keep coming back at all are Mythos, which is just so different to everything else I know of and Pokémon, which is just easy fun. Actually I've got a lot of Mythos, since I got a bargain on the retail boxes some years ago. Cool game, that, although very non-competitive.

I've got a bunch of INWO, too, which I'd like to break out again one day.

Mentioning Cyberpunk 203X is a bannable offense on the Escapist forums. OK that's not actually true, but it is true that most of the people involved in the creation of the magazine were involved in a long-running Cyberpunk 2020 campaign and we love the game.

I use 9 luck baby.

In my opinion there's only one CCG worth playing: Dredd (Judge Dredd CCG). It's out of print now because the company that made it and marketed it imploded shortly after it was released, but it's a really great game.

The Star Wars CCG is the only CCG I still play. Although I still have a lot of my Magic cards, I haven't even looked at them in about 5 years.


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