Playing Cards at Lunch

A fascinating thing has happened at my office this summer. Naturally as a lecturer, summer school is a bit easier and creates a more open schedule, which brings more free time in the afternoon. This void has been filled with playing card games with my colleagues. It started off innocently enough. I got the living card game (LCG, cousin of the CCG) Android: Netrunner and needed somebody to play with. Bringing it to the office every day worked out very well. There are some game nerds at work and they are down for almost any gaming fun. Sure enough, there is now a group of us who play Netrunner in a deserted computer lab before lunch like a bunch of excited kids. The last time I remember doing something like this, I was slinging cards in cafeteria halls of middle school before Pokémon and Magic got banned. What is happening?!

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Netrunner is one of the many brain children of Richard Garfield, who is the patron saint of collectible card games. He is the guy that came up with Magic: The Gathering. It also follows this pattern which means that even with the seven started decks available, right now I have only seen two and am still having a blast. Plus, the entry point of less then $30 (if you wait for the right time on Amazon), is very appealing. There are still some cards in MtG that are $30 (I’m looking at you, Jace). As an adult with a budget, even though I have forayed into MtG even within the last six months, the prospect of creating a collectible card game feel for such a low price is incredibly appealing. This is because a living card game (how Netrunner advertises itself) means that once you unpack an expansion, you have all the cards you should need from that new expansion. No pack pulls, no rare drops, no luck, just product available. This creates a level of accessibility that allows more trepidatious players to enjoy a game that for all intents and purposes could be a $200+ investment. This is also why I actually have a small crew to play with now.

Netrunner also brings a different style of play to the traditional CCG. In most card games, both players have access to the same resources and strategies. However, in Netrunner, the play is asymmetrical. One player is the “runner” (hacker?) and the other is the “corporation.” It is the corporation’s goal to advance and score agendas, and the runner’s goal to steal and stop those agendas. The first player to accumulate seven agenda points wins. The corporation can also win by removing cards from the runner’s hand, and the runner can also win when the corporation runs out of cards in their deck. This means that each side gets very different decks and play styles, with the runner being more the aggressor and the corporation playing more defensively. If you have never played any other asymmetric games (GMT Games has a lot war games in this style), it forces you to think much differently than you would  in a more traditional deck building game. This is because you have to adjust your play style to your Netrunner role, as opposed to using your own familiar play style. I for one, am typically a more “control” based player that likes to play cards in reaction, which made playing the more aggressive runner deck awkward for me at first.

At the end of the day, while I am enjoying playing and learning a new game with friends, I know what will happen in the end. I’m going to look up the current meta-game, naturally, and find the best deck that manipulates and crushes people with combinations that they will never expect. I want to make a deck that will cause my coworkers to howl and gnash their teeth, echoing down the empty summer classroom halls. Because if I bring the heat, they will too (we are a competitive bunch), and then we can all start buying expansion packs. Because it just doesn’t feel right to play a collectible living card game without spending a lot of money.

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