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?