When have you played a CCG enough to feel that you know the game?  That’s a question I’ve been pondering the past couple weeks as I’ve been learning Netrunner.  Netrunner is not, technically, a CCG.  It’s a “Living Card Game,” wherein you can cheaply buy all the cards in fixed sets.  I bought the base set, which comes in a ridiculously oversized box, and the first set of expansion decks, the “Genesis Cycle,” in a lump, and have been playing in the mornings with my regular opponent.

There’s a Runner, or the offensive player, and the Corporation, the defensive player.  The Runner wants to steal Agendas from the Corporation, while the Corporation wants to protect Agendas until they can be Advanced, or scored.  The game is over when one side or the other has 7 points of Agenda either stolen or advanced, or when the Runner is dead.  Corporations are immortal, of course.

I’ve avoided looking up strategy or tactics online, and have instead been enjoying the slow process of learning the game, putting decks together, trying out new ideas, and generally getting smashed no matter which side I play.  So far, I’ve put together a generally competent Shaper deck, a really nasty Criminal deck, and a hardware-gimmick Shaper deck.  I’m still feeling out the gimmick deck, and played around briefly with a virus-Anarch deck that was really bad.  On the Corp side, I’ve had great success with a straight-up Weyland deck, have made a middling NBN trace deck, and am going to try out an HB deck soon.

Corporation is definitely more challenging.  It is also where this game’s real strength come out – the importance of execution relative to deck construction.  Back in the day, I found that well-played MTG decks more or less played themselves.  There wasn’t much to the actual game other than seeing your pre-planned combos come into play.  The deck worked or it didn’t, and making it work in each match was just a matter of drawing the right cards.  Netrunner demands much more, I think, and especially from the corporate player.  At least, it seems to.  Maybe this perception is just the result of my ToTaL NOOB status, and that after enough play it will become automatic as well.  Who knows.

It’s been a lot of fun.  My regular gaming opponent has never played a CCG or a deck-builder before, but is starting to get the hang of things.  He may even try building a deck soon.