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#7 — JUNE 18th, 2013

THIS WEEK:
Hackers, surveillance & secret agendas

   

ANDROID: NETRUNNER

ASYMMETRIC GAME of CYBERWARFARE

Picture a handful of gigantic tech companies controlling the backbone of human commerce and communication: secret data centers, bottomless bank accounts, access to all the world's data. The whole bit.

Now picture a ragtag group of hackers working in the shadows, infiltrating corporate servers for profit, politics or just for the lulz; vandalizing corporate websites, liberating closely-guarded secrets, creating bad publicity.

Which side are you on: the all powerful mega-corp, or the scrappy street hacker?

You've just conjured up a dystopia from a 1980's cyberpunk novel… or a fairly accurate picture of the world we live in today. Android: Netrunner is a 2-player card game set in a heightened, stylized version of this reality. Nods to Anonymous, Stuxnet or Wikileaks exist alongside wildly sci-fi stuff like space elevators and genetically modified androids. The present has never felt so futuristic.

As is the case in true cyber warfare, Android: Netrunner is asymmetric. This means that opponents are not evenly matched; not only do players take on different roles, they play by different rules. The Corporation player, for instance, is slow moving but with vast resources and access to surveillance technology. The Runner is a poor but nimble hacker, able to take the fight to the corporation when and where she chooses. The former builds up defenses around his corporate network so he can further his agendas in secret, while the latter must penetrate these defenses in order to steal these agendas away.

As a Runner or Corporation, you must choose to play as one of many factions. Whether you're a hacktivist org, criminal syndicate, Monsanto-like corporation, or a broadcaster like NewsCorp, you'll have different strengths and vulnerabilities.

Servers hold secret agendas; software called "ice" is used to set up barriers and traps to slow the progress of runners trying to get in

The asymmetric rules and wide variety of card types come at a cost: this is by far the most complex game I've covered in this newsletter. The fact that the rulebook ends in a full-page flowchart should make it clear Netrunner is not for the faint of heart. If you give yourself the time to grok it, however, you'll find a deep, open-ended game-world that's easy to get sucked into. It's so engrossing, you might miss the latest news story about PRISM or Chinese super-hackers.

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Made with love in San Francisco, California.