Tag: reviews

Rogue Legacy Review: A Skill Grind

By: Jason Waddell

I don’t have time for bullshit.

Games with superfluous filler to be disrespectful to me, the player. It didn’t used to be this way. Back in the day you found yourself in World 1 – 1 and ran to the right, and didn’t stop running. The industry has changed. 22 years after the release of Super Mario Bros. came Super Paper Mario, a game that effectively served as a bad marriage simulator: packed to the brim with vacuous dialogue and errands, and mostly devoid of action.

Thankfully, there’s one genre I can always count on to treat my time with the respect it deserves: roguelikes. For the unaware, the defining feature of a roguelike game is that the player is given only a single life. Lose it, and all progress is lost. Back to square one. Life after life, you gain literal experience: you learn more about the game’s systems, its tricks, and gradually you gain the skill to make deeper and deeper inroads into a game’s (typically) fiendishly-difficult dungeons.


Roguelike’s come in all shapes and sizes, and Rogue Legacy combines the typical roguelike construct (one life to live) with Metroidvania-style gameplay: platform based castle exploration. However, Rogue Legacy shakes up the formula with one very pivotal alteration: when you die, you don’t actually lose everything. After each life, you can spend whatever hard-earned coins you collected to purchase upgrades that will permanently affect all future heroes you send into the dungeon.


To reenter the castle, you must sacrifice all (or, after some upgrades, nearly all) of your gold to the castle’s Gatekeeper.


The result is that you must acquire a minimum threshold of gold during a run for that run to be of any use. If I need a 1200 coin upgrade, a run that yields 800 coins will be all for naught, as I have to surrender those coins to the gatekeeper before reentering the castle. Naturally, the upgrades become increasingly expensive, requiring increasingly successful runs to continue your purchasing progression.

Eventually you’ll encounter one of the castle’s five bosses…


…and you’ll get shitwrecked.

Your stats aren’t there. Bob and weave all you like, the bosses’ damage output will simply outclass yours. True, you may need more skill (and you will quite noticeably improve), but mostly you need more time. You need to grind. After the game’s honeymoon phase wears off (for me, somewhere around the 7 or 8 hour mark), you’ll start to see the grind for what it is. Each life becomes less about exploration and discovery, and more about putting in the time required to earn sufficient upgrades.

At their best, roguelikes offer an unparalleled emotional thrill. Runs of Binding of Isaac have me tensely teetering on the edge of my seat while holding on to that last life point. They capture my emotions, leave lasting impressions.

Runs of Rogue Legacy bleed into one another, and have me looking at my watch. Ultimately no single run is all that meaningful or emotionally satisfying. Just another stamp on the time sheet. Although skill affects the efficiency of your grind, the fundamental nature of the activity doesn’t change. It’s still a grind.

It’s a shame, because the game does a lot of things well. The gameplay is tight and skill-testing, and maneuvering your character is truly a joy once air dashes and double-jumps enter the mix.

Rogue Legacy does many things well, but leaves me yearning for a game where skill, not time, is the primary currency.

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We need to talk about the Crush

We need to talk about the Crush: A Candy Crush Saga Review

by: Jason Waddell

My untested mental image of obscenely popular freemium Facebook games is intrinsically linked with the consumer exploitation: addictive systems with restrictive content access mechanics and a pay-to-progress business model. Creating an addicting progressed-based experience is relatively trivial in the gaming world. Even the game Cookie Clicker, whose sole mechanics include clicking on a digital cookie and purchasing items, has managed to get its addictive hooks into even the savviest of gamers, but is thankfully truly free to play.

Not so with Candy Crush Saga. Countless ink has already been spilled on the supposed evils of Candy Crush and its infamous Facebook predecessor, Farmville. Like its predecessor, I had been content to ignore Candy Crush Saga entirely. That is, until a coworker with respectable taste in games recommended it to me. We’ve played games like Set, Hive and Starcraft II together, and he’s far too busy to make time in his life for shallow time-wasting fluff.

With my curiosity piqued, I decided to discover first-hand what all the hype was about.


Match-three style games have never been my forte. I first discovered Bejeweled as a way to pass the time in a high-school computer science course, but found the gameplay rather shallow and unsatisfying. I’ll stick to Tetris on the TI-83, thank you very much. Years later I gave the genre another look based on Penny-Arcade’s Puzzle Quest recommendation, but even with a layer of RPG mechanics slapped on top, the gameplay soon became repetitive and tedious.

Candy Crush’s gameplay surpasses both of these.

Firstly, Candy Crush is surprisingly tactical. Rather than simply reward the player with extra points for combining four or more candies together, the combined candies leave behind one of four different special candies based on how the original candies were combined (a horizontally striped candy, a vertically striped candy, a wrapped candy or a color bomb).


When removed from the board, each of these special candies unleashes a unique but precise pattern of destruction on the board. Further, combining two special candies causes a devastating display. Progressing in Candy Crush requires skillfully and tactically setting up special candy effects to achieve each stage’s objective.

Secondly, with few exceptions, Candy Crush levels are restricted in the number of moves that they allot to the player, as opposed to a time-based restriction like the ones used in Bejeweled. This change fundamentally overhauls the experience. Bejeweled was a test of how well I could maintain my peripheral vision over the board while frantically executing matches. Candy Crush allows me to lay in bed and mentally mull over each move and its consequences at a relaxed pace.

Combined with the tactical play and we have the formula for an extremely satisfying experience. Although the game is wrapped from head-to-toe with colorful child-friendly graphics, the underlying gameplay engine is exceptionally skill-testing. Going deep into the tank to find a sequence of plays that completes the stage before your supply of moves runs dry can be a genuine rush, and taps into the same emotional feedback that hallmarks the best board games and card games.


Lastly, in addition to the core special candy mechanics, the game designers at King have packed the levels with interesting mechanics and obstacles: bombs that will end the level if not cleared within a certain number of moves, squares that must be unlocked by making matches in adjacent spaces, restrictive chocolate that slowly spreads over the level like Zerg creep, and so on. Beyond adding difficulty, these mechanics serve to keep the gameplay fresh and force the player to prioritize their actions differently from stage to stage.

As far as pure gameplay goes, Candy Crush passes with flying colors. I’ve never considered myself a fan of the genre, but the game’s designers have packed Candy Crush with innovative and intelligently designed systems that can keep even the most hardcore gamer satisfied. Of course, the age of evaluating games purely by their gameplay is rapidly disappearing. Free-to-pay games, however fun, are intrinsically linked to their monetization models.


On the surface, Candy Crush is well and truly free to play. There is no download cost, and so thus far it has been fully possible to progress through the game without ever paying a cent. In two-weeks I have beaten 160 levels without once paying money to beat a stage. But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t paying. According to a ThinkGaming analysis, at the time of writing, Candy Crush is hauling in an estimated $850,000 in revenue per day. Regardless of the precision of that estimate, it seems apparent that consumers are paying in droves to get their fix.

The game itself is constantly poking and prodding the player to spend money. Let’s count the ways.

0) Difficulty Spikes (and luck-based levels)

Although not strictly a monetization scheme, Candy Crush’s inconsistent difficulty curve is the bedrock that enables all of the other methods. Every handful of levels the player will face a stage that is considerably harder than the ones that precede or follow it. This is obviously devious but also a little clever from the psychological perspective. Candy Crush is generally fun, and after a really hard level the player is rewarded with a series of entertaining and satisfying levels. Several times I have been stuck on a level for a dozen attempts, finally beaten it, then proceeded to clear the following five levels without losing a single life.

If the game only got harder, players would give once the game’s difficulty surpassed their skill level. But with these difficulty spikes, the promise of fun is always just one level away. Perhaps, in a bout of frustration, you’ll plop down some cash to increase your odds of progressing past this level. And if you do, you may even feel good about it. Look at all these fun levels you get to play now! This pattern is baked into the level progression, and soon enough it becomes readily apparent which ones are the “hard ones” and which are not. That’s fine, but my biggest gripe comes with the fact that progressing past some levels has very little to do with skill and a lot to do with luck.


Some levels, like the level above, have restricted board space, and offer the player little in the way of meaningful choices. Here we see the starting configuration for a level that only has one possible move, occurring in an irrelevant corner of the board. On this level, often my first dozen or so moves offered no real choices, and winning required getting a fortune opening from the Random Number Generator.

Make no mistake, there was still skill involved eventually, but whether the level was even viable or not felt like taking pulls from a slot machine. Eventually you will get lucky, but the grind can feel pointless and frustrating.

1) Limited number of lives

The player is given a maximum of five lives. Every time you lose a level you lose a life, and lives are gained naturally every 30 minutes. If you’ve been away for at least two and a half hours, you’ll come back to a full set of lives. Personally, I like this mechanic because it forces me to make the most out of each level attempt and places some weight, however trivial, on the gameplay. Aside from rogue-likes, single-player games often struggle to create meaningful failure states, as you can often just reload from the last checkpoint and have another go. Restricting my number of allowed attempts forces me to take things more seriously, and makes the victories seem somehow more meaningful.

Secondly, it provides a natural limit that tells me to stop playing and go do something else. I will never pay for lives, and certainly don’t want to spend all day crushing candy. Running out of lives provides the gentle push to get off my rear and do something worthwhile with my time.

For those who don’t want to wait, however…


2) Limited number of moves

Although each level technically has a fixed move limit, the limit can be negotiated at any time by greasing some palms. As soon as you start to run low on moves, Candy Crush will pop up the following gentle reminder in the corner of the screen:


Perhaps the most impressive part is just how well calibrated Candy Crush’s levels are. I can’t count the number of times I’ve lost a stage when sitting one move away from victory. Even more devious is the fact that, on stages where extra moves can be purchased, the screen will hover for a full second on the board after defeat to let the player see just how close they were. “Two more moves and I can get there!”. For losses where moves can’t be purchased, such as losing to a bomb detonating, the player is immediately whisked away to the defeat screen.

3) Extra Items

Stuck in a jam that extra moves won’t fix? Visit the Yeti Shop at any time to buy your way out of it.


4) Crossing Bridges

After every fifteen levels or so, you will encounter a bridge that restricts further access to the game. To cross it, you can either pay 3 Facebook credits ($0.30 total), or pester friends until three of them give you a ticket to cross.


This is the only monetization scheme I have supported. I don’t mind paying for content, and certainly don’t want to pester friends and relatives and panhandling for dimes. Mobile users have the additional option of completing special challenge stages to cross the bridges in lieu of payment. Thus far I have crossed about ten bridges, racking up a $3.00 tab. This feels like a reasonable rate to me, and the transaction doesn’t compromise the integrity of the skill-based gameplay.

The Geometry Wars Effect

If you play Candy Crush on Facebook, you’ll soon discover that you’re not the only one. Your aunt from New York? The loser who always tried to copy your Chemistry homework in high school? You’re old flames? They’re all on there, and the game constantly checks in to show you how you rank against your friends on each level and in the game as a whole. Chemistry cheater made it to level 120? You can beat that moron. Well, maybe. If you could just get past level 79. Maybe you could use a Lollipop Hammer after all..

Best of all, there’s no way to tell if your Facebook friends shelled out cash to beat the preceding levels. You may have your suspicions about the homework hustler, but Candy Crush doesn’t kiss and tell. So if you decide to Paypal your way through the next stage, your friends will be none-the-wiser.


Candy Crush Saga is a highly polished product with legitimate gameplay merit that is coated and dripping with monetization hooks. The game is as free as you want it to be, so long as you possess the discipline and emotional fortitude to resist its addictive elements and block out the pay-to-win temptations. If you don’t have those qualities, consider Gizmodo writer Ashley Feinberg’s story of spending $236 on Candy Crush in one month to be a cautionary tale.

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Android: Netrunner Full Review

By: Jason Waddell

Last month I gave my initial impressions of Android: Netrunner, wherein I introduced the basic ideas of Android: Netrunner and gave my thoughts after my inaugural 90 minutes with the game. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to play against a variety of opponents both on- and offline, and can now offer a fuller assessment of the game’s design.

One of Netrunner’s marquee selling points is that it is a non-collectible game. The core set and subsequent expansions come packed with a complete playset of each included card, eliminating the need to reach for your wallet whenever you wish to create a new deck or tinker with an existing one. Although this sounds like a universal positive, it does come with significant design baggage: the same product has to satisfy both beginners and veterans alike.

Android: Netrunner is a deep and complex game, often to the point of being intimidating for a beginner. Several cards were either misplayed or misinterpreted in my early matches, and I found myself ending each playsession to scour Google for clarifications on cards or plays that didn’t quite make sense to me. The problem is apparently widespread, as despite a rather lengthy rulebook and supplemental online FAQ from Fantasy Flight Games, many gameplay elements remained unclear.

wyrm netrunneraccount siphon netrunner card

By contrast, a game like Magic: the Gathering is both more complex than Netrunner yet simultaneously more accessible. Wizards of the Coast have spent years lowering Magic’s barrier to entry, from the beginner-friendly “Duels of the Planeswalkers” recruitment program, to a pipeline of products designed to ease players into the more fully-fledged environments. I spend my days playing and writing about one of Magic’s most advanced formats, but I started with low-power decks that practically played themselves.

Netrunner is certainly better suited for learning under the tutelage of an experienced player, but for those without the luxury, I do hope you’ll power through, as Netrunner’s gameplay is both deep and rewarding.

The primary gameplay mechanics used in Android: Netrunner are resource management and bluffing via hidden information. The two mechanics blend to form an experience that is simultaneously tense and playful. Rather than sell you on the concept myself, I turn to the words of Richard Garfield, Netrunner’s original designer:

When one player knows something that another player doesn’t a world of game opportunity opens up. This opens the door to game theory – where there is bluffing and misdirection, and the play of the game can leap from the dry statistics of the rules into things like reading the opponents and smelling fear. At its best it allows a heady mix of intuition and reason that is hard to match. Hidden information is not appropriate for all games, but I never design any game without considering it long and hard.

Like luck in games, hidden information can increase the breadth of players that will play it. Whenever I learn a new game with no hidden (or inconsequential) information I know there are some players in my playgroup that will make that game a misery to play. They are not doing it to be abusive – but they can’t help themselves when the optimum line of play is there to be calculated. Even the luck of dice may not reduce their calculation – because they can always seek the probabilistically best move. But if there is meaningful hidden information they can’t overcalculate because they know that other people might be misleading them. And they also can make more arbitrary moves because they know that this may mislead the opponent.

– Richard Garfield, “Design Lessons from Poker

I’m a statistician by trade, and people are often surprised to discover that I don’t enjoy games with complete information. If a game state can be solved, my brain yearns to solve it. The wheels turn and turn looking for an answer, and I can’t turn them off. This is immensely dissatisfying. I don’t play games to solve problems. I play games to play.

As Richard Garfield notes, one of the secret benefits of hidden information is that it can cut down on analysis paralysis. You can only process things for so long before you shove your chips in one direction or another.

snare netrunner cardaccelerated beta test netrunner deckaggressive secretary netrunner

A key element of the design is that the card types Assets, Agendas and Upgrades are all played the same way: face-down on the table. With exception to depleting the Runner’s hand of cards, the Corporation’s only path to victory is “advancing” 7 points worth of Agendas. To advance an Agenda, the corporation spends one credit and one click (action) to place an advancement token on a face-down agenda. The above “Accelerated Beta Test” is worth 2 points and requires 3 advancement tokens to be scored. In total, scoring this agenda requires 4 actions: one to play the card from your hand onto the table, and three to advance it. By design, the corporation only has three actions per turn. Fully advancing an agenda almost always requires passing the turn back to the Runner with an Agenda on the table.

Such, the “safe” play is to first build up a defense of “ICE” to guard the agenda before playing one to the table. On the runner’s turn, he or she can make a “run” at one of your servers, which may or may not be home to an agenda. If they survive the gauntlet of ICE you have placed in front of them, the runner steals the Agenda and scores it for themselves. Of course, as the corporation, you can’t simply hold your Agendas in hand until there’s a well-guarded server waiting for them. No, Netrunner’s design is far too clever for that.

Two mechanics introduce an interesting tension to this dynamic. Firstly, the runner can make a run at just about anything. They can make a run at the corporation’s hand to access a random card from the corporation player’s hand. The runner can make a run at the corporation’s deck (to access the top card) or discard pile (to access all cards there) too. Secondly, the corporation player is required to include a certain number of agendas in their deck.

The Runner will run at anything that isn’t nailed down. As the corporation, a valuable tool against this constant assault is the power of misinformation. The inclusion of assets like Aggressive Secretary and Snare! in your deck allows you to disguise your intentions and slows the runner down by forcing the runner to prepare for the worst before attempting a run.

breaking news netrunner
An Agenda that can be played and fully advanced in one turn. However, its benefit (giving the runner 2 tags) expires at the end of turn. Well designed tension all on one card. 

This system of mechanics allows the player to imbue their play with an incredible degree of style. Like Poker, Netrunner is less a game of mistakes than it is a game of opportunities. Two players with different temperaments can attack the game with different strategies, even with the same deck.  An aggressive player bears more risk, but can get away with certain gambles that a conservative player cannot. And like poker, sometimes it’s best to randomize your playstyle as to not give your opponent the gift of free information.

Like all card games, Netrunner is host to its fair share of randomness. Netrunner takes a novel approach to variance management. The corporation and runner players get 3 and 4 “clicks” (actions) per turn respectively, and clicks can be used in a number of ways. At any point, you can spend one of your actions to draw a card or a credit from the bank. This is not the most efficient way to draw cards or earn credits, but the availability of these options smooths out the game enough to prevent the “pointless” games that can occur in other card games like Magic while still ensuring that duels play out differently from game to game.

noise identity netrunnerkate mccaffrey identity netrunner

Best of all, Fantasy Flight Games has managed to create a game whose play is both diverse and consistently interactive. The game’s 7 factions (3 runners, 4 corporations) attack the game from very different angles, but the fundamentals of the game’s beautifully designed rules system holds it all together. The corporation must include Agendas in their deck, and the runner must find a way to steal said Agendas.

Android: Netrunner comes together to form an experience that is far more than the sum of its parts, and is hands down the most innovative and engaging new game I’ve played in the last decade. For a heady mixture of hidden information, bluffing and interactive resource management, look no further.

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Emotional Design: Catan Dice Game Plus Review

By: Jason Waddell

Catan Dice Game Plus (CDGP) is a game that I wanted to like. I’m constantly on the lookout for light two-player games to play with my wife. CDGP is billed as a marriage of two of my wife’s favorite games, Settlers of Catan and Yahtzee, yet somehow manages to capture the magic of neither. The game simply doesn’t deliver at an emotional level.


For those unfamiliar, the premise of the game is simple. Each turn, you roll six 6-sided dice over the course of three rounds. At the end of each round you may select any number of dice to re-roll. At the end of the third round, you buy any number of resources that you can purchase with your dice. With the right dice, a player can buy multiple resources in a single round (e.g. a road and soldier).

The object is to be the first player to reach 10 victory points. Victory points are earned in the usual Catan fashion, with 1 point for a village, 2 points for a city, and 2 points for the Longest Road and Largest Army bonuses. There is also a minor resource-management system, as purchased soldiers can be “used” once per game to add their respective resource to your dice pool.


Although the game sounds solid in concept, it unfortunately lacks the tension and emotional spikes that characterize Yahtzee. Yahtzee has players walking the tight-rope between trying to unlock the 35-point upper score-card bonus with the high-scoring lower-card rolls. There is some margin for error, but the game has just the right degree of tight constraints.

The upper score-card bonus is tuned to players scoring an “on par” 3 dice for each category (18 points for 6’s, 15 points for 5’s, etc.). A score of 24 for 6’s, while only earning 6 extra points “above par”, gives a player 6 points of leeway for scoring “below par” elsewhere. In Yahtzee, leeway is everything. You will miss, and like hastily cleaning up a messy apartment before guests arrive, your goal is to find enough compartments to hide your failures. As the game ticks on, that juicy 50-point Yahtzee box starts to look more and more like an appealing junk draw.

Yahtzee is very much an exercise in failure management, and when you finally hit that Large Straight or earn the upper score-card bonus, the emotional payoff is there. You took risks to get there, made non-lucrative early plays to set up the big payoff. Even the unearned random Yahtzees and Large Straights deliver on an emotional level. It’s not by accident that the term “Yahtzee” has entered our cultural lexicon.

Catan Dice Game Plus, however, has none of these hallmarks. You slowly trudge along gaining incremental advantage. You score the extra road or you don’t. You accumulate some soldiers. Each turn you tick a bit closer to victory, hopefully closer than your opponents. There’s some strategy, but none of the emotional spikes, nothing that makes you throw your hands in the air. There’s little risk taking, no zero’ing out your Full House to take another audacious swing at the Yahtzee. Worst yet, there’s a weak climax (if any). CDGP goes until it doesn’t.

The game’s fun factor never materialized. My wife and I tried it several times, hoping to find something in it that we’d missed. What I gained most from playing CDGP was a greater appreciation for Yahtzee’s design. I had never realized how closely the “failure management” system of finding places to score botched rolls played into the fun factor.

Catan Dice Game Plus looked promising on paper, but its failure was an inability to deliver an emotional level.

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Android: Netrunner, First Impressions

By: Jason Waddell

Today I had my first hands-on session with Android: Netrunner, a revamping of a two-player card game originally designed by Richard Garfield in 1996. The game’s “cyberpunk dystopian future” setting is hardly original, but is one that I have a personal affinity for. Neil Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” ranks among my favorite works of fiction, and if you haven’t read it, I give you the same recommendation I received from a friend: just read the first two chapters. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more intense section of prose about pizza delivery.

Netrunner’s theme is intertwined with its asymmetric two-layer design, with one player assuming the role of the Corporation defending servers, and the other playing as a Runner attempting to steal information (Agendas) from said servers. Per Wikipedia: “The Runner’s goal is to gain 7 or more points by hacking into the Corp’s computer network and stealing agenda cards; the Corp’s goal is to gain 7 or more points by activating agenda cards.”

The crux of the design hinges on the fact that Agenda cards are found only in the Corporation’s deck. The runner must interact with the opponent’s deck to win, which is a refreshing change from Magic, where gameplans are often more proactive and self-focused in nature. The cards and mechanics in Netrunner are very opponent-focused. The decks can’t be goldfished.

The emphasis on interaction is amplified by a hidden-information mechanic. The Corporation’s cards are played to the table face-down, and can be turned face-up by paying a “rez” cost at any point in time. Enter bluffing. Let’s take a simple example:

Say the Corporation holds three cards: a trap, an Agenda, and a defender (ICE).

The Corporation may, for example, play both the trap and the agenda card face down, then place a face-down defender (ICE) in front of one of the cards. Which do you defend? On the following turn, the Runner could choose to spend an action to make a run at either card. The undefended card will be accessed immediately, whereas the runner risks suffering damage if they attempt a run on a card with ICE in front of it. Intuitively, the defended target appears to be of greater value, but it could all be a ruse. It’s a familiar quandry:

VIZZINI: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet, or his enemy’s? [pauses to study the MAN IN BLACK] Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I’m not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool; you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

MAN IN BLACK: You’ve made your decision then?

VIZZINI: Not remotely. Because iocaine comes from Australia, as everyone knows. And Australia is entirely peopled with criminals. And criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.

Of course, it’s not a pure random guess. The game state and style of the opponent will both factor into the reasoning. And like Poker, I suspect it’s important to mix-up your play, lest you establish a play pattern that can be easily exploited. Game Designer David Sirlin often refers to these types of decision states as “Yomi”, and while some perceive this mechanic as mere “Rock Paper Scissors”, tournament game scenes have established Yomi as a skill you can exceed at well beyond the rate of chance. Games with Yomi also have a certain playfulness to them, which are well suited to repeated play with a friend. There is no mathematically optimal line. It’s a dance that can be played out time and time again, with some real emotional satisfaction to be gained from timeless “Gotcha” moments.

Although, I must confess, this is all a bit of conjecture on my part. Before you “unlock” the mind games, you must first become proficient with the game’s basic mechanics and flow. There’s nothing like learning a new game to remind you of how complicated modern games can be. Even after thouroughly reading the rulebook and digesting a couple YouTube videos on how to play, I was still rather lost in my opening games. Although thematic, the game’s terminology isn’t doing a newcomer any favors. Your hand, deck and discard pile are called “HQ”, “Research & Development”, and “Archives” if you’re the Corporation, and “Grip”, “Stack” and “Heap” if you’re the Runner. Not that the names really matter, but every little thing increases the barrier to entry for a newcomer.

While the game does offer deckbuilding possibilities, it thankfully comes packed with 7 preconstructed decks (3 Runner, 4 Corporation). This allows for 12 unique match-ups, which feels rather generous (cost aside) when compared to a game like Blue Moon that includes only two decks out of the box. Further, the rules recommend newcomers start with the “Shaper” Runner deck and the “Jinteki” Corporation deck, presumably for ease of access. Even with these considerations, there are still intimidating factors. Take this card:

(Card art by Lexxy Douglass, contestant on Penny-Arcade’s Strip Search)

As a first timer, Precognition made me anxious. Casting it meant I would have to read through five new cards, try to process their strategic value and rearrange them in a profitable way. It was too much. In Cube I relish my instant-speed Brainstorms and assorted library manipulation affects, but here I experienced negative emotion when I so much as drew the card. I didn’t want to waste a move casting it. I’m sure this will change, but it’s interesting to see how different things look at different levels of experience as a player. Players can tolerate all sorts of complex cards, decisions and mechanics, but they have to get there in baby steps. This is something Wizards has shown great mastery of over recent years, with an entire pipeline of products and formats designed to ease players into the game. Sometimes as cube designers it’s easy to lose an appreciation for just how far we’ve progressed from the day we first encountered Magic.

And when it comes to games, first impressions are everything. I played Netrunner for about 90 minutes today, and lord knows I’ve given up on dozens of games in far less time than that. As far as Netrunner is concerned, I’m itching to play again, and hope I can track down a friend to play with me tomorrow. There’s a wealth of depth to this game that I’ve only scratched the surface of, and I can’t wait to test-run the remaining five starter decks. Best of all, Netrunner is a so called “Living Card Game”, which means that the base game and all expansions are non-collectible. Netrunner has been on the shelves for just over a year, and you can pick up the core game and all its expansions for about the price of a Tarmogoyf.


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