by Frisco Del Rosario
Book Review: Mastering NetRunner
Optimistically, one could view Wordware Publishing's "Mastering
NetRunner" as a response to growing interest in the game. In the
real world, however, where booster boxes can be bought for less
than $40, "Mastering NetRunner" looks like Wordware rushed it to
press before the game was completely dead.
Authors Ben Matthews and Charles Schwope sandwich 10 vain pages
of fiction and 109 pages of unoriginal material around 64 pages
on elementary deck construction and play strategy. Game mechanics
are not touched upon, though a complete sample game is described
in the "Weefle Initiation" chapter. The play-by-play narrative in
"Mastering NetRunner" is easier to understand than Wizards of the
Coast's sample in the official rulebook.
Matthews and Schwope's advice is time-tested ("it is normally
a good idea to make at least two runs during your first turn") and
sometimes overly general ("Roving Subs need to be run immediately").
The chapter on corporate deck construction introduces the classic
themes of fast advancement and tag-and-bag, and the authors advise
well to choose agenda which fit into a deck's overall plan, but
lose focus when they mention the "BitsBitsBits" deck, which gains
"money for money's sake", and offer no method for such a deck to
Confusion also sets in regarding the book's basic strategy: "simply
generate bits and keep your opponent bit-poor." Later, in the chapter
on runner play strategy, the authors suggest, "trash anything that
you can that the Corp rezzes." Who's keeping whom poor here?
Matthews and Schwope forget that they are writing for beginners
when they state, "keeping the corp bit poor can be accomplished
with cards like Dropp, forcing the corp to rez ice." Experienced
players understand why Dropp prompts the rezzing of ice, but beginners
have no idea. The authors are at their best when addressing more
experienced players in Chapter 8, "Newsgroup Tauntings," which discusses
the ramifications of card restrictions, and the earliest myths about
game balance in NetRunner.
Newcomers will be turning to the card list appendix often, for
the authors refer to cards by name, but without explanation of the
card's function. This name-dropping also results in ambiguous prose
-- when advising against building a 100-card deck, Matthews and
Schwope joke that "you now need 15 minutes just to shuffle your
deck every time you use a Mantis or Temple MicroCode Outlet," leaving
the reader to consult the appendix, or presume that playing Mantis,
Fixer at Large or Temple Microcode Outlet precedes a shuffle.
Technical errors in "Mastering NetRunner" abound, from typographical
to subject/verb disagreement to describing Tokyo-Chiba Infighting
("Gain 2 after each unsuccessful run on this fort") as a card which
the corporation can use to gain bits with an action. There are annoying
passages where the corporation is referred to by personal pronouns
("he" or "we"), but inconsistently, which suggests that the authors
wrote independently of each other.
On the back cover, Wordware Publishing cajoles "players of all
levels" to spend $9.95, while the authors say they're writing for
beginning and intermediate players on the "About..." page.
I am really glad that this book exists, for perhaps people will
take an interest in NetRunner after they see it. I also hope people
buy it, for Wordware Publishing should be encouraged to publish
more books about the game. I think it's a bad book, though, and
most of its material can be found on the Web for free.