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Frisky's Corner

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 win.

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.


Frisky's Corner