THE RETURN OF CYBERPUNK, PART TWO

 

Going back to the beginning of the genre finds the original Netrunner released in 1996, designed by Magic creator Richard Garfield, and published by Wizards of the Coast. This was followed by the Shadowrun trading card game one year later. These titles were virtually unique at the time outside of a few obscure games no one remembers. Fast forward an incredible eight years later, to 2003, and the classic Cyberpunk RPG gets its own a collectible card game. The next cyberpunk-themed game of any note would not be released for another five years.

Those are broad gaps, and in case you're curious, 90% of all cyberpunk-themed board games have been released in the past last ten years.

Yes, there was a five-year gap between cyberpunk-themed board games, at least ignoring ones not worth mentioning (I know someone is going to bring up Murder City in 2007, but no one remembers that game, and that's still four years later). Android by Fantasy Flight was released in 2008, proving a modest success though lacking immediate expansions. The next interlude would be four years, which is when the genre exploded.

 

Fantasy Flight owned their own intellectual property but did little with Android. Finally, in 2012, they licensed the rights to the original Netrunner card game from Wizards of the Coast, but instead of releasing it on its own as a second edition, Fantasy Flight combined it with their existing Android property to create Android: Netrunner….

 

…By the way, before I dive deeper into this rabbit hole, I'll just interject a bizarre anecdote. It was around this time I released my cyberpunk role-playing game NeuroSpasta for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (FYI, it was later released for 5E and proved far more successful). I was approached to employ the setting and name as the basis of a collaborative music and story project that would materialize as the independent project Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero, also released that same year.  Okay, back to your regular scheduled programming….

To confuse fans, Fantasy Flight continued to release titles under just the Android name, including Android: Infiltration and Android: Mainframe, at the same time it was publishing content under the Android: Netrunner brand. While exclusive Android content was sparse, the merged franchise exploded over the following six years, releasing a mind-boggling fifty-four expansions. Admittedly, most of these were small packs. The franchise finally ended in 2018 when the license rights for Netrunner reverted to Wizards of the Coast. There's been no word on Android returning as a singular title, though the setting was later employed in 2016 with the game New Angeles. But we're skipping ahead.

The popularity of Android: Netrunner sparked a renewed interest in cyberpunk (it might have also been coincidence). This resulted in the release of Cypher in 2014, Specter Ops in 2015, and Human Interface in 2016. But it was back in 2014 when Shadowrun finally returned to the limelight with Shadowrun: Crossfire. This excruciatingly difficult deck building cooperative game would spawn nearly a dozen expansions and later its own competitive spin-off, Shadowrun: Sprawl Ops.

Thankfully, new titles unconnected to these finally started to emerge in the past two years, including Renegade, Hardwired, Chrome Hammer, and Reality's Edge. And with the renewed interest in the classic R. Talsorian Cyberpunk game with the coming release of Cyberpunk 2077, CMON is throwing their hat into the right with the licensed Cyberpunk 2077: Afterlife.

Many of these titles still reflect nostalgia for the original 80's retro cyberpunk. Seeing these throwbacks finding their way back to the frontline has me concerned, mostly from their anachronistic nature.  None of these properties accurately gauged how our future would look.  Beyond the fact we've passed the date listed in Blade Runner and still lack flying cars and replicants, most of these films and books couldn't correctly estimate how fast the internet would arrive, how critical it would be our daily operations, and how much sooner this would happen ahead of cybernetics and artificial intelligence, at least to the level of A.I. presented in these stories.  Cybernetics has moved at a snail's pace, but the interconnectivity of the global population is very much a reality.  The rise of multinationals was an obvious expectation, but their relationships with governments as well as to their competitors was often vastly misrepresented. 

Yet I greet this resurgence of one of my favorite genres with open arms.  The future may not be bright, but I've been enjoying the present well enough.