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Anatomy of Failure: Netrunner (1996)

 
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2017 11:19 pm    Post subject: Anatomy of Failure: Netrunner (1996) Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List



This is a bit of an odd one for AoF, because during its heyday, Netrunner was considered one of the most innovative and best-designed CCGs. It is the only CCG that InQuest magazine gave a coveted six-pip rating - even Magic: the Gathering only ever earned five pips - and was a brainchild of Richard Garfield, original designer of M:tG. Fantasy Flight Games has revived the name, but let's pop the hood and take a look at what made Netrunner work...and not work.

First off, this is a licensed CCG, based off of R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk 2020 RPG. Indeed, at one point they released some rules so that you could use the Netrunner CCG game in place of the normal netrunning minigame, although nobody actually did that. Despite being a licensed RPG, Wizards of the Coast pumped oodles of money into the art and setting, including a shitload of mid-nineties 3D graphics art and shiny foil. At a time when CCGs were mimicking fantasy, Netrunner was one of the few that was looking ahead...and my ghost it was pretty.


Complete with the occasional injoke.

The core conceit of the game is that a netrunner (The Runner) is attempting to hack a megacorporation (The Corp). This provides a very interesting oppositional dynamic: the Corp wins by pursuing and scoring Agendas; the Runner wins by stealing the Corp's Agendas before they can score them. So the Corp doesn't need the Runner to win - they just need to build; the Runner has to hack the Corp to win. This immediately puts the Corp on the defensive - since early on in the game they have no defenses, and the Runner can easily search their hand, library, or discard pile for Agendas pretty much at will - but later in the game, the dynamic can flip, as the Corp has the advantage (unless the game runs so long that the Runner has an answer to everything the Corp has).

...but you can probably already see the problem. It's a two-player game. While some gaming magazine probably floated a two-on-two gameplay or something like that, the game by itself was designed strictly for two players. There's no way for one corp to interact with another corp, or one runner to interact with another runner. So there's never going to be a game where you and your friends all sit down at lunch and play - and there's probably never going to be anything like a booster draft, because you need an equal number of Corp and Runner decks. This is probably why Netrunner only had the initial edition (Limited, v1.0) and one expansion (Proteus, v2.1) - although they later released some cards from what would have been the second expansion, Silent Impact (v2.0) in in the Classic release (v2.2) - the version numbers are how cards from different sets were labeled.

Anyway, next post we'll talk about the weird action economy that Netrunner operated under, which makes more sense back in the era when everyone was investing heavily in small colored glass beads.


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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 1:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List




The fundamental idea behind Netrunner is that nothing is free. I think this was designed as a response to the tempo problems - real and perceived - in Magic: the Gathering, but at heart what it meant is that every single thing cost Actions, and you only had finite actions per turn. Want to draw a card? Spend an action. Want to generate some Bits (the in-game currency used to buy stuff/activate abilities)? Spend an action. Want to make a run or advance an agenda? Spend an action.

As a Runner, you have three actions per turn. You could spend them all on generating bits, or you could draw three cards, or make three runs on the Corp, play/install three cards, or any combination thereof. As a corp, you have four actions per turn - but again, the Corp starts out defenseless and has to both set up and pay for its defenses. A few rare cards gave out extra actions, but they tended to be either expensive or have large drawbacks.


"Damage" to a runner meant discarding cards; it could be meat or neural damage, which could be protected against to a degree. Brain damage reduced your maximum hand size; one loss condition was if your maximum hand size went to zero.

Other than that, each side was playing a very different game. The Runner had Programs, Equipment, Resources, and Prep cards. The Corp had ICE, Nodes, Upgrades, Agendas, and Operations cards. While Operations and Preps were similar in that they "did stuff" but didn't stay on the table (think sorceries in M:tG), they were otherwise not hugely comparable.

This wasn't like Magic where either side would be playing cards during each other's turn, because you generally had to spend an Action to do that; mostly what you did when it wasn't your turn was to sit there and watch what your opponent was doing - more like a game of chess. A few cards force interaction, but those tended to be...silly.


No, seriously, more than one card in Netrunner involves "guess how many bits I'm holding." We'll go into that.

The upshot to the whole action economy is that the cards that were your best friends tended to be the ones that got you more of whatever you wanted for fewer Actions spent, since Actions were your major limiter.



Case in point, this is a "bank" card - when the Corp scores this agenda, it has a pool of bits on it; by spending an action, the Corp can take 3 bits off of it. This is 300% better than normal bit generation (normally, you spend 1 action to get 1 bit), but you can only do it five times. Looks neat, right? But look at the hidden cost: this card took one action to install, five actions (and five bits) to advance and score, and then five actions to drain, you're spending 11 actions to generate 10 bits (net). There are better cards out there in terms of spending fewer actions to get more bits, but sometimes what you want is a big pile of bits now - because that's what gives the Corp in particular an advantage.

Also, all this fiddling with "bits" is what I meant about glass beads earlier.



Netrunner came out a couple years after Fallen Empires and was afflicted bad by counteritis. In addition to bits, which both sides kept track of, you needed counters to keep track of how far an agenda/node was being advanced, tags on the runner, virus counters...etc. It was a little nuts.

But let's break down what game each player was actually playing, and how it worked, starting with the Corp.
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Pedantic
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 5:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

You've got the action numbers a bit off. Runners have 4 actions, corps only get three, but start their turn with a mandatory draw as a pseudo 4th action. Given that agendas take time to score, additional actions are of considerably more value for the corp than for the runner, because they decrease the amount of time an agenda needs to be on the board, and thus the risk of the runner stealing it.

Fantasy Flight is starting to stumble a little with the update, I've been hoping someone would do a breakdown of the failure points for the original.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 11:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Pedantic wrote:
You've got the action numbers a bit off. Runners have 4 actions, corps only get three, but start their turn with a mandatory draw as a pseudo 4th action.

You are correct, mea culpa.

The Corp
The Corp sets the game in a lot of ways. While the minimum deck size is 45 cards and must contain 18-19 Agenda Points worth of Agenda cards, the maximum size of a Corp's deck is determined by how many Agenda Points worth of Agenda Cards you have in there - so, the bigger your deck, the more AP you need in it. If you focus on small Agendas, that means more card space given over to Agendas and they'll come up more frequently; if you focus on larger Agendas, that means fewer cards in your deck, but each one is worth more - and no matter how many Agenda points' worth of cards are in your deck, generally you only need 7 AP to win the game, whether you're the Corp or the Runner.

Most Agendas also do something else besides award the Corp AP, but these should probably be considered secondary, since your main goal is to score points first.


Yeah, bits are nice, but you need to score 6 more AP.

The Corp starts out with three dataforts: HQ (the cards in your hand), R&D (your deck), and Archives (your discard pile, which is typically face-down). All of these begin completely vulnerable to the Runner, since you have no protections in place. If the Runner makes a run against one of these, they can reveal the topmost card - if it is an Agenda, they score it; if it is a node or upgrade, they can pay the bit cost to trash it, provided they have the bits.

[
Pick a card, any card.

You can make as many new dataforts as you want - it costs nothing, only the action to install the node/upgrade/agenda/ICE that represents it. You can have four really heavily defended dataforts or a dozen with no defense at all. Totally your choice. Strategically, the Corp's ability to baffle the Runner in this manner is mainly limited by the number of actions they have, and the amount of bits the Runner has to trash their stuff...

So early on in the game, the Runner has great incentive to do runs - it's a bit like the inverse of counting cards in Blackjack; your odds of scoring an agenda are lower (since there are more cards in hand/deck/discard), but your chances of successfully hacking the Corporation are higher. Later on...

Corps can play an action to install an Agenda, Node, Upgrade, or piece of ICE. This constructs the battlespace - or playspace, whatever you prefer - for the game. You can't install a Node or Agenda in HQ, R&D, or the Archives, but you can upgrade them and put ICE in front of them.

This might be hard to visualized, but basically the ICE is installed horizontally (so that the power/image will face the Runner), and stacked - the more ICE, the more it costs to install. The Nodes/Agenda/Upgrades, crucially, are played vertically behind the ICE, see? So the Runner knows they have to go through the ICE (in order!) to get to whatever's in the datafort.



All of the Corp's cards are installed face-down. This is one of the great conceits of the game: the Runner knows that the Corp has installed ICE (because it is horizontal) or a node/agenda/upgrade (because it is vertical) - but doesn't know what it is. The Corp advances Nodes and Agendas the same way - spend an Action and a Bit, repeat until you hit the magic number - for Upgrades, they just need to pay the Rez cost (in Bits). For ICE, the Corp chooses whether or not to Rez it (by paying the Rez cost) when the Runner makes a run against the data fort.

Which is to say, that the Runner going up against a datafort doesn't know what's in it. Doesn't know what ICE is protecting it, or if the Corp can rez it (though they can gamble, if the Corp has a low bit bank, that they can't afford to rez it...or not), doesn't even know if there are any Agendas there to steal or if it might be a trap...and the Corp does have traps. This is the psychological warfare aspect of the game, where it's a cross between what the Corp can do and what the Runner dares to do...good Corp players generally know how to bluff, and also how to take the measure of their opponents. Because of course, the Corp can see all the tools the Runner has when they're about to make a run, and that can determine what ICE they rez...

ICE ranges from speedbumps to nigh-deadly. It comes in three basic flavors: Walls, Code Gates, and Sentries, and costs range from 0 to over a dozen bits.





All ICE has a particular Strength (lower left hand corner) and a number of subroutines. The main benefit of having different types of ICE in your deck is that the Runner can only crack the subtroutines on a piece of ICE if they have the appropriate Icebreaker program; and even then only if the icebreaker has a rating as higher or higher than the ICE.


Well, mostly.

So, a mix of ICE in a deck can be good - if the Runner doesn't have an icebreaker that can break through Walls, a Wall can be a show-stopper. If they draw and play an icebreaker that goes through Walls, suddenly your dataforts are vulnerable. In the early game, the Runner probably has few bits and icebreakers, but the Corp has few bits and little ICE; in the mid-game the advantage generally shifts to the Corp, which can layer ICE, derezzing ineffective ICE to install new ones or just tossing on another layer (if they can afford it) to make heavily defended dataforts; in the late game, however, if the Runner has a full panoply of icebreakers and equipment, they can often waltz through however much ICE you have...if they can pay the price in Bits. There are a few cards that increase the Strength of ICE after it's been rezzed, but not many.



Sentries come in different sub-flavors, like "AP" (deals net damage), "Black ICE" (deals brain damage), or "Hound"/"Hellhound" (dog-themed, usually has a Trace program) - which can all be on the same card. Mostly these are thematic - I mean yes, there is an icebreaker that's more effective against hounds, but the Runner is unlikely to have it in their deck, because what are the odds that you're running a lot of hounds ICE?

Well... probably not a lot. But the possibility exists.


Hounds tend to have "Trace" as an option. Trace is a bidding activity - one of Richard Garfield's favorite little mechanics for Netrunner. The Corp can bid a number of bits on a trace up to its value - the little number attached to it - and the Runner, if they have the appropriate cards, can try to guess how much they need to spend to beat that bid. In the end, they each show how much they've spent and find out if the trace succeeded or failed. A successful trace usually puts a special counter on the Runner - usually a tag, although other counters are possible - and having a tag means that the Corp can usually play certain cards that directly damage the runner and their stuff.


You're never going to play this card, but there's no kill like overkill!


On the other hand, this is a pretty decent early-game ICE, if you can rez it.

Runners can remove Tags (and other special counters) by taking actions and spending bits, so as with a lot of other aspects of the game, you have to balance the pros and cons. Trace cards tend to be expensive for the Corp - unless the Runner doesn't have any cards to fight against it! - and drain a lot of bits that they can use for rezzing ICE and advancing stuff. They're also fairly easy for the Runner to counter with even basic cards.


Case in point.

The "balance" aspect - not knowing what the Runner is bringing to the table - is part of the reason a lot of Corp deck design tends to "covering your asses." The objective is to win, to win you need to score agendas, to score agendas you need to draw them - so most Corp decks tend to be pretty minimalistic, 45 cards and 18-19 Agenda points worth of Agendas (3-5 cards); and those Agendas tend to be a mix of low- and high-value agendas, so you have more room for ICE, the occasional Node, and Operations. For ICE, you need a mix of different types so that you can stymie the Runner, and you know that you're going to be defending a minimum of 4 forts (HQ, R&D, Archives - okay, not everybody cares about archives, but sometimes you have to trash an agenda in your hand when you run out of space), and you're probably not going to have more than three pieces of ICE per fort - but you want ICE that you can afford to rez.

There's no point on throwing a Liche down if you can't afford to rez it, and there's little point in keeping a piece of ICE that the Runner can breeze through without cost - playing a Chihuahua might be fun on turn one, but as soon as the Runner gets a sentrybreaker you're as good as defenseless. So a lot of decks focus on mid-to-high strength ICE with reasonable rez costs, not the ICE equivalent of legendaries (which are too expensive), or low-cost crappy ICE (which is usually too ineffective).


You're probably not going to play this.


You might well play this, but you're going to rez it once and then trash it.

The ICE vs Icebreaker aspect of the game is part of the whole bluffing/psychological warfare I mentioned earlier. Putting a piece of ICE, face down, in front of a datafort is a challenge - dare the Runner chance if they can rez it? What might it be? - and putting a node/agenda/etc. in an empty, unprotected fort does the same mental gymnastics - is the Corp bluffing? Is it a trap? I've even seen folks put ICE in front of archives just to encourage the Runner to run against it and take a peek, even if there's no Agendas in there.

But ultimately, you don't care about Forts or ICE or Upgrades - you care about scoring Agendas. Or killing the Runner.


Operations are your friend. Sometimes your only friend.

Decks that focus on killing/disabling the runner tend to run fairly trace-heavy/trap-heavy/damage-heavy, but there's a problem: you can't force a Runner to run against your dataforts. Corps running trace/trap decks want the Runner to spend their actions to make runs against the corp so that they can run traces and put tags (or other counters) on the Runner, and then play Operations that fuck with the Runner's shit. If they Runner doesn't run, the corp advances Agendas. So the Runner has to run...but it's on the Runner's schedule. Ultimately, most trace/trap decks are really just trying to run out the clock the same as any other Corp deck; sure, there's a chance that they can deal enough damage to flatline the runner, and you can cackle with glee when it happens, but most games don't last long enough for that to be a viable alternate win condition.



Most of the time when you're playing Operations (or Forts, etc.), however, you want something that will support your goal of advancing agendas.



Case in point: this Agenda will win the game...for the Corp. It does, however, take four dedicated turns (12 actions) and 12 bits just to rez it. And as the advancement counters pile up, the Runner is going to know something huge is there. In general, you're better to pursue mid-level agendas that you can rez in 2 turns rather than piddly agendas that you can rez in 1 turn or big agendas that take 3+ turns to rez. The logic being: you have 3 actions per turn, and you have to spend 1 action to install an agenda. No Agenda takes less than 3 actions to advance, so you're really looking at 4 actions total, which means even an Agenda you can score in "one turn" is on the board for the Runner to score. If the Runner is going to get a crack at it anyway, you might as well pursue Agendas that require 4-5 actions to advance, and will be on the board the same length of time but suck less.


Also, there's Bad Publicity, but we'll go into that.

Part of the problem is that, natch, every card is technically in play - the Runner can rummage your Archives, HQ, and R&D as easily as any data fort you create. You don't have to play a card for it to be vulnerable; you don't even have to see the card to lose it. The Corp generally has a little more advantage than the Runner as far as knowing what they have and can have in play - but actual play strategies tend to be the same no matter how you trim your deck: a handful of agendas, a fair spectrum of ICE for whatever the player can throw at you, whatever Operations, Forts, and Upgrades you think you can actually play.

Next up: The Runner!
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Whipstitch
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2017 3:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FWIW, the whole "Everything has a cost" business means that Trace tends to be at its best when you lose any pretensions of flatlining your opponent with convoluted Tag punishers and instead use it to tax wallets and by extension limit the number of actions they have available for things other than generating income. Basically, bits or actions are going to be lost whether it's through bidding high, clearing tags or getting punished with Closed Accounts. Combine with a few Tollbooths to hide behind and you end up with a defense that can slow down low-to-the-ground strategies reasonably well while forcing cash-rich strategies to spend bits as fast as they make it or set up "one big turn" gambits lest you Close Accounts.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2017 3:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List



Keep in mind, a Trace was usually a subroutine on a piece of ICE (there were a few exceptions); players with the right Icebreakers could just pay the bits to bypass the subroutine - and if the price was right, they did. But there were some alternatives, and decks that really wanted to work on trace-and-tag used agendas like:



...which aren't very cost-efficient in a "I want to win the game by scoring agendas" sort of approach, but are a lot more pro-active than waiting for a Runner to make a run. Compare with things like:



The thing is, you can totally see how you would whittle down a Runner's bitpool doing traces - provided that the Corp has enough bits of its own. But the Runner has another advantage in that regard, which I'll get to tomorrow.
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2017 9:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:

You're never going to play this card, but there's no kill like overkill!

I never played NetRunner, but I saw some game; and I remember this card being played in a runner-killer deck - the goal of the deck was to kill the runner. Lot of tracing ICE, tag-adding agendas and traps, runner-punching operations, etc.

I don't know if this strategy works in competitive play. If it does, of course you play the meteor in that deck, as an alternative victory condition - the runner will have two tags at some point, and it allows you to win with only 3 agenda points.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2017 10:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List





If only it was that easy. "I Got A Rock" assumes that 1) you can advance and rez the node, 2) you can score three agenda points, 3) you can get two tags on the runner, and 4) the Runner doesn't have a way out of it. It's a "win" card with a lot of caveats attached. Bare minimum you're looking at 3-4 turns of just advancing nodes and agendas to prep for I Got A Rock - and that doesn't count generating bits, tracing the runner, etc. It's putting a lot of eggs in one basket.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2017 12:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The Runner
The runner has four major types of cards: Programs, Hardware, Resources and Preps. These are further broken down by subtypes - Programs can include Icebreakers, stealth cards, and more generic utility programs; Hardware includes vehicles, decks, and cyberware; Resources include connections, base links, hidden resources, etc.

Runners operate under different restrictions than the Corp. The Corp can have as many ICE/dataforts/forts/upgrades/etc. as they can pay for. Runners start the game with 4 Memory Units (MU) and can only install that many programs; they can increase their MU by installing hardware (memory chips, decks, etc.) or a fairly rare kind of program called a daemon.



As a further restriction, Runners can only have one Deck in play at a time. This doesn't mean you need a deck, but if you have one you can only have one. This sometimes gives an incentive to upgrade, but more often a Deck is a major cornerstone of the Runner's strategy and is a substantial investment in bits.


This is the cheapest deck. It is great early in the game, when you need to make a lot of runs on poorly-protected data forts and don't have many icebreakers yet.


This is a late-to-midgame deck; and deck costs top out at 11 bits. It has a lot of nice things about it - more MU, bigger hand size, and a small bit pool for runs. The latter is really useful, as they automatically regenerate - and if you have good icebreakers, you can potentially make a run without spending any of your bitpool at all (although these bits can't be used to pay for defeating traces!) That said, it is pricey as hell - you're looking at 11 actions of bit-generation if you're doing it the hard way, or three straight turns of doing nothing but cranking out bits to install this. From that perspective, it's overpriced; a mid-range deck and a mem chip can be a better investment.


Mid-range deck.

For programs, Runners generally want a mix of Icebreakers the same way that the Corp wants a mix of ICE: ideally, something to answer every occasion (Sentries, Walls, Code Gates). There are a few Icebreakers that can crack multiple types of ICE, but those tend to be...problematic.


"Random" programs were a minor theme, much in the way that flipping a coin was a thing you did in early Magic: the Gathering games.

Mostly, you wanted some cheap starter icebreakers and one really good icebreaker of each type; the bigger icebreakers were generally expensive to install but in the long run were cheaper to play, since an expensive Icebreaker had a higher Strength - so you didn't have to pay as many bits to boost it. That said, as long as you had the bits, even a cheap icebreaker was better than none. So for example:





Grubb and Dwarf are both Worm-type wallbreakers; Grubb is free and Dwarf costs 6 bits - and both will break through a Data Wall for 1 bit. But for a Crystal Wall, the Dwarf still only has to pay 1 bit while the Grubb has to pay 7.

Icebreakers, like ICE, come in different flavors. Some of these were various small fuck-you themes; for example, Noisy Icebreakers...



...cost you bits from Stealth cards - remember, those cards that regenerate bits for runs? If you don't have any Stealth cards, nothing to worry about. Of course, there were also some...weird icebreakers.



Like Blink, I think this kind of card was more about novelty than serious play. It's not that there isn't a situation where it might not be useful, but generally speaking walls aren't that big. The high-end of Walls cap out at 7 Strength, but they require the Corp to pay 13 bits to rez.



Code Gates are even more notorious - there's relatively fewer of them than Walls or Sentries, they're generally weak-to-mid-range in terms of Strength, and several are more speedbumps that make runs more difficult or expensive rather than end them outright, so they tend to see less play.



Sentries are the most versatile type of ICE, and hence have the greatest variety of Icebreakers; most of the time a Runner is fine with just one Icebreaker for every type of ICE they might encounter, but there are some specialty Icebreakers that if you had the extra MU and bits to spare could potentially work in as sideboard cards (if Netrunner tournaments had sideboards)...



There are thirteen Hound/Hellhound/Pit Bull cards; 7 are commons, 5 are uncommons, 1 is rare. Many are decent, but I wouldn't say that there are enough cards to seriously consider using this in a deck.



This is a Big Expensive Icebreaker. Cheap to install, high strength, but you're paying six bits...and most Sentries don't have that many subroutines. Mid or late-game, if you're facing big sentries and don't have the bits to boost a weak or mid-range sentry, it might be okay...but it's damned expensive.

Runners generally benefitted from a M:tG-Black style of thinking: some limited number of draws from your stack (deck) should bring to hand whatever program you needed to bypass whatever ICE you encountered, and you controlled how many cards you were drawing. Unlike Magic, you never had to worry about running out of cards: if your stack was exhausted, you just kept playing with whatever cards you had in your hand. Unlike the Corp, which would lose if they ran out of cards from R&D. It was totally a viable strategy for the Runner to race through their deck and get everything they wanted on the table; what they surrendered was the early advantage of unprotected dataforts. But that can be a reasonable opportunity cost, especially if you run into a piece of ICE that you don't have a counter for...yet.


Also, you could totally make trash decks if you wanted to.

Aside from Icebreakers, there were other programs - generally utility programs that let you do (something) and took up MU; some of these helped you during runs in various ways, like preventing damage or increasing your link against trace attempts or letting you look at more cards in R&D; a lot were fairly specialized and one or two were stone cold awesome...



...or a giant middle finger to the Corp...



...or fuck with their head...



...or a modest shout-out to your other game.



The major other type of card, however, was the Virus. These were almost uniformly annoying and not worth the hassle.



Note that I didn't say useless - if that's in your hand, you play it on action #1, run three runs against the (probably unprotected) R&D, and give them their counters; if they forego their next three actions to remove them, do it again next turn. But if you draw that in the middle of a game? Eh. A lot of the virus counters - and there was a lot of them - were like that. It was supposed to be the Runner's version of giving the Corp tags, but it really amounted to a shitload of bookkeeping, and even then you generally had to specialize in one kind of virus - you just had limited MU and limited time and bits.

We're not really going to talk about hardware - they're the Netrunner equivalent of artifacts: they do shit, and that shit might give you more MU or a Base Link or bits to spend on a run or prevent meat damage or whatever. It was crunchy stuff, but it wasn't "win the game just by showing up" stuff; your hardware was basically there to facilitate and assist your Programs.

I've mentioned "Base Link" a few times without explaining: these are cards - could be a Program, Deck, or Resource - that Runners use to resist Trace attempts. A Runner can only use one Base Link per Trace attempt, and they want at least one in their deck. So, for example:



Many Traces max out at 5 or 6 bits, especially if they're from ICE; a Base Link of 5 for zero bits down can save a lot of bits - to the point where a Corp player that can do the math probably won't bother bidding. Most Base Links start out lower, but they're almost all relatively affordable for the Runner.



These were things. Look pretty, but generally too expensive. HQ Interface is fun when combined with Shredder Uplink Protocol, but it's a limited tactic - if the Corp knows you're going to aim for a specific datafort, they'll usually turn their attention to increasing the ICE on that fort. Unfortunately for the Corp, R&D is the one thing where they don't know what's coming next and they can't afford to have the Runner accessing it willy-nilly, since all their Agendas are in there.



Resources...what it says on the tin, basically. This is non-hardware stuff that does stuff for you. Generally, the Resources you're looking for are about maxing out the number of bits you can grab for a given number of actions, so you can move stuff that actually matters (Programs) into play, and make runs. I have to admit that some of these - like Broker - seem to be slightly better-thought-out versions of the store lands and interest mechanics from Fallen Empires and Ice Age...such as Loan from Chiba.



Your best cards, though, just optimized your cash flow - for a while at least:



Or got you what you needed:



There were also Hidden Resources, but we'll talk about those when we get to expansions.

There's not a lot to say about Preps; they're the Runner's version of the Corp's Operations: play-and-forget 'em cards from your hand that give some bonus or do some thing. Where Magic: the Gathering finally came around to the idea of cantrips as keeping tempo up, Netrunner started out with the idea of action advantage - preps that did a thing, but also let/required you to make a run without spending an action. So you got to make a run you wanted to anyway, but with some extra advantage.



A fair bit of Preps involved faster/more efficient ways of doing things you could do without them (gain bits, remove a tag, draw cards, etc.) - again, improving the action economy - and some were creator cameos.


Richard Garfield, everybody!

Overall, I think Runners had more flexibility than Corps in a lot of important ways - but it's also important to see that both the Corp and the Runner were playing different games; there were other win/loss conditions than scoring agendas, but they were tricky and involved a lot of trying to bluff or outthink your opponent right from the design standpoint; as a consequence, pretty much every competitive deck was very flexible and trimmed to the minimum. If you were facing a Wall, you need a Wallbreaker now; if your opponent has a big Wallbreaker, you might as well pitch the Data Wall...unless you want to bluff your opponent with it.

Anyway, next up we'll look at what was actually involved with runs.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2017 9:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The Run
Once upon a time, Magic: the Gathering tried to make the Combat Phase the centerpiece of gameplay. You summoned monsters and attacked each other. Well, it was never the centerpiece, because there were always direct-damage spells and later on they introduced some alternate win conditions, but for Magic and a lot of CCGs that cloned it, there was some way to play monsters and attack your opponent; combat was usually pretty one-sided and simple, once you stop trying to use banding.

Netrunner...is a little different. Like I mentioned earlier, it's a deliberately lop-sided state of play: only the Runner makes runs against the Corp, and the Runner/Corp interaction is very limited outside of that. The Corp typically has two win conditions (score 7 agenda points, kill the Runner) and three loss conditions (run out of cards in R&D, score 7 Bad Publicity points, Runner scores 7 agenda points); reverse that and you see the Runner has three win conditions - but pretty much all of them require the Runner to run against the Corp. Left on its own, the Corp can just advance agendas until it accumulates 7 points and wins; theoretically the Runner could sit back and try to play cards that give the Corp Bad Publicity points without making runs, but realistically that boils down to two cards:



You could, theoretically, run a deck with these two cards as the basis. No icebreakers, just sit back and give yourself brain damage and play and trash connections. I've never seen a Bad Publicity deck of that kind, but it is feasible. It would be a really weird game, as the Corp would basically be racing to get its agendas out, and the Runner would be sitting back collecting a huge bit pool and playing connections. But it could be done.

Most of the games, however, resolve around the run. It's the main point of interaction of the two players, the only one where both are really invested. It' is longer and more drawn out than a lot of combat phases in other CCGs, but it is also stuffed with a lot of decision points. Runs aren't just "I tap and attack for two damage." It's a boatload more involved.

First up, you have to pick the datafort: the opponent's hand (HQ), deck (R&D), discard pile (Archives), or whatever else they have installed. If you're playing a prep that requires a run as part of it, that might take some of the choice out of it, but usually the Runner spends an action and picks where they are going.

If there is ICE, the runner approaches the outermost piece of ICE (the last piece installed). If not already rezzed, the Corp has the option to Rez it by paying the cost. Don't rez it? Move on to the next piece of ICE. That's part of what I mean about decision points - the Runner (generally) doesn't know what ICE they might encounter until it's Rezzed, but the Corp knows what Icebreakers, hardware, and how many bits the Runner has, and the Runner knows how many bits the Corp has. So they get to try and balance out the odds - if the Runner can pass the piece of ICE easily, does the Corp rez it? Maybe, if it costs the Runner enough bits. Bleeding the Runner is a viable strategy - but so is leaving an outermost piece of ICE un-rezzed to rez a bigger piece of ICE.

Then, the Runner encounters the ICE.



The main difference between these two programs? None of Bolter Swarm's subroutines will end the run. It's a speed bump - a nasty speed bump - but the run continues. You would never put Bolter Swarm as the innermost piece of ICE on a datafort unless you had no other options, because the Runner can just take the hit on the first subroutine and barrel on through to access whatever the Corp has. Roadblock, on the other hand, may be pretty weak, but its one subroutine will shut the Runner down if they can't break it.

Which is a way to say, there's more to constructing a datafort than just throwing down whatever ICE you have in your hand. If you as the Corp had both Bolter Swarm and Roadblock in your hand, you'd lay down Roadblock first and then install Bolster Swarm outside of it. Even if the Runner spends the bits to break the subroutines on Bolter Swarm; they had to deal with Roadblock. If they can't break the subroutines on Bolter Swarm, they still hit the Roadblock, and the datafort is secure. So the Corp has to engage in strategic thinking as to how to construct the datafort - and tactical decisions as to which pieces of ICE to rez as the Runner approaches.

The Runner, for their part, can jack out after going through all of the ICE's subroutines (either by breaking them or surviving them - unless a subroutine/effect forces them to not jack out). So the Runner has multiple decision points during a run too - the ability to judge when, and if, they want to risk the next piece of ICE. If the first piece of ICE surprised them and they don't have enough bits to get through the next one, they might decide retreat is the better strategy - save their bits to have a better chance on the next run.


Some upgrades seriously expand the Corp's tactical options.

Finally, the Runner jacks out or the run was ended by a subroutine or...they get through. And now they get the final option: do they access a card from the datafort?

This sounds like a bit of a no-brainer. You pick a card from R&D, HQ, or Archives, it could be an agenda that you score. If not, it might be a Fort or Upgrade you can pay to trash, or give you an idea of what the Corp has up their sleeve in the coming turn. But it could also be a...



There are twenty cards available to the Corp with the "Ambush" tag, signifying that they are traps that do something unwanted to the Runner when they're accessed (except, usually, from Archives). Some of these are lame with marginal uses and some are serious setbacks, but the very existence of these can make a Runner hesitate.


The way this works is, the Corp has to have advanced this card so that it can rez it as the Runner accesses it - right up until they decide to access it, the card is face-down. The Runner can see the glass counters indicating the Corp has advanced the card, but doesn't know if it's a node, an agenda, or what.

As a further wrinkle, just getting through the ICE on a datafort counts as a successful run - the Runner isn't obligated to access any cards. This can be an important trick for stuff like giving the Corp virus counters without falling prey to the Corp's own viruses, or for certain Prep cards that only have an affect if the run is successful.




You can't win the game by not accessing cards (unless you're running a Bad Publicity deck), but the additional options are welcome...keeping in mind that the Corp itself is not entirely out of options.



When you remember that the Runner might make up to 4 (or more!) runs per turn, the Run is in large part the heart of the game. Most of the Runner's cards are dedicated to it, and many of the Corp's cards are dedicated to stopping it or reacting to it.

In a lot of ways, this it the chess...or perhaps more accurately, stud poker...aspect of Netrunner. The Corp and the Runner both have to do the math before and during a run, with the Corp typically having the information advantage. The Runner generally doesn't have to break every subroutine to get through, and every run isn't an automatic win; the Corp and Runner both have very limited resources that they have to commit during the run - the Corp for rezzing (and sometimes improving) ICE, the Runner for icebreakers, both sides for traces...

It can be complicated, and it can be pretty simple. It is generally more complicated than just attacking with a creature in Magic, if only because you're usually looking at a series of encounters, and both Runner and Corp have relatively few options that they can play from their hand during a run - it's the stuff on the board (even the stuff you can't see!) which determines the outcome.

Next up, we'll talk about the Expansion(s) and wrap it up with final thoughts.
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Josh_Kablack
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2017 9:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

So, was there a tournament scene at all?

And if so, how did it handle the baked-in Runner / Corp deck split?
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2017 9:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

There was a tournament scene (and maybe still is, on the internet, I dunno), and as I recall it handled the split by making players play as both Corp and Runner - in a given match two players would play one game (Corp or Runner decided randomly), then they switched roles and they played another game. If the match was split (i.e. each won as Corp or each won as Runner), the winner was usually decided by points (i.e. who had scored the most Agenda points in total across both games), although I think different tournaments had their own point-counting rules.

These were timed games, so they favored minimalist (45 card deck) and fast-moving strategies: lots of card draw, mid-sized agendas. The exact structure usually depended on how many players you had - if you had an even number of players, you could do a draft system pretty easily; if you had an odd number of players, maybe a round-robin.

Because Netrunner was packaged the way it was - two complete sealed decks, Corp and Runner, in a box - you could actually do sealed deck tournaments pretty easily. Just add a couple boosters, trim the decks down, and go at it.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2017 9:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Josh_Kablack wrote:
So, was there a tournament scene at all?

And if so, how did it handle the baked-in Runner / Corp deck split?


Not much of one. And the fact that you had to bring two decks and flip a coin for who played runner and who played corp for two out of three games was a big part of it. I don't remember whether runner or corp was the preferred position of tournament players - but there definitely was one and that meant that the coinflip to determine whether you were the good position or the bad position for game 1 and 3 was very significant. More significant than the coinflip in Magic even back when the first player got to draw on turn 1.

-Frank
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 12:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

How many bits did you typically have in a turn? I'm wondering if I'm understanding the costs of things correctly. If I have the Bolter Swarm and the Roadblock and the Runner encounters the first one I pay '8' to activate it (also it's strength) and pay '2' to activate the Roadblock (with a strength of 3-7 depending on die roll)?
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 1:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

If you're trading actions for bits, 1 action = 1 bit.

You can generally improve that with Forts and Operations (Preps and Resources for the Runner) that give you more bits per action, so there is a way to ramp things up, but it's not quite like mana production in Magic: the Gathering. For the Corp, 8 bits is a solid 2 and 2/3 turns worth of production the hard way - generating nothing but bits. So a major issue for Corps and Runners is to get some faster bit generation set up, preferably in the first couple of turns.

Speed decks don't go in for generating bits the hard way, and here Runner decks have an edge. Loan from Chiba will give you a big pile of bits up front, with the caveat that you're going to be bleeding bits for the rest of the game (or until you pay it off) - but keep in mind, the whole point of a speed deck is to get yourself up and running as fast as possible - ongoing costs are less of an issue when the late game strategy is to have already won - and Runners tend to have more up-front costs.


This is the Corp version of the loan card, and it sucks by comparison.

But of course, there's some caveats to all that. Stealth cards, as I mentioned, give you bits to use during a run that regenerate each turn; each card doesn't give you a lot of bits, but if you're running a Stealth deck you can stack a bunch of small Stealth programs/hardware/resources and have 6-8 bits to run with easy. Many Agendas have added benefits for the Corp, so the more they win the easier it is for them to continue winning.

The Corp's automatic card draw is both a blessing and curse - by design. They don't have to pay for it, but their hands do fill up and they can be forced to discard (so that Runners have an Archive to go after), and if the Corp runs out of cards they lose - but that's probably not going to happen during a tournament game.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 1:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

deaddmwalking wrote:
How many bits did you typically have in a turn? I'm wondering if I'm understanding the costs of things correctly. If I have the Bolter Swarm and the Roadblock and the Runner encounters the first one I pay '8' to activate it (also it's strength) and pay '2' to activate the Roadblock (with a strength of 3-7 depending on die roll)?

You would pay 8 bits to rez Bolter Swarm (or 3 if the Runner used a Noisy Icebreaker), and 2 bits to rez Roadblock. You don't pay for the Strength except on certain ICE that has variable rez cost.
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Longes
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 1:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FFG maintains a tournament scene and puts some videos on youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JM-D8LZ1yUY
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 2:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FWIW, FFG licensed Netrunner from Wizards and made a new version called Android Netrunner. The core concepts are largely intact but enough has changed that you make cross-meta comparisons at your own peril. For example, the stuff I linked earlier was actually Android Netrunner stuff and was posted mostly to make as clear an example as possible of how Trace is a money sink over and above what tags can do.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 7:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Tracing is perhaps the single biggest direct rules change in Android: Netrunner. It's no longer a blind simultaneous bid. Instead the corp spends as much as they want, and the runner can then choose to match it or suffer the consequences.

There's a pretty thriving tournament scene for the modern game, and streaming/recording games for commentary is quite popular. Teamworkcast has some good examples.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 7:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

That's a fair point, my earlier post was definitely careless.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 9:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

When the corp rez an ICE (or anything else), how long does it stay rezzed ? one run ? one turn ? forever ? (and what is the difference between net damages and meat damages ?)
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

G‚tFromKI wrote:
When the corp rez an ICE (or anything else), how long does it stay rezzed ? one run ? one turn ? forever ? (and what is the difference between net damages and meat damages ?)

Once rezzed, it stays rezzed forever (or until a card specifically derezzes it).

All damage makes the Runner discard cards from their hand; the difference in source mainly has to do with prevention - different cards prevent meat damage or net damage; most ice does net or brain damage, most tag-related fuck-you cards do meat damage.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 9:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Expansions
Netrunner was a critical success when it was released, it was one of the few cyberpunk-flavored CCGs in a market glutted by Magic: the Gathering knock-offs, it had excellent and evocative art by the standards of the day and was very balanced mechanically, it was being produced by the biggest name in CCGs... and yet it never quite took off.

The basic set, 374 cards, was released in April 1996. (v1.0)

The sole expansion, Proteus, 154 cards, was released in September 1996. (v2.1)

Six promotional cards for the second expansion, Silent Impact, were printed and released in limited numbers. (v2.0)

In 1999 WotC released Classic, with 52 cards designed for Silent Impact. (v2.2)

That's...not a lot. Netrunner, for all it's mad respect, did not set the world on fire. What happened?

Proteus
Part of the problem was the tournament issue mentioned earlier; there was one, but it wasn't neat and clean building two decks instead of one. Likewise, the Runner and Corp shared zero cards between them - so when you see 374 cards for v1.0, that's really 137 Corp and 137 Runner - even the first edition of Magic: the Gathering gave you 295 cards to play with, even if they were different colors. So when Proteus was released as an 154 card, that's really a 77 card expansion - even the smallest M:tG release, Arabian Nights, was 92 cards. So the playspace from Netrunner wasn't huge, it was segregated, and the expansion was correspondingly not as sizable as you'd imagine... then you look at the stuff they added in that expansion.

There's not a lot of themes. Bad Publicity was introduced as a concept - the Netrunner equivalent of poison counters. It's an alternate, and slightly more proactive approach to making the Corp lose the game, but it's tricky to pull off. There were also eight Virus programs, because somebody thought you'd be playing decks where you crippled the Corp with virus counters. More importantly, Runners also got access to Hidden Resources, which were Resource cards they played face-down until they needed them - this was a nice balance because now the Corp had to guess what the Runner might be hiding too, although in practice many of them could have been Preps; some of the Hidden Resources were even worth playing.




These very much facilitated speed decks, since they could be daisy-chained together to pay big costs. The Corp got some comparable toys, but they were rather standard forts and upgrades and things.

Other than that...both sides got fun things to play with. Some of the ICE and icebreakers were a little more unreliable (but cheap), or expensive and had better stats, or had some extra effect when you rezzed it, or was mutable for an extra cost. It was enough interesting to make players trade out a few old standbys.



These look pretty difficult to distinguish except for the fact that Morphing Tool is a Swiss army knife; it can handle any flavor of ICE, if you have the bits. Great for stealth decks if you're hurting for MU, but otherwise pricey - there are specialized icebreakers that are better. Some of those could get too specialized, however.



Works great...provided the Corp has installed a wall outside of a sentry. The Corp's ICE selection, as I mentioned, works a lot the same way:



Expensive, but a welcome bit of versatility.



Just expensive.



Just fiddly. It's not that I can't see a good reason to do this, but it would mostly involve surprising the Runner into encountering an unexpected piece of ICE, or else shuffling the ICE around because some of the ICE cares how many pieces of ICE are installed in front of them. These were some minor themes in certain cards, but probably nothing you were going to make the cornerstone of a deck.


Okay, this is really useful.


And I mean yes, these are awesome if you can get them to work.


And that will ruin the Runner's day.



And yes, there were viable strategies for actually getting these things to work.




It's not exactly a weak expansion, even if viruses and bad publicity didn't set the world on fire. Overall, however...Proteus didn't save the game. Sales just weren't there. I never even saw Classic when it was released; it just never hit the stores where I was at.

Final Thoughts
I wonder sometimes if Netrunner was too balanced. I mean, there were...exploits. I won't say they were broken cards, necessarily, but you can burn through your deck to get cards that let you get huge amounts of bits and then spend those bits to do impressive things. If you're willing and able to take the risk, cards like Preying Mantis can give a substantial edge.


I'm not saying this was the Necropotence of Netrunner, but the only card you really care about in your hand is the last one.

There were no infinite loops where you basically got an infinite number of bits or actions (which amount to the same thing). "Aggro" didn't exist, a lot of fiddly deck-manipulation did exist but generally wasn't worth your time. There was a fair bit of thematic thinking...when you look at a deck, for example:



Why can you have only one deck at a time? There's nothing that special about what decks do. You can play an entire game without having a deck. There is no ability that is unique to a deck. You don't need a deck to install chips or anything. It's just that somebody looked at Cyberpunk 2020 and decided Netrunners only get to have one deck at a time.

The counters were fiddling and annoying. Each run took a relatively long time. Some of the jokes on the cards were terrible.



Ultimately...I think it was just the lack of versatility. In Magic, you just bring your deck - and deck - and you can match it up against any other deck. Or multiple decks. All your friends could play a single game of Magic - but not Netrunner. Magic works out well for casual play, it works good for tournaments. But Netrunner, with the Corp/Runner split, required you to learn and know - and maybe build and carry - both. That might have been too much for a lot of casual gamers.

Or maybe it was the lack of versatility. You only had the two factions in Netrunner, and there weren't a lot of different strategies. Winning the game usually boiled down to Agenda points or Kill The Wabbit Runner. Bad Publicity was just viable, decking the Corp probably was not. It also didn't tend to move as fast as Magic - the Corp was never going to win on Turn 1, and probably not on Turn 4 or 6. That would have been glacial to a lot of speed gamers.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 28, 2017 6:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

It sounds to me like the killer for Netrunner was that it used the CCG model to begin with. FFG seems to be doing the right thing with the LCG set distro model with their version.

Also if memory serves FFG is introducing factions and different flavors of runners and corps to create a metagame.

I never got into it, I drank the Game of Thrones kool aid pretty deeply for a while and have a massive vault of cards for that but the other LCGs never did it for me.
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