Fra Fra Fra!
One thing I’ve really gotten back into in the past few years is comics. Previously I had sort of dabbled, and there was a period in my university career where I was full-on addicted, but lately it’s been a much more casual sort of habit. I try and only get trade paperbacks as they represent good value for the money, and represent a bigger “bite” of the story than single issues. Additionally, I try to get series I know that will last the test of time, and aren’t just flavour of the week type big comics events.
One of my finds, on a recommendation from a blog I read, is Descender. Usually when I start a series my response is pretty tepid for the first couple issues, but then I really can get lost in a great story, but with Descender, the first thing that really reaches out and grabs you is Dustin Nguyen’s art; it’s like a series of space opera concept art pantings come to life. The linework is insane, and it really sets the stage for an awesome title.
The art in this comic is GORGEOUS.
The story (written by Jeff Lemire) backs up the outstanding visuals. Set in the (reasonably) near future, the first issue begins with a galaxy that is optimistic and full of a functioning alliance of alien species which includes humanity. There is a beauracracy called the UGC in control of everything (there always is) but it works. Dr. Quon is the foremost expert of humanity on robotics, and is living the high life until massive robotic entities appear simultaneously in orbit around major worlds. Only momentarily passive, they quickly attack, causing great loss of life and general chaos, before vanishing as suddenly as they arrived. The subsequent investigation sees Quon implicated as they found evidence of his code in the robotic destroyers, and he is ruined as the galaxy turns on him and all of robotics in the aftermath of the devastation.
Years later, a young boy awakens on a planet to find that 10 years has elapsed, and the galaxy is much different than when he fell asleep. The colony he lives on lays destroyed, and everyone he knows is dead. Little does he know, he’s about to become the most important boy in the entire system, maybe the sector, perhaps even the galaxy. If that has any appeal to you, check it out (and you can read the entire first issue right here) and if does have some pull, go check it out at your local comic book store. But be prepared to search as it’s pretty much the hottest thing in comics these days.
The Corp: Evil Never Felt SO Good
Somewhere along the line, you made a bad choice.
The Corporation is the focus of the game of Netrunner. The objective for both players is located in the corporation player’s deck, so it only makes sense to start with them. There are four different corporate factions, each with their own distinct play style and theme. All of the factions are distinct enough to require their own article but a quick overview of each might give us some needed context.
Haas-Bioroid is a german corporation dealing in creepy synthetic humans and they specialize in massive ICE, lots of slow rolling money and literally melting the brain of the runner player. On the other hand, Jinteki is a traditional Japanese Zaibatsu that sells cloned (and sometimes psychic!) humans, and they specialize in flatlining the runner through ICE with lots of teeth, and playing shell games with the runners. The traditional American supergiant company comes up in Weyland, who specializes in literally blowing up your city block (just as lethal to hackers), ridiculous barriers and more money than god. And last, but certainly not least is NBN, who can best be described as all of the access of Facebook, Google and Microsoft with all of the business ethics of Rupert Murdoch. The focus in creepy surveillance, having more resources to deal with problems, and moving quicker than even the Runner can.
Tricks of the Trade
The natural place to start talking about the corporation is the focus of both players, the Agenda (that’s an Astroscript Pilot Program, an example agenda over on the right). These represent the evil plots that the corporation is trying to accomplish. It might be a shadowy mercenary company you use to do your dirtywork, it might be an alliance with the local police department, or in the case of Astroscript, it might be literally leaving your mark where no one else can.
The number in the upper right hand side of the card is the “Advancement Value” of the card. Each turn, the Corp can choose to do a number of actions. One of the actions that a corporation can do is “Advance” a card, spending a “Click” and 1 “Credit” to place an advancement counter on the card. So if the Corp player “Advances” an Astroscript three times, he can score it for points! The number to the bottom left of the art is the value of the card, so the Corp player will get 2 points for scoring it, leaving only 5 points left for victory (the game is over when either player scores 7 points).
But it’s not all that simple, as it takes a Click to place the card down from your hand into a remove “Server” in the first place (so you can Advance it) and the Corporation player can’t do more than 3 Clicks in a turn. That means that you have to play it a turn before you can score it, and did I mention that the runner can run on your cards at any point on their turn, and so all they have to do is find out where you’ve put the Agenda and access it, and that they can score it immediately. So you have to play out your Agendas early, and the runner can just go and steal them out from under you? How can you stop that?
Well you can start by maybe laying down a few Assets like the Snare! over on the right. You see, Agenda’s are played facedown on the board, and are only revealed when they are scored. So you can play other cards, including Assets and Upgrades (which we’ll get to later) facedown to confuse your opponent, and perhaps do more than just confuse them.
You see, Snare! does more than just confuse. If the runner makes a run on a server with a facedown card, and finds a Snare!the corporation player can pay $4 to inflict three net damage on the runner. Each net damage dealt removes a card from the Runners hand, draining them of resources and tools to deal with what the corporation player is doing. Not only that, if they ever can’t discard enough cards to soak up the net damage, the runner is flatlined and immediately loses the game. This complicates the game in a delicious way. “Is that card laid facedown an Agenda I can go and steal? Or is it a Snare! waiting to ruin my day?”
Assets can be lots of different things too. They can make you money every turn, or make the runner unable to play certain cards, or make the runner discard cards, or make you draw cards. The options are literally endless, but they aren’t permanent or even free. The number in the upper left is the “Rez cost,” the cost in $s it takes to flip the Asset over and start using it, and the number in the very bottom right is the “Trash cost,” and if the runner accesses the asset during the run, they simply have to pay that many $s and the can “Trash” the asset and put it in your discard pile! How rude!
So how can you protect your cards from being destroyed or stolen? It seems like if the runner has enough money and cards, they can get in anywhere! So you put some barriers like ICE cards in the way, like our friend Archer over there. You lay down ice sideways, in front of your remote servers and the runner must encounter them as they make “Runs” on your servers.
First you have to pay the Rez cost (in the upper left hand side) to flip the ICE when the runner makes their run. Once you’ve flipped it face up, on this and any subsequent runs, the runner must encounter the subroutines on the ICE in order, unless they can break it (more on that when it comes to runners). In the case of Archer, the Corp player gains $2, then the Runner has to trash two programs, then the run simply ends! If your opponent can’t break it, everything behind the Archer is simply immune to anything the runner can do! And this Archer is a mighty “Strength” six! (the number in the bottom left) So it will cost the runner a boatload to deal with, even if they have some way to deal with it.
Okay, so you can ICE your servers, but what if you wanted to crush your opponent’s spirit even if they can get in? You could layer on an additional protection in the case of an Upgrade to your server, like Old Hollywood Grid over on the right. Upgrade are the only other cards besides Assets and Agendas that can go in servers, and unlike both of those which you can only have one of in a server, you can have as many Upgrades as you want in a server AND they can share the same spot as an Asset or Agenda!
And Old Hollywood Grid is particularly nasty, as it prevents the Runner from stealing an agenda unless another copy of that agenda already exists in the runner score area! So if the runner hasn’t scored an Astroscript yet, you can safely score it behind an Archer without worrying at all! The text is only active while the card is face up and in the server, so you do have to pay $5 to Rez the card and they can trash it for $4, but that involves them getting into the server once (paying to bypass your ICE), paying the $4 to trash the Old Hollywood Grid, then paying to get into your server AGAIN to steal the agenda. And that’s assuming they planned on the interruption. If they did it as their last Click on their turn, they can only trash the Upgrade, leaving you free to score the card on your turn!
Upgrades can do other stuff as well, like making ICE or Assets cheaper to Rez in the server, or even making it take less clicks to Advance agendas in that server. But if you’ve been paying attention, it takes an awful lot of $Moolah$ to do all these actions. You could spend a Click for a Credit, but that’s terribly inefficient, and you’ll find yourself falling behind quickly. You can get money from Assets and Upgrades that you play down early, paying for and then reaping the benefit from later, but you could also play an Operation like Hedge Fund.
Operations are most akin to spells in magic, cost a click to play, andHedge Fund gives you $9 for an initial investment of $5. So if you have money, you can spend a single click (and a card) to make $4! That’s much more efficient for you, and unlike Assets and Upgrades which have to be protected to give you money turn after turn, Operations can provide an initial bit of econ which the runner has more trouble disrupting.
Operations can also do so much more than that, they can deal draw cards, make ICE stronger, destroy pieces of your opponent’s rig that they’re using to hack into your servers, make you money, even find that one card you need right now. There is even a card that is actual representative of finding out where the runner is located in the real world, and literally blowing up their house. Hard to hack something if you’re dead.
But it does take $5 to play a Sure Gamble, and now you can start to see the genius of Netrunner. I want to score the Astroscript to win me the game, but I need to protect it. That means I need to have something like a Snare! providing a distraction or an Archer to protect it. Maybe even an Old Hollywood Grid to provide another layer of protection. But all those things cost money to do, AND I need to have money to advance the Agenda in the first place. I can playHedge Fund, but I need money before I can even do that. Money I might need to Rez that Archer or pay for that Snare! Layers upon layers of planning, all of which combines to be an impenetrable mess for the Runner player when played right.
Absolute favourite Runner: Kate McCaffrey
Woof! How does a Runner deal with all of that? They have to let everyone know that NBN is planning on writing on the Moon (surely there must be some environmental regulation against that) but with all those ICE, Upgrades, Assets and Operations arrayed against you, how is a humble cyber-warrior ever going to succeed? Spoilers: by burning it all to the ground, being smarter than they are, or