Running Nets: The Runner

Where Winning Doesn’t Matter

Since I’ve recommended a Movie and Comic Book in recent articles, I figure a board game is next. Now, I tend towards the more cerebral board games, ones where winning is not determined by a roll of the dice but by the skill in which you manipulate the board and your opponents. Or games where you have to work together to overcome challenging tasks, perhaps curing diseases or stopping your Sitting Duck class vessel from exploding around you. But when I really want to have some cheap, easy FUN I pull out Tales of the Arabian Nights.

Tales of the Arabian Nights is a great game that comes in a big heavy box. It’s big and heavy because it has a game booklet that is over 300 pages long, and if that’s making you plotz in fear, FEAR NOT, as it is a booklet, and not the instruction manual. You pick a legendary hero of Arabic lore (like Aladdin or Sinbad) and wander about the world, having adventures. You have quests to accomplish that sort of guide your travels, but every turn you move to a space, roll some dice, do a little bit of light index searching, and then crack open the 300+ page Book of Encounters and the fun REALLY begins.

Big gorgeous box is Big, Gorgeous, and a Box

First a bit of short text is narrated at you, giving you a problem to deal with. “You encounter a burning building,” “You find a trapdoor in the floor of the house you’re staying in,” “A fiendish Djinn guards the river you’re attempted to cross,” “A man offers you what seems like a sound business proposition.” Once you find out what you have to deal with, you’re given a handful of options. Do you attempt to reason with the Djinn? Fight him with magic? Try to escape? Maybe attempt to bargain with him?

Whatever you decide, the book is consulted again, and the results of your hilarious misadventure is read out to you. Try to attack the Djinn and you might find that it was just a rich merchant in disguise, and you take his money away from him and chastise him for his foolishness. Or it might be a real Djinn, and turn you into a beast man. The options an opportunities for adventure and endless, and hilarious. My VERY FIRST exposure to the game was trying to get help for a burning building, only to have the mob dealing with it turn on me for loudly crying for help, and beating me up because I was poor. You could attempt to rob a passing Sultan and miraculously get past all his warriors, get caught, but are so good at spinning stories that he makes you a vizier. Or attempt to attack a beggar only to find he’s a notorious brigand, and get rewarded for your random act of violence. Or you could attempt to bargain with a Lion, find out that it’s a person turned into a Lion, and be so besot by empathy that your soul literally aches with mercy, giving you the “Grief Stricken” attribute.

If you can get behind a little bit of choose your own adventure math in the encounter books, you’ll find this game will result in some of the strangest stories you’ll ever tell your friends. “And then after I got the troll to undo my curse, I tried to rob her and she threw me into a mirror, which teleported me across the world! Luckily it turns out I was just drunk, but then I got robbed by the Troll and forced to bargain with an all-powerful goat for my soul back.”

Hit the jump for more Netrunner talk.

The Runner: Plucky, Unbridled Freedom

The Truth is Out There … About Moon Laser Writing …

If the Corp player is the slow, methodical controlling influence on the game than the Runner is the pure chaos of potential. The Corp player is trying to put systems, roadblocks and protections in place to protect an over-arching game plan. They think turns and turns ahead, playing cards, getting money, and setting up Agendas to be advanced safely for the victory. On the other hand, the Runner only needs the fleeting glimpse of an Agenda to score it, lives in the moment, and is only looking for the next chink in the armour of the corp, to be exploited for gains.

The three factions of Runners like the Corp probably need their own article for each to do them justice, but a brief overview again gives us some context. Anarchs are by far the easiest to explain: the systems that the Corporation puts in place, the Anarchs want to tear down. They have brutally efficient programs, lots of ways to destroy everything on the board that keeps them out, and are focused on high-risk high reward cards, even when it comes to econ. By comparison, the Shaper runners play a longer game. They have powerful programs and tutors that let them search out the exact solution to the problem at hand. Where an Anarch might throw money, resources or caution to the wind to deal with a problem, a Shaper might not even choose to deal with a threat, content that the longer game favours them in the end. A mixture of both but it’s own beast, the Criminal runner has some jaw-droppingly powerful cards, and is focused on early game aggression to an extent that Anarchs and Shapers, both factions who rely on a later or mid-game approach, simply cannot match. Criminals are all aggression and control, right from the word go.

Tricks of the Trade

It seems like the runner has an impossible hill to climb. They have ICE, Upgrades and Assets either keeping you out of the remote servers which contain the Assets you need to steal, and Operations plugging all the holes in the Corps defenses and giving them lots of money. But if this was going to be a one-way game it wouldn’t nearly be as interesting, and while the Corp player might be the powerful ATAT, marching through enemy lines blasting everything in sight, sometimes all it takes is a plucky kid with a lightsabre or a datajack to completely ruin their day.

If we’re going to set about taking apart the Corps plans one by one, the first thing that we have to deal with is the Corps ICE. If you can’t get past an Archer then you can’t get to the sensitive goodies behind, no matter how hard you try. The easiest and most straightforward way of dealing with them is by using an Icebreaker, a type of Program. ICE (usually) comes in three different varieties: Barriers provide a tough to deal with blockage that keeps the runner out, Sentries are potent cards that might let the runner past, but harm the runner by dealing damage or compromising the runners ability to react to threats, and Code Gates complicate the game by making the math of getting into a server difficult with all sorts of wacky abilities. Luckily for the runner, they have three different types of Icebreaker programs that deal with all three types in the Fracter, Decoder, and Killer respectively, and there is even a class of Icebreaker called an AI Breaker that can break ANY type of ICE. To play an Icebreaker like Femme Fatale the runner needs to play the install cost in the upper left hand corner to play it on the table, and then they can use it whenever they encounter an ICE during a run. As you can see by the first line of the card, Femme can only break Sentry subroutines, so you’ll need something else to break any Barriers or Code Gates you come across, but let’s deal with Femme first.

To interact with an ICE, the Icebreaker must have equal Strength to the Strength of the ICE that they want to use the program on. If you remember from last time, Archer has a STR of 6, and the STR of Femme (that number in the bottom left) is 2, so we need to find some way to get our Femme up to STR 6. Luckily, you can see that it has two payment abilities and the second one allows us to pay $2 to raise Femme’s STR by 1 for the encounter. So if we pay $8, we can then interact with the ICE, and can use the first payment ability to pay $1 to break each of the Subroutines (or subs) on the Archer. It’s important to briefly note that you don’t HAVE to break all the subs on a piece of ICE. While Archer has two nasty “Trash a Program” subs and an “End the Run” that we absolutely have to break, we don’t really care about the Corp gaining $2 in all circumstances. If you are very far ahead, you might not break the sub, or even run through the “Trash a Program” subs if you know that you are going to find an Agenda that wins you the game. Sometimes being self-destructive can actually be to your benefit if it swings the game in a big way.

But still, paying $12 to fully break an Archer seems waaaay to expensive doesn’t it? If you noticed before, when I mentioned that Femme is an Icebreaker I also said it was a type of Program, and there are plenty of other programs that can help us beyond the binary nature of using an Icebreaker to break a piece of ICE. Datasucker is a great example of a card that can make interacting with ICE much easier.

When installed on the table for it’s install cost (upper left) Datasucker provides an interesting benefit: every time you make a successful run on a central server (much more about that later) you get to place something called a Virus token on it. What use are Virus tokens? Well, Datasucker has a payment ability where you can spend a Virus counter to make any ICE being encountered -1 STR until the end of that encounter. So if you have a Virus counter, you can make Archer STR 5 instead of STR 6, which saves you $2 from Femme. And there is no limit to the amount of counters you can spend at once, so if you have 4 counters you can save an amazing $8 on breaking Archer, one of the absolutely nastiest ICE in the entire game! I’m going to gloss over the concept of “Central Servers” until another time but suffice to say, you run on them a lot, so you have the potential to be generating a large amount of tokens on Datasucker.

And programs can have lots of other cool applications. Some can make you boatloads of money or make it cheaper to trash assets, or even give you extra Clicks (actions) to preform during your turn! They can even cause the Corp no end of problems like the venerable Parasite. This little beauty gets installed on top of an ICE and each turn gets a Virus counter, reducing the STR of the ICE by 1 for each counter on it. In a few turns, that Archer might go from a powerful STR 6 to a mewling STR 2. That’s so much better to deal with! It also has another benefit, that if the STR of the ICE ever reaches 0, the ICE is immediately trashed and it’s that much easier to break into that server. And if you’ve been following along, with enough counters you can run an ICE with a Parasite on it and use something like Datasucker counters instead of dealing with it. In fact, with 6 counters on Datasucker and Parasite combined you can trash that Archer instead of paying ANY money to deal with it. Now we’re cooking with Diesel!

One thing that complicates all of this is the Memory Limit of the Runner. You start with 4 units of Memory, and most programs you install will eat up some of that limit. The MU (Memory Unit) cost of a program is in that little box beside the install cost, and we can see that ParasiteDatasucker and Femme each cost 1 memory, so we only have 1 MU to install a Fracter or Decoder to deal with the other ICE. If your opponent has all three out on the table, we’re left in a situation where you can’t deal with something again and are being kept out of an area. Luckily, we can use a piece of Hardware to expand our MU, and give us all sorts of other benefits. That Toolbox has all sorts of rules on it, so let’s unwrap it a little at a time.

For starters, it has an install cost of 9, which means you need $9 to put it on the table. That seems like a lot, but we get a lot for our money. The first thing it gives us is +2 MU, which means we can install a total of 6 MU of programs. Assuming 1 MU each for a Decoder and a Fracter, we can even install another Datasucker or Parasite if we want to make our runs even more efficient. The second thing it gives us is +2 Link, which is a bit abstract but it’s good nonetheless. Link is used in fighting Traces which are when the Corp player wants to give us a resource called a Tag, which is bad. Tags mean they know something about us, and can use it to play cards to deal damage directly to us, or sap our money, or they can use the Tag to start destroying our Resources. Link makes those Traces more expensive, so it’s good. The last symbol is a little small, but it’s very important. Toolbox gives us two recurring credits that come back each turn, which we can use to pay for using Icebreakers. So it not only allows us to install more programs, but it essentially gives us two free credits every turn which we can use to break in and steal stuff! Excellent!

Other Hardware can do things like reducing the cost of certain card we play, act as a safety net that allows us to play trashed programs so it’s harder for the Corporation to keep us out, or even have crazy and wild affects on how the Corp player plays their turn. There is a whole variety of hardware our there that makes our jobs easier, and even other powerful Consoles like The Toolbox that can give us huge benefits when we use them. But we can also play Resources down that can help us fuel our game much in the same way that Assets can help fuel the corps.

For example, while the Corp player draws a card at the start of their turn, (and can draw an additional card by spending a click) the Runner player has to spend a click to draw every time they want another card. Even though the Runner has 4 clicks to the Corps three (more on that later in a future article on the structure of Netrunner) it’s still expensive. Like a Corp they can click for $1, but if they have a card like Professional Contacts installed they can make things much more efficient for themselves. Now with just a single click, the Runner can draw a card AND get $1. In a game where you constantly need to find answers to the problems that the Corp is throwing in your way you’re going to be drawing through your deck quickly, and Professional Contacts can make you a credit every time you do so. Other Resources can have other benefits too, like providing a credit or two every turn, or making all Icebreakers STR +1, or by drawing you cards each turn. Like Assets, you install them on the table and then simply by existing they can provide pressure for your opponent, forcing them to deal with them or be lost under the tide of your card and money advantage.

Last but certainly not least, we have Events. Events are essentially Operations from the Corp side: you pay a cost, they have an effect, and then they go away. But one thing that has to be mentioned is that while Assets, Upgrades, Resources and Programs stay around for multiple turns and can have big effects over an entire game, sometimes Operations and Events can have a big hug temporary effect on the game in an instant, and there is no better example of that than the dreaded Account Siphon.

Like Events, Operations take a click and some money to play, but in the case of Account Siphon there is no cost for this event. The text of the Event tells us that we make a run on HQ (one of those mysterious Central Servers) and when a card says “Make a run” as part of it’s text, it gives us a free run. Normally it costs a click to make a run, but in this case just playing Siphon gives us that run for free. It also says, that instead of accessing cards (and potentially stealing an Agenda or trashing an Asset or Upgrade) we can instead force the corp to lose $5, and gain $2 for each credit you force them to lose. Then you take two tags.

There is a lot to process there, and we might as well start with the tags. I told you tags are bad, and I wasn’t lying. Play this card at the wrong time and those tags might just lose you the game if your opponent has the right cards in hand. But it’s also a FIFTEEN credit swing in your favour. You get up to $10, and they lose up to $5. That can be HUGE because often-times money is so tight that the Corp or Runner has just enough to do what they want to do and no extra. If your opponent is counting on spending $6 to rez that Archer to keep you away from that Astroscript, then if you drain his funds by $5 he can no longer rez the ICE, and you can get in for free. Not to mention that once he recovers, you have that much more money to put pressure on. If they were counting on playing a Hedge Fund and gaining $4, they first have to click for $s up to $5 to even play the card. It can set back the Corp player a bunch, and a well timed Account Siphon might be the difference between falling behind a Corp and opening up a window where the world is your oyster.

Next Time!

A new Card type? *GASP*

I’ve glossed over a bunch of details in getting to this point, and these last two articles are still considerably longer than I wanted, but there is a bit more ground to cover before we start talking about the game in earnest. Specifically, I’ve left out the details of Identities, the Central Servers, what exactly Clicks are, the additional resource economies of Bad Publicity and Tags, and how the game board is structured. I’ll go over some/all of that next time.