Running Nets: The Run

Statistics like hips, never lies

Despite being up in Canada, I’m watching this election with interest, because there are lots of moving parts and stakes in this electoral season, so it’s very interesting from an outsiders perspective. I can’t comment on the race, but I can name drop one of my favourite websites for ongoing coverage of the election and of various other things, the amazing blog run by statistician guru Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight.com.

I have no idea what the fox logo is supposed to be, but it’s cute

Nate Silver rose to prominence with the 2008 election cycle, accurately calling various aspects of the election, and ever since he’s used his statistics background to comment and prognosticate (though he hates that word) on a bunch of different things, including sports and the Oscars and pretty much anything that interests him and his team of number wizkids. I really enjoy evidence based reporting and statistical analysis (I’m so fun at parties) and FiveThirtyEight really scratches that itch in a big way. It’s surprisingly informative, and written in a very accessible way. It’s a little less dry than my usual recommendations or anecdotes or stories, but hey, I’ve been doing a lot of reading this week.

The Run

We’ve got a lot of way to go in 5 years …

In the series so far we’ve introduced lots of stuff, and critically we’ve introduced the central elements that allow us to talk about making runs in Netrunner. While some Runner archetypes run very rarely, running servers and stealing agendas (or trashing cards) is an essential part of the game and understanding how (and especially when) to run is essential. The easiest way to win the game is to run when the Corp is vulnerable or you can luck into something and the easiest way to lose the game is to run when you probably shouldn’t, or you run into something that you probably shouldn’t. But enough vaguery, let’s get into the nitty gritty of actually making a run.

Step 0: Picking a Target

So even before we actually make a run, we need to figure out where we’re going to run, and which server we’re going to target. You can always run any of the three Central Servers that we mentioned before (HQR&D or Archives) getting you access to the Hand, Deck, and Discard pile of the corporation to fish for Agendas, but you can also target any Remote Server that the corporation has laid down.

Remote Server is created when the Corp player has laid down an AssetAgenda or Upgrade in a new server spot, to the side of their three central servers. Loosely speaking, a Server is some collection of zero or more pieces of ICE, and a target at the “bottom” of the stack of ICE of either a Central Servers, or an installed card, either face up or face down. While it might be tempting to just hammer on the central servers and ignore the remotes, they can build up really quick. Assets in particular usually contribute to a drip economy, which in a game like Netrunner where you never have enough credits is a big thing. If you let the Corp build up, eventually the tide of ICE and credits will overwhelm you.

So the first step is to take a look at the Remote Servers, are there any assets or targets like a Pad Campaign or San San City Grid that need to die? Is there anything that you can likely assume is an Agenda? Unless your opponent is bluffing, they’re likely going to be putting their Agendas in the safest place possible, so you always have to ask yourself if that facedown card that was just placed behind three ICE is an Agenda, or maybe a trap card waiting to pounce on your preconceptions.

Step 1: Make the Run

The first and most obvious way you can make a run is by simply spending a click on your turn to run on a server. It’s the most basic way and for most decks (other than a few Criminal variants or something like AoA) it’s how you’ll be making your runs. But it also bears mentioning that you could also use a powerful Run Event like Blackmail. Some Events have as part of their text “Make a run,” and so these Events let you make a run as part of playing them. You don’t have to pay the additional click for making the run, just the one click for playing the event.

These Run Events tend to be on the powerful side, and at the very least they compress your clicks down into making a run and getting some benefit all for a single click. In the case of Blackmail it allows you to make a run where the Corp can’t even rez any ICE. Considering that the only time that a Corp can rez a piece of ICE is when a Runner encounters it, this means that you can run on a server without any rezzed ice and zoom right to the payload, scooping up an Agenda or blowing up an Asset for free! Or you can use an Account Siphon or Code Siphon to get a huge advantage on the Corp.

Step 2: Navigate through the ICE

Eyes on the prize

The run starts at the outermost piece of ICE on the server. The Corp player lays down ICE by installing them using a click, and placing them on the outer edge of the ice in front of the server. ICE are placed sideways to signify their difference from the card in the root (end) of the server. This means that if the Corp wants to layer their ICE in a specific way, they have to do so in a certain order. They can trash a piece of ICE if they want, if that ICE is harmful or no longer relevant, but it’s an option. Anyways, we start at the outer edge of the server.

Alright, so we’ve arrived at the outermost piece of ICE, from here, the Corp has a decision. Let’s assume for the nature of our discussion that all the ICE in our sample server is unrezzed. The Corp has to decide if they want to rez it. If they want to rez it, they pay the rez cost in the upper left hand corner of the ICE (in the case of this Assassin they have to pay 7 credits) and then they flip the card over. The card stays flipped over (rezzed) until the end of the game, it is trashed, or the Runner or Corp player derezzes it.

When the runner encounters a piece of ICE, they are forced to encounter it. They can do so in one of two ways: break the subroutines on a piece of ICE or let the subroutines fire. The second one is the easiest to explain, and using our Assassin to the right as an example, if the runner were to encounter the ICE rezzed, they would have to contend with two traces, a Trace5 that if successful will deal 3 net damage, and a Trace4 that if successful would trash a program. Both of those are really bad things, and the high strength of the ICE means that you’ll be spending a lot to get through it, or a lot fighting the traces.

The decision to rez or not to rez ICE is a complicated one for the Corp. They have to look at the state of the game, how much money they have, how much money the Runner has, and weigh that against the next couple of actions. Sure they could spring an Assassin on the Runner and that would suck, but would those 7 credits they spent leave them unable to rez ICE somewhere else? If you’ve got an HQ undefended and rezzing that Assassin prevents you from rezing the ICE on HQ then it’s probably not worth it, and you could stand to lose the game if they sense your weakness.

It’s not like the Corp has all the decisions as you’re busting through the ICE, the Runner has to decide if they want to break the subroutines instead of encountering them. This might seem like a no-brainer at first, as the Corp firing subroutines is going to discard you cards, potentially flat line you and probably at least keep you out of the server, but it’s worth mentioning that you have the possibility of NOT breaking the subroutines with an Icebreaker. Sometimes you have to run through a Neural Katana or Checkpoint to get that critical steal off, and who cares how much of a drooling idiot your Runner is if you win the game right? You also might break only the subs on an ICE that end the run (commonly called ETR subs or end the run subs) so that you might suffer some slings and arrows along the way, but still get through.

Once all of the subroutines on a piece of ICE have been dealt with (one way or another) assuming the Runner hasn’t flat-lined when they encountered the ICE (or the run was ended with ETR subs), the Runner is given the choice, press forward and continue, or Jack-Out and end the run prematurely. If they choose to Jack-Out, the run is ended and they can continue with their turn normally, but if they decide to continue then they encounter the next piece of ICE and we’re back to having the Corp decide if they want to rez the ICE or not.

I didn’t mention this previously, but the Corp also has the option of not rezzing the ICE, and simply letting the Runner past. This happens more than you think, either the Runner can quickly and easily deal with the ICE that’s being encountered, or perhaps the Corp doesn’t have enough credits to rez it. Or maaaaybe they’re leading the Runner on, hoping that they’ll mistake that card with advancement tokens on it and run into that Cerebral Overwriter and literally blow their brains with it.

The Runner has to weigh all of these things and more when making their runs, and especially when choosing to continue or to jack-out. Remember, there are three major types of ICE (SentryBarrier and Code-Gate) and they might not have all three breaker types to get past every type of ICE. They have to also look at the Corp‘s credit pool, and wager whether or not they even have the money to rez another piece of ICE, do they push their luck, confident in their own skills or the Corp‘s weakness? It’s a delicate dance, and one that really gives Netrunner a very cool adversarial feeling. Whether you are staring at another piece of ICE trying to determine if it’s a nasty Data Raven or a harmless Quandry or trying not to make eye-contact with the runner to goad them into a Snare! the delicate dance of the run can be gratifying, frustrating and amazing all in the same breath.

Step 3: Access all the things!

We’ve done it! We’ve hacked the interwebz and gotten into a server. The next step is to access the root of the server and plunder it’s riches for our own. There are two things to keep in mind when accessing cards, the first of which is that if you are accessing a Remote Server or Archives you have to access every card in the root. This means that if you’re going to be accessing Archives you might be running into all sorts of traps that fire and deal damage or place advancement counters and generally make life unpleasant. This also applies to running on Remotes as well, but this is also a double edged sword for you as the Runner, as accessing multiple cards means that you can trash multiple cards. In a server that might have several Upgrades and Assets in it, all it takes is one single access to wipe it all away.

The second thing to remember when you access cards, is that sometimes it doesn’t go as you’d plan. And your Corp opponent might rez a card like Red Herrings over to the left. It prevents the Runner from accessing an Agenda in this server unless the Runner pays an additional 5 credits. Don’t have 5 credits? Oh well, then I guess you go home empty-handed. You can always trash Red Herrings and run again, but then you have to pay your way to the bottom of the server again and that might just be too much for the overtaxed Runner.

Netrunner is full of those gotcha moments, and it’s one of my favourite things about the game. You can be running full steam down a train of ICE, blowing things up as you go only for your opponent to yell out “NOT SO FAST!” and rez a Caprice Nisei to ruin your day, only for you to calming run into HQ and use your Unregistered S&W to make her life a lot less short. With all the hidden information and bluffing and counter-bluffing, it becomes a game of who can conceal their tricks and lure the opponent into them, who can read their opponent and the game state best, and capitalize on scoring windows. It’s a tremendously cerebral game and the run is the thing that ties the whole package together.

Next Time!

If you know what movie this is, we can be friends

You know I promised Gdaybloke these would be smaller … [ I forgive you… – Gday ]

The problem is that there is so much information to get through when it comes to Netrunner, that it can feel overwhelming trying to explain all the nuance and strategy. That’s not to say that it’s a hard game to pick up. While it takes a while to master and the highest levels of the game are scary complicated and imposing, it’s a great game to pick up and have fun with because every little part of it is so much fun. It’s great to build up a rig and go off into the unknown, to surf on the bleeding edge of your opponents ICE, never sure if the next one will be a chump to bust through or that critical card that flat-lines you.

It’s just a fantastic game, and comes highly recommended. Next time I’ll get into some of the factions in more detail, but to keep both me and Gday sane I’ll probably make them smaller, more bite sized, but it’ll be easier to keep them regular, so I’ll see you next time reader! Oh, and if you want to see a specific topic, feel free to leave a suggestion in the comments.