Over the Raya holidays (Aidilfitri / Eid al-Fitr) I arranged with John to play Android: Netrunner, hoping to continue to learn this game. He's a veteran, and he actually started playing it at Spartan Games Arena, where I visited recently to play and learn from Nik. John still follows the latest expansions, but feels a bit tired of the chasing after new cards, and wants to return to basics - building decks using only the cards from the core set. That suits me just fine. I want to learn starting from the basics. We spent an afternoon at Starbucks and played five games. He taught me quite a bit about deck building, and I realised how poor my two deck builds were. By our third game I switched to playing with his decks, and actually managed one win game. As I learned more, I found that there was so much more I didn't know and needed to learn. It was a little daunting. Perhaps it's a good sign. It means I'm improving and I'm able to appreciate the depth of the game better. I hope. Here are my miscellaneous thoughts after this enjoying session of running.
- I suddenly have an urge to sleeve all my cards. I think most if not all serious runners do this. I suddenly have this urge because I realise this game has a lot of replayability even with just the core set, and there is a lot of fiddling with the cards because of constructing and reconstructing decks. I suddenly see that even just the cards from the core set is a cultural artifact that needs to be preserved. I can't explain why I don't feel this way about Race for the Galaxy, a game I love and have played hundreds of times, until some of the cards are obviously frayed at the edges.
I was playing John's Criminal runner deck. He uses red-backed sleeves. I'm thinking of getting transparent ones.
- I learned that there are three main types of ice (firewalls protecting the servers), and thus also three main types of icebreaker programs to break their subroutines. In hindsight it's amazingly dumb of me how I never bothered to check this. No wonder my first attempt at deck-building was laughable.
- John taught me to run naked (and I must explain before your imagination runs wild). Running naked means hacking at the corporation's servers in the early game when you don't have any programs installed yet. The corp doesn't have a lot of money yet, so it will not be able to rez (turn on) any powerful and dangerous ice. You don't have any program at risk of getting trashed. You can force the corp to reveal the newly placed ice, which is useful information to you. If the corp player doesn't rez his ice, you run successfully and if lucky you may even score an early agenda. So running naked is a very viable tactic.
- To play well, you need to know almost every detail of every card. Remembering the names of the many cards is not something you force yourself to do. It actually comes naturally after you spend much time playing, discussing with your friends, and deck-building. Tell a veteran an icebreaker-and-ice pair, and he can probably immediately tell you how much it would cost for the former to break all subroutines of the latter. It's like having memorised the multiplication table. After an afternoon with John, I've learned to remember some of the more powerful cards to watch out for, like Snare and Scorched Earth.
- Some cards can be particularly powerful, even to the point of becoming game-winners, under specific situations. The game is very much about trying to create such situations to play these cards, and also preventing your opponent from doing it to you. I have learned this in Hearthstone, but I still need to learn the cards in Netrunner better to be able to do the same. One thing that I wonder is whether this will result in groupthink. If everyone thinks a card is best used in a certain way, then the group may become stuck in a narrow mindset and not explore other viable tactics, possibly even more creative ways to use the card.
- I am amazed at how consistent the setting and the mechanisms are. The core mechanisms are not exactly simplistic, but are not overly complex either. There are servers, firewalls, programs, subroutines, tagging, viruses, bad publicity and so on. All the card powers tie back to this handful of core elements, yet there is much variety.
- John thinks the default decks in the core set are weak, but decent decks can be built using only cards in the core set. One just needs to tweak the decks a little and use some cards from other factions. He shared with me his deck builds. I'll probably just use them as they are for now, until I get a better feel for the deck-building aspect.
- In one of the games where I played the Jinteki corp using a deck I built, John played the Criminal runner with a deck he built. One of the powerful Jinteki cards is Snare. If the runner accesses Snare when hacking into a server, the corp may spend $4 to discard three of the runner's hand cards. If the runner doesn't have enough, he is flatlined and loses. John was very careful about not getting caught by Snare. There were a few times when he managed to reach my server, but because I kept at least $4 on hand, he hesitated and jacked out at the last minute, deciding not to access the server after all. That saved me a few times. I actually didn't have any Snare waiting for him. I was just bluffing. In fact, after the game (which I eventually lost) I realised I hadn't put Snare into my deck at all! No wonder I didn't draw it even after half my deck was gone.