I've been neither here nor there on Android Netrunner. I think it would be a very interesting game to learn, but I don't play it frequently enough, and I don't put in enough effort to learn it in depth. I don't have a convenient opponent who is particularly keen, yet I don't actively seek out the active players, despite knowing there are some in the Kuala Lumpur vicinity.
I recently picked up the courage to put out a request for some coaching games, and Nik from Spartan Games Arena invited me to come over to play. I opted to play a runner. I played Kate of the Shaper faction, an easy-to-play character. I used mostly the basic deck with just a little customisation. Nik showed me Haas-Bioroid first, and then Jinteki for our second game. Both were custom decks.
I asked many questions when we played, on overall strategy, the do's and don'ts, tactical considerations under various situations, and the different play styles of the factions. Nik was very generous and shared many insights. It was an eye-opening experience. I was amazed by the many nuances in the game. I was a little overwhelmed, not by the rules complexity or by the variety in card powers, but by the many strategic considerations that a good player needs to make when playing. Understanding and appreciating these intricacies is one thing, digesting them and applying them will take more time and effort. I felt like taking out a notebook to take notes, for fear of forgetting the insights I managed to glimpse.
- I learned that it's perfectly normal for the runner to spend two or three turns just collecting money and drawing cards to build up enough resources for a big run (attack), or even a series of runs. There is a tempo to Netrunner - preparing and building up, and then attacking, and then regrouping and planning for the next assault. Players have to manage this timing and know when it's best to attack. For the corporation player I guess it's making sure you are well-prepared for the next time the runner attacks. For the runner it is quite pointless and can even be dangerous to attack when you are not fully ready, e.g. not having enough cash or not having enough cards in hand. The corporation will fear you when you have accumulated enough money and cards, because money usually means being able to break through ice (firewalls / defenses) and reaching the servers.
- Managing the money aspect is not just about making money as efficiently as possible. It is also about forcing your opponent to waste money, or luring him into doing so. Nik applied this to great effect in our second game. When I had built up a small fortune, he revealed two remote servers which were big money-makers. The Jinteki identity he used required me to run against a central server (regardless of outcome) within the same turn before I could run against any remote server. His discard pile and draw deck were lightly defended, which was tempting. So I took quick snipes against them (didn't find any agenda though), and then went for his money-making assets at the remote servers before he could fully realise their benefits. Little did I know these were all part of his plan. He actually had three agendas in his hand of four cards. If I had attacked his more heavily defended hand (HQ), it could have been devastating to him. Instead, I spent most of my money running against other servers, some of which looked like low-hanging fruits and some of which looked like urgent threats. Needless to say soon afterwards he played agenda after agenda and reached 7 points before I could muster enough cash again to stop him.
- Cards in the game do have various strong powers, but I feel the core of the game is still the psychological battle between the players. The cards are nifty tools, but ultimately you still need to outguess and outsmart your opponent. In contrast, in Hearthstone sometimes I feel that at any one time by looking at the table and at your hand, it is obvious how you should play your current turn. There really is not much to think about. It feels like the the game is mostly in how you have built your deck, and in what cards you happen to draw. There is not a lot to think about during execution. But then perhaps that's precisely what the design of Hearthstone is aiming for - a fast-paced and accessible game. In Netrunner I find that you need to keep thinking of your opponent's intentions. Why is he doing that? Is he trying to lure me into a trap? Is he merely bluffing?
- Nik advised me that it is usually a bad idea to run using the last action (click) of the runner. If something goes wrong, you won't have time to react. E.g. if you get tagged, the corporation player will destroy your resources on his turn. Also some ice subroutines can be broken by spending actions, so having some spare actions is good.
- Actions is an important currency too. An asset that lets you make money without needing to spend any action is more valuable than one which requires actions.
- In Hearthstone I have reached the stage where I can appreciate the characteristics of each hero, the kind of cards they have, and the general strategies they gravitate towards. Netrunner has this too. I'm nowhere near there at the moment, but I feel it will be even more interesting than Hearthstone if I do get there.
- I realised I have played one important rule wrong all this while. When installing ice, if the server already has other ice installed, you need to pay $1 per existing ice. It's embarrassing that I got this wrong all this while. I actually have this in my own rules summary.