Depth and Meta-independence in Netrunner

EDIT1: I have been getting very good responses and opinions from you all. Thanks! I am not sure how to definitively conclude this discussion, but a few things I read seemed to be what I was looking for…

One of my favorite things about Netrunner is the community engagement and participation. The players at my local friendly game have been very supportive and encouraging as I learnt how to play the game. The game itself is very exciting, and often intense.

However, a few things have been niggling at me for a while, and I wanted to voice those concerns to see what others think. Because of the amount of positive support I got, I felt it was heresy to doubt the soul of netrunner. Having moved on from the game recently, I was wondering if I made the right call.

Is netrunner really as strategic and deep as players think it is?

I ask this because when I think of strategy games, I feel there is a simple rule set that encourages the proverb ‘seconds to learn, and decades to master’. Chess comes to my mind.

Depth: However, when you think of netrunner and it’s LCG model…do you ever get the feeling that how many ever data packs and expansions are released, the depth imparted ( to the game ) by the expansions does not increase faster than the number of cards becoming legal? To me it feels like how many ever cards are being released, options increase multifold, but the depth remains agonizingly shallow.

For example, if we were to think of Chess as an LCG model, the core set ( 16 pieces ) would be enough for a lifetime. Additional packs would add variety, but there’s no one saying you can’t go to a tournament skilled just in the core set. In other words, I feel netrunner conflates variety / options and depth.

Meta Independence: Also, if how the game works clicks, how many ever pieces are added in expansions, it doesn’t matter. In other words, if you know how to play chess, the meta is irrelevant; your skill, experience and knowledge would far outweigh knowing all possibilities. I definitely don’t see this in netrunner, because no one can just take a random ID, especially the Professor, and ignore the meta.

What do you all think? I would take this as a challenge and play only the core deck ( and perhaps one expansion based on runner / corp faction ], but then I’m not very good at the game as well. I was hoping the more experienced players could challenge what I said.


Chess are non-random, almost symmetrical and a perfect information game, it’s not a good example for meta questions.

You can’t say “hey, chess meta is openings” and stick the question to a LCG ?

All you would get is with games as different as they are, depth are different, and metagames reasonings aswell.

You don’t have to understand opening hand statistics in chess, and you can’t really perfectly predict next opponent’s turn in ANR.

So if strategical thinkings around the games are different, you can’t really ask yourself question from Chess in ANR ?

Depth… In Netrunner, adding new packs adds Breadth more often, but occasionally adds Depth. Jackson Howard’s release added Depth. Some of the Doubles added Depth. Depth is somewhat difficult to describe, but my personal definition that satisfies me is: Given a particular deck, how many choices are meaningful in a game? Breadth is better defined as: How many choices are available in a game? This is more like saying that the original version of chess didn’t come with Knights, and an expansion pack added the option to either have 4 bishops, or 2 bishops+2 knights. The Knight adds significant Depth to Chess.

(More often I find people confuse Depth and Complexity, but Depth and Breadth are often conflated as well, because they’re very similar, and the terms aren’t strictly defined to my knowledge.)

Meta Independence… This one is thornier. The meta exists in Netrunner because of Deckbuilding. By design, you cannot create a deck that is perfectly matched against every other possible deck. Because of that, you make choices in deckbuilding “Alright, I’m good against most decks, though if anyone is actually on a SEA-Scorch plan, I’ve got nothing to fight that except the default ‘Make Lots Of Money’ plan.” When you make choices like this, you’re reacting to your perceived meta, expecting that a specific deck archetype will be uncommon or rare at a tournament, so having a bad game against it in exchange for better game against everything else improves your overall win rate.

Chess doesn’t have a meta because it is a (near) perfectly symmetrical game. (Technically White has an advantage.) If you could take different configurations of non-pawn pieces to start with and declare which ones you’d use at the start of a tournament, THEN it would have a meta. Perhaps there would be a ‘dominant’ All-Rook strategy, but Knights can abuse that configuration, and the default configuration wins against the Knights and loses to All-Rooks. Most would take All-Rooks because it’s the ‘best’, but some would take Knights and less would take Default. The Knights players made the appropriate Meta call because they’re most likely to face All-Rooks and very unlikely to face Defaults. But then we aren’t playing Chess anymore… :slight_smile: So Chess does not offer a Meta for players to read, I’m not sure any Classic game actually has a meta. Poker maybe? (Whether or not the people at this tournament are likely to Bluff.)

Note that the best players still have game against their ‘bad’ matchups. Every deck has holes that can be poked in it, and the best players can mitigate or play around those holes when they come up. Also you do see this in Netrunner, because we’ve had the same person take Worlds twice. That’s not done with a lack of skill/experience/knowledge.


What do you mean white has an advantage? Being able to counter moves seems more important to me.

If you think a game is shallow and “doesn’t click,” then sure, adding more content and meta-dependence will improve the game very slowly at best.

But maybe it would help if you explained why you think either of those is the case? Personally I found core set play extremely deep, and everything since then has been gravy. And meta-dependence is just a matter of taste. Some people like it, others don’t, but the idea that meta-independence is inherently superior seems pretty questionable.

(And for what it’s worth, chess is highly meta-dependent. It’s a fairly uniform and very slowly-evolving meta, but compare play in the Romantic Era to Hypermodernism, Dynamism, and so on.)


Chess have a meta. It’s based around openings (there is trends), and maybe other things that I’m not chess-educated enough to know of, but they have a meta.

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White have the leading move, which is important enough to hold and defend to win games.

If you have to move back a piece in a game, you lost (providing your opponent knows how to exploit this).

Thank you for your reply!

I liked what you wrote.

Depth - Isn’t it still so that the depth: cards ratio is heavily skewed towards the cards? From a design perspective, would I be correct in faulting the design, as there is more depth when the structure provides it ( as opposed to components of the game providing it? )

Regarding meta - independence, I agree that if expansion packs were released, chess would have a meta as well. However, I find that players in netrunner make significant choices in their deck building with respect to meta. Won’t chess players’s decisions not be that seminal though? I feel in chess a player could very much ignore all expansions, but still be skilled enough ( provided he is skilled enough in the ‘core set’ ) to know what he/ she / other must do when facing opponents who have expansions in their loadout.

In chess, knowledge of the game is mostly inherent in the structure, not the pieces. In netrunner, it’s the opposite; the cards carry the power of the rule.

Moreover, I don’t deny that Netrunner has skill/ experience / knowledge in it; most games do. It just feels like risk management can be too tricky.

With the exception of Weyland Kill dominance, I tend to agree. Core + Genesis is actually where I think the game became Very Good, with the only thing I’d consider adding to that being Jackson Howard.

Hm. From my knowledge, that doesn’t constitute a meta, but my knowledge of Chess Openings is limited and I’d rather look into it more before saying anything definitively… I will say that ‘Opening A counters Opening B is countered by Opening C’ does not constitute a meta.

I feel netrunner is shallow because I don’t agree / think that the core set provides enough depth, at least competitively. I don’t think it is possible for a top tier competitive player to use a core set only deck and win; I feel netrunner focuses on the cards and meta to such an extent that when you start the game, it seems impossible to win by strength of skill alone. I have never seen it done, which prompts my curiosity.

Perhaps meta - dependence is personal. However, I feel that to qualify as a heavily strategic game, certain levels of meta - independence needs to be achieved.

( Even if chess is meta - dependent, it’s always theoretically possible to win against and in any meta; and with enough skill, the theory becomes practical. )

Here is how I interpret this statement, to give context for my reply: (If you meant something different, you can clarify! :slight_smile: )
In Netrunner, as more cards are added, depth does not increase proportionately.

From my view, this is correct, and not a bad thing. Breadth increases, which from a point of view, means that Depth increases because there’s more strategies Possible now, but the existing ones tend to not get any new Options that increase the Depth of the existing strategies. To me, this is primarily a Breadth-increasing exercise and not Depth-increasing. Yes; the Structure of the game provides most of the Depth of Netrunner, to me. The inherent rules of the game, in how ICE works and is placed, and how Clicks are used, provides Most of the Depth of the game. (This is subjective.)

For continued meta-independence; Consider this: If an expansion were released that could be completely ignored and all the decks that existed before still exist in their same form without any changes… Why was the expansion released? The entire point of an expansion is that you cannot ignore it and the new playstyles it brings, regardless of how skilled you are. You cannot take a Core Weyland kill deck to Worlds and expect to win, even if you play perfectly. (You’ll catch a few off guard and thought to leave the Meat protection at home, but there are simply too many and better options for Runners to avoid being killed than were available for Core Weyland to play around.)

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Yes, the interpretation was what I intended!

Thank you for talking about this.

As somebody who was very obsessed with Netrunner initially, it’s quite disappointing to confirm that it is more breadth - oriented and not as strategic as other games. I don’t like it because when games are breadth oriented, while giving enormous play style options, the game still, is essentially the same thing masked differently. However, if a game is deep, I feel there is always more to learn whenever you play. In netrunner, if you get your basics right ( running, breaking and advancing among others ) the remaining is not much in your control right? It depends on choices made before the game started, as well as things you cannot help once the game starts.

For some reason, ignorable expansions are quite appealing to me! I guess it’s because then knowledge of the game is more reliant on experience and skill, and not a meta that keeps changing.

Sometimes, I get the sinking feeling that the main joy from Netrunner is from the risk / reward type mechanics similar to gambling, and not from great game design. In other words, to me it seems like netrunner is more of a luck game where luck is mitigated by skill as opposed to a skill game where luck is managed.

I don’t think so. There are many decent players who got the basics right, didn’t go beyond this and finish tournaments in the middle most of the time. And there are players who got more than just basics and usually finish close to the top. I think @Ajar could tell you a lot about the process of going beyond decent.


Quite right; you also have to see lines of play that respond to / disrupt your opponent’s plan, which involves forecasting their plan accurately, as well as forecasting their likely responses.

Getting the basics right is key, but to consistently win tournaments you have to do two more things: the sort of real-time tactical analysis described above and also when to hedge against risk and what gambles are sure-r than others :wink:

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You keep using that word… :wink:

I’m not sure what games you are comparing to, but I think there is a great deal of strategy in Netrunner. From a pure definition standpoint, the strategy would be your overall, long term planning and approach to winning. Most of your strategy is expressed in deckbuilding.

However, there is much more than that to the game. When you face an opponent, there are many tactical decisions that take into account the board state and are crucial to winning. I think the telling part of Netrunner is that in most losses you can point to your own incorrect decisions or your opponent’s superior decisions as deciding factors in the result.

When almost every loss has a lesson to learn when you look at it objectively, I find it hard to say that the game lacks depth. When you have opponents with identical decks play full matches (both sides), the player with the most skill will come out on top an overwhelming number of times.


I cannot get drawn into another discussion comparing chess and netrunner; there are so many reasons why the comparison just completely lacks merit. I can and have gotten myself worked into so many froths (already I deleted and retyped this paragraph too many times) over this that I will restrain myself on that count.

I will just pop my head into this thread to comment on:[quote=“OneFabric, post:14, topic:7639, full:true”]
Sometimes, I get the sinking feeling that the main joy from Netrunner is from the risk / reward type mechanics similar to gambling, and not from great game design. In other words, to me it seems like netrunner is more of a luck game where luck is mitigated by skill as opposed to a skill game where luck is managed.

One thing I wanted to say about this is that this feeling you have (it’s not entirely incorrect, I think) it is at least partly due to the wildly skewed power-curve of cards in this game, and the designers refusal/reluctance to introduce a banlist.

Many games feel like “find the astro” roulette not necessarily because of some inherent design flaw, but simply because astroscript is an out of control power card that almost wins the game for you the moment you find it. (not trying to pick on astro here; the same might be said at different times of t1 pancakes/wyldside/faust or beginning a siphon spam train before the corp finds an answer). I’d definitely encourage trying different formats - either a cube draft or BB45 - which both help a lot to mitigate that feeling of “there was nothing I could have done differently, I lost this game to pure bad luck.”

as to your concerns about meta, I have nothing for you; this is an asymmetrical customizable game; a meta is a prescribed element of the game.


Maybe that works because hindsight is 20/20? I personally don’t feel that often enough. Mostly it’s just landslide losses. I am however, not a very good player.

I don’t know! I am not sure if it Isn’t it possible to learn from mistakes in games that lack in depth…I can’t imagine many though.

It is true that I don’t know that much chess and netrunner from a mathematical / game theory perspective. I apologize for getting on your nerves.