A common lament around these parts is that netrunner has become “boring” over the course of this (mumbad) cycle. Regional numbers are heavily down (by 20-40%) in the US. This discussion is to analyse and understand why this is the perception, and whether it is the reality and what can/should be done about it, if at all.
Compiling the corp card pool by cycle there has been a clear uptick in the number of assets printed during both Mumbad & Sansan, with a corresponding decrease in the amount of new ICE.
Set -- ID -- Agenda -- Asset -- ICE -- Op -- Upgrade
Core -- 7% -- 13% -- 15% -- 32% -- 23% -- 10%
1st -- 8% -- 18% -- 18% -- 32% -- 14% -- 11%
2nd -- 4% -- 17% -- 17% -- 31% -- 24% -- 6%
3rd -- 7% -- 15% -- 17% -- 33% -- 16% -- 11%
4th -- 8% -- 17% -- 24% -- 27% -- 12% -- 12%
5th* -- 4% -- 13% -- 39% -- 18% -- 18% -- 9%
* includes all known and spoiled cards so far
I think most people agree that what stands Netrunner apart from other games, the factor that is the heart and soul of netrunner’s gameplay was/is the ICE/Breaker interaction (the parallel would be pawn play in chess I suppose). Since the release of Faust (backed up by Parasite/D4v1d/Cutlery), the ICE/Breaker interaction has become less relevant. In addition, the increased number of Assets within the cardpool combined with the relative power level of recent releases/cycles vs Genesis / Spin, has led to a proliferation of powerful asset based Corp strategies, and an uptick in the use of IDs which synergise with these strategies (NEH, IG, Gagarin), which in turn this has led to a fundamental shift in the main interaction of the game from ICE/breakers to Assets/trashing (& recursion).
Strategically, the core interaction between ICE/Breakers led to games which split between early (corp has no ICE/money), mid (runner has not all breakers), late (runner has all breakers) and there was a certain ebb and flow inherent between the phases of the game and the strategies both sides employed to extend one or more of the phases where they hold the strategical advantage. With the emphasis shifted to assets the whole concept of early/mid/late game is redefined into a question can the runner prevent a snowballing corp late game (either by trashing/resetting the board) or win before that happens. In other words the game is now split into two phases rather than three, with the mid/late game now belongs with the corp and not the runner, and the corp can consequently employ more turtling strategies to shut down the early game to transition to late game. This is naturally not fun to play against for most runners as the game can feel lost once the transition is complete (whilst previously you knew you could back later on).
Tactically, searching for and finding the right breaker, plus maintaining the economy to fund accesses was previously the key interaction of the game. Increasingly, the Asset/Trashing interaction is becoming the key mechanic and in some senses it is very narrow in that it simply revolves around having enough econ/clicks to dismantle the board state or being able to find a critical mass of silver bullets (apocalypse/astrolabe/scrubber/paricia/imp/bankjob/sectesting/desperado) to effectively counter it. One of the main reason we see Noise/Whiz ahead of the pack right now because they are both able to successful dismantle board states (with in built trashing mechanics in their ID power) and preventing/stalling the corp achieving a late game supremacy in order to win, whilst still maintaining a solid matchup against non-asset spam corp strategies.
It is a living card game, and we should be prepared for the game to evolve and new strategies/tactics to emerge to keep it fresh. However, this fundamental shift (faust engine reducing relevance of ICE/breakers + asset proliferation) helps us to explain/understand the main gripe people seem to have that Netrunner has become more boring of late both strategically and tactically. Personally I enjoy playing the asset spam game, but I do find my runner choice massively restricted these days because of it.
The question is, can we adapt to find more “fun” (or god forbid, new?) strategies that mesh with the ever changing card pool. Is there anything that should be done to redress the imbalance in the force (ban/restriction/new runner counters printed)? Is there any need to - do people need to accept and adapt to change? Is this the main factor for reduced tournament attendance (in the US) or is it related to natural apathy or the release of newer fresher games (e.g. AGOT2.0) that have caused a migration of the player base.