If you’ve ever tried to teach someone how to play Netrunner, you know Netrunner is a complicated game. There are a huge amount of mechanics, most of which aren’t fully explored by every deck. You can play Netrunner without knowing about tags or viruses or traces or meat damage or bad publicity.
I maintain a pair of decks that I call “teaching decks”, which I built from mostly cards from the Core Set; an HB taxing deck and a Kate big-rig deck. Still, even with those decks, there’s a lot of material to cover; consider a card like Ichi 1.0:
Type: ICE: Sentry - Bioroid - Tracer - Destroyer
Faction: Corp Haas-Bioroid
Faction Cost: 2
The Runner can spend [Click] to break any subroutine on Ichi 1.0.
[Subroutine] Trash 1 program.
[Subroutine] Trash 1 program.
[Subroutine] Trace 1 - if successful, give the Runner 1 tag and do 1 brain damage.
There are about 7 things going on here, and you need to know about them to use the card properly - even after you know what ICE is and what it’s used for.
- This ICE doesn’t end the run. Players naturally expect their ICE to end runs.
- This is a Bioroid; it can be clicked through without breakers. Players will often ask about strength when Bioroid ICE is clicked through.
- This ICE trashes programs; new players often install and rez Ichi on turn 1 and are disappointed to learn that this ICE does nothing for them. Players will blindly trust that their cards are good for them, even if they don’t fully understand the ramifications
- This ICE performs a Trace. A Trace is a complicated sub-game.
- If the Trace succeeds, the runner is tagged. What’s a tag? Well it has to do with resources. What’s a resource?
- This ICE applies brain damage. What’s brain damage?
- This ICE is a Sentry - Bioroid - Destroyer - Tracer. What do all those words mean?
While this card is a 3-of in the Core Set and a very solid piece of taxing ICE, it has far too much complexity for one single card.
What are we trying to teach with a first game of Netrunner? The following:
-Netrunner is a game about two players with wildly different cards and playstyles.
-The corporation player defends servers and tries to protect his cards, while the runner attempts to break through and steal those cards.
-Money is at the heart of all interactions, and the player with an economic advantage will often win.
-There is hidden information; ambushes and bluffs can be performed with devastating results.
That’s it. If you can show this to a player, they will enjoy Netrunner; even if you don’t tell them about memory or currents or recurring credits or link.
I usually give the new player the corporation deck, since corps have access to all the hidden information. Sadly, the corporation cards are the ones with the most irreducible complexity. I try to avoid cards with more than 2-3 lines of text.
Cards: 49 / 45
Agenda points: 21 / 20
Influence points: 15 / 15
Identity: Engineering the Future
3x Accelerated Beta Test
3x Priority Requisition
3x Project Vitruvius
3x Adonis Campaign
3x Melange Mining Corp
3x PAD Campaign
3x Jackson Howard ●●●
3x Shock! ●●●●●●
3x Viktor 1.0
3x Neural Katana ●●●●●●
2x Wall of Static
3x Eli 1.0
2x Archived Memories
3x Hedge Fund
3x Green Level Clearance
I would like a blank or simpler identity, since EtF comes with a lot of bookkeeping, but its power-level and usefulness makes it acceptable. Base Weyland might turn out to be simpler, but Weyland revolves around an unnatural playstyle of threatening lethal meat damage.
The agenda suite is the part I’m least happy with; I wish I could just remove all the text from the 3/2s. They’re blank most of the time, and players always feel betrayed when Accelerated Beta Test screws them over. PriReq is perfect in terms of complexity. The 3/2s are in there to enable never advance play and bluff any kind of asset as an agenda; melange, jackson and adonis can be very comfortably placed in a scoring server to entice a wasteful run.
Adonis Campaign is too wordy to be easily understood, but it’s a useful demonstration of a taxing economy card. Melange has a single line of text and a potent effect, making it an ideal card for this type of deck. PAD campaign is a simple, taxing economy card.
Jackson Howard was initially excluded from the deck for being too complicated. However, a second look at the card makes this debatable. Click: Draw 2 cards is as simple as assets get. The exiling ability is funky and unnatural. However, the ability to rework agendas into R&D and combat agenda flood are critical to not losing. Plus, he’s a key part in every game nowadays, so you might as well get new players used to it quickly.
Shock! is the simplest ambush in the game. It always works, always hurts, and while it’s not as devastating or lethal as Snare or AggSec, it teaches the players a key thing: you can bluff. You can install a thing and pretend it’s something else.
For a while, Aggressive Secretary was in the deck; it’s a potent example of a trap card, masquerades as priority requisition and can completely swing a game around, creating huge scoring windows and blowing out an overconfident runner. The problem is that it’s really hard to play correctly. It’s often accessed and trashed from R&D or HQ, which just feels terrible. If installed, players often don’t understand they have to advance it; or they advance it when the runner has no programs, or they advance it and put themselves below the 2c threshold necessary to activate it.
The ICE suite is okay; not great. I really struggled to find a simple Sentry; Neural Katana has only one line of text, and while it necessitates the introduction of the damage mechanic, it brings enough to the game to justify its inclusion.
Viktor 1.0 is an iffy inclusion; it’s the only card that references Brain Damage. Still, Brain Damage is flavourful and players tend to latch onto it; it gives the game an air of lethality. Viktor and Eli are the only two bioroids. I don’t like the bioroid mechanic for new players; they feel betrayed when the runner can just click through their server and don’t appreciate the taxing nature of the cards. I considered swapping Viktor for Hourglass and Eli for Bastion; much simpler cards, requiring the introduction of no new mechanics, but the dynamics of the game would suffer too much, I think. I may revise this choice after a few games.
Enigma and Wall of Static are perfect, simple ETR ICE. I played a lot of games with Tollbooth, and while the taxing of Tollbooth creates good dynamics, it’s wordy and I wanted to stay within influence limits. Tollbooth was a fantastic PriReq target though, which this deck now completely lacks.
Archived Memories is very simple to understand, and although players often play it badly (Archived Memories for Green Level Clearance) it never slows down the game. Hedge Fund and GLC are perfectly simple cards; it’s possible I should have them play restructure instead of some economy asset; possibly swapping out Adonis Campaign. It creates worse dynamics, but removes text.
I’ve managed to eliminate the following mechanics while keeping the heart of the game intact
-Keeping money up for Snare
-Meat damage (private security force was a head-scratcher for many)
-“On encounter” ICE, such as Tollbooth. All ICE effects are subroutines.
-“Do-Nothing” ICE like Ichi, which fail to do anything on turn 1.
-Expensive ICE like Tollbooth and Heimdall, which do nothing to protect you on turn 1.
-Upgrades. I used to have 1 corporate troubleshooter in there. Not worth the complexity.
-Fast Advance (Biotic Labor was one of the first cuts. It is never played correctly.)
-Advanceable Traps (I’m sad about cutting this, but there’s no good way to introduce it)
-ICE with power counters (data raven, viktor 2.0)
-Tutors (never give a new player a tutor. It slows down the game too much.)
Things I would like to cut:
-Double-edged effects, like Beta Test
The Agenda suite is really the part with the most complexity. Gila Hands Arcology is both simple and creates good dynamics, but there are not enough cards like it to fill out a deck.
This post is getting long enough; in the next post, I’ll detail the runner deck, which I’m much happier with.