Saturday, 7 September 2013

Aggressive Running - What's To Fear?

When new players step into a Runner’s shoes for the first few times it can be a very daunting proposition.  Across the table the Corporation is installing all sorts of cards face down - daring you to take him on and risk the wrath of the ICE he’s ready to rez.

You want to run but he has ICE in the way.  Is it a Code Gate?  Is it a Sentry?  Is it a Barrier?  Whatever it is doesn’t matter because you haven’t got any Icebreakers installed so you’re going to run into it at full speed and defenceless.  It’s a kamikaze play.



While running into ICE in the first few turns usually guarantees an unsuccessful run it is often well worth doing anyway.  The cost to the Corp of rezzing his ICE is often greater than the cost to you of hitting it.  Often you’ll get nothing worse than a bloody nose from an End the run subroutine, a bloody nose which it cost the Corp precious credits to give you. 

The flip side to this aggressive running is what happens if the Runner sits back afraid of the unrezzed Ice and builds his rig instead.  One of my friends who is learning to play Netrunner often looks at my Corp in despair as I’ve got a bunch of unrezzed Ice and a ton of cash waiting to rez them.  “You’ve always got so much cash, you could rez anything” he complains, but the reason I have all that cash is because he’s never asked me to spend any of it.  More than that, by installing his programs and resources and hardware he’s actually made my Ice better because now he’s got targets for my ICE to trash, or resources I can shred if he gains a Tag!

Turn one, Click one: the Runner is in a great position to run into ICE as there’s virtually nothing you can hit that actually hurts.  There’s even less that hurts you more than it hurts the Corp’s bank balance to rez the ICE in the first place.  You’ve no programs to lose, no resources to lose, you can pay to clear any Tag you receive, any scary Bioroid Ice can be broken by using clicks and you can draw cards to replace any net damage you get… what can go wrong?

Running into Ice early in the game is often a great plan: at the cost of a Click to run you suck money out of the Corp’s bank account, you put pressure on the Corp’s resources and defences and gain valuable information about the Ice you’re facing and the Icebreakers you need to install first.

The real question to bear in mind is: what’s the worst could happen?  What’s the worst piece of Ice you could run into by running with your first click?

Neural Katana
The dreaded Neural Katana has a very strong claim for being the worst thing that can happen to you on your first run.  For the cost of four credits to rez the Katana the Corp is able to force you to discard three cards from your hand - as you start the game with five cards it’s not a lethal blow but it still hurts.  You can spend your next three Clicks to draw replacement cards but that means you’ve effectively spent your entire first turn in a single run.  Ouch.  On the plus side at least you now know the Katana is there and won't ever run into it with only two cards in hand!

Cost to Corp: 4 credits.  Cost to Runner: 3 cards.

Hunter and Draco are very similar cards that hurt the Runner in similar ways.  Hunter won’t stop the run so you still get to access the server you ran at, but you probably have to spend a Click and two credits to clear the Tag you’re going to get.  That doesn't hurt anywhere near as much as Neural Katana but it sets you back for the rest of your opening turn.  Worse yet it only cost the Corporation one credit to rez so they hurt you for minimal cost, unlike the Neural Katana.

Draco also only costs one credit to rez, but unlike Hunter it will stop the run if the Trace succeeds.  At Trace2 the Runner can often get better economy by paying to increase their Link, but if Draco is being played by NBN their identity can make it Trace4, which makes it a Hunter that ends the run.

Cost to Corp: 1 credits.  Cost to Runner: 2 credits and a click.

Unlike Neural Katana and Hunter running into Caduceus won’t punish the Runner, but what makes this card a painful one to hit early on is that it is likely to end your run at the cost of NO credits to the Corp.  If the first trace succeeds the Corp gets the money back that was spent to rez Caduceus, then a second trace either ends the run or forces the Runner to spend credits.  Caduceus is one of the few cards that costs the Corp nothing (Shadow is similar, handing the Runner a Tag instead of ending the run) and that’s what puts it into this list.

Cost to Corp: 0 credits.  Cost to Runner: the click you spent to run.

Pop-Up Window
Finally, like Caduceus the humble Pop-Up window costs the Corp nothing to rez in front of the Runner, and in fact it actually PAYS the Corp while taxing one credit from the Runner.  In terms of impact the Pop-Up Window does very little – it doesn’t stop the run, it doesn’t make the runner discard his hand, it doesn’t make him spend a click clearing tags – but you can’t argue to much with the subtle economic drain of taking one credit from the Runner and giving it to the Corp.  The only downside for the Corp is whether the benefit from Pop-Up Window was worth the click spent to install it, especially if it’s on a central server and the credits gained will be lost when more ICE layers are installed later in the game.

Cost to Corp: -1 credit.  Cost to Runner: 1 credit

Those four cards probably represent the worst that a Runner can hit on the first turn, especially on the first click.  Neural Katana represents a real problem because losing three cards from your opening hand is no joke - you probably like those cards.  The other three are more like a sliding scale of economic annoyances, from the relatively expensive cost of removing a tag from Hunter to the minor hassle of a distracting Pop-Up Window.

And that's it.

From 50+ pieces of ICE currently in the game there is just ONE that you have any reason to be truly scared of, turn one click one.  ONE.  All other pieces of ICE are costing the Corp as much to rez as they're costing you by ending the run - even the big ICE that punish you, like a Tollbooth, will cost the Corp pretty much their whole credits just to hurt you nowhere near as much.

So what have we learnt?  Like Usain Bolt you'll usually want to start running as quickly as possible.  Spending a click to run and force the Corp to spend 3 credits to rez a Wall of Static is a great use of your clicks.  Later in the game you've more cards installed that are vulnerable and the Corp has more Ice installed to set up punishing combinations like Chum-Neural Katana that can actually kill you.

Don't be put off by unrezzed Ice and a stash of credits.  What's the worst that could happen?  Not, it turns out, anything too bad.

This topic was initially discussed on Boardgamegeek HERE (although it rapidly turned into deep debate about the merits of Data Hound)