Information Overload – Understanding Tells in Netrunner

“It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.”  ― Oscar Wilde

Beneath the surface of each game of Android: Netrunner a secret battle is waged for information…  Winning this battle is as essential to victory as tight, technical play. I don’t need to waste valuable internet real estate by typing out all of the reasons why information is good in ANR.  Simply put, if you have better information you will make better decisions.  The focus of this article is to shine a spotlight on all of those sources of information available to you that I consider undervalued or under-utilized. Experienced players will tell you that paying attention to the game state will inform you of the best decisions to make during play, and it’s easy to get analysis paralysis if you are staring at a table of unrezzed ice or a runner with a grip full of tricks.  I am here to remind you that there is more to a table than the “snapshot” of the current turn.  The decisions you make are built upon what transpired in the turns before, and how your opponent has acted or reacted to the game.

What the Runner gives you

notorietyNBN isn’t the only reason that I am uncomfortable playing runner – the worst part about playing Runner is the fact that every turn you hemorrhage information that the corp can use against you; it’s all on the table face-up for anyone to see, you are more exposed than Jennifer Lawrence’s iCloud account. You can always hold your Corroder until the corporation rezzes their wraparound, your grip is a reasonably safe place for things to be.  Your heap is the main offender in my opinion.  What the runner discards telegraphs so much information. Here is an excerpt from the traveler’s guide to runner discards:

Runner Discard:Translation:
Console“I have a console and 4 other cards in hand”
Plascrete“There’s no way you can flatline me”
Atman“I will try to save a clone chip for this”
Corroder“I have another answer to barriers and my cards are all awesome”
Special Order/Self-Modifying Code“I drew all of my breakers already”
Of course, many discards will be for things that have clearly lost value, or have value as targets for clone chip and same old thing.  Many times I will see players neglect to look at their opponent’s heap until one of the above cards hits the table.  Checking your opponent’s discards is not just for counting influence! In poker terms, putting your runner opponent on a hand only has value if you act on that knowledge.  As a simple example, if I am playing a scorch combo deck and my opponent discards a plascrete – you bet your candy ass that I am going to rez HQ ice to keep you from seeing a combo piece even if I have no agendas in hand. If your opponent has blue cards, while you have a scorched earth in hand, and they are so sure you don’t have one that they discard a plascrete, you get to change the whole game without them knowing it – your opponent will be laughing when he uses click 2 to install a breaker and click 3 to play siphon thinking you have made a mistake by rezzing your HQ ice.  He raised the stakes, and you called.

What the Corp Gives You

The Corp by nature gives you less information wall of staticto work with, but you have more abilities to scout his hand and deck as a runner, so it balances out somewhat.  A good corp deck is wily and unpredictable, they have a lot of interesting ways to spend influence and aren’t pigeon-holed into a limited range of picks the way runners are – making assumptions about your opponent’s corp deck is risky in most cases. You can familiarize yourself with the popular deck lists and archetypes, because most players, myself included begin with someone else’s deck list and go from there.  Individual card choices vary, but it will basically never happen that someone net-decks something and changes the deck’s core strategy. Trust your own judgment, be wary of flashes of green if your opponent riffles his deck carelessly, and always ask your opponent if he’s gotten any awesome flatlines in the other tournament rounds.

What Your Body Language Gives Everyone Else


caprice niseiUnless you are an escaped Jinteki clone, a time lord, or a magical British nanny – knowing the mind of your opponent is impossible.  The body of your opponent however, gives everything else away.  Everyone has a tell.

Translating body language cues into game information is a matter of personal emotional intelligence, intuition, and understanding that I could not even begin to distill into an easy to follow guide.  Instead, let us focus on limiting the ways that our own body language betrays our intentions to the opponent.  Here are some common ones with suggestions for limiting the information that you give away.

CountingWhenever you have to count something on the table, mentally stop counting at a certain point then continue visible counting to obscure what you are discerning. It may help you to count to double then mentally divide it in half when you finish counting to return to your number.
RFI’sRequests for information from your opponent should begin well before you draw sweeps week or scorched earth. Always ask for credits and cards in hand at the same time.
Face-DownIf you have to peek at a single face-down card, peek at all of the face-down cards and start with a different face-down card every time that you do.
Top DecksShuffle your hand as soon as you draw a card, and if you need to stop and read a card in your hand, take a moment to read all of the cards in your hand. Always do this regardless of your hand composition, because you will want your play to be consistent the time that you have 5 agendas and are only playing the card that you draw each turn.

I personally have a tendency to flick the cards I draw to the middle of my hand, and astute players would see when I am top decking if I am not conscious of this little tell of mine.
PatternsAlways run un-advanced face-down cards versus Jinteki: Personal Evolution is strategically sound advice; however having an “always do x” policy for anything in Netrunner is a recipe for disaster. Humans have amazing pattern recognition abilities, they will subconsciously identify patterns in your behavior before you do if you are not aware of what you are doing. More about patterns in the sections below.
Tunnel VisionEnergy flows where attention goes. Avoid focusing your attention on one server, If you are mathing out a play in your head, it is easy to focus on the relevant cards on the table while you concentrate. Try to direct your attention to the point where your playmats touch, upwards, or evenly distributed around the table. If you spend a lot of time thinking about a big play and decide not to make it, it can give away a lot of information.

Elliciting Information

Nesocial engineeringtrunner is a friendly game designed to help meet new and interesting people, and then crush them mercilessly for fancy mouse pads.  Be wary of giving too much information away to any of the new friends that you meet during tournaments.

Sometimes an opponent will suggest a play casually as a way to feel you out.  As an example, say your opponent ices a new remote and installs a card into it before passing.  As you are beginning your turn, he says “Click one inside job remote?”

During your turn, while you are deciding how to use your clicks, an RP opponent might suggest “Run archives run remote?”

You install a card and pause to think about your lines of play, but your runner opponent interjects “Credit, credit pass?”

Most of the time this is just regular table banter, and doesn’t really mean anything.  People just love to play Netrunner, and they sometimes just want to suggest lines of play that they might make in your shoes because they are genuinely interested in the game.  Other players use table-talk like this to build your compliance with a  “yes ladder” to later steer you in the wrong direction.

In a tournament don’t allow yourself to be lulled into confirming that you have or don’t have certain cards or plays available to you, make your opponent work for his information.

To be safe, simply respond by politely telling your opponent that you are “still thinking.”

Forming and Breaking Patterns


protected source I bet you thought the picture was going to be on the left this time.

In the scope of all Netrunner games that I play, I have an overwhelming tendency to bid 0 on psi games when the game is on the line.  Anyone who plays with me a lot is probably able to use that against me – so I started rolling a die for psi games and taking its random input into account before bidding to create the illusion of randomness even if there isn’t any. Patterns in behavior help us to play the game efficiently, and I think it would require too much effort to try to obfuscate all of the patterns we form over the course of a single game.  All we can really do, is simply be cognizant of them and recognize that it may be strategically sound to deliberately break a pattern at certain points. The best known example of forming and breaking patterns in Netrunner is, I think,  runner remote server behavior. If you decide not to run “unknown” naked remotes, it is worth the occasional lost click running it, just let the corp know that he would be taking a big risk trying to score an agenda that way. Another pattern that you can establish and break is checking/not checking face-down cards in archives.  Criminals with security testing can go all game without accessing the cards in archives, it is sometimes worth the lost click to them, just to show the corporation that they can’t hide NAPDs in there.

Final Thoughts

Netrunner is a wonderfully deep and complex game – decisions fly at you from every angle!  The number of decisions a player makes during a game is staggering.  Simply being aware of all of the information available to you, and in turn, all of the information available to your opponent will allow you to consistently make better decisions. Not letting this information overwhelm you will be a challenge, but with focus and practice, you will become aware of the invisible battle for information that takes place during each game. And more importantly – you will have all of the tools to win it.

— Andrew Barrett aka Chill84

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