Ess: So, we’re going with the greater badger invasion this time?
Cee: They wouldn’t believe the real reason, anyway.
Ess: So hello and welcome to the very badger-infested tenth issue of Running on Italics, Stimhack’s flavour review column! In this issue, we’re going to be covering the corp half of Old Hollywood.
Cee: The sensies are in this one, aren’t they.
Ess: I know you really didn’t want to do this, but—
Cee: deep breath
Ess: You’re ready for this. We can do this.
Cee: As ready as I’ll ever be. On to the cards!
Cee: This is one of those weird cards where you can tell they have an interpretation in mind, but I have no idea what it is.
Ess: Yeah, the effect is so specific that there must be something they’re thinking of. That, and the flavour text is super evocative…
Cee: Evocative of what, though?
Cee: Let’s see if we can break it down. When the Runner trashes any corp card, anywhere—-
Ess: —Parasite, Drive By, technically Apocalypse—
Cee: —this bioroid tv star pops up and convinces you to… watch his show?
Ess: Or maybe you notice a new episode of his show on the server somewhere and can’t resist taking a peek?
Cee: But that’s the thing, right. Like you pointed out, he doesn’t have to trigger during a run, which makes any interpretation that relies on the runner noticing a file just… not work.
Ess: Yeah… that, yeah.
Cee: The other weirdness is why he specifically triggers on trashes. What’s the connection between trashing a file and pirating a tv show? Why doesn’t he trigger on, say, any other arbitrary run-based condition? Ignoring power level concerns, he’d make much more sense if he triggered the first time you accessed a card every turn.
Ess: Mmm. I do like how it has some commentary on how HB treats the media, though. I just love the concept of HB making an inoffensive, perfectly manufactured, Everybody Loves Ronald show, to mold the public take on bioroids. It’s exactly what they would do, isn’t it?
Cee: Yeah, it’s about the simplest public relations strategy you could come up with. And yet it ends up working for them!
Ess: So, the card, then? I’m going to a B-, just because I like what it tells us about the world.
Cee: I’ll do a C. I really don’t like how meh the mechanics are.
Ess: Come vith me iv you vant to live.
Cee: A bit Transylvanian there, no?
Ess: …you know, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Terminator could turn into a bat.
Cee: Okay, so the program and brain damage make sense, and there’s plenty of precedent for those, too. It’s the more… unique… subroutines that we don’t have interpretations for yet.
Ess: Well, for virtual resources… he’s an Enforcer. I guess it’s possible for him to project his digital presence to go and bounce you out of your virtual connections.
Cee: He kicks you out of Xanadu? Doesn’t allow Apex entry into its Hunting Grounds?
Ess: I guess? The Apex interaction is a bit silly, but that’s par for the course when it comes to Apex.
Cee: Sure, fine. It’s the console subroutine that I don’t buy. How is trashing a console different from trashing other hardware? It’s clearly more restrictive than the “Trash a piece of hardware” effects we’ve seen in the past…
Ess: Yeah, I’ve got nothing for you there. Flare, Taurus, and Lab Dog kinda are the only other ice that even trash hardware, and Flare and Taurus at least sort of imply some sort of power surge à la Power Grid Overload and Power Shutdown.
Cee: The elephant in the room, however…
Ess: “Forfeit an agenda.”
Cee: What does that mean.
Ess: It’s been a question since Archer in the core set, yeah. Originally you could gloss something about power level, or about avoiding bad publicity, but then the game released stronger ice and illicit ice respectively.
Cee: With Corporate Town and 24/7 News Cycle, though, the interpretation is clearer. It’s, what, spending political capital within the corp? You have to convince someone lateral to you to help you, and you have to give up something to get their help?
Ess: You’re seeking help from the Mayor of the Corporate Town, you’re convincing the writers of Archer and Enforcer to let you use their beta project…
Cee: I’m happier with Corporate Town and 24/7 News Cycle here; it makes sense to me that you’d have to wheel and deal with the Mayor or whoever manages the news cycle. But that “beta project” interpretation feels really wonky. It seems to give the writer of that ice a lot of implied power…
Ess: Well, it’s a cybernoir world, right? Programmers, in the world of ANR, especially programmers who can go off on passion projects as powerful as Archer, are treated like… heroes? prickly artists? You court programmers, you tiptoe around their predilections, because if they get annoyed at you and leave that’s a huge blow to the company.
Cee: …ah, right, I’d forgotten for a sec that Android is fiction.
Ess: ^_^ The card, then? I’m thinking B.
Cee: B-, I’d say.
It’s a Trap!
Cee: That thing is fully operational!
Ess: Is that literally Ackbar on the card?
Cee: It’s just an angler fish.
Ess: Just an angler fish? It’s terrifying! Imagine the poor runner having that sprung upon them.
Cee: I warned you.
Cee: Is the likeness to Ackbar intentional? I mean, it kinda has to be, it’s just kind of—
Ess: "Search your feelings, you know it to be true!"
Cee: A well timed Star Wars quote? From you?
Ess: Hey, I can… war… some stars. That’s what they do, right, fight wars with stars?
Cee: Is this the first time we’ve seen an on-expose effect on ice? It’s a shame that literally no one uses expose.
Ess: I guess it’s so terrifying to even peek at, that even the recoil causes net damage?
Cee: Sure. A, then? It’s pretty clean.
Ess: A feels right, agreed.
An Offer You Can’t Refuse
Cee: deep breath
Ess: Before we get into the timing shenanigans, I just want to quickly raise how cute this card is as a Godfather reference. Of all the Hollywood references in this pack, this is possibly my favourite one.
Cee: Even though it’s not really unrefusable? An agenda point is often, you know, whatever, from the Runner’s perspective.
Ess: That’s fine, I think. The art is leading me to be generous here; it just captures being in control of the situation so well.
Cee: Okay, sure. Now, then, the question.
Cee: What the hell does it mean that the Runner makes a run on the Corp’s turn?
Ess: yeaaaaaaaah the whole question of turns is a big one, isn’t it? And it’s not really one we’ve tackled before—what does it actually mean that the runner and corp have two distinct windows when they have their “turns”, when they can spend clicks but only have paid ability windows on the other player’s turn?
Cee: We can’t really assume the game’s turn structure is a simplification of simultaneous events, either. When Kate installs a Parasite at the end of the corp’s turn, she has the full information of what the corp did on that turn, but none of the information of what she’s going to draw/do on her turn that might change that decision. There’s enough causality linked into the game that we can’t gloss over that.
Ess: Not to mention: the game rules make a clear distinction between runner turn and corp turn anyway. Ice behaves differently. Tollbooth and Komainu are far less Femme-able, among other things…
Cee: Oh, right. Yes, that the Corp has active player priority during the AOYCR run is … very hard to integrate into any model. Before now that was a weird corner case of the rules, but now it’s front and center and part of a card’s effec…
Ess: I know that look.
Ess: What have you done, Cee? Where have you gone? Take me with you!
Ess: But only if it’s sugarplum fairies or suchlikes. Not if you’ve gone to, say, one of the hell dimensions.
Cee: THE RUNNER IS IN A DIFFERENT TIMEZONE RELATIVE TO THE CORP.
Cee: okay so:
Cee: The Corp’s turn is when HQ is manned, right? When there are folk up in HQ who can make particular decisions, put projects into production, etc etc. And obviously, Corps have business hours, times when they shut down and leave their servers manned only by skeleton staff, overnight workers, and automated defenses. Corps are global and interplanetary, but there’s some sense of what timezone they’re most active in, even if it’s just the time when most of their higher level executives are awake.
Ess: Okay, I’m with you so far…
Cee: So I think the Runner deliberately operates exactly when the Corp’s “shut down”. Either they explicitly travel to the right timezone, or just alter their sleep schedule. It must be common practice, Running 101, don’t run when the corp’s awake and alert…
Ess: Huh. So every run we’ve made in the game so far is basically us tripping some sort of automated defenses, and a team assembling to deal with this threat under emergency lighting?
Cee: Yep! This is when Caprice gets paged, Ash gets powered up, sysops rez ICE. The Corp is reactive when their execs are asleep, because the employees don’t have the full chain of command available to them. Akitaro’s just gonna make the best call he can at the time, but he’s in the figurative dark here.
Ess: And also possibly the literal dark!
Ess: Okay, okay, sure. How do the runner and the corp do stuff in paid ability windows while they’re asleep, though?
Cee: Monitors. Scripts. Alarms. We can assume the runner and the corp are more competent at this stuff than the players are, so the game models this by just giving the players direct control… but yes, Noise is meant to have written a script that watches for agendas about to be scored and wakes him up at the right time so he can jam his clone chip in and reinstall a clot.
Ess: I can buy that. So An Offer You Can’t Refuse, then, has different timing and ice interactions because the corp is “awake”? Because the full chain of command is available to the people manning the servers?
Cee: Yep! Hell, I think the card’s meant to be you, the Chief Security Officer, showing off to Chairman Hiro. There might even be an invitation involved, in traditional filigree. “Chairman Hiro cordially requests Ji Reilly’s company at [HQ’s IP address].” Attached to a courtesy low-power neural emp, just to trip the Runner’s defenses, of course.
Ess: And Noise wakes up, bangs at his shrieking alarms, rubs the sleep from his eyes, and reads the invitation. And he knows he’s not at his best, and that Hiro’s going to be right there and watching and ready to authorise corp actions. That of course the corp’s going to operate more effectively. Yeah, okay, I really like this.
Cee: And Jinteki is all about terrifying the runner into not running, so this is absolutely the sort of thing that is worth political influence within the company. It all works! It all wooooorks!
Ess: I’m… pretty surprised at how well the card itself pointed us to this interpretation, actually. If you’re staring at the card and the mechanics involved, they do naturally lead you here. That’s… some really elegant design, and it’s all in the service of properly establishing a corner case of the game’s fiction that’s been neglected so far. This is an A+, right?
Haarpsichord Studios: Entertainment Unleashed
Cee: Sigh, Haarpsichord.
Cee: …what. What are you going to do. Why are you gr—
Ess: Did you never wonder why the name has two “a”s?
Cee: I just assumed NBN couldn’t spell.
Ess: So there was a military project in the ‘90s called HAARP, the “High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program”. In the real world, their goal was to study the ionosphere, to see if it could be used for long distance communication and suchlikes.
Cee: Whoa I just did some googling and that’s a lot of conspiracy stuff
Ess: Yep! It was a convenient target for conspiracy nuts everywhere, who said the tech being developed could control the weather, cause plane crashes, or … control people’s minds.
Ess: Spooooky, huh? We haven’t talked about Project Beale yet, but take it on faith for now that Beale shows us that NBN, in world, loves naming their projects after weird little references. In this case, I think Haarpsichord named themselves after HAARP, either as an inworld reference, or because in the ANR world the conspiracy theorists actually were right and NBN’s bought up that tech.
Cee: Okay so I have this massive feeling of dread right now but what tech would that be.
Ess: Mind control, yeah? Haarpsichord is a memetic research division.
Ess: “Memes” as in Dawkins’ original conception of them, as in software, viruses for the human brain. As in payloads inserted into sensies and television and moon writing, to predictably and reliably run operations on the brains of the humans consuming them. Memetic warfare.
Cee: That makes perfect sense. And of course NBN would be researching memetic technology; christ, it’s practically their mandate.
Ess: Spark Agency handles the, ah, more immediately useful aspects of this research, to make better advertisements and increase viewership numbers directly. But yeah, it makes total sense to me that NBN would be researching everything they can to indirectly and directly… operate… the minds of their audience. Heck, Subliminal Messaging is even a card!
Cee: oh fuuu—
Ess: And on top of all of this, Haarpsichord is Haarpsichord Studios. They make sensies. Where better to research memetic technology than in full immersion stories, speaking directly to the brain in the very language of the brain?
Cee: This interpretation… it even makes sense of their ability, gah. They build their agendas with a small memetic payload, that stops the runner from being able to recognise agendas from now on. Stealing an agenda involves decrypting and processing the payload, but they’re still in the early stages of research, so it’s not perfect and it wears off overnight.
Ess: Yep! I actually really really like Haarpsichord, both in the sense of building out the world and as a card. The flavour is buried just a bit, but it’s only buried under a small amount of research, and research about a cool thing in the real world~
Cee: It’s also legitimately terrifying. Seriously, an NBN who can influence the population to that level? I’ve been saying all along that NBN is the true final boss, over any of the other factions, and this just confirms it.
Ess: There’s a definite immediacy to their threat, isn’t there? A corporation as powerful as NBN in the way they are powerful could exist today; we’re just a few mergers away. Not so much for clones or bioroids, and multinational building corporations with aspirations towards space colonisation scare me a lot less.
Cee: Anyway, the card? A+, right?
Ess: Oh, yeah, definite A+.
Ess: Right. The sensies.
Cee: Let’s just pull Explode-a-palooza into this one—
Cee: What? No, we’re doing both at the same ti—
Cee: Oh, whatever.
Ess: So. You mentioned last time that you really didn’t like the on-encounter effects here.
Cee: On-access effect.
Ess: …oh yeah. Huh. That’s a bit of a freudian slip. I guess that analogy is why the sensies fit so neatly in NBN’s colour pie, actually…
Cee: Okay, so, when the runner ends up stealing a sensie, you can make some sense of the on-access effect. Presumably there’s some degree of publicity for stolen agendas, so NBN can spin the agenda leaking as advertising for them. Sure. That makes sense.
Ess: But… the effect and the stealing aren’t correlated. Haarpischord itself is the most obvious example, but Predictive Algorithm, Red Herrings, Strongbox, and a scored Utopia Fragment are also reasons why the runner could access but not steal one of these agendas.
Cee: So we need a model that makes sense of the effect even when the Runner doesn’t steal the agenda. And that feels to me like the game asking us to assume the Runner’s constantly casting their runs.
Ess: But we can’t, because Daily Casts exists. If all Runners are casting their runs already, why would a card randomly enable you to get creds off it?
Cee: And Notoriety, and Power to the People, sorta. All cards that build into the mechanics an assumption that the Runner isn’t always casting their runs, that something about these situations is special.
Ess: Mm. And you can’t assume it’s an effect under the corp’s control, because then why wouldn’t they just explode a thing and get their five credits without having to risk the Runner accessing their agenda.
Cee: Yep. This is my huge problem with the sensies. They muck about too much with basic assumptions about, well, runs.
Ess: Could you possibly read it as something about the movies being so exciting that they have to be shared? Maybe toss in some of the memetic technology read we have going for Haarp?
Cee: I … guess? Applying memetic tech indiscriminately as an explanation feels a bit like cheating to me. “Oh, there’s something built in to these agendas that makes the runner want to share them, even as it hurts them directly”… so why can’t Haarp apply that to all of their agendas? Because these are the only ones with stories to them?
Ess: Mmm. It’s certainly true that the level of memetic technology implied by the identity is very different from the level implied by reading the sensies as memetic tech.
Ess: Well, apart from this on-access issue, I think the cards are pretty okay.
Cee: “Apart from the biggest problem with them…”
Ess: Yes yes, but you can read Award Bait as early publicity, and Explode-a-Palooza as, what, early merchandising? It’s also neat that the action movie has a higher budget and is worth more agenda points ^_^
Cee: Sure yes all of that is fine. It is somewhat weird that sensies can be worth the same number of agenda points as, say, Project Atlas, or making a literal Brain Trust, but sure, I can buy that NBN can use this new full-immersion sensory media delivery system to advance their agenda.
Ess: Overall, then? I’m giving the sensies a B-.
Cee: Eh, I’m not going above a straight C.
Ess: “Every Agenda is Not—”
Cee: “—Not a Sensie”, yeah. This pack is just going to keep making us say that, isn’t it?
Cee: Actually, in this case, not even every advanceable thing in a server is an agenda. Contract Killer? Junebug? GRNDL Refinery?
Ess: Let’s just… do what we can. We could maybe try to work out what the flavour should be from the mechanics?
Cee: That’s really giving FFG a lot of slack. But okay, sure, there’s no real other way to read these cards anyway.
Ess: Clearly whatever sort of function it is isn’t open to the public, as the runner doesn’t get to know what is being advanced.
Cee: So… an early demo of the project to the board, at some sort of private function? With NDAs? That’s roughly equivalent to an Early Premiere for things that are not movies.
Ess: I do like how you can be premiering something you’ve put no advancements in whatsoever. Faking demos: the one unnegotiable skill of business!
Cee: Sorry, I’m just too annoyed by the Every Agenda is Not a Sensie thing to appreciate that. Can we give this a C+ and move on?
Ess: Sure, yeah.
Cee: Every! Agenda! Is Not! A Sensie!
Cee: Why do we keep hitting the overspecificity problem, Ess? You know I was willing to be looser with, say, the Renovations, but these cards are just really annoying me.
Ess: I… yeah. I don’t even have the beginnings of a justification for this one.
Cee: The worst part about this one is, is that it doesn’t even make sense. Is the Runner supposed to be turning up at their own casting call? How does that tie into the fact that they’re making a run on the digital server?
Ess: It is kinda convenient that Chaos Theory’s the one on the art. She’s probably the only runner who actually would. Turn up at her own casting call, I mean.
Cee: Are we really expected to believe Valencia would take time out of her busy day to indulge her vanity? Gabe? Why would Edward Kim even care?
Ess: I disagree, actually.
Ess: The real worst part about this card is—
Cee: oh thank god I thought I’d have to slap you
Ess: —is that there’s already a perfectly functional and elegant flavour to what the card is actually doing: a honeypot box. A server specifically set up to be hacked, that thus is able to do a lot of sophisticated tracing back of the runner in the process.
Cee: Oh god that is worse. No, actually, the worst part of this card is—
Ess: There’s worse‽
Cee: We’ve been sorta okay previously with overspecific cards because they’ve been at least telling us something about the world. Underway Renovation was a prime example of that. But this? What does it tell us that the Android universe still has casting calls in it? Guh.
Ess: Here’s a question for you. What if this pack—and this cycle, relatively speaking—is so heavy on the overspecificity issue because Apex came out right afterwards? Apex needs a lot of, ah, charitable reading to make sense of how he can play cards like Quality Time and Qianju PT, and maybe Sansan Cycle is supposed to be preparing us for that?
Cee: …I think that’s a huge can of worms you just opened and this article is already stretching it for length.
Ess: Aw. I mean, yes. But aw.
Cee: In short, though? I think Apex is a much better use of overspecificity than, say, this card. He/She/It immediately confronts you with the charitable readings you will need to be doing, whereas Casting Call pretends to have one interpretation, right up until you have to give it the barest of thought.
Ess: Mm. Fair. A D for Casting Call, then?
Cee: I really want to give it an F, but no, it’s not as utterly awful as we’ve previously given F’s to. As you say, you can read it as a honeypot server and that basically works. Yeah, D.
Old Hollywood Grid
Cee: See, this is exactly the kind of cheating I was worried about.
Ess: You can make it make some sense, at least thematically. When you’re in Ol’ Hollywood, you can’t recognise anything new at all, only things you’ve seen before!
Cee: Which is all well and good and cute, even, but—
Ess: But what’s the actual mechanics behind it, yeah. How is it supposed to actually do the thing.
Cee: I mean, you’re right that you can stretch the idea of memetic technology to work here, but, again, the power level here seems way beyond the initial stages of research that Haarpsichord implies.
Ess: Yeah, I don’t actually think that’s the interpretation here. I’m not sure one was even intended; this might have been designed as a theme-only card.
Cee: We can’t really validate that, can we?
Ess: We certainly can not. D.
Ess: Have you noticed this advancement token subtheme in Old Hollywood? For whatever reason, Award Bait, Early Premiere, Back Channels, and Hollywood Renovation are all cards that deal with or care about advancement tokens.
Cee: Curious. And that’s directly the effect for its Renovation, so it’s presumably fairly core to what the city is…
Ess: Given Award Bait and Early Premiere, it seems to be some function of publicity and buzz resulting in work getting done faster. Rumours attracting people to your project who attract people who do useful work to your project.
Cee: I suppose that makes sense. You spend some time renovating this old studio, and the actress you’ve helped publicly endorses your … Wormhole … program. Hm.
Ess: Look, it not perfect system. I’m more inclined to say that’s advanceable ice being weird than anything else.
Cee: Sure, fair. The card seems about a B, then.
Cee: Oh hey, just a simple, consistent card.
Ess: Yep! The failed trap is still valuable to someone. And Weyland is definitely the corp with connections to the black market here.
Cee: And the more time and money you sunk into it, the more scraps they can get out of it. Sure, fine.
Ess: We’re giving this an A, right?
Ess: Why is this not a sensie? I mean, it doesn’t have an on-access effect, but are movies distinct from a sensies?
Cee: It could be a multimedia project? Musical and sensie and comic and…
Ess: I can buy that. It’s six cost because… Miranda is just that much of a diva, I suppose.
Cee: And it’s four points because… she throws her support behind your corp?
Ess: I do like the neat flavour of Miranda convincing your corp to finance her, well, vanity project. I also love the flavour text.
Ess: Seriously though, look at how elegantly it lets us know how self-aggrandising she is! “DOROTHY (Miranda)”, the “haunting melody” she’s humming… this is Vanity with a capital V.
Cee: So, a straight A+ then?
Ess: I think so. Simple, elegant, well established. A+.
Ess: And that’s Old Hollywood.
Cee: Is this actually our highest variance in scores for a set? I think so.
Ess: Yeaaah. This pack has been full of some great and some very not great stuff. The overspecificity issue alone…
Cee: I’m still thinking about your Apex hypothesis. I mean, maybe? I’m more inclined to believe that this is just the first time they’re trying such heavily flavoured cards, and a few misses are just what happens… but it’s certainly a possible explanation for why the issue has been so prevalent in this cycle.
Ess: Yeah, I’m not necessarily hugely confident on that myself. It just feels like the sort of not-exactly-foreshadowing a company like FFG might do.
Cee: Mmm. So, Universe of Tomorrow? Let’s call it… two weeks.