Ess: Hello and welcome to the very eighth Running on Italics, stimhack.com’s flavour review column! We might be actually catching up to the pack releases, Cee.
Cee: Don’t say that now, you’ll doom us to dramatic irony or something. Watch our next article come out in February, now.
Ess: Let’s not do that, please. I really enjoy doing the column, and I’d like to do it more regularly if possible!
Cee: As do I, but you really seem to be doing all you can to make it harder. Invoking Murphy, moving halfway around the world…
Ess: Oh come on. What’s the worst that could happen?
Cee: Let’s just get to the cards before you make this any worse.
Ess: This card is pretty dumb.
Cee: The art is cool! Look at that adorable deathbot being put through its paces.
Ess: I suppose the glowy helmet is pretty… glowy.
Cee: Whosa good wittle killbot? Yes you are! Yes you aaaare!
Ess: The mechanics don’t make a huge amount of sense, though. I guess the cards you derezzed were meant to be only the testing versions of them?
Cee: What does it mean for a sexbot campaign to be “tested”? Are you getting the same three creds of profit from a limited demographic sample?
Ess: And why do you need to sink time and money into the Test Ground to get projects tested?
Cee: And why do you need to trash the test ground to actually do whatever corresponds to derezzing them?
Ess: This just seems like an example of design and creative just not quite meeting on a card. “Hey, we want this mechanic on a card, what should the flavour be?” “Uhhhhhh.”
Cee: Flavour text is cute, though. Fine print jokes are a bit passé these days, but fine, it’ll do.
Ess: Actually, section 203(c) of your contract bars you from disparaging fine print jo—
Cee: LOOKS like we’re giving this card like a D, maybe?
Ess: I do like the idea of the card. Haas’ dark side is always very compelling to me whenever it shows up, and I’m always happy to see their simple, ruthless efficiency established.
Cee: I do find myself opening my binder to Hellion Alpha Test, every so often, and just sighing. We had such hopes, it and I.
Ess: …you have a problem. But yes, I want to give it points for the concept, even if it ends up just not being executed. A solid C?
Cee: I’ll go to C-, but no further.
Ess: Ah! Christ, that’s gruesome.
Cee: Eyes rolled back, bleeding heavily. With my expertise I can absolutely tell you there are brain… problems… here.
Cee: Okay, so, you’ve decided you absolutely have to break into this server, so you jack yourself up with stims and dive in… but then your brain implant goes haywire and kills you.
Ess: The comparison I want to draw is to Self-Destruct Chips. It’s weird how that’s harder—scoring an agenda vs. playing a current—but this has the more invasive effect.
Cee: It’s also not, well, current. Every other current we’ve seen so far has been more-or-less happening in real-time. We just installed Enhanced Login Protocols, or there’s a mob of Itinerant Protesters outside our headquarters. This implies that the brain chips you had were already defective or were suddenly… made to be defective?
Ess: And are suddenly not defective when you snag one of their agendas? I guess you could spin this as HB having a backdoor into every brain chip, but then every runner has to have a Haas backdoor implanted in their brain?
Cee: Is this meant to be as ubiquitous as the apparently ubiquitous Skulljack? Need-one-to-interact-with-your rig ubiquitous? In which case, wow, is that a huge conspiracy.
Ess: Having a current being whatever flavour of retroactive this is is incredibly weird. This is the sort of loosening of the bounds of the card type that leads to Lab Dog being able to trash your bike. I don’t like it, no sir, not at all.
Cee: Neither. I can’t give this any higher than a C; there’s just too much about it’s that’s wrong. And why, oh why is it a current‽
Ess: I’m willing to go down to C-, D+ even.
Cee: That is a giant evil rat get it away from me
Ess: Man, that dude’s not even concerned. He’s seen some shit in his time.
Cee: Rat shit.
Ess: So you spend some time injecting rats with allele suppressants, and that lets you…
Cee: …swap cards in hand with archives? Suppressing the alleles of the Ichi 1.0 in hand lets you recover Caprice?
Ess: Yeah, um, what?
Cee: Actual what?
Ess: This card needs a new effect.
Cee: And this effect needs a new card. Another example of design and creative just not meeting where they were supposed to. Are advanceable assets just difficult to design, or something?
Ess: Difficult or not, just look at how nonsensical this ends up being. You can swap operations for ice, ice for assets, assets for operations… and all of this is meant to be happening via allele repression? There’s no coherency or consistency in what’s meant to be going on here. Which I get, for balance reasons, but it just makes the card a mess.
Ess: Redeeming points for that terrifying rat, though. D+?
Cee: Sure, fine.
Ess: And our next speaker is Dr. Emmet Brown, here to present his new research on active psi counter-intrusion! Over to you, Doctor.
Cee: He’s also a reference to the classic Netrunner card, Dr. Dreff. Though I suppose it was Dreff that was an Emmet Brown reference first…
Ess: 🙁 You were supposed to continue the skit. That was your cue, Batty!
Cee: Gods in Heinlein no. There is no way I could rock an eyepatch as well as that distinguished gentleman.
Ess: So he’s probably one of their oldest researchers. He understands psychic physics better than anyone else does. He probably wrote the first psi ice, so he understands how to take an ice and directly inject it into the Runner’s thought process.
Cee: He’s acting as the conduit, between the ice and the Runner. Sorta like Wormhole, only with more brains getting pulped.
Ess: And clearly it must be a massive psychic effort to keep the conduit open for a brain so alien to your own, which is why he has to trash himself.
Cee: Man, that’s clean. I really like that. I wasn’t expecting Batty to work out this elegantly.
Ess: I’m also super tickled by how Batty apparently has his offices in The Underway. As far as Jinteki’s concerned, he’s an older model, a liability, not producing much useful work anymore anyway…
Cee: So he doesn’t get clean and shiny offices in The Valley, but a dingy one down in The Underway. Cute.
Ess: If them ignoring Batty means they haven’t managed to mass-produce this level of psychic understanding, then I am a-okay with that.
Ess: …yes, that. A.
Cee: Have I ever said how much I love these super clean cards? This card is super clean.
Ess: I mean, PR 101 right? We’re in the shit in the public eye, so let’s spend a bunch of time highlighting all the good stuff we’ve done to distract people from the issues.
Cee: In this case, exposing those dirty rotten criminals destroying the sanctity of our small town neighbourhoods. Won’t somebody please think of the children!
Ess: It works remarkably well imported into other factions as well. “Weyland Corporation is assisting police today in a drug bust, discovered while auditing some suspicious company logs…”
Cee: Throwing money at the world’s most pervasive news source to talk about how much of good public citizen you’ve been seems like a solid decision.
Ess: Clean effect, clean integration, great art. Another A on our hands?
Cee: Look, a distraction! Crazy Japanese pinball! I’m apparently really excitable today!
Ess: I’m not buying the mechanics here. If I’m tagged it distracts me?
Cee: I guess if you’re tagged they can use the profile information to tailor it to your particular psyche. Gambling is an addiction, right?
Ess: But if I have a fracter out I can be not distracted, even if I’m tagged? It’s clearly not effective enough to distract me from using the breaker in the first place.
Cee: It should really have the Advertisement subtype if that was the actual intent, too. The card is just straight up weird.
Ess: Speaking of subtypes issues… we’ve traditionally seen these sort of weirder effects on codegates. Also, it’s a game. That requires you beat it.
Cee: I also do like how even Apex’s Endless Hunger doesn’t stop it enjoying some pinball. NBN might be onto something.
Ess: Sure, as long as by “like” you mean “it’s amusing” rather than “it’s a cornercase of the mechanics that should exist”. Another C?
Cee: C-ertifi—nope, burnt that one out. C- from me.
Ess: I’m glad you came to your senses.
Ess: ahahahahahah they’re just burning it to the ground
Cee: Urban renewal is a critical and necessary part of growing tomorrow’s Underway. It’s always someone’s home, yours is no different…
Ess: I mean, it’s funny and all on the card, but this does happen. Slums and shanty towns being taken apart and gentrified, citing health and safety and the ever-so-lofty urban renewal…
Cee: This isn’t your “underlying cynicism”, or at least if it is it’s lying under a fairly slim layer of humour. It’s just, Weyland destroying what Weyland doesn’t want.
Ess: And calling it a renovation for PR reasons.
Cee: And, of course, it’s a public agenda. A dare to Weyland’s competitors, yet again.
Ess: “Anything you can burn we can burn better / We can burn anything better than you”
Cee: Mechanically, you’re burning away the Runner’s city, their contacts and suppliers and adorable Baker St Irregulars.
Ess: Weird when the Runner is the Professor, I suppose. He wouldn’t have contacts in the Underway, would he?
Cee: I mean, do we even really care anymore? This issue about cards having highly specific flavour has been an everpresent feature of the Sansan Cycle, and on the whole it’s made for cleaner, better flavoured cards.
Ess: …you mean like french vanilla?
Cee: Dark chocolate, heathen. I mean, I’m not saying Underway Renovation or Student Loans or Career Fair don’t have issues, but on the whole I think they do more to take us into the world than the every-now-and-then that they cause issues when you play Student Loans on Edward Kim.
Ess: I’m not sure I’m willing to be that lax, though. I’ll argue that the unit of story in netrunner isn’t the card, despite what we tend to focus on.
Ess: It’s the game.
Cee: Explain the distinction?
Ess: I mean that the job of the cards and the job of the mechanics, from a narrative perspective, is to make the story of the game sing. Making the cards coherent and clean is relevant too, of course, but ultimately, it’s about the actual back and forth of play between us, the ebb and flow of pressure and response and strategy and counterstrategy, of staying up all night when the corp’s least expecting it or luring the runner into a honeypot. It’s in how the game uses these characters and places and people in a story, that we build together.
Ess: And, yeah, that means I do think it’s an issue when the card makes this kind of assumption about things it doesn’t control. Underway Renovation requires your opponent to have contacts in the Underway who’re getting hurt by this, just like Student Loans requires your opponent to have, well, student loans. And it’s not like it’s a necessary component of these designs, either; Oaktown Renovation works perfectly.
Ess: And, if you’ll allow me to unjustifiably prophesy doom for a bit, I’m worried about what this might mean going into the Mumbad Cycle. The best outcome is that it shows us our cultures merging, where the games that come out of the other end represent a synthesis of each side of the Atlantic learning from the other.
Cee: But you’re worried about the worst outcome, which would be…
Ess: There are definitely possible futures in which the majority of matchups just have broken, broken flavour. And I know it’s just the price of ambition, but it still worries me.
Cee: Not to mention, we’d be out of a job! [laugh track].
Cee: So I guess I’m still not especially worried, but you do raise some good points, and I’m not sure why they don’t particularly worry me. What say we table this discussion for now, but flag it for later?
Ess: Sure, I’m good with that. Underway Renovation, then. B?
Cee: I’m inclined towards an A-.
Ess: This guy is a terrible hit-man. Totally incompetent, would not recommend.
Cee: Wait, what?
Ess: Uh I mean have you seen his Yelp rating? Three stars, pfff.
Ess: Really though, you send him on a job to take out this Kati somebody, and then the next day there’s surveillance footage of the Runner’s apartment and she’s still delivering!
Cee: Trashing has never actually meant killing, has it? That is actually pretty dreadful value for money. Worse when they’ve got a Fall Guy around…
Cee: Though I guess you’re only paying him four credits. Don’t hits cost in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Ess: Well, a corp’s four credits, which probably does represent hundreds of thousands of dollars. The extra click is probably the backup you provide during the hit itself?
Cee: The trash makes sense as well; can’t have people knowing you hired a killer, there’s been too much bad PR recently. Though, frankly, I’d demand your money back for the shoddy job he does.
Ess: It’s weird how this fictionally hypercompetent would-be-at-least-an-antihero-in-his-own-story individual just ends up being an incompetent dope by the mechanics.
Cee: Well, his Yelp rating might be awful, but it’s a B+ for flavour.
Ess: At least he tried.
Cee: Don’t get stuck!
Ess: Not a powerful barrier in your path, but there just so many webs.
Cee: Yep. This is the kind of software naming that I’m a fan of, in the game. Someone developed this ice with this specific set of tradeoffs, and hit upon the name when describing its behavior. It’s organic!
Ess: Spiderwebs are by definition organic, though. They come out of a spider’s—
Cee: BUT the main thing I like about Spiderweb is how it finally explains the key conceit behind ice. It’s impossible, g00ru tells us, to have ice that’s both functional and perfectly secure, because any security mechanisms have to have a front door in them for authorised connections!
Ess: That’s a basic security maxim, even in the real world.
Cee: “Honour among thieves”?
Ess: You don’t rat out your hombres, right? If some weird guy comes sniffin’ about askin’ nosy questions, you just, uh, let ‘im know that’s not how things work ‘round these parts.
Ess: Politely! You’ll get killed tryin’ to pull that shit in this town.
Cee: Okay, so Infiltration and Drive By work. How are we preventing bypass, though? So far that’s been much more about the ice in play than the location the server is virtualised in.
Cee: Well, Inside Job is a physical thing, so YGKTTPTSITT. Femme, though?
Ess: You can’t pull that on the Underway, pal. The sysops here invented that grift.
Cee: And the upcoming Security Nexus?
Ess: …Muertos is the law? I dunno how Security Nexus is supposed to work, actually. I guess we can cover that when we get to Data and Destiny.
Cee: Ergh, are we just going to do mega-sized reviews for the deluxes?
Ess: …that just seems entirely unviable. We’re going to have to think on this one.
Cee: Anyway, Security Nexus reveals a problem with Underway Grid, I think—it’s very dependent on current and future bypass cards having very specific flavour to work. There’s a keyword-to-flavour link that it’s assuming that I don’t know is entirely justified.
Ess: Then again, bypass is very much in the Criminal colour pie, right? That suggests and builds a flavour coherence right there, and that might be enough to keep bypass on message.
Cee: Are you happy with a B+, then?
Ess: Yeah, sure. It’s a bit loose in how it’s supposed to work, but thematically on point.
Cee: And that’s The Underway. Some eeh cards this time around—if not for Exposé, I would be asking what is it about advanceable assets that apparently makes them so hard to flavour—but on the whole relatively solid.
Ess: And the Runner half of this pack was gold, so overall I’m pretty pleased. Looking forward to Old Hollywood?
Cee: Oh, there’s so much to say about Old Hollywood. But we’ll get there when we get there!
Cee: Complete tangent, just because we were talking about bypass: what’s so special about Guard? Why is it the only ice which Inside Job doesn’t work on?
Ess: …huh. Flavour text is no help, though it is neat. Maybe we can cover it when we do The Criminal Special.
Cee: What? No, don’t tease that now, we haven’t even planned the colour pie series out yet and now they’ll be expecting it oh nooooo
Ess: ^_^ Until next time, folks!