Ess: Hello and welcome, fine ladies and gentlemen, to the very eleventh issue of Running on Italics, stimhack’s flavour review column. This time, we’ll be covering the runner half of The Universe of Tomorrow!
Cee: You’ve been looking forward to this pack, haven’t you?
Ess: I have such complicated feelings about The ’39 World’s Fair, Cee. At once a symbol of optimism and a symbol of failure. It’s hope and positivity and the human spirit of being able to change ourselves, to build something greater… right alongside the ever increasing feeling, year after year after decade after decade, of having failed our grandparents.
Cee: So what does it say that we’re turning to the Universe of Tomorrow, here, in 2XXX? That this expo manages to capture the mood of the day, that people once again buy into the promises of…
Ess: Technopositivism? Yeah. I dunno, with The Valley it was easy to read the Victorian-era aesthetic as wholly sinister, an entirely manufactured cultural shift, to our corporate overlords’ benefit. With the Universe of Tomorrow, though…
Ess: It’s really hard for me to look at the bright and shining future being envisioned, and not believe in it. Surely, surely, it’s not completely performative, surely our corporate overlords genuinely do want to take us at least close to these futures they’re promising us. Surely, if there’s anything we can believe in, we can believe in the fundamental, underlying drive of the humans these corporations are made of, to reach for something better.
Cee: So… even after knowing how overly optimistic the original World’s Fair was, even after knowing how humanity’s history has constantly been one of regression to the mean, even after knowing every reason the Android universe has already given us to be cynical…
Cee: You choose to see the Universe of Tomorrow as a symbol of hope‽
Ess: Yep! After all, isn’t that kind of willing blindness exactly what hope is?
Cee: You utter sap. Let’s get to the cards.
Power to the People
Ess: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh the puns
Cee: It’s pretty horrific.
Ess: if I don’t make it, promise me…
Cee: sigh. Anything.
Cee: —wait, I probably shouldn’t have said tha—
Ess: promise me… you’ll die of a pun too~
Cee: No deal.
Ess: You cruel heartwrecker.
Cee: In any case, this card’s flavour and art directly tells the story of the shanty town powering up when the expo shuts down. It’s about, well, the cold, the huddled, the displaced masses, those who inevitably are set to the side when the corps get it in their heads to make an expo celebrating the future of humanity.
Ess: The question is, though: how is this related to you gaining money when you hurt the corp?
Cee: I really want the pun to be relevant, here. Somehow, you as the runner are doing something as a symbol, to bring power back to the people again. You’re declaring to the masses that the corps aren’t in complete control here, that they can have some measure of their own agency back.
Ess: That suggests, well, some sort of kickstarter/petition attached to the runner making this grand, symbolic, agenda stealing.
Cee: Yep! And I really quite like that, that our first introduction to the Universe of Tomorrow is via those dispossessed of it. Of them making a stand, and the Runner making a stand with them. It’s almost altruistic, if you ignore the enormous profit potential here…
Ess: so that’s where you choose to get your hope…
Ess: Don’t mind me~ But yeah, I really do like that read, too. I love how FFG portrays Anarchy as not just about destruction; if anything, it’s about the kind of constitutional inability to ignore the shitty parts of the world that leads to creation.
Cee: Mmmhm. A-? If only because of the somewhat obscurity of the read?
Ess: I’m willing to be generous and give it a straight A+.
Cee: Picture this.
Ess: Oooh, are you going somewhere fun again?
Cee: Noise eyes the server in front of him, measuring it up. Then he runs, no, dives really, facefirst into it, and the first thing his hands find is this innocent, fresh-faced little kid. He just picks him up, throws him down on the face, jumps on his back, and plows through the rest of ice on that server, surfing this poor kid through.
Ess: Heeeeee. I can just imagine the other pieces of ice staring at this, happening right in front of their sensors, in sheer shock at the dumbness of what’s going on.
Cee: “Dumbness” is right. While the card makes me laugh, it really feels like another card that was designed top down, with no concern for how much sense it makes.
Ess: Maybe, but… hm. Ice positioning is clearly an actual thing in the world, right? Something about security networks and how accessible they are to the outside? I can legitimately believe there’s some sort of exploit in this code that runners have learnt to turn to their advantage, even if it’s as mundane as ARP poisoning. I mean, the corps of Mumbad (City Grid) have learnt to do something like this to their advantage, as well.
Cee: You’re giving me some compelling reasons to like the card…
Ess: Look at the art, Cee! Let the tron waves of light wash over you!
Cee: I… fine. Okay. B+.
Ess: Do we need to say what a DDoS is?
Cee: We do. Despite the theme, not all of ANR’s players are actual hackers, Ess.
Ess: Okay, okay. A DDoS, dear readers, is a Distributed Denial of Service, where a whole horde of machines that have been infected by the hacker—
Cee: —a “botnet”, or, colloquially, “zombies”—
Ess: —are used to send an overwhelming number of connection requests towards the server you want to take down. This chews up the target machine’s resources, hence denial of service, and you can do it with a legion of cheap machines, hence distributed.
Cee: Given that background, then: Best flavour text in the game?
Ess: Best flavour text in the game.
Cee: At least recently. I’m still fond of Curtain Wall.
Ess: What I especially like about this card is how it exactly explains and makes sense of the ice placement we were talking about in Surfer! Each ice is an individual node, with its own authentication requirements, which is why you need to break them individually, and each of the inner layers only accept connections from the previous node!
Cee: And so spamming requests at the corp will only reach the outer layer of each server? Yeah, okay, I can buy that.
Ess: Yep! Even look at the render; it’s zombies grasping towards an ICE, which looks like it’s shielding further layers from them! Sort of makes you want a giant rampart around your servers…
Cee: Mm. The card does have pretty good flavour, I’ll grant, but…
Cee: So I hate to be a buzzkill, but I have to mention this.
Ess: Ah. Yeah.
Cee: Is it just me that’s annoyed by the colour pie bleed inherent to DDoS? And it’s not alone, the upcoming Run Amok and EMP Device also have, let’s call them issues—
Ess: While I’m basically with you there, I’m somewhat uncomfortable talking about colour pie bleed in ROI. While, yes, the colour pie is both mechanical and thematic, these sorts of discussions feel to me like they might overstep our remit.
Cee: Surely, a faction’s philosophy is something we can talk about as part of the flavour of the game. Anarchs like to charge through problems and eat the consequences, they don’t go around it like Criminals do; that’s faction characterisation.
Ess: There’s an argument to be made that DDoS as it exists is flavoured appropriately for the faction it’s in…
Cee: Flavouring a blue card in an orange way does not make it not a blue card! I mean, that’s entirely why we were so positive on Faust, because it told us so much about who Anarchs are while making a compelling argument for why they are. If we can take how well the cards integrate into the fiction and colour pie as a positive, we have to be able to take it as a negative.
Ess: That’s fair; I’ll stop playing Meffi’s advocate. We definitely don’t have the time or space to make sure we address the issue thoroughly from a flavour perspective here, though.
Cee: What say we table this discussion until the upcoming colour pie series, then?
Ess: Look out for those very special issues of Running on Italics, coming out like next year or something!
Cee: ~_~ DDos, then? I’m not going above a C+.
Ess: I’ll do a B+, but, yeah, we need to have this conversation properly.
Laramy Fisk: Savvy Investor
Ess: The one, the only, the winner of the Plugged In Tour!
Cee: For you kids who may not have been here for this bit of Netrunner history—
Ess: pffff “kids” you weren’t playing Netrunner back then
Cee: —the Plugged In Tour, as I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, was a big Event FFG ran across the Americas. It was a series of tournaments, with a specific gimmick: every participant would be able to vote between one of two IDs, that would then be introduced into the game at some point. The other ID would be trashed forever.
Cee: So, obviously, The Collective lost and Larry here—
Ess: Oooh, “Larry”. Can we call him Larry? I’ma call him Larry.
Cee: —Laramy Fisk won, and now he’s in the game at last.
Ess: Larry here is a CEO himself, of a small investing corporation.
Cee: Well. “Small” relative to the megacorps we normally play as.
Ess: He’s had a lot of success, yeah! His motives for running are classic Criminal: to make money, in terms of finding information that will directly affect his investments, and to take out any competitors to his holdings.
Cee: His ability is also directly that. He networks, he wheels and deals, he makes friends, and he strategically “helps” his competitors out.
Ess: The thing is… most of this lore is external to the cards. It’s in the blogposts accompanying the tour, along with a few paragraphs in the Universe of Tomorrow’s announcement. In fact, much of the Plugged In Tour’s links on FFG’s website are broken; to my knowledge, only this page on ANCUR has archived copies of the original text.
Cee: So all we, the players of today, realistically have to go on are his subtitle, “Savvy Investor”, and the fact that he’s paired with his Investment Seminar.
Ess: In fact, as eagle-eyed readers may have already noticed, his original card design had a flavour quote, “Timing is everything.” Which, I think, is an incredibly loaded flavour quote alongside his already loaded subtitle. It would have helped a lot.
Cee: But the card-as-published is missing even that. And, even if there’s good reasons for it (font size?), it’s still, well, disappointing.
Ess: So. Does ol’ Larry here ultimately work, as a card design and as flavour in the world? I… legitimately cannot tell. My perspective’s been too informed by having actually known about Larry for three years.
Cee: Two years, in my case? But yes, I’m not sure I can tell either. How well does he—and his counterpart, Jinteki: Chronos Protocol—work for players who are newer?
Cee: Maybe we can ask said players directly? If any among you are or know of newer players who hadn’t heard of Fisk before UoT, how well did this bit of story work out for you/them?
Ess: Yes, good idea! I’d also like to ask you, hypothetical netrunnerer, if anything about Larry and J:CP felt weird to you when coming across them. While I have to applaud the coolness of the Plugged In and Chronos Protocol tours in concept, I’m really unsure about how they’ve actually been seeded into the world via cards.
Cee: Let’s pend our grade here until we get some feedback on this, do you think?
Ess: That makes sense to me, yeah.
Fisk Investment Seminar
Ess: So I have a confession here, Cee.
Cee: deep breath.
Ess: I really really like this dumb card.
Cee: deep sigh.
Ess: He’s holding seminars! For corps! It’s networking! Which helps him get ideas from them and them get ideas from him!
Cee: And J-How on the art?
Ess: Is incredibly relevant! It says a lot that Fisk has the pull to clink glasses with Our Lord And Saviour, especially given how important Sir Howard is shown to be in the Data and Destiny snippet!
Cee: Okay. Okay. Fine. Answer me these questions three, and I’ll leave you be about this … story?
Cee: One! What. Does it mean when someone who is not Fisk plays this card? Are you, the runner, hosting a Fisk-style seminar yourself? Are you getting Fisk to host a seminar on your behalf? Are you kidnapping Fisk and giving his seminar in his place?
Ess: And your other two questions?
Cee: …in retrospect I only had the one.
Ess: I think you actually got it. You’re asking Fisk to host a seminar targeted at the corp you’re running on, and, via some economy of favours, he does. So the corp gets their accelerated development, and you hobnob amongst the attendees, getting what you need out of it as well. Heck, maybe you even give a talk as a guest speaker!
Cee: That’s actually pretty reasonable.
Ess: Say it…
Ess: Say it~
Cee: Okay, fine, I’ll allow an A on this thing.
Cee: Brain mapping?
Ess: External storage for your brain?
Cee: This thing is huge, isn’t it? I’m not the only one seeing this seriously skewed perspective?
Ess: So, a big, bulky, invasive program/hardware that plugs into your brain-machine interface and extracts your surface thoughts?
Cee: And… you can spend the time to integrate the ideas and concepts you had back into yourself, or you can just jam it in and run when the corp’s busting down your door?
Ess: I guess?
Cee: This thing is weird?
Ess: The closest context we have for this card is SMC, right?
Cee: Instead of it morphing into anything you can think of, it only morphs into something you already have the concept for. I guess the idea is that as you run, you’re lifing ideas from the ice and server layouts and jotting them down as notes to direct its compilation?
Ess: That makes some sense, at least thematically. DaVinci’s notebooks are famous.
Ess: Of course, that interpretation doesn’t quite track when you’ve been building DaVinci counters and then finally draw the card you want to install later, but I suppose the notes don’t quite have to be quite that specific.
Cee: That, and there’s already a lot of cases where we use the player making a decision to stand in for the runner/corp being more prepared and competent at this hacking business than the actual player. Clone Chip and SMC are probably the big ones, but our read of the way turns work back in An Offer You Can’t Refuse suggests basically every paid ability has some component of this mechanic to them.
Ess: I’m still a bit uncomfortable with Clone Chip’s weird retroactivity, but, okay, I’ll accept that for now.
Cee: So DaVinci is you jotting down some notes of the kind of thing you want here, and once you get a lead on it you can immediately see how to put it together. I guess your vague jottings on The Source fall into place and you immediately pen the perfect letter to get him onto your side?
Ess: This is sounding like a B-ish then.
Cee: Call it a B-.
Wireless Net Pavilion
Cee: oh thank god we didn’t have to cover this when it wasn’t unique
Ess: Functional and flavour-level errata, FFG? Tsk.
Cee: So I guess the idea is that you’re routing all your connections through the Pavilion? Even if they know who you are—even if you’re tagged—they still need to trace your connection back through the pavillion outward to find your resources.
Ess: Yep! It takes a while to find these correlated connections via the vast swathe of data involved. It’s a very Uplink way of envisioning what the two credits to trash a resource represents, which I appreciate ^_^
Ess: Though, presumably your connection to the corp is being routed through the Pavilion as well. For full flavour points, it should really give you +2 link as well, shouldn’t it?
Cee: Welll. We’ve seen cards like Lag Time affect the runner adversely when their connection is in any way non-optimal. It makes sense to me that the traditional ways of getting link (Rabbit Holes, consoles, personal contacts) are ways that don’t compromise the quality of your connection, but burying yourself in a giant stream of incoming bandwidth would.
Ess: Fair enough. A solid A, then?
Cee: Only because it’s post-errata. But yes.
Cee: While I do like how we got to see some of how the Expo is being subverted for runner ends, there’s not too much about the expo itself in this half, is there?
Ess: Yeah, that’s all backloaded in the corp half. The expo is for the corporations, not the people, after all…
Cee: You’re going to have to teach me this doublethink trick of yours someday.
Ess: Oh, Cee. Humans don’t need to be taught how to blind ourselves to reality for the sake of what we want to believe~
Cee: Right. Next time, then, we’ll be diving into the hive of tour guides and franchises that is the Universe of Tomorrow.
Ess: See you then, folks!