This article is co-authored with SpencerDub (NISEI Media Pipeline Coordinator).
Welcome back! Last time we looked at the overall structure of tactical actions, now we’ll dive into the core tactical interactions and how to evaluate your tactical moves, and their payoffs. The red arrows.
Making those Runs
Finally we will approach the defining action of Netrunner, the run. We will approach this both from the Runner’s perspective and from the Corp.
With few exceptions, making runs is usually either a disruption-move or a progress-move, or both in the case of stealing an agenda the Corp attempts to score. In some decks (often Criminals) runs can be a simple efficiency-move with cards such as Pennyshaver and Security Testing.
Making a run should be evaluated based on a tempo gain/loss versus your opponent or progressing your strategy or disrupting theirs.
Remember the terms defined in the last article. You will make heavy use of ‘worst-case’ and ‘probable-case’ ways of thinking.
What is the worst that could happen?
Running unknown ICE is really important. A mistake made by new players and many intermediate players is to be too risk-averse and afraid of running blind.
When it comes to running unknown ICE you should usually think ‘worst case’ since it is easier on the cognitive load and often enough, but sometimes veer into ‘probable case’ if needed. Usually the worst outcome is not that bad, especially against non-sentries. Having a sentry-breaker out makes your blind runs much more safe. You will avoid the Anansis and Archers given enough credits.
The Corp credit-total is critical. You should know the rez-cost and properties of all common ICE, and you should evaluate an eventual rez from the Corp’s perspective. Will they accept the tempo-loss as a tradeoff against subs firing? Even if they can rez a DNA Tracker in your face, does this mean they can’t play their Hedge Funds? May be worth it.
Factions also have trends that you can count on. Versus Jinteki, expect net damage. Versus Weyland, expect program-trashing. In NBN you should expect tags and for HB you should expect bioroids.
It is important to force ICE to be rezzed so that you can make future calculations more accurate. A large benefit of this is that you can find specific tools needed to deal with the ICE you know about. Another massive benefit is that it forces the Corp to commit resources to a specific ICE, making them unable to defend other servers. This tempo loss is a key aspect of running early, and allows you as the Runner to control the Corp’s lines of play somewhat.
It is key that for most ICE in Netrunner the rez costs the Corp more than it does you to run it, since this is a core of the strategy of running without being fully set up. Without this fact Netrunner would tend towards not running until the rig is fully set up, which is less interesting and less complex.
Know what you are facing.
Cost & Gain of a Run
The calculation of the cost of a run is usually known by the Runner, or can be expected based on ‘worst/probable case’. You are paying this cost to make a progress-move or disruption-move, and you should evaluate the run with that in mind. What do you gain? What do you prevent the Corp from doing?
Running an unprotected PAD Campaign and trashing it may not be worth it if you are below 10 credits. Running an unprotected Nico Campaign is almost always worth it. Calculate the net-credit gains with an efficiency mindset.
If these campaigns are ICE’d the calculation will be different. It may even be worth it for you to leave them, since they will take up a protected server that cannot be used for scoring. You may still want to run to force the Corp to rez the ICE, committing to the tempo-loss. Forcing a rez of ICE is almost always better for you than for the Corp.
Running to deny the Corp a tool such as SanSan City Grid or Anoetic Void can be critical, as you deny the Corp a powerful unique action. Just make sure it doesn’t put you in a larger tempo-hole that can be exploited against you.
The Recieving End
Now, the other side of the coin. The placement if ICE and choice of when to rez is an integral part of the tactical decisions as Corp. Below we will explore some good rules to keep in mind as a baseline for these decisions.
How to use ICE?
There are a few rules for how to install ICE. You will not always draw ICE in the right order, and the Runner may force you to commit to sub-optimal placement of the ICE you do have. This is a call you make in-game, but here we will focus on good rules of thumb for ICE placement. In other words: what you should aim for.
A Corp deck uses ICE in slightly different ways. for these examples we will assume a ‘standard’ Corp like glacier. This deck has 15-18 ICE of varying types. To simplify a bit you pay for three properties with ICE, and you rarely can get all. We have taxing ICE, stopping ICE and punishing ICE. Generally ICE is of one or two of these types compared to their rez-cost. Very rarely they are all three. Think of these as the ‘extremes’ of ICE, and then most ICE will be a combination.
Taxing ICE you usually want to put on centrals, especially R&D. This is ICE that cost a lot to break, but may be possible to go through without a breaker. In other words, they are porous. It can be good to put these in other locations, but the key is to put them in a location where the Runner wants to run several times. Their downside will be less of a downside in this case.
Stopping ICE (or gearcheck ICE) are mostly relevant in early/mid-game. You want to use them to stop a run, and they often go on the scoring-remote or in front of key-assets. The idea is to force the Runner to find and install a breaker, costing them time and tempo. If possible you want a stopping ICE on the first position, since forcing the Runner to waste resources before and then stopping them at the last ICE is great value. This type of ICE can become a liability in late-game since they are not taxing, forcing you to replace them.
Punishing ICE is best when it is first rezzed. They are best rezzed on high-value runs as a surprise, or early in the game to punish over-aggressive Runners. As a downside they are more expensive to rez or very porous, or can be combated in alternate ways. On a remote with stopping ICE behind it the Runner can be forced to break, and then be stopped or jack out. They are usually OK to keep around after this, but cheaper than taxing ICE to break for their rez-cost. You should always count on the Runner breaking them, which makes them hard to use.
Utility ICE is not really a type, but a property attached to some ICE to offer specific tactical benefits. They are varied and the ability often results in a higher rez-cost than normal ICE, or they lack properties of normal ICE.
Which type? Take a wild guess.
When to Rez ICE?
As a general rule it is efficient to rez ICE. They stay as a permanent defense and costs the Runner every time they pass. If you have surplus credits you should almost always rez. The problem arises when your near-term goals or other efficiency-moves will be affected by rezzing. When your tempo is affected. There are a several types of situations where you should consider not rezzing.
Situation #1: When rezzing the ICE puts you out of range of playing important economy, such as Hedge Fund or Government Subsidy. If you have fewer credits in your pool than the highest play cost of an econ operation in your deck, that is the credit threshold where you should strongly consider not rezzing. Even if you do not have that operation in hand you are clearly in need of it, and might draw it, so weigh the worst/probable outcome of a successful run and do the math.
Situation #2: When rezzing would prevent you from defending a more important server. If you have installed and advanced an agenda you may need 3 credits to score, 7 credits to rez ICE on that server and 2 credits to use Anoetic Void. In this situation you may not want to go below 12 credits, or even 17 if you combine it with Situation #1. When trying to score you are vulnerable if low on credits. The Runner will exploit this and you may have to let them.
Situation #3: When you want to let them in. If the tempo-cost is more important then a potential tax on the Runner, or you want to get a ‘successful run’ trigger to play an operation such as Public Trail, or perhaps you’d rather have them access your Snare!.
Situation #4: When the ICE is too easy to break, or you suspect the Runner will never run here again. If you would not choose to keep it around for more than this run, it is usually not worth rezzing it. An ICE needs to be passed at least twice to be efficient for its rez cost. Sometimes you have installed an ICE you do not want to rez as a bluff, and them running it is simply calling your bluff.
Getting Those Points
Finally, we will touch on the key decisions in Netrunner; how and when to go for the 7 points you need to win.
Corporation Agenda Strategy
Netrunner is built around a core of forcing the Corporation to suffer a tempo-loss in order to score agendas. Deciding when to score is a large part of the tactical skill of playing the Corporation and these moments are called ‘scoring windows’ in the lingo of the community.
In this case, the agenda is the strategy.
On Reddit’s /r/Netrunner community, Spencer Dub wrote a guide to identifying and creating scoring windows as the Corp, which I’m reprinting with his permission:
Identifying and Creating Scoring Windows
As the Corp, how do you identify or make a scoring window? To do this, we first have to define what a scoring window is.
A scoring window is a period of time, usually only a turn or two, when the Corp can be reasonably certain the Runner cannot or will not access an agenda installed in the root of a given remote server. As mentioned above, Netrunner is not a game of perfect information like chess, which means there’s always the potential for surprise. A Corp player may think they have a perfect opportunity to score an agenda, only to have their opponent pop an Overclock or Tread Lightly and completely throw off their calculations. For this reason, identifying scoring windows is more art than science, and you should not expect absolute certainty.
With that in mind, to identify scoring windows, it can help to think of conditions under which the Runner might not contest a server—that is, run and attempt to breach it. This is yet another reason why playing more games as the Runner can be key to developing a feel for Corp strategy, and vice-versa. I’ve identified four significant reasons why a Runner might not contest a server: (1) They don’t have the credits, (2) they don’t have the clicks, (3) they don’t have the tools, and (4) they don’t think it’s an agenda.
The Runner doesn’t have the credits
Netrunner is a game of scarce resources, starting with credits. By looking at rezzed ICE and assets and comparing that information to the programs, hardware, and resources in their rig, a Runner can and will calculate how many credits it will take to make it into a server. You should anticipate this and can use it to identify a scoring window.
As a Corp, you should be aware of how much it costs your opponent to break each piece of ice you have installed. If the Runner has a Cleaver on the board, it helps to know that the Palisade you’ve installed on a remote will cost them 3 credits to break. As you accrue more experience, you may even sharpen your ability to predict these numbers. If you’re playing in the Startup format and your opponent is an Anarch, there’s a good chance they’re running Buzzsaw as their decoder, which means they’ll be able to break an Enigma for 1 credit. Of course it’s not certain, but you can let that ‘soft’ information inform your decisions and help you identify scoring windows, even before the Runner plays the card.
Keep track of your opponent’s sources of credits. A Runner that’s down to only 3 credits with nothing else on the board is a lot less dangerous than a Runner with 3 credits in their pool and 5 credits sitting on a Pennyshaver. Think about how they can make money. Given their current rig, with four clicks, could they amass enough money to make it into your scoring remote?
It also helps to be aware of a couple common numbers. Five credits, for instance, is the classic breakpoint, because a single Sure Gamble will turn 5 credits into 9. Three credits is enough for the Runner to install a Carmen if they’ve made a successful run. You can’t keep everything in your mind, of course, but the more you can learn common Runner tricks, the better prepared you’ll be to make these calculations.
You might be able to create a scoring window, then, by depriving the Runner of credits. But how to do that? A couple options:
- Use Reversed Accounts or Economic Warfare to directly drain the Runner’s funds.
- Use Public Trail, combined with a way to punish the Runner for taking tags, to coerce them into paying 8 credits to avoid the tag.
- Install an asset, less-valuable agenda, or even an upgrade in your scoring remote and try to tempt the Runner into wasting time and resources checking it out.
The Runner doesn’t have the clicks
A Runner might not check out a server if they just don’t have the clicks to do so. After all, the two primary resources of Netrunner are credits and clicks; a Runner can be flush with cash but still find it hard to find the clicks to break into your server.
Some ways to pressure this:
- Directly pressure the Runner’s clicks. HB is the faction most familiar with this strategy; cards like Cold Site Server, MCA Austerity Policy, Project Vitruvius, and Manegarm Skunkworks all require the Runner to do more in less time. False Lead can also do this job.
- Deal damage. This might seem out of place in the clicks section, but think about it: when the Runner takes a good chunk of damage, they’re likely going to feel more vulnerable until they can refill their hand, and doing that takes clicks. A well-timed Punitive Counterstrike or Karunā, even if they don’t flatline the Runner, might leave them feeling vulnerable enough that they spend a turn recovering. That’s your cue to strike!
- Threaten with tags. Every tag costs the Runner 2 credits and a click to remove. If you can start sniping their valuable resources, or, even better, leverage their tags to launch a painful Retribution or Psychographics, a Runner will probably want to clear those tags ASAP.
- End the run. This one goes with credits above as well, but if you can use a card like Border Control, Nisei MK II, Bio Vault, or Anoetic Void to spoil a run that would otherwise be successful, the Runner will be out all of the clicks and credits they invested in it. They may not have time to recover before you can advance and score.
- Go wide. If you create a bunch of tempting remote servers, even if they’re unprotected by ice, the Runner may choose to run them to check them out, and maybe trash your useful assets. Every click they spend running on another server is a click they haven’t spent running your scoring remote.
The Runner doesn’t have the tools.
A Runner with no AI and no fracter is generally not going to make it past the “End the run” subroutine on a Pharos. This is why Corps are often encouraged to put “stopping” ice—that is, ice which unequivocally ends the run—on remote servers: an unprepared Runner simply can not make it past the hard “End the run” subroutine on a Tollbooth, but can, if the conditions are right, encounter a Tithe or Funhouse and still sneak past.
How might you exploit this?
- Directly attack the Runner’s rig, using cards like Retribution or the subroutine on a Ballista to trash a critical icebreaker.
- As mentioned above, install binary ice on your scoring server, so the Runner (more or less) has to find the right breaker to get through.
- Install your agenda behind ice that the Runner cannot currently break. This is typically an early-game strategy, of course, but it still counts!
The Runner doesn’t think it’s an agenda.
If you’ve left a card sitting, unrezzed, in a remote server for turn after turn, the Runner might assume it’s a failed trap or unneeded asset, and lose interest. If you’ve got nerves of steel, you can use this to your advantage:
- Just straight-up install an agenda in a relatively unprotected server and “forget” about it until you can fast-advance it in a single turn. Seamless Launch is your friend here.
- Use painful assets like Ronin, Snare!, and Urtica Cipher to instill fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the Runner’s mind and discourage them from wantonly running open remotes. Sometimes, all you need is a single turn of hesitation.
Fear is a powerful tool.
Other Notes on Corp Agenda Strategy
After scoring an agenda the Corp is often drained of tempo, especially if the game is tense and close. This can be exploited by the Runner either during or after the score by running other servers. As long as the score is not the winning point it is perfectly fine for the Runner if they also can progress equally or even more towards their own winning strategy.
Some agendas alleviate the tempo-loss on score, or even before, such as Oaktown Renovation and Off-World Office. These used to be firmly in the color pie of Weyland, but are now seen commonly in many decks.
Runner Agenda Strategy
To be able to steal agendas with the least amount of tempo-loss you need to do some math and probability calculations. This comes natural to great players, either by calculation or by intuition.
Count the cost of making a certain run, and then count your expected payoff in agenda-points.
Cards enter the game every turn, and while every card drawn by the Corp initially is worth 0,4 points to you as the runner, the probability in HQ greatly depends on what you’ve seen happen. The answer of whether you should be running R&D, HQ or the remote thus not only depend on the cost of doing so but also the potential payoff.
Winning a game means you get enough accesses to get you above 7 expected points during the game. Sometiems you are lucky, sometimes not, but this needs to be your goal. Then whether you get them from R&D, HQ or a remote-server will change depending on matchup and your inherent strategy.
The primary strategy in most runner-decks should be to steal agendas from the remote. This is because it progresses your game-plan and simultaneously disrupts your opponent. It also forces the corp to invest heavily in their remote, rezzing ICE and generally worrying about several servers.
Also, the expected agenda-value of remote-accesses is generally higher than accesses on R&D and HQ. In addition, the Corp has installed the card, meaning that any card in a remote is also worth the two clicks expended drawing and installing it. This is tempo you are taking from the Corp.
Let’s say the game has progressed to a state where the Corp has drawn 15 cards, and you have not seen a single agenda yet. Well, on average you know there is 6 points drawn from R&D right now, and unless they are hidden among face-down cards you know that they are in HQ. This makes accesses on HQ worth 6/5=1,2 points per card. Three times as valuable as running R&D!
On the other hand, if they have a solid scoring-plan set up you might have counted 2-4 points leaving the game already. In this case it may be worth focusing on other servers, unless you can get some multi-access on HQ.
Accessing off of HQ has a subtle inherent bonus many do not think about: all cards there are also worth the tempo cost of drawing them to the Corp. If you steal or trash cards in HQ you cost the Corp the click (or mandatory) used to draw the card. This adds up.
Since every Corp card in R&D is worth close to 0,4 agenda-points, when accessing R&D this is your expected value per access. This is usually what you should count as the payoff when making runs there. If only stealing from R&D you thus have to access ~18 unique cards.
If you have seen the Corp use one or several effects to shuffle cards back, and you suspect those are agendas this would change your math. In some matches this means agenda-density can be much higher than 0,4 later in the game.
Accessing off of R&D has the inherent bonus of preventing the corp from drawing agendas. This is extremely important as a combined disruptive/progressive strategy if they have a solid scoring-plan on the board.
We have covered runs & payoffs as well as ICE & rezzing. Then we have done a deepdive into classic agenda scoring as Corp and how to effectively steal agendas as Runner. These are all moves that spend tempo to progress your objectives in the game.
One bad run can undo several turns of effective play, and a good one can compensate for being behind in tempo. All games of Netrunner have a strategy that gives you a chance of winning.
This concludes the deepdive into tactical decision-making.
/Elusive (& SpencerDub)