by Frisco Del Rosario
Descrambling the code gate decks
I sat down with the intention of writing an article about how to beat
the "nasty code gate" decks, those which rely extensively on code
gate ice, the Encoder, Inc. node, and the Encryption Breakthrough
After thinking about this for a while, I concluded that we can't
beat 'em. Every time I've won a game running against one of those
Encoder decks, it's been a fluke.
Everybody has a favorite type of ice. Some like the monstrous
brain scramblers like Liche and Code Corpse; some like the fast
and easy Filters and Data Walls. In the middle, though, lies the
*best* ice -- the ice with rez costs of roughly 5, and strengths
of roughly 5. That is, Mazer (5 rez cost, 5 strength), Rock is Strong
(6 rez cost, 5 strength), Neural Blade (4, 4). That's the strongest
ice there is with the outstanding 1-to-1 rez-to-strength ratio.
There's a lot of ice which has strength which is higher than its
rez cost. I love Shock.r, for instance, because it's 3-strength
for 1 rez cost, and if it's front of "end the run" ice, it forces
the runner to find a sentry breaker. The problem with such ice is
that it doesn't end runs. Canis Major and Minor, Vacuum Link, etc.,
have terrific strength/rez ratios, but have to be combined with
The code gate Ball and Chain, on the other hand, is 5 strength
for 2 rez cost, and it ends the run in conjunction with Encoder,
Inc. Furthermore, its rez cost is lowered by Encoder. If two Encoders
are installed, a Ball and Chain costs zero to rez, and has three
subroutines, two of which end the run. That's the best piece of
ice in the game in terms of rez cost and strength.
It gets better for Encoding corporations. The puny Proteus "payback"
ice Snowbank has this pipsqueak subroutine: "end the run unless
runner pays 1". Washed-Up Solo Construct says "trash a program unless
runner pays 1". Misleading Access Menus, the code gate version of
the payback ice, has the same subroutine as Snowbank, but in tandem
with Encoder, Inc., it has a real "end the run" subroutine. Consider
that for a second -- installing an Encoded Misleading Access Menus
is like installing Sleeper and playing the Efficiency Experts operation
in the same action.
It gets better, still. All of the code gate breakers are flawed
in practice. Codecracker is too weak to deal with an Encoded Ball
and Chain, or Mazer. Cyfermaster is the strongest code gate breaker,
but it spends two bits to break a subroutine, and Encoder, Inc.,
appends too many subroutines to make Cyfermaster effective.
Skeleton Passkeys from Proteus very quickly became the popular
code gate breaker because it breaks any 2-5 strength code gate for
three bits, which makes run planning easy. However, Skeleton Passkeys
turns to rust as soon as the corporation's ice goes to six strength
-- conveniently for the corp, Tutor, Mazer, and Ball and Chain are
all five strength, and one scored Breakthrough or one Antiquated
Interface Routines elevates them to six strength. A six-strength
Mazer with one Encoder subroutine on a Crystal Palace Station Grid
fort extracts a toll of eight bits from a Skeleton Passkeying runner.
Raffles, the most expensive code gate breaker, falls painfully
short at times because it's only four strength, and costs two to
increase strength. In one example, the 7-cost Raffles has to pay
seven bits to break all of Ball and Chain's routines if there are
two Encoders in play and if the corporation has scored an Encryption
Breakthrough. *Seven* bits for the most expensive icebreaker of
its kind to break a piece of ice which costs *zero* to rez. That
example puts the effectiveness of code gate decks in a nutshell.
Another powerful aspect to code gate decks is that they grow greatly
in strength. Each additional Encoder installed, and every Encryption
Breakthrough scored bolsters the corporation's ice across netspace.
For that reason, runners need a code gate breaker which also grows
in strength. That's right, readers, think Dupre.
Dupre was one of the joke cards of v. 1.0, but given the success
of these Encoder decks, Dupre is a fine choice for runner decks
which depend on concentrating on a specific central fort. One strategy
at the runner's disposal is to target Dupre against HQ or RD, and
pumping its strength against a Misleading or other weak code gate,
while breaking toughies like Ball and Chain with Raffles. Eventually,
Dupre will take care of breaking the whole fort.
Clown decks also have a fighting chance against code gate decks.
Clown schemes require a great deal of time to set up, but so does
the typical Encoder deck, and the Clowns sometimes win the race.
A useful runner card in the Clown vs. Encoder battle is Deal with
Militech, which obviates the need for one Clown -- Encoder decks
include Encryption Breakthrough, so research agenda will be available
to fulfill Militech's Deal.
Inside Job and Social Engineering are usually cards of equal play
value, but not against a code gate deck. Inside Job never misses,
but only passes the first piece of ice. Social Engineering passes
any piece of ice, but occasionally causes the runner to lose a flock
of bits. Inside Job is to be preferred against a code gate scheme,
for the corporation's best start is often one Ball and Chain protecting
one Encoder. Inside Job will pass the ice, whereas Social Engineering
usually requires a lot of bits sit in the runner's pool so the corporation
will have a wider range of guesses.
Other effective runner attacks against Encoder decks are "Restrictive
Net Zoning All to Hell" and/or ice destruction plans. Ice destruction
can be a depressing undertaking -- it sometimes costs as many as
four bits to break a Misleading Access Menus before Startup Immolating
it for zero. Still, a runner with the resources to Restrict HQ and
chip away at the HQ ice gradually has a good chance to win.
Precision Bribery is also a good card to employ against Encoder
decks, for each Encoder that isn't installed equals one fewer "end
the run" subroutine to be broken on a code gate. Precision Bribery
just doesn't win friends and influence people, though.