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Frisky's Corner

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 agenda.

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 run-ending ice.

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. Ouch!

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.


Frisky's Corner