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Frisky's Corner

by Frisco Del Rosario

You pays your money, and you takes your chances: A look at random cards

Did you hear about the runner who calculated that he need 43 bits to steal the winning agenda before the corporation could score it, so he cashed in an 18-bit Broker, and played Playful AI with the plan of earning 25 bits before starting his run.

Before you know it, the runner rolls a string of twos and threes and soon he has 25 dice in front of him, which he starts tossing with the idea of keeping bits now. He starts rolling fives and sixes, and then he's down to five dice, and he starts rolling frantically for dice, but he's out of luck, and the end result of Playful AI -- once again -- is "pay one bit."

Don't let it happen to you, reader, put those random cards away.

Granted, the runner in our example needed 25 bits, and only Playful AI and misc.for-sale can provide that desperate bit burst, but I'm suggesting that you let that one game go, and earmark that Playful card slot for a Score!. In the long run, you'll be glad you gave up gambling.

Let's look at all of the random cards, starting with the purple-backed. Perhaps you'll find that you no longer have to pack a six-sided die with your counters.

Roadblock -- I loved this card at first sight. "Wow, half the time this 2-cost code gate will be as strong as a Scramble, Keeper, or Mazer!" I put three of them in my favorite corporate deck, and then something weird happened. A runner Tech Lovered an agenda, and simply ran into the Roadblock until I rolled a six, and the darn thing derezzed!

Do the math. In 100 encounters with the standard, 2-cost Quandary, Codecracker will pay 200 bits to break it. In 100 encounters with Roadblock, 84 times the Codecracking runner will have to pay an average of 2.5 bits, but the other 16 times, he'll pay zero, *and* the corporation will have to re-rez Roadblock. After 100 encounters, the Roadblocking corp will have paid about 34 bits in rez cost, far outweighing the gain from the occasional added strength.

Rio de Janeiro City Grid -- Perhaps the most popular region, and why not? One rez cost, six to trash, freaky card art, and a 16 percent shot to end a run every time the runner passes rezzed ice on the fort. Throw six pieces of ice over Rio de Janeiro, and you're set, right?

Wrong. Let me tell you about the Law of Independent Trials, which says in layman's terms, "the dice have no memory." Even if the corporation rolls "non-ones" on the first 37 pieces of ice on a Rio fort, it doesn't matter a lick on the thirty-eighth and last piece of ice. It's still just one more 16 percent chance to roll a one.

Without the aid of Chester Mix or Fortress Architects, it costs 15 bits to install six pieces of ice on a Rio region, preferably the silly Proteus ice which awards bits when it's rezzed (only Misleading Access Menus plus Encoder, Inc. is worth a play). I say, lemme use that 15 bits for Neural Blade, Rock is Strong and Mazer. You can take your 16 percent dice rolls; I prefer a sure thing.

Schlaghund -- Schlaghund is the best of the corporate randoms because the corporation is in control of Schlaghund's destiny -- that is, the corporation can wait until the runner has six or more tags before walking the dog.

Compare Schlaghund to Rio de Janeiro in this fashion: If Schlaghund's card text said, "Roll one die for each of the runner's tags. If you roll a one, do 10 meat damage, and trash Schlaghund," it would be a much weaker card.

The only problem with Schlaghund these days is that so many runners are immune to meat damage.

The green-backed cards offer many more chances to roll dice.

Quest for Cattekin -- My e-mail address isn't for nothing -- Quest for Cattekin was my first runner rare, and it has the letters C-A-T in its name. Since acquiring my first runner are, though, I've learned something about the game.

First, Quest for Cattekin costs the runner four bits, and then it kills him. One-third of the time, a Quest for Cattekin roll will serve unpreventable damage -- that's terrible! A Cattekin runner is forced to include in his deck at least one Junkyard BBS and a few Gideon's Pawnshops, plus a number of hand size hardware. Including all those cards in anticipation of Cattekin damage does not leave enough room in a deck for really useful cards.

If you want to employ a card which injures you, and confers an extra action, play with Preying Mantis, which doesn't even cost four bits.

Bargain with Viacox -- It's generally accepted that the Bargaining runner must have Dropp installed, so he can Dropp following the occasional roll which forces the runner to encounter a Liche.

I think that's a nearsighted view of Bargain with Viacox -- I believe Bargain forces the runner to take Bargain with Viacox into account for *every* card in his deck. Do you want to have Arasaka Portable Prototype in your hand when you make the Bargain roll which forces you to play or install a card at random? How about any prep which tells you to make a run, like Rush Hour or All Hands? Bargain will force you to play those three-bit preps before you have an icebreaker installed. Pirate Broadcast? Blackmail?

Finally, the revised card text on Dropp, Bargain's best buddy, makes it a less effective card -- Dropp will now read "0: Break all the subroutines on a piece of ice." That means that the Dropping runner must pay for *every* subroutine on a Crystal Palace-enhanced piece of ice.

Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker -- Bartmoss escapes my withering glare because its ridiculous counterpart, Joan of Arc, nearly negates Bart's weakness. One day, though, when you most need it not to happen, you'll lose all your Joans of Arc and Umbrella Policies, and Bartmoss, before you hit the last piece of ice.

Refer to "Love Story" in the "Frisky AI" archives for more on the Bartmoss/Joan of Arc fun couple.

Forward's Legacy -- Forward's Legacy is similar to Bartmoss in that it can't be played without assistance. If you play with Forward's, you must play with Clown, Lockjaw, Personal Touch, etc., if not a second (pumpable) sentry breaker. I think dependence on another card is a drawback to any card, for no other reason than it limits creative expression.

An icebreaking program which depends on a die roll for its strength occasionally causes the runner to sacrifice an action, too. If the runner sees that he can only afford a necessary run if Legacy is a certain strength, he might have to run more than once, in order to have additional chances to roll the requisite number. (Maybe All-Nighter should be included in Forward's Legacy decks just for that happenstance.)

AI Boon -- The most expensive sentry breaker only has the previous paragraph to consider. Besides that, I think AI Boon is the most valuable random runner card (Bartmoss isn't one card; it's two cards.).

Vacuum Link -- Once upon a time I was enamored of the Vacuum Link/Rio de Janeiro combination, too. Then came the game where I was forced by an unlucky draw to install ice on a Rio fort in this order, innermost out -- Shock.R, Sleeper, Vacuum Link. Until another piece of ice, New Blood, or Herman Revista came along, Vacuum Link provided nothing more than a Rio roll.

One unlucky game? Maybe, but I decided then that opponents were better obstructed by non-frivolous intrusion countermeasures. Do you agree?

Vacuum Link would be a deadly card if it were a "stun" sentry -- that is, one which prevented the runner from ever jacking out of the run. For that reason, I think Jack Attack and the like are good counterparts to Vacuum Link.

Playful AI -- The granddaddy of all random cards, considering that it's the card which prompts the longest discussions of how it should be played, and that it is NetRunner inventor Richard Garfield's picture on it.

Playful AI is the only card in the game which can provide an incalculable number of bits, and that's pretty cool. Still, I think a runner won't need a random burst of bits if he's implemented his income plan well, and if he does, that's life. If you must consult the Playful AI, this is how I believe the card should be used: Calculate the number of bits you will need. Roll dice until you reach that number in dice, and then roll the remaining dice for bits.

In a dream where I wager my soul on a game of NetRunner with the devil, yeah, I'll no doubt wish I had Playful AI instead of Streetware Distributor.

Blink -- Blink deserves its own 1,000-word treatment, coming soon. In short, however, a deck built around Blink isn't much better in the endgame -- where the runner should win most of his games -- than it is to start.


Frisky's Corner