last update 03.09.2006 12:01
Introduction Online Articles Download Section Special Links About
Top Runners' Quarterly
Frisky's Corner
Neal's Last Words


Neal's Last Words

by Byron "Neal" Massey

Chrysalid Card Tricks

Skipper Pickle made Netrunner history this week by releasing The Chrysalid Matrix. It's an expansion set of 72 cards he designed. You can download them, print them, cut them out, and paste them to useless copies of Hell's Run to make your own, free expansion set.

I'll be reviewing the cards this week. I can't publish the text of the cards here, so you'll want to have a window open with the cards displayed in them as you read this review.

Hints on Downloading

You need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to see the cards. This format has never been very popular, but it makes sense when the printed product needs to be in a precise layout. The download might be the worst part of using this expansion. Once you have Acrobat installed, download the "lite" versions of both Runner and Corporation cards from The Short Circuit. Open a window to the Runner cards with Adobe Acrobat, and you're ready to view the cards and this article.

The Review

The first thing you will notice is that there is no card art. That's a bummer. Netrunner has suffered from some terrible card art in the official cards, and Skip could beef up his appeal by including art on his virtual cards. There must be legions of fans ready to add this element, if asked.

The art on a card serves two purposes: It adds interest and appeal to the card, and it limits the complexity of a card's text by simple physical boundaries.

The second thing you will notice is that some of the card texts are huge. They couldn't fit on a card that also had a picture. In my reviews, I'll simply say "Too much text" when I see a card like this. The longest text on a cardboard Netrunner card belongs to Doppleganger Antibody, which has 438 characters.

Card Name
Tenebrum Roundhouse
Deus Ex Machina
Headmaster, Wilson Memorial Academy
Markus, Apprentice Sysop
Tenebrum Runabout # of Chars in Text

Some of these cards could undoubtedly have the number of characters reduced through better wording. Others are simply too complex to fit on a card. Limiting the complexity of cards by physical size limitations is a good practice - it avoids errata and keeps individual cards simple.

"What does the name have to do with anything?"

The third thing you will notice is that the set is small - half the size of a standard WotC expansion. This makes no difference in terms of set "value" since the expansion is free. It does, however, limit the designer's ability to express a storyline. The theme of Chrysalid Matrix is clear if you read the text that accompanies it. I was unable to determine what the "Chrysalid Matrix" was, however, and the term does not appear on any of the cards.

The fourth thing you will notice is that only a single copy of each card appears on the printing sheets. If you choose to make a "Kelp Farming" stack that has 15 copies of Private Kelp Tank, you need to find a photocopier or print fifteen copies of that page. Separating the cards into the Rare, Uncommon, and Common catagories and restricting individual printing sheets to a single catagory might be a better format choice for Chrysalid Matrix.

What follows is a card-by-card review of the 72 cards in the set. It's long, and I realize a lot of readers may choose not to read it straight through. If you prefer, download the Chrysalid Matrix, play with it, and then come back and look at my ideas for particular cards you are interested in. My overall summary is the conclusion of this week's column.


AI Template
It's not clear why forsaking your business relationship with Crash Everett (for example) would allow you to pass a piece of ICE during a run. Combining this with Umbrella Policy or Joan of Arc and Private Kelp Tank could produce a whole family of breakerless decks. Compare to Simulacrum.

Archive Storage Service
This looks too much like a Virus to be a Resource. It also gives a good reason to play with Record Reconstructor, probably the intent of the card. Unlikely to see widespread use.

Aubrey, Apprentice Cowboy
Poorly worded, the cost should be "A,A" and the first text about forgoing your next action should be removed. This card seems too powerful. It virtually guarantees at least one successful run if installed early in a game.

Beta-of-the-Month Club
Likely to become a staple in decks full of programs.

Diagnostic Agent
I'm going to get sick of rolling a die at the start of each turn when I have no plans to install hardware. Should read "may roll a die." Great idea for a card. Compare to Hijack.

Dumpster Cam
Outrageously expensive for the effect. Compare to Deep Thought.

Friend of a Friend of a Friend
Saves an action over Mantis, Fixer-at-Large, at the cost of flexibility. That saved action is lost if you reinstall the Connection on a future turn. Requires highly specialized plans to make sense.

Hardwired Customization
Unclear. Is the run mandatory or optional? Should be rewritten to say "May gain an action" or "you must use to make a run." In either case, a powerful card that will be an unsurpassed Virus vector.

Headmaster, Wilson Memorial Academy
Too much text. The idea of a "Wilson Memorial Academy" is too silly. Read the original reference to Wilson in William Gibson's work for more detail. Hard to imagine using this card, as it is a resource and it gives you a tag each turn.

Infinity Jest
Bozomatic overdrive enabler. Many Chrysalid Matrix cards prevent the Runner from trashing Corp cards. This pushes the Runner toward Bad Publicity and Virus attacks. I think this is highly undesirable.

Insider Trading
Great idea for a card, but definitely a rock-scissors-paper proposition for inclusion in a deck. Not likely to find widespread use despite its apparent power.

Jayne, Apprentice Cynic
Might possibly find a use in a Kelp Farmer, First Amendment or Preying Mantis plan. Otherwise, very difficult to plan around.

Lars Dali, Consumer Advocate
Poorly considered attempt at stopping Corporate War and Psycho Tycho. When was the last time you built a Corporation using only one copy of each agenda? Fun decks like nine Data Fort Reclamation or two Political Overthrow and three Corporate Downsizing are crippled. Too powerful and a must for every single non-TagMe deck.

Looking Glass
Probably overpowered but an excellent attempt at making stealth playable. A pair of Vewy, Vewy Quiet and this card could probably run a lot of forts.

Madame Rousseau's House of Constructs
Superb card idea and superb flavor text. Eliminates most of the strategy of the Trace game, however, because the Runner declares which Base Link he is using after both sides commit their bits. Once you decide to use this card, only Springboard, Signpost, and Wired Switchboard can affect your decisions as the Runner.

Markus, Apprentice Sysop
Too much text. A first-turn strategy of Loan from Chiba, Markus, Blink and Enterprise, Inc., Shields could keep the Corp ICEless for several turns; unfortunately, Markus can only be used once per turn. Not likely to find a place in Runner strategies.

Not likely to replace Raptor. Compare to Evil Twin.

Mateo, Apprentice Incompetant
Makes Rigged Investments and Floating Runner BBS obsolete. Its extra effects could be powerful in the middle game when most ICE is rezzed.

Superb title. Combined with Joan of Arc, Tinweasel, and a few Personal Touches or Clowns, this is the core of a new type of interesting breaker suite.

One Hand Clapping
Destined to be the Core of Mystery Box/Cloak decks. There are a lot of generic icebreakers in Chrysalid Matrix, perhaps too many.

If installed early, this card quickly moves the game to Phase 3, where the Corp needs fast advancement to win. With some planning, this self-powered icebreaker can work like a slightly improved version of Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker that installs for free. Watch out for Runners who simply install four copies of this card and wait.

Private Kelp Tank
Makes Rigged Investments and Floating Runner BBS obsolete. Destined to be the core bit engine of many decks, which will be called Kelp Farmer Stacks. suggests itself immediately. Compare to Top Runner's Conference.

Pug Underwood, Rogue Mechanic
Empowers the Blink/"Green Knight" Surge Buffers combination. Likely to be combined with Diagnostic Agent.

Powerful Icebreaker that eliminates Flak, Dog Catcher, Replicator and Reflector. Makes only Haunting Inquistion and the "Trash a progam" Sentries bothersome. Big walls can always be handled with Pile Driver.

Cards like these make AP Sentries even more difficult to use successfully. Weren't Enterprise, Inc., Shields enough?

Recombinant Source Code
Valu-Pak Sottware Bundle installs the Imps, which can then be sold with or Smith's Pawnshop, or traded in, via this card, to be replaced with another program. Great idea.

Requisition Form Rebuild
Not likely to replace Ice and Data's Guide to the Net or Hunt Club BBS. Too expensive.

Rusty, Apprentice Vandal
Should be unique, and is undercosted. A deck full of MRAM Chips and Rusty clones could destroy any plan, especially in conjunction with the Diagnostic Agent and Rogue Mechanic.

Snowball in Beta
The only Netrunner card that specifically refers to another card (Snowball) in the text. Despite its nifty ability, the cost is much too high and this card is not likely to find a place in Stacks.

Spite or Malice?
A great card to trick Runners. Moving advancement counters to anther card seldom hurts the Corp. Spending two bits to remove a counter is probably not cost-effective either, with Joan of Arc and Enterprise, Inc., Shields available.

Sympathetic Vibrations
Too expensive. In any case, did we really need a card to stop the Corp from using duplicate ICE?

Tenebrum Jukebox
Great idea for a card, but too costly to install.

Tenebrum Roundhouse
Too much text. This would be a great card if it allowed the Runner to use any number of decks. Could still find a place with Runners who need Bodyweight Data Creche and The Deck.

Tenebrum Runabout
Too much text. Great idea for a deck that will probably be considered by many Runners.

Tenebrum Sidecar
The ability to prevent Net damage has no clear rationale in the game paradigm. The tag-prevention effect is excellent, but may not be enough incentive for Runners to include this card, since it is a Deck and effectively Unique.

Vid Rights
Promises to be brutal in conjunction with Scaldan, Code Viral Cache and Time to Collect.

What You Don't Know...
Excellent apology for Ice and Data Special Report.


A Fist in the Jar
Great card title. Offers multiple strategies and excellent play value. Awesome power inside Namatoki Plaza in conjunction with Rio De Janeiro City Grid and Siren. The flexibility and design of this card are exemplary.

Accounting Firewall
You'll recognize this idea if Silent Impact ever makes it to press.

Acid Wall
Chinese Finger Puzzle
Pattel Antibody is already a powerful card, mitigated by the activation cost the Corp must pay. These ICE ignore those costs and end the run. They're just too powerful for game balance. A deck full of nothing but these ICE cards will cripple the most powerful stacks without difficulty.

Background Profiler
The first effect is remarkably overcosted, compare to Datapool by Zetatech and Netwatch Credit Voucher. The second ability is very valuable, but the necessity of first tagging the Runner makes it unwieldy. Note that the Runner can expose just about any Corp card with minimal effort.

Berlin City Grid
The Proteus Payback ICE won't generate enough bits to make the cards worthwhile, and Data Fort Reclamation would require 3 payback ICE and a Berlin City Grid in your hand, leaving no space for the agenda you want to score. Only useful for quickly finishing a game that the Corp has already won.

Bride of Krumz
Great idea for a card. If it had a rez cost of one bit, it would be a great candidate for a Newgroup Taunting-style plan. With a rez cost of two bits, it's too expensive.

Contingency Plans Storage Vault
If the operations were placed face-down, this card would be a power entry. With all the stored cards face-up, it's just a target. The high rez cost makes it a a decent location for a single operation. Placing more than one card on it puts too many opportunities at risk, and they will be run.

Critical Path Maintenance
Crosses the forbidden line of Corporate card manipulation. Despite its high difficulty and low agenda-point return, this card will quickly become a mainstay in many Corporate plans. What bridges would you cross to be able to find a Project Consultants at will?

Department of Plausible Deniability
So specialized that it will not find a place in Corporate plans. The rez cost is too high.

Deus Ex Machina
Too much text. Seems extremely strong in a deck full of Corporate War or Tycho Extensions and this ICE. Two or three deep is all a fort needs to be, and if the Runner eschews generic icebreakers, he's locked out.

Figure in the Shadows
Great card, but needs to be reworded to include the template of cards like Siren.

Forced Recall
It is unclear whether the Corp can choose more than one program or hardware when playing this card. This is another overpowered spoiler that ruins ideas like Blink/"Green Knght" Surge Buffers or First Amendment. Should require a tag as a minimum cost for playing.

As useless as Walking Wall.

Golden Master Security
Superb card idea and superb card. Exacerbates the rock-scissors-paper phenomenon of Netrunner. Should be called "Roar-Sol Security Link". Facilitates the power of Selective Power Spike.

Neat idea for a card that will (regretably) probably not be used. The strength should be "4" to balance the risk of a bad roll .

Interleaved Data Integrity
Destined to go the way of Fortress Architects. Could add some power to Newgroup Taunting plans.

Isolated Partition Scheme
Game-breaker. An ACME Savings and Loan and Chicago Branch are all you need to make this card go.

Juniper Samurai
Impossible to justify using the game paradigm. How does the ICE know the resources of an untagged Runner? Great idea for a card, but it should key off Programs or Hardware.

Needs errata to say "put an equal number of bits from the bank on lady@...". A powerful upgrade that will certainly live in HQ in multiples along with a New Galveston City Grid.

Little Blinking Light
Great card.

Lobe Yank
Tangled Web
Interesting Ambushes that further push Enterprise, Inc., Shields as a must-use card. That's sad.

Mother Hen
Begging for errata in combination with Crumble or Garbage In, Garbage Out. Could result in a virtual lock if several copies were installed in HQ. Compare to Simon Francisco.

Outsourced Multicompile
Great idea for a card, making Skalderviken SA Beta Test Site and Newgroup Taunting more powerful. Limited by Corp hand size and the three-card maximum draw of Annual Reviews. Does this make Encoder, Inc. too powerful?

Perpetual Motion Machine
An example of Len Blado's theoretical knowledge not matching up to practical play. Deadly with Department of Misinformation and a combination of advancable Ambushes and Information Laundering.

Quick and Dirty Media Wipe
Great card, but it exacerbates the rock-scissors-paper phenomenon of Netrunner.

Remote Retinal Scan
It's hard to visualize a plan that includes this card. Nice R&D or HQ protection if the Runner is planting Virus counters with multiple runs in a single turn. Compare to Bizarre Encryption Scheme.

Selective Power Spike
Destined to be a staple in every deck. This card essentially allows the Corp to end any run at the cost of an installed ICE and an action. How many Runners will install multiple icebreakers of the same type? Combined with Filter and Tycho Extension, this card makes the Runner's task too difficult. Even worse when combined with Golden Master Security.

Targeted Obsolesence
Too much text. Joan of Arc could be returned to the Runner's hand to save a program and create the needed MU. Multiple copies of this card, along with Namatoki Plazas, allow the Corp to build an unICEd fort that can only be safely run with Death from Above.

Top-Down Micromanagement
The additional ability of rezzing ICE during the Corp's turn might fit in with the payback ICE from Proteus. Could also help protect from an unwanted Security Code WORM Chip. Otherwise, this makes little sense in view of New Blood.

A deck full of Turnstiles is an invitation for fast-advancement. With Chester Mix, Minotaur, and Efficiency Experts this card becomes a bit engine unto itself.

Should include a nod to Paul Barron. Makes Vaccuum Link obsolete.

Voluntary Recall
Necessary evil that greatly exacerbates the rock-scissors-paper effect of Netrunner.

Word on the Street
Similar to Precision Bribery in its crippling effect on many fun plans. Pushes Stacks strongly in the TagMe direction. A Roving Sub and ICE early make this card too stifling. Should require a Runner tag for its effect.


My primary complaints about Chrysalid Matrix are:

1. What does the name have to do with anything?

2. A lack of new game mechanics. These cards do not introduce fundamentally new ideas. That was a primary WotC requirement when they were accepting submissions for Netrunner expansions.

3. Many attemps to fix broken Proteus cards can be found in Chrysalid Matrix. These attempts have two flaws. They exacerbate the rock-scissors-paper aspect of Netrunner, and they stifle many interesting, balanced ideas for decks.

4. The many variants of the Wilson, Weeflerunner Apprentice card from v1.0 ignore the basic idea of Wilson in William Gibson's literature. The idea of a Wilson Memorial School for Runners is far too institutionalized. Would you expect to see a "Jesse James School of Bank-Robbing" in the Old West?

The critic's job is easy. I just sit back and find flaws in other people's hard work. Luckily for me, I am also a Netrunner card designer. I sold an expansion set entitled "Rogues" to WotC. I know the trials and tribulations of designing cards.

There are some excellent card ideas here. My first glance has probably missed some good strategies and mitigating factors in this set. Send me email and tell me what I'm missing.

Overall, there are not enough new or balanced ideas here to justify purchasing this expansion at the WotC retail price. For free, however, this is a great opportunity to experiment in Netspace.

Skipper has also given me impetus to release my "Dangerous Allies" expansion on the Net. Stay tuned!