Neal's Last Words
by Byron "Neal" Massey
Eleven Expansion Elements
Last week I reviewed Skipper Pickle'sChrysalid Matrix expansion.
Since that time, many players have posted their own reviews to the
Netrunner mailing list, expressing their opinions on various cards
and their potential for abuse or neglect.
This week I'll offer some guidelines for any future expansion sets
that might be released.
Trademark and Copyright
You can't use the trademarked symbols or words if you charge anything
for your cards. Free distribution is dicey, since WotC will probably
only sue you if your cards become popular. My recommendation is
to either use text characters for symbols:
"T" for the "Trash" symbol
"(3)" to stand for three bits
or to use similar symbols from the public domain:
A dumpster icon for the "Trash" symbol
A five-pointed star with an embedded digit for bits
You can be almost certain that players will be able to understand
the symbols, but that WotC cannot sue you for using their proprietary
"Show respect for the game by expanding it without destroying
Color and Art
Use color and include art on the cards. This is tricky, too, because
the card layout is WotC property. Changing it slightly in regards
to colors or shapes is a great plan. Make sure the art you place
on cards is in the public domain, or that you have secured the rights
to use it.
Black and white cards are a real step down in quality. They might
satisfy the cravings of an old-timer, but they are a big turn-off
to new players, especially without art.
Easy to Use
Distribute the cards in a ready-to-use format. Putting out text
spoilers for your great ideas means that somebody has to retype
them to fit on a card, print that retyped page, cut out the card
text, and glue it on an existing card. That's too much work.
Using Adobe Acrobat to put out precisely formatted card templates
is a great idea. Be sure to include color information, and a note
that authorizes players to make color photocopies of the printed
The other option is to have a print shop take your color layouts
for pages and print them on very thin sticker sheets. There is some
cost associated with this process, and you will have to charge for
the sheets to recoup that cost. It's great for the players, though.
They just peel off the cards and stick them on their copies of Codeslinger
and Polymer Breakthrough.
Put out at least 144 cards. That's the size of the Proteus expansion,
and the smallest number of cards that can provide multiple new game
ideas and flesh out a storyline. If it turns out to be easier to
publish 135 or 126, so be it. Just make sure there aren't any dogs
in the set.
Sort your cards by rarity. This has no meaning in constructed deck
play, since players can get as many copies of a single card as they
like (photocopied or printed). It means a lot in sealed-deck play,
though. Creating a random "booster generator" for your
expansion and putting it on a web page is a great way to ensure
you get players to use your cards.
Design your cards around a storyline. The Proteus story is weak
but it does explain both Corp and Runner cards, like Morphing Tool
and Sumo 2008. The Chrysalid Matrix storyline is easy to understand,
but not explained by the card effects. The better your cards fit
an interesting story, the more fun they will be to use.
Don't accept a useless card. This rule is hard to follow completely,
since the use of cards is difficult to predict. If you are even
vaguely worried that you have created a card without a good use,
throw it out. There are a lot of useless cards in Proteus, including
a remarkable number of useless ICE. Set a higher standard.
Don't create a card that is too powerful. Volumes could be written
on this subject. Proteus brought us Viral Pipeline, Scaldan, Time
to Collect, Identity Donor and Death from Above. That's way too
many cards that interfere with basic game mechanics. Stretching
the boundaries is great, but if you break them, there is no way
to apologize other than banning or restricting. That's embarrassing.
There are distinct rules for building Netrunner cards. Matthias
Nagy of The Netrunner Weekly hosts a series of articles by TRC President
Argi Flack that cover some of the details. You can also discover
them by carefully examining the text lists of all the cards. Don't
let these limitations be an absolute restriction on the cards you
create. You should, however, do a lot of playtesting and have a
great rationale for a card that overtly breaks these limitations.
Netrunner v1.0 is an incredibly balanced set of cards. Don't be
the one who upsets that balance. Show respect for the game by expanding
it without destroying it.
Expanding the Game
Create new game ideas. This blanket statement covers the entire
creative process. One of the most important ideas in WotC's Expansion
Submission Form was that there must be new game mechanics and ideas.
Making a Wall that has rez cost seven, strength six, and one "@
end the run" will not break Netrunner. It's also boring. Treat
every card in your set as a chance to open new creative possibilities
Be critical of your own work. You have to take each card you create,
in isolation, and consider every possible abuse. For the cost of
a single installation action, I can save tens of bits by trashing
a Namatoki Plaza/Virus Test Site fort with Death from Above. That
ruins a lot of the fun possibilities for Netrunner, and hurts the
Get your friends to help you test the cards. Distribute them to
as many people as you can find and challenge them to make decks
that are too powerful. If they do it (and they will), be honest
with yourself and change or remove a card that eliminates fun ideas
or makes games too easy.
Netrunner is a very strategic, very intellectual exercise. It involves
planning, mathematics, bluffing, and tactics. Don't cut into the
existing complexity with a card.
Fixing Broken Cards
Don't worry about fixing broken cards. This is probably the most
controversial point in this column. Many people feel that cards
like Viral Pipeline and Loan from Chiba could be reduced in power
with an appropriate "counter-card". There are a few reasons
why this almost never works.
The first is that Netrunner is already a "rock-scissors-paper"
proposition. My ICE destruction stack is not very efficient against
your iceless ambush Corporation. My Nasty Code Gate Deck is not
very good against your Bozomatic stack. My Tag 'n' Bag Corporation
is not very good against your TagMe stack. It is often a question
of guessing the right strategy to counter your opponent.
Adding "counter-cards" to the mix makes this guessing
game worse. If a single Corporation card can stop TagMe, each Corp
must decide whether or not to use a few spaces in their deck to
include that card, recognizing that many Runners will not be playing
TagMe. As the number of different "counter-cards" increases,
games become increasingly dependent on lucky guesses in deck construction.
The second is that it's very difficult to design a card that only
"counters" a single strategy. The entire Precision Bribery
problem was created out of a desire to stop decks like Psycho Tycho.
A third reason is that Netrunner is much more fun when strategies
revolve around the interaction of many cards. Installing a Death
from Above and then running does not require any careful planning
or tactics. If the run is successful, it always works. That's not
very entertaining for either side.
My expansion effort, "Dangerous Allies", is in the final
design stages. It still needs a lot of playtesting and plenty of
graphic design, but I am working hard to follow these guidelines.
I'll post the storyline next week and solicit feedback.