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Interview with Douglas "Rabbi Small" Kaufmann, TRC Chair

by Jens Kreutzer

Douglas, as TRC Chair, you are a kind of pivot of all Netrunner activity. Although Netrunner players have had enough opportunity to get to know you a bit via the Net, especially through the daily Netrunner discussion group on Oracle, I'm sure they'd like to learn a bit more about you as a person. Would you care to tell us a bit about yourself, where you are from, what you do for a living, and maybe your family?

First, I just want to say that I don't consider the TRC Chair to be pivotal at all. The Chair's true function is just to make it as easy as possible for everyone else to get things done.

About me: I'm 40 years old, and I've been a professional game designer since the '80s. My first published game was as rules developer for Ace of Aces, designed by Al Leonardi. From that I got a job at West End Games in New York City, where I designed, developed or edited such games as Star Wars: Star Warriors, Arabian Nights, Web and Starship, Kings and Things, Escape from the Death Star, Battle for the Golden Sun, and numerous Paranoia supplements and adventures.

Then I worked at MicroProse Software for six years, working on projects like Civilization and Civ II, Darklands, Command HQ, and DragonSphere. After a stint at AOL (in the games channel), I worked for a year at Firaxis Games, engaged in the Alpha Centauri project. Then, when Brian Reynolds formed "Big Huge Games" after leaving Firaxis, I joined him at his new company. So now I'm a computer game designer with Big Huge, waiting for funding from a major publisher (check out for more info). I'm married to a wonderful woman, whom several Netrunner players have met, and we live near Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

How did it come to pass that you started playing Netrunner (or TCGs in general)?

Well, of course I started with Magic. Since I had worked on Arabian Nights at West End, I got some Arabian Nights Magic cards as a gift; it looked interesting, so I took up the game. We played Magic a lot at MicroProse, working on the computer version. In fact, I got so sick of it there that I stopped playing for years. I was first introduced to Netrunner by a friend, and gradually got more and more involved. After joining the Netrunner-l listserv (which I read about in Byron's Netrunner Strategy Guidebook), I got involved in the formation of the TRC.

It's been said that the special flair of Netrunner's background targets a rather narrow group of fans, namely, cyberpunk enthusiasts. Have read anything of the genre, and if so, do you have any favorites? Maybe you've even played the roleplaying game by R. Talsorian?

Yes, I've played the RPG - in fact, I had a "cyberpunk dream" at the con where the rules were introduced. We had been driving for hours to get there; I got a copy of the book, read half of it, and fell asleep with it in my hands, and had a dream about a cyberpunk scenario. I was blown away by Neuromancer when I first read it, but I think Walter Jon Williams' Hardwired is the quintessential cyberpunk novel.

As we can read in this issue of the TRQ, Netrunner finds itself in troubled times once more: After the "conquest" of Netrunner Classic came "crisis" again, in the form of Wizards of the Coast canceling all DCI support for the game. Although you have already made a statement on this in the lead article, I'd like to ask you again about how you see the future of the TRC as an organization from now on.

I think as an organization we'll inevitably shrink, since the game is a "stagnant" one. But if we concentrate on fun events and the creation of new supplements or Vanguard-like cards, I think we can stay alive, grow, and be an enduring fan club.

Personally, I think that the most important thing the TRC needs to do is to prepare and hold a World Championship 2000. Is there any information on the mode, the time (and maybe even the place) of such a tournament right now?

Nope, but we're getting started planning that right now, this very week.

What about this "Dioscuri" project we keep hearing about? What is it? Is it still going on?

Dioscuri is the working name for a "Vanguard" supplement for Netrunner. This would be six cards each for Runner and Corp that grant special powers that can't be trashed or negated. It's kind of like giving your Corp/Runner a special "identity." And yes, we're working our way through it. We've finished six Corp powers and we're just starting on the Runner now. Once we have six of those, we'll begin earnest playtesting. Our goal is October for a set publishable by WotC... I hope that it will help keep people excited about Netrunner. More as it develops.

There has been discussion in the newsgroup recently about the possibility of self-financed expansions. Though I think that this rather belongs into the future (we haven't even fully tried out Classic yet), maybe R. Talsorian buying up the licence from WotC would be a way to go. Has anybody asked Talsorian about what they think about this?

As far as I know, they've expressed interest - but their financial situation may prohibit that avenue of exploration. More likely is fan-funded supplements, perhaps with some Talsorian support.

Another thorn in the side of Netrunner players is the desolate state of the TRC homepage. Are there any plans for regular updates anytime soon? The more WotC withdraws its support, the more important web-based resources provided by the TRC become.

That's an excellent point, and something I need to put on my "to-do" list. It's vital that we have a vibrant, dynamic home page.

Turning to pleasant topics of conversation once more, I'd like to ask you about a few personal opinions on certain aspects of Netrunner. Classic has been out for a while now, but players aren't too eager to post new deck ideas (yet?). What are your experiences with the long-expected new set?

Well, I've seen one deck that I admire that uses Gypsy Schedule Analyzer to great effect. Other than that, in the one Classic tournament I've seen, the major influence is on the Corp side with things like Self-Destruct. My personal feeling is that there are a few good cards in Classic, but that it did not "shake up" the environment at all. In other words, there were no new "metagames" created with this set.

Are there any favorite deck strategies you enjoy in casual play?

As the Corp I try to build a flexible deck, with a little bit of everything. I find that a smattering of many different kinds of cards keeps most Runners off-balance and gives me a fighting chance. A more dedicated Corp deck might win versus certain Runners but will lose to many others. I prefer to have at least a decent chance against all of them.

As a Runner, I have to admit that I'm not very imaginative. My standard deck is a Loan-powered Bart/Joan that uses lots of R&D and HQ runs with extra card-digging power. Very dull. I had a Taxman deck that tried to bit-destroy the Corp, but while it was potent if it worked right, it was a bit too slow. In general, I find the Corp's ability to win very quickly is a big stumbling block to coming up with interesting Runner strategies.

Any favorite cards (maybe even "underdog" cards you'd like to see redeemed)?

Well, I like the bit-destroying concept. And I'd love to find some way to use card/bit power that doesn't rely on Bodyweight and Score! or Organ Donor or Loan. I wish the Proteus ice were more useful; I think lots of ice variation is fun. And I have this feeling that Rabbit is really underrated... :-)

What goes on in your mind when you open up the starters and boosters in a Sealed tourney?

I have a cheat-sheet I built for my wife, to follow when making Sealed decks. The basic premise is: Use everything that provides bits, and as the Corp use all fast advancement and at least 22 ice. As Runner, avoid any card with a high cost - it doesn't matter how useful it is in the "long run." There usually isn't a "long run," since you need to be able to threaten a run at any time. Blowing 7 bits on a 3-bit stealth card may pay off after three runs, but without those 7 bits you'll be impotent for one or even two turns, and a good Corp player will ram something through on you.

A fun question just out of curiosity: How many Top Runners' Conferences do you own? :-)

Just one. I trade the rest to interested parties. :-)

This issue's "Wilson" column deals with ASD/Corp War decks. Since I conveniently have the TRC Chair (virtually) next to me, I'll grab the chance for some educated comments from you. The gist of the article is that ASD/Corp War, although it has been a staple of the tourney scene for long, is not as strong as it is believed to be. What is your opinion on this?

Well, I've been up against several of them in a single tournament, so that's really my sole experience. At the time I was playing my bit-destroying Runner and fared poorly against them, so they seemed quite powerful to me. My opinion is that ASD/Corp War may not be "powerful" in the metasense (in that it can win against any Runner stack you can build), but that its existence speeds the game of Netrunner up so much that only certain Runner strategies are viable. This means the decks all look too much alike, and the game is dull. I have a personal vendetta against Corp War and think it should be banned, though my opinion in no way controls what goes on in the TRC ban/restrict committee's mind.

Is it a replacement for Psycho Tycho in the new Revised Constructed environment?

Probably. Speed Corps of other descriptions may be just as heinous. I dislike them all.

Do you regularly play ASD/Corp War, or have you at least played it once in a tourney?

I built a Psycho Tycho as a "test bed" to make a decent Runner deck - I wanted to be able to win at least 33% of my games versus a Psycho Tycho. After we banned Tycho, though, I didn't automatically build an ASD/Corp War... I still use the Tycho as a test bed, and I don't like playing speed Corps in tournaments.

Any comments on strategy involved in playing ASD/Corp War?

The only thing I remember thinking as they were beating me is that punishing Black Ops agendas would be a way to go as the Runner. I included a Hot Tip for WNS in my latest Runner deck, and it's served me well.

Finally, is there any message you would like to bring across to our readers?

Keep in touch! Just because nothing is going on right now doesn't mean it never will be. You don't have to be out there trying to stump for new players - just stay alert to new developments.

Thank you very much for this interview!

Thanks for taking the time and thank you for the TRQ!

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TRQ #24
- 2005 -
TRQ #23
- 2004 -
TRQ #22
TRQ #21
- 2003 -
TRQ #20
TRQ #19
- 2002 -
TRQ #18
TRQ #17
TRQ #16
- 2001 -
TRQ #15
TRQ #14
TRQ #13
TRQ #12
- 2000 -
TRQ #11
TRQ #10
TRQ #09
- 1999 -
TRQ #08
TRQ #07
TRQ #06
TRQ #05
- 1998 -
TRQ #04
TRQ #03
TRQ #02
- 1997 -
TRQ #01