The latest Netrunner big box expansion, Data and Destiny, brought a brand new challenge in the form of three individual ‘mini-faction’ runners, and the community is still trying to work out how to get the best out of some pretty weird new cards. In the mysterious country known as England, three wise men saw the Data and Destiny star and decided to each undertake a journey with one of the new runners, hoping to arrive bearing useful gifts for all. In part two, Alex Spencer explains his blossoming bromance with ‘rogue’ bioroid Adam.
Adam: Compulsive Hacker
I love that Netrunner’s card art and flavour text not only manage to create a compelling world and cast of characters, but that it’s a world with gaps for players to fill in. And we absolutely do, passionately theorising on forums about the big questions of this little universe. Who is the legendary g00ru? Where did Apex come from? Why is Noise so incredibly awesome?
My boy Adam is a great example of all that. As a Bioroid – the Ex Machina-style androids deployed in all manner of corporate jobs from server defence to financial admin, undercover assassin to literal love machine – that has woken up and turned to the side of the Runner, Adam is basically a walking conspiracy theory.
Word on the neon-skyscraper-lined street is that he was built as a companion to Eve, the lady-Bioroid of ‘Eve Campaign’ fame. And that he might be the reason notorious robo-racist Edward Kim – Adam’s equal and opposite, wielding a remarkably similar sledgehammer – is missing some of his limbs.
Then there are the three Directives that dictate his every action, based on Isaac Asimov’s famous laws of robotics… Except they appear to have been fiddled with. Did Adam achieve consciousness himself and tweak the rules of his existence? Was he set free by an altruistic Runner, or set loose by a shadowy corporation with ulterior motives?
So, storywise, he’s probably the single richest Runner identity I’ve encountered. Mechanically, the Directives make him unlike any other Runner in the game. So I lay Adam out in parts on the coffee table and mull over how to make this enigmatic automaton work for me.
First Directive: Build a half-decent deck
I start with those Directives. Uniquely, Adam starts the game with three cards installed (Safety First, Always Be Running, Neutralize All Threats) which convey enormous benefits – free card draw, the ability to break Ice without an Icebreaker, an extra card every time you hit HQ – balanced against equally giant drawbacks.
He starts with a maximum hand size of three, small enough to be brought down by a single SEA-Scorch or Neural Katana first turn. He compulsively runs, spending his first action each turn on something that can quickly bring you into contact with a Neural Katana or SEA-Scorch. He can’t resist trashing the opponent’s cards, splurging money where you really can’t afford it.
There are two options, as I see it. You either build the deck to support and counteract these Directives, or to get rid of them as soon as possible. Stupidly, I try to do both.
First, the support. I include cards that boost that tiny hand size (thanks, Directive #1) as soon as possible (Brain Cages and Brain Chips, representing the two brains that power every Bioroid) which have the added perk of making that bonus card draw all the more useful.
Knowing I’m going to have to run every single turn (Directive #2), I reach for my standard suite of reliable core-set Icebreakers (Gordian Blade, Ninja, Corroder) before realising they eat up half of the 25 influence that initially seemed so generous. Man. Being the only faction in the entire game without a single ‘breaker to call your own sucks robotic balls.
Instead, I opt for Crypsis and Overmind, in spite of the initial reluctance to have Adam turning fellow AI into his captives. I convince myself that Adam would reason with them, artificial-man to man-brain-thing, and in they go.
Finally, I pull in anything that takes the edge off of mandarory trashing (Directive #3). A couple of Paricias, which contribute money towards the cost, and two Skulljacks, which reduce the cost of trashing by one. The latter card leads me down an unexpected path: Adam becomes a modder, hitting the Chrome Parlour to get his casing fitted with new bits of metallic cranium, bionic eyes, and whatever else the current situation calls for.
Satisfied that the Directives are nicely supported, I go looking for ways I can ditch them if they ever do become a nuisance.
The in-faction cards include Independent Thinking, which rewards binning Directives with twice as many cards off the top of the deck, as Adam does some blue sky (blue screen?) thinking and summons some fresh new ideas.
The most important addition to the deck is without a doubt Aesop’s Pawnshop, allowing me to sell unwanted cards each turn for a quick burst of extra credits. Perhaps more importantly, I love the idea thematically – a robot selling off chunks of his factory-mandated personality on the black market. A sort of eBay Pinocchio story, as Adam becomes a real boy free of his master’s control.
But I don’t want to disregard the Directives entirely. After all, they’re what makes Adam special – without them, I may as well be playing a Prepaid Kate deck or something. That means no Dr Lovegood, who lets you pick an installed card to ignore that card, in spite of the fact that I’ve decided his full name is Stephen Lovegood, and I want to build a deck called ‘It’s Adam & Steve, not Adonis & Eve’ because I’m a hilarious human being.
Finally, I stick in an extra copy of each Directive – in case I find myself missing that bit of personality I sold to the highest bidder and want to reset Adam to factory settings – and I’ve got a deck! Time to take that all-important next step.
Second Directive: Play the deck, and realise it’s rubbish
I’m shocked. On its first outing, the deck actually holds together decently. Adam, as it turns out, is all about the slow build. He starts off potent but flawed, but as you build a rig around those quirks Adam becomes increasingly fearsome. Getting a couple of Brain Cages out to boost my hand size, and then filling that brain with some Independent Thinking, feels great.
Brain Chip, Adam’s personal console, feels even better. It gets more powerful as you steal Agendas from the Corp – handy when your first action of the game lands you an unexpected an Agenda, and incredible in the late game, when the maximum hand size can start to get ridiculous (I think my current record is 13). It’s a lovely little narrative every single game, Adam escaping the shackles and getting stronger and stronger as you play.
Oh, a quick point – I do actually lose my first game, against Mike’s NBN. With nearly enough Agenda points for a victory, and a healthy rig laid out on the table, I start to pile up tags. This is fine until I miscount the credits needed to beat an Information Overload, and lose every single card I have installed.
With every game I play, I fall deeper in love with those Directives. Always Be Running’s ability to break Ice by spending clicks is miraculous, and means I play a lot of games without installing a single program. A permanent double-access on HQ makes it much easier to snatch Agendas to feed Brain Chip. And even after two dozen games, getting a free card draw at the end of your turn feels like cheating.
There’s a moment in that very first game where I sell a Safety First to Aesop, pushing up the hand size limit so I can handle the brain damage suffered by installing a Brain Cage, then re-install a Safety First on my last click to get that free draw back with an increased hand size. It’s incredibly janky play, but I feel like a synergising genius.
Even the Directives’ drawbacks come with a silver lining stitched in. The need to run every turn frequently pushes me into tight corners, but it also encourages you to be reckless. This keep a constant pressure on the Corp, and often reveals vulnerabilities in their defences that cautious play would have never uncovered.
Most importantly, I realise that Neutralize All Threats’ enforced trashing isn’t that bad after all, and start to drop the influence-eating cards I threw in to counterbalance it. I frown in the direction of those Paricias and Skulljacks, and the tweaking begins.
Third Directive: Rebuild!
Losing those influence-hungry Paricias and Express Deliveries (which are left pretty much redundant by Independent Thinking) makes space for the full complement of Aesop’s Pawnshops. With only one copy of the card in my possession, I have to make some shonkily hand-drawn proxies, starring a hilariously steroidal Aesop.
That goes some way towards helping the deck’s econ problems – like every first-draft deck I’ve ever built, it’s too low on money – along with an extra Daily Casts, Sure Gamble, three Data Foldings and, most importantly, three Dirty Laundries and two Security Testings stolen from a disassembled Silhouette deck that give me a way of turning that mandatory first run into hard cash.
After a few games, tweaking as I go, I decide on two major revamps. First, having switched out a Brain Cage for a Public Sympathy – a little pricier but much easier to install if I haven’t got that damage-nullifying Chrome Parlour out early – I start to reconsider the whole cybernetic modification thing, and pull those cards out of the deck entirely.
That frees up a lot of influence, which I spend on E3 Feedback Implants, allowing me support both the click-to-break ability of Always Be Running and Overmind’s power counters – which brings me to the second change: pulling Crypsis out of the deck. With those two alternatives available, installing Crypsis, loading it up with virus tokens and then paying to break Ice just feels like too much effort.
And that’s it. The deck feels complete, and I think it’s the best I’ve ever built. It does a beautiful job of snowballing, with a full set-up of an Aesop’s and Data Foldings reliably dropping half a dozen credits into my lap before the turn even begins, saving those precious clicks for emergency ice-breaking.
It’s the first time I’ve fully understood that thing that tournament players say about a deck driving itself. Partly that’s a function of those Directives – it’s already decided where my first clicks goes each turn – but it’s also a case of knowing the deck inside out. I know to mulligan if I don’t see any hand-size boosters in my opening hand. I know when to hold back with an Overmind so I get the maximum number of power tokens on it. I know that being able to Dirty Laundry an open HQ first turn means the game is probably mine.
I feel like a proud father, and I wouldn’t change a single card. For now, at least. Always be running, always be tweaking. That’s the prime directive of Netrunner.
Enjoyed this? Why not check out Tim Maytom’s beautifully-written piece about getting to grips with Sunny Lebeau.