The Corp’s Problem Statement: A Beginner’s Thoughts on Corp Play

In Cards, Netrunner by Paul0 Comments

This article isn’t a guide for beginners, it is a guide by a beginner targeted at players that understand the rules of the game and want to develop insight into how the game works to become better players.
Which is exactly where I am at the moment.

I know the rules (probably even some of the more advanced interactions), and I’m trying to get a handle on how all that machinery adds up into a game-winning set of plays.

The way I’m going to approach this is by trying to develop the Problem Statement that the Corp player is trying to solve to win and the options that are available to solve it. In articulating the problem statement, I’m going to be taking a helicopter view; this article isn’t about playing specific cards, or even particularly about particular archetypes. It’s more about understanding the context within which those archetypes have developed with the aim of building a picture of the flow of the game.

I’m hoping that the process of writing this post is going to help advance my thoughts substantially, which allows for me getting it completely wrong and someone explaining how I got it wrong in words of two or less syllables.

The Problem Statement: Initial Articulation
To win a game of Netrunner the Corp:

  • Scores Agenda points, or
  • Flatlines the runner

These two different win conditions are so diverse that it is helpful to treat them in separation. Let’s focus on the “scoring agenda points” win condition to start with.

Keeping our Agendas Hidden (Safe when at rest)
Part of the Corp’s game is stopping Runners getting more points than you do. As such, protecting agendas is key. At the start of the game the hierarchy of safety for agendas is: R&D is safer than HQ is safer than Archives is safer than naked on the table.

  • R&D is naturally safer because there are many more non-agenda cards than agenda cards in there making the chance of random draw unlikely
  • Archives is safer than naked because the cards are face down if the Runner hasn’t seen them

Agendas flow from R&D to HQ at a steady, unstoppable rate. Their destination is likely to end up being even less safe than in HQ.

So: one facet of the Corp’s problem statement is this:

How do I keep my agendas safe from the Runner when they are ‘at rest’?

Protecting Agendas when being scored
Let’s park that question for the moment, and consider the other aspect of the game: winning.
The Corp can only score Agendas from the table (they must be installed). But the naked table is the least safe place to put them. Which further develops the problem statement:

How do I protect my agendas when I install them?

Constraints: Economy
Doing anything in Netrunner costs clicks and / or credits. Clicks are hard to manipulate, credits easy to spend but hard to obtain. In particular, installing and advancing agendas require more clicks than a Corp naturally has available in any one turn.

To answer either or both of the above problems, the Corp needs clicks and credits. Which leads to our first constraint:

I have a limit on clicks and credits.

The Problem Statement
Our current (and final) problem statement therefore reads:

How do I protect and score my agendas within the constraints of the clicks and credits I have?

Let’s break down the possible responses to that problem:

  • Obtain more credits to rez more (and powerful) ice to protect my weak areas (make my defences stronger)
  • Obtain more clicks so that the agendas are exposed for the least amount of time (move more quickly)
  • Use the most efficient ice I can that stops runners getting in (optimise the cost – benefit curve)

Yes, I know this is being simplistic; I find that simplicity helpful at this level of discussion.

But wait…! What about the Runner?
Yes, Netrunner is a two-player game and whilst I’m doing my stuff the runner is also doing their stuff. Which boils down to the opposite of my problem statement: they want to erode my protections so that all areas are weak and minimise the clicks and credits I can use to further my plans.

Fortunately, they have the same constraints as I do: they need clicks and credits. If I hit them in those resources they won’t be effective at foiling my plans.

Which adds another dimension to the problem statement:

…whilst keeping the Runner poor.

I can do that by hitting their economy directly, or by installing ice that costs them credits and / or clicks to break (installing an icebreaker and the credits to break sub-routines).

Joining it together
Let’s join all that together and re-state the problem I’m trying to solve and possible solutions to it:

How do I protect and score my agendas within the constraints of the clicks and credits I have, whilst also keeping the Runner poor?

My responses are:

  1. 1. Obtain more credits to rez more (and powerful) ice to protect my weak areas (make my defences stronger)
  2. Obtain more clicks so that the agendas are exposed for the least amount of time (move more quickly)
  3. Use the most efficient ice I can that stops runners getting in (optimise the cost – benefit curve)
  4. Use ice that costs the Runner credits to break and put it in front of the most attractive servers (tax the runner)

Response 3 and 4 sound so powerful (and obvious) that they would always apply no matter what solution I intend to go for. As such, I take them as read. Of course I’m going to optimise the cost – benefit and of course I’m going to tax the runner to a greater or lesser extent.

The real decision point is then whether I emphasise Option 1 or Option 2:

  • Option 1 leads to Glacial – I want strong ice in a single server which I will use to protect my agendas as I score them
  • Option 2 leads to Fast Advance – I’m going to minimise my window of exposure by moving really fast on the advancement of agendas

Delivering the Solutions
Let’s unpack those solutions a little…

For Glacial builds:

  • I can obtain more credits by including more economy cards than ‘usual’
    • I am likely to want more economy in the Glacial build to fund the deep ice
  • More expensive, higher strength ice that either taxes to sufficiently put off the Runner or simply stops them in their tracks

For Fast Advance builds:

  • I can obtain additional clicks through card effects, OR I can reduce the number of clicks it costs to score the agenda by playing low advancement agendas
    • However, these are typically less agenda points so I need more of them which increases the rate they flow from R&D to less strong locations. I need to strike a balance here.
  • I can go lighter on ice and include other cards that provide utility or otherwise hamper the runner

Scoring Windows
Whichever one of these I choose, I will be looking at the board-state to establish whether it is safe to take an agenda from relative safety and put it at risk.

This decision evaluates:

  • How strong is my position?
    • For a glacial build: Is my remote ice strong enough given the breakers and credits the runner is likely to have?
    • For a fast advance build: Am I going to be able to move fast enough so that the runner can’t attack my at risk agenda?
    • If I do nothing, how safe is this agenda going to be?

If the answer to the first or second question is “yes” then you have a scoring window and should take advantage of it.

If the answer to the third question is “yes” then you’re probably being forced into a scoring window, and might want to see whether any of your other options allow you to move that agenda from the less safe to the more safe location. That might be moving it into the position of scoring, but maintain awareness that you may be chancing it.

The Developing Board State…
As the Corp I am trying to improve my board state (get the right cards in hand or installed, keep the runner poor) faster than the agendas trickle to places less safe.

My game is going to be defensive initially (keep the runner out), towards a point of stabilisation (I’m not hand-to-mouth) towards a point of aggression (create scoring windows and take advantage of them).

For a Fast Advance build I may get to the point of scoring more quickly, but I need to score more agenda cards overall meaning that I may be vulnerable for longer.

For a Glacial build I may take longer to get to the point of scoring, but when I’m there I am at much less risk and can score fewer agenda cards more safely and consistently.

These kinds of considerations need to factor into my deck building:

  • How do I keep myself safe in the early game?
  • How do I keep the runner poor?
  • How do I get myself rich?
  • How do I get more clicks to score quickly (for Fast Advance)?
  • How do I get bigger, stronger ice I can afford (for Glacial)

By answering each of these questions for the broad archetype I’m playing (Fast Advance, Glacial in this article), I will decide upon a deck and then a playstyle.

Conclusion
The fundamental question the Corp player must answer is how they manage the steady flow of agendas from R&D to HQ to the table.

The problem statement is:

How do I protect and score my agendas within the constraints of the clicks and credits I have, whilst also keeping the Runner poor?

They can manage this by:

  • Building the safest haven they can (Glacial build)
  • Exposing the agendas to risk for the shortest time (Fast Advance build)

At the same time, they need an answer to keep the runner poor; hitting their economy directly or installing ice that costs the runner a lot to break.

All of this costs clicks and credits; a successful Corp will ensure the steady flow of these throughout the game.

Being able to evaluate the board state, in line with your build’s aim, allows you to identify scoring windows (enforced or not) and take advantage of those on your terms.

Obviously, this is a simplistic way of viewing the Corp play, and in some respects treats it in a vacuum. However, keeping the concepts simple aids their articulation and the complexity of the real game and board-state can be introduced later in the learning curve.

I hope that you enjoyed reading this as much as I did thinking and drafting it. Please leave comments or observations in the comments section below!

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