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Unfettered Trace: the Danger of Unlimited Tracing in A:NR

Welcome to the first essay by request in my series devoted to Android: Netrunner. This essay was requested of me by Ludo, a.k.a. wormhole surfer, a French game store proprietor, my co-editor on the Android: Netrunner The Card Game Facebook page, administrator of the French forum and blog site Run4Games, organiser of a number (all?) of the French National Netrunner Championships and a long-time Netrunner supporter. Its fair to say that both of us would be described as staunch advocates of the merits of the original Netrunner game, and Ludo especially might hold a greater love for O:NR than its newer incarnation.

Ludo asked me to discuss the difference between the trace mechanic in the original game and the new version, which is what I’ve done. The concern we both have is the existence of “accumulative trace effects”, that is, trace effects that have an increasing (accumulating) effect by the degree that the Corporation defeats the Runner’s link strength. These effects present a potential danger to the game of creating a Negative Player Experience (NPE), as it is termed in some other customisable card games (CCGs), and so I wanted to delve deeper into the trace mechanics to see what makes these effects so potent and potentially un-fun to play against. I’ve done this and go so far as to suggest a possible remedy for the card templates that employ such effects that could perhaps curb the dangers of unfettered tracing.

Tracing the Difference between Original & Android: Netrunners

I’ve previously discussed some of the distinctions between O:NR and A:NR, as well as cataloguing the correspondences between cards in both games. One of the most evident distinctions between the two games is the variation in the trace mechanic, so much so that Lukas Litzinger, the game’s designer, wrote an article on the FFG A:NR News site detailing the design process involved in coming up with the new system. In the Points of Distinction essay linked above, I said the following about the trace system (showing a slight prescience of the issues at hand):

“The open bid mechanic is fine. Tracing has become less of a guessing game, in that the Runner will always know the trace value prior to having to commit credits to raising their link value. The interactivity of tracing then shifts from the blind bid stage of the trace to the Corp being the primary determinant of the trace outcome. Looking at the base trace strength and the amount of credits available to the Corp, vs. the base link strength that the Runner has and the credits that they have available to commit (sometimes less than the total credits that the Runner has), the Corp is able to decide what to commit. Obviously an overcommit on the part of the Corp player will discourage the Runner from bidding any credits at all, as they know that they cannot exceed the trace and so won't waste their credits.

The Genesis Cycle should - based on early previews - mix this model up a little more. Some of the designs of cards in that expansion set indicate that it is no longer a case of all or nothing in trace attempts, but that some game effects can improve depending on how much the trace strength exceeds the link value. The Runner is then in a position where they may know that they cannot fully defend against a trace attempt but still want to commit credits to avoiding the trace as a form of damage limitation.

As such there seems to be an immediate card design benefit to the altered trace mechanism, although early thinking about this might suggest that it is based upon the presumption that the Corp is going to win the trace and the runner is trying to mitigate the effects of the successful trace, whereas it may be that if this is not the case then the Corp player will find those cards relatively useless and cease to play them.” —Quoting myself (from Points of Distinction…, emphases new)

The two fundamental differences between the trace mechanics are the removal of the blind bid and the removal of the trace limit in favour of a base trace strength.

As should be self-evident, the blind bid involved both Runner and Corporation revealing simultaneously the bits (credits) of their link/trace expenditure; the Runner had no opportunity to respond to the Corporation’s bid after the fact. It is worth noting that the Runner’s ability to have a link strength was dependent upon having a Link type card in play; without an installed Link — possibly as part of a Deck (console) — the Runner could not increase their link strength above zero. This is important to stress: the Runner could not increase their link strength on the basis of credits alone!

Ante-tracing: a small proposal

Reviewing the contemporary trace mechanics and recalling that the blind bid allowed a degree of uncertainty in the precursor system, the question arises. Is there a way to get the uncertainty back into the trace mechanics without(again) completely rewriting the system? One suggestion that I might make is to try and curb the all or nothing aspect of a trace attempt by introducing a recurring bid system, akin to betting in Poker. While this may add a degree of complexity (and resolution time) to trace attempts, it may also go some way to restoring the uncertainty to trace attempts that made the original system more fun.

The proposal (modification) involves allowing players to ‘up the ante’ on trace/link strength in a back-and-forth exchange until one player ‘folds’ and concedes the trace. The Corporation player, on initiating the trace, would bid a number (zero or more) of credits to increase the trace strength above the base. The Runner then responds by conceding the trace (folding) and so suffering the effect of a successful trace, or by bidding a number of credits to at least match the trace strength with their link strength (and thus winning the betting). The Corporation player then has the option to ‘up the ante’ by committing more credits to the trace attempt (thus again winning the trace) or themself conceding by allowing the Runner to beat the trace. The turn taking otherwise continues until one of the two players folds.

Using a system like this the two players are able to ‘feel out’ one another’s commitment to the success / failure of the trace attempt, adding to the interplay of the system. One can envisage a more tense battle in tracing initiated by Ice such as Caduceus or TMI, or a tentative SEA Source whereby the Corp might bluff the Runner into thinking that they hold a Scorched Earth and are looking for the quick win, but have insufficient credits to beat the link strength should the Runner go ‘all in’ to avoid the tag.

Other than introducing the back-and-forth bidding element to the trace system, the mechanics remain unchanged. We could even extend the idea: by making  the trace attempt an exchange, this opens up the design space for cards that play into the trace bidding war, such as Events / Operations that can be played from hand in the bidding, which increase the trace / link strength by a certain number (probably 2 credits worth, perhaps), or wipe out the last bid by the opponent, etc.

While this proposal may increase the interactivity and bluffing opportunities for trace attempts it does not in itself redress issues that arise from accumulative trace effects. Such trace effects which gain in magnitude the higher the trace strength over the link strength, which are likely to prompt the Corp to ‘all in’ at the outset of the trace attempt anyway, are another matter entirely. Especially so in the presence of tracing without trace limits, so I want to turn to that next.

 

The second modification to the trace mechanic is even more fundamental, I think, in its impact upon the game. To give a brief contrast, NBN’s Flare Ice has a clear predecessor in the Cinderella Ice from O:NRs base set; they are almost identical except Flare is recosted at 9 credits to rez vs. Cinderella’s 8. The subroutine is functionally identical in effect between the cards, and the trace6 value is the same for both. The difference is in how the trace operates: Cinderella’s trace6 could range from trace strength 0 when the Corporation player spent no bits (credits) all the way up to – and no higher than –strength 6. Flare’s trace (barring Disrupter) starts at trace strength 6 and goes as high as the Corp’s credit pool can stretch it to. This is the fundamental distinction between the trace effects in the two games; in the one the listed trace value was a trace limit, and in the other it serves only as a trace base strength!

As an aside, the trace limit could be increased in O:NR, by using the Hacker Tracker Central (Node – Asset) card, which accumulated bits that could be spent to increase both trace strength and trace limit at the same time.

The removal of the trace limit presumably opens up the design space for cards that exploit a template clause like “[up to|equal to] the amount by which your trace strength exceeded [his or her|the Runner’s] link strength.” Thus far we have seen this wording on only four cards (three in general print and one previewed): Power Grid Overload (Trace Amount, Genesis Cycle #37), Data Hound (Humanity’s Shadow, Genesis Cycle #96), Midseason Replacements (Future Proof, Genesis Cycle #117) and Invasion of Privacy (Opening Moves, Spin Cycle #16). Of these, two have really failed to set the world alight. Power Grid Overload pales in comparison to the devastation that its eponymous precursor which trashed a number of pieces of Hardware equal to the Corporation’s expenditure of bits, so long as the Runner was tagged. Data Hound’s trace subroutine is almost irrelevant as it is a low strength Sentry that doesn’t end the run, and so almost nobody plays it. The trace2 on each of these is also perhaps little to write home about.

Midseason Replacements (MR), on the other hand, single-handedly enables a new deck archetype for NBN usually called “Tagstorm”. Seeking to flood the Runner with tags and then exploit them with cards like Psychographics to fast advance Agenda from hand, the deck overcomes the inherent weakness of the card (i.e. that the Runner must steal an Agenda as a precondition) by turtling up to defend and gain credits until such time as the flytrap Agenda is laid out for the Runner to steal, finishing with a MR and Psychographics onto to Project Beale for the win. Moreover, with trace6, the base trace strength is two more than Kate (/Andromeda/Exile) with three Rabbit Holes in play, and coupled with the NBN Making News Identity ability, it doesn’t take much credit superiority on the Corporation’s part to be able to flood the Runner with tags.

Invasion of Privacy (IoP), preview-released at GenCon 2013, however, raises significantly more concern. Granted it is only a trace2, and it is a Double Operation requiring two clicks to play, but the effect can devastate a Runner’s strategy. IoP presents a glimpse of what dangers lie in the uncapped trace mechanic. Consider an opening turn — rare, but not inconceivable — by the Corporation of Hedge Fund, IoP, out of NBNMN against a Criminal deck (typically Event-heavy builds), which could infallibly beat the Runner by up to (11 credits, –2 to play = 9 trace strength  vs. max 5 link strength) six points of strength. This could strip the Runner’s hand of Account Siphon, Inside Job, Compromised Employee, Bank Job, Mr. Li, etc. or against Shaper could hit Indexing, The Maker’s Eye, Diesel, Quality Time, etc. The damage delivered from this one move, before the Runner’s turn commences could be potentially irrecoverable.

Granted this is a niche case, that it is leaving HQ and R&D undefended on the Runner’s turn, may well ensure that the Corp is broke for a significant number of turns after, and it is a very ballsy move by the Corp player. All that aside the ability to potentially destroy the opponent’s hand before they even get a chance to play a turn should not be underestimated.

Diagnosis before Remediation

So what makes cards like Invasion of Privacy so potentially dangerous to the game? Apart from the NPE of losing your opening hand in  some rare situations, compare IoP to the other like cards. Obviously all of them work off the new trace mechanics and have an effect that keys off the (positive) difference between trace strength and link strength. Data Hound and Power Grid Overload, however, affect only one card by trashing it, with DHs excess trace strength (ETS) serving only to determine the range from which the one card is trashed, and PGOs ETS serves as a governor for the maximal install cost of the Hardware trashed. In effect, PGO makes the Corp pay the install cost of the Hardware (within the trace attempt) after the Runner has previously done so and so the effect is rather balanced. While a well timed PGO may have a far greater effect of striking a loaded piece of Hardware hosting another card, or a Mem Chip when the Runner is above their normal MU allocation, but still, this is situational and hardly unfair.

MR in itself is possibly more potent than IoP and can (again situationally) turn out to be a game winning play. It, I believe, takes time and a lot of credits to set up this victory condition however, and so despite its ETS being an accumulative trace effect (i.e. every point of ETS is directly translated into a tag for the Runner), and despite its massive base trace strength of six, MR feels like a late game card that can potentially be played around or beaten. Thus while it has a far higher base strength (and one can likely consider that to be two higher as the Influence cost of the combo and trace-based nature of the card very likely means it will see little play outside NBNMN) and has an accumulative trace effect this isn’t game-breaking, more game-defining.

Invasion of Privacy, on the other hand, has a low base strength, but a highly potent negative effect for defeating the Runner’s link strength. Each point of difference in strength translates (potentially) into the loss of a card for the Runner. Given that the difference in strength comes down (usually) to the credits expended above the base trace/link strengths, then it comes down to a mere matter of credit superiority on the part of the Corporation to potentially destroy the Runner’s hand. In effect, consider the cost of achieving ETS an additional X-2 (with two being the base trace strength) cost on the card, and then for each point of ETS the Corp gains the ability of trashing a card from the Runner’s hand. Played on the first turn vs. Andromeda, whose only real ability is the extra cards that the Runner hopes to exploit in their (subsequent!) first turn this can be game breaking. Against NBNMN, her extra +1 Link is merely one of the two recurring credits that Identity has to spend on trace attempts.

Putting aside the marginal case here for the moment, the worry is not so much the specific card (IoP) but the nature of the template under the presumption of the extant trace mechanics. The issue is mostly about whether playing a MR or IoP is a fun element of the game for the participants. The problem with tracing in A:NR first became apparent to me when both TMI (What Lies Ahead, Genesis Cycle #17) and Compromised Employee (Trace Amount, Genesis Cycle #25) were released. Played against one another, especially out of something other than NBNMN, the trace involved in the rez effect turned from a fun interaction into a form of “credit bullying”. 

By this term I mean something quite distinct from the credit denial strategy seen in some Anarch and Criminal decks. I consider credit denial a legitimate (and even fun) strategy for a deck because it notionally involves play of a series of cards and runs, with both sides struggling for control over access to / denial of access to HQ, thereby exposing the Corp’s credit pool to vulnerability to Account Siphon (Core #18) / Vamp (Trace Amount, Genesis Cycle #21). In contrast to this, credit bullying takes a superiority in credit pool and exploits this — with little to no recourse from the opponent — in a singular effect that can put them effectively out of the game.

SEA Source (Core #86)/Scorched Earth (Core #99) does not constitute credit bullying, no matter how big the trace that the Corporation pulls, because the lynchpin card, SEA Source, only gives one tag, which can be subverted by Decoy, New Angeles City Hall, or like tag prevention cards. MR/SE may be a form of credit bullying if used to flood the Runner with more tags than they can prevent, but this strategy can be fragile in the face of Meat Damage prevention to offset / mitigate the following SE. IoP, especially due to its nature as an accumulative trace effect is a potential harbinger of worse to come.

The spectre of credit bullying through trace effects is really raised by the nature of the trace attempt as well as the templating of cards that employ the accumulative trace effect. Because the trace bid is open, not blind, there is often no reason — in relation to effects like MR or IoP — to not bid to the fullest extent. The Corp player can tell how many credits are needed (especially outside of trace attempts mid-run, often on subroutines that are broken anyway, and hence still a weakness in A:NR) and outright spend them. The Runner will then obviously not waste credits attempting to beat the trace, of course, but is then subject to the trace effect without recourse.

Were the bid blind, instead, then the Corporation player may potentially choose a more risky play, not waiting for the credit advantage that guarantees the effect, but instead going early. The overly cautious Runner player will then throw the maximal credits required to beat the trace, obviously then wasting the Corp’s card (if they didn’t outbid the Runner), but if they have overestimated the Corp’s willingness to spend on the trace amount then they risk overspending credits. Equally, the Corp may over-/underestimate the Runner’s preparedness to beat the trace and so over-/underspend on the trace attempt. As it stands, under the current system, defended by its advocates with the line “well, the Runner just has to [spend credits to] beat the trace”, can stall a game into a situation with both sides being credit poor. A high trace strength with a seriously deleterious effect serves — if the Runner does choose to beat it  — as a de facto Closed Accounts (Core #84), without the Corp player even having the card in their deck. It seems self-evident that having to bankrupt oneself (and to build and hold a massive credit pool in anticipation of this eventuality) serves only to very much create an NPE, when the credits could instead be devoted to the more interactive aspects of the game, such as running.

How the players choose to play the cards as designed is naturally something of an indeterminacy. There are only so many playtesters (and they remain a fairly silent party in the player-designer dialogue) and only so much time in which to seek to ensure that only balanced cards are released. Also obviously we are talking early days; the Opening Moves data pack has yet to see widespread release and thus (barring the online community play, perhaps) the vast majority of the player base has yet to acquire and explore (abuse?) the cards like IoP, but the sense of impending trouble is there…

FarSideTroubleBrewing 0011

This all should not be taken to suggest that the O:NR trace mechanics were without their problems either. With the right Link cards in play, given the existence of the trace limit, a Runner could economically break almost any trace attempt by beating the limit with their high link value cards. The very presence of the limit, then, served to diminish the presence of trace attempts in the majority of O:NR Corp decks. After the game’s demise, the remaining active player community attempted to address this problem, purportedly with some success, in their net expansions. Whether these efforts were considered or went unnoticed in the new game’s design phase remains an open question.

Remediation?

What then could be done about all this? Should IoP prove to be the source of NPE, then the game’s designers could resort to the usual remedies of (I) banning/errata, or (II) the other CCG standby of “silver bullet” cards that serve to primarily counter a problematic effect. Banning and errata are problematic solutions because the dissemination of this information seems to never be perfect, and the 21st century’s internet does not necessarily assist in this; so many information sources exist these days that the time-poor reader does not have the option of complete coverage; inevitably someone is going to miss a ruling or notification of the change. Silver bullet cards are unsatisfying solutions as well because the problematic situation/effect either obliges the player to include them, or potentially be vulnerable to the issue these attempt to fix. Unless the cards serve a dual purpose (a la Infiltration (Core #49) as a model of one such card) then their inclusion is often a wasted deck slot that cannot be culled without opening your deck up to a potential auto-loss.

When the problem is inherent in the rules of the game, however, then I see there are really only two choices: (III) fix the rules — someting that FFG seem historically loathe to do(?), or (IV) rethink the card templates so as to work within the potentially problematic rule set and hedge against difficult NPE-creating effects.

Given thatthe trace mechanics are fundamental to the Netrunner game, the obvious satisfaction that the Design team have with the extant system (vide. the linked article above), and the focus on trace cards and mechanics throughout the Genesis Cycle, I doubt that we will quickly see any sort of response along the lines of (III). Thus, before there is a need to redress card imbalance with (I) or (II), consideration needs to be given to adopting some form of (IV). By ensuring effects can be properly governed through more balanced templating the unpalatable corrections to unbalanced cards can be avoided. If the base trace mechanic of A:NR remains verboten, then cards exploiting them — especially accumulative trace effects — need to be more constrained.

The key issue here is the template phrase of “the amount by which your trace strength exceeded [his or her|the Runner’s] link strength.” Especially for accumulative trace effects, basing the magnitude of the effect off the trace/link strength difference is what opens these cards to abusive applications of credit bullying. Pulling back from ~strength to  utilise something such as base trace/link strengths may in fact be a better solution. Winning the trace attempt would still be crucial, of course, but the amount by which the trace succeeded would become less so.To rephrase the notion, accumulative trace effects would rest on the difference between the base trace strength of the effect (i.e. the n in a tracen) and the base link strength: Σ(link cards/abilities), as defined in the Core rulebook (p.20). Avoiding accumulative trace effects could then be a Runner deck design decision in much the same way that design decisions are made to include/exclude tag avoidance or damage prevention cards. The template phrase, only marginally more complex than the current one we led off with, would be perhaps something like “the amount by which your base trace strength exceeds the Runner’s base link strength.”

By implementing this template pattern there is an effective governor on the magnitude of the accumulative trace effects, with intentionally strong effects being given a high base trace strength (say, 6 or 7) while still potentially falling short against a link-heavy Rig (say, Exile (Creation and Control #30) with 3x Rabbit Hole (Core #39) and 3x Borrowed Satellite (Creation and Control #50)). Defensive Runner deck designs would incorporate a high investment (in cards and in-game installation expenses) in link cards to seek to counteract such effects if the meta shifted towards them. Meanwhile the change to the template would serve to mitigate the threat of credit bullying through trace mechanics at least.

The design space then opens up for cards that may fit into a Runner deck designed to exploit that defensive posture, such as Events (or other types) that prompt the Corp to initiate a trace and which have an accumulative trace effect in reverse, offering benefits to the Runner if the base link strength exceeds the base trace strength. NB: this is a completely off the cuff/back of a napkin design thought, which may have inherent problems I have not considered. One possible one is that the Corp may be put into a position of inverse credit bullying by being obligated to expend credits on an impromptu (to them) trace effect that they do not want the Runner to succeed at; another would be setting the base trace strength to a value outside of the Runner’s control so as to avoid excessive gaming of the card, and the last I can think of might be that identifying appropriate beneficial effects that are not credit-based (so as to not have cards that are about expending credits to save or make credits).

While a template change such as the one described above may go some way to dealing with the potential dangers of accumulative trace effects, it does not address the fundamental flaw — as some perceive it — in the extant trace mechanics. My reading of the trace system is that it is based on a key presumption; that of the Runner’s economy being stronger than the Corporations. This would be a necessary feature of the game in general given the repeated costs of breaking Ice vs the (normally) one-time cost of rezzing it. This distinction is why credit denial decks are even able to function. Not every game, or deck design, for that matter, accords neatly with this presumption and when a low-credit Runner deck encounters a high-credit Corp deck this is where the trace mechanic (and accumulative trace effects) open up to credit bullying abuse and NPEs can arise. Not to say that the converse situation, of a credit-poor Corp being repeatedly hammered by a rich Runner is any more fun, but normally there is a sense there of potentially being able to weather the storm and turn the game around.

With the advent of Creation and Control there seems to be emergent a new credit paradigm for Runner decks that offer more efficient generation, but not all decks will find ways to exploit these opportunities. Now, it may be that Runner decks that fail to maximise the opportunities to achieve credit superiority, and so hedge against deleterious accumulative trace effects should simply be classed as weaker decks and consigned to lose against the stronger Corporation economies. There is no denying the importance of the credit economy to the Netrunner game (cf. peripherally my previous essay about card analyses and comparative card evaluation), however reducing the game to a question of who has the bigger credit stick with which to beat their opponent — away from the critical cut and thrust of bluff and in-game strategy that makes Netrunner so appealing — can only be a detriment to the future of the game.

Prebuttals

I’m going to finish off with a couple of pre-emptive responses to possible rebuttals which people may be tempted to make regarding my argument. Pardon the neologism, if you will.

Runner-centricity

One reaction to this essay might be that I am now taking a highly Runner-centric point of view here. Perhaps I  am being overly concerned with the impact that a certain class of potent Corporation cards might have on the side that is at the moment winning a disproportionate number of games. There is a (dominant?) view that the Runner side has the stronger game right now, post Creation and Control. Consequently to re-achieve balance going forward the Corporation will need stronger cards in Spin Cycle, such as Invasion of Privacy.

Permit me some speculation, but the signs for Spin are perhaps more worrisome for those thinking that the Corporation side does need a boost in future expansions. The stated focal aspects of the game for the Spin Cycle are Bad Publicity and the new (reprised) Double Operations & Events. Bad Publicity, as free credits for the Runner every run, is a definite negative for the Corporation, and ways to remove it are as yet uninspiring. Weyland’s Elizabeth Mills is perhaps the most solid, as she installs to remove a single BP, although her possible subsequent use will reassert it. Project Rexx(sp?) is likely to be one of those Assets that the free credits from BP will be used to trash before it ticks off three turns to remove it. Jinteki’s Clone Replacement Agenda can be scored out of hand in a single turn to remove a BP (and do a single point of Net damage out of the Personal Evolution Identity, but using it carries the risk that the Runner will score one as well, thus inflicting BP instead. Frame Job’s Double Event and forfeiture of an Agenda to play and give a single BP is perhaps suitably costly, to the point of being overly costly; people shy away from using Data Dealer (Core #31) and that gives potentially more credits than Frame Job will over the course of a game.

The Double Operations / Events are another worry for the Corporation. These potentially also favour the Runner, as a click-iconclick-icon expenditure for the Runner is a far lesser investment of a turn (50%) then for the Corporation (67%). As such if the magnitude of effect for Double Operations is on par with that for Double Events, Runners will come out ahead again as Corporations shy away from such heavyweight click investment in playing a single card (unless HB, with its extra click-gaining potential can exploit these to better effect).

To all of this speculation I would simply add that I do reject the Runner bias assertions. I think that overall (unsupported as this thought is) that the difference in the win rate for the two sides is statistically insignificant. It would be a very positive thing if FFG were to release the statistics from the Regionals events that they presumably should have been collecting, so as to settle the discussion for a time, but I doubt that they have this information to release. Still, given that I believe the game to be — within certain tolerances — well balanced between the two sides, any concern that there is about some element of the game that threatens to throw the balance out, also threatens the play experience of 50% of all matches. If the game degenerated to that degree, then the concern would be far worse than the boredom of facing a field of HBEtF/Gabe decks in a tournament.

Henny Penny vs. Cassandra

Another possible objection to the concerns raised in this essay is that I’m making much ado about little. As it stands, admittedly, the class of cards that I have focussed on is only four strong. Q: How much impact can four cards have? A: Scorched Earth – you factor it in or die to it.

Admittedly it is early days and one of the four cards has yet to even see widespread play, let along demonstrate its potentially environment deforming effects. Still, the issue is not just these cards (and I do not believe that Invasion of Privacy is the last we shall see of accumulative trace effects by any means), but in the application of the trace mechanics to cards of this ilk. While I may be worrying about the sky falling on the basis of a drop of rain I think there is merit in facing the possibility of being more like Cassandra1 than remaining silent. If it is the case, as I believe there is, that a potential problem exists in unfettered tracing in the context of accumulative trace effects then better to raise the concern now.

This is because, as I noted above, once a problematic card is released into the play environment, curbing its excess is a tough problem. Neither banning/restriction/errata nor silver bullet solutions are particularly satisfactory, no matter how viable it may be. A silver bullet solution to an abusive first turn IoP isn’t much use if you don’t draw it in the Runner’s opening hand. If the problem exists in that card, and I have made much of the case above about this, then the only real option would be banning or errata, in which case we face all the problems inherent in these options.

More or Less of the Same Old Thing?

With the amount of recursion that we are starting to see in Runner decks post-C&C, does losing the Event card pose such a problem? Criminal decks are expecting these days (to believe the opinion of the Internet, at least the bits I read) to play Account Siphon over and over again by employing Same Old Thing (Creation and Control #54) and possibly even Levy AR Lab Access (Creation and Control #35) to put all of these cards back in the deck again. IoP itself is — if unable to remove all of the Events and Resources in the Runner’s hand — something of a Sophie’s Choice; do you trash the Account Siphon, or the Same Old Thing? Of course, with a true credit superiority, both pieces of the combination are vulnerable to trashing, in which case a serious proportion of the deck’s armament has been eliminated.

In Summation

In this little essay I’ve highlighted the differences between tracing in the original and current Netrunner games and I think it should be clear that the system is problematic in every incarnation of the game. Designing a trouble-free tracing mechanic seems to be one of the more difficult tasks facing a designer of this game, either favouring the Runner (O:NR) or Corporation (A:NR) over the opposing side. On this basis I decided to look into the nature of the tracing system and to see if the core issue could be isolated out and potentially remedied. I also took the presumptive move of proposing a couple of modifications to the trace mechanics, and to the card templates for accumulative trace effects, hopefully these appear useful enough that they might be considered for future incarnations of the game (a v2.0 rule set, or for card design going forward into the Spin Cycle and beyond. Thanks for reading if you made it to the bottom of the post and nigh on six thousand words.

[1] Cassandra Syndrome is a case of predicting disaster or misadventure and not being believed, named for the Greek legend of Cassandra, blessed by Apollo with the power of prediction and cursed by him to not be believed when she delivered any warnings based on her precognition.

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