I play Netrunner at lunch several times a week, I go to a tournament once a month, and neither of those are stopping any time soon; it’s a fun and interesting game. And I like getting better at the game (or at least I would like to get better at it, it’s not clear that I am getting better, my tournament record in particular stays at winning half the time); though given that part of the fun in the game is exploring different possibilities, I’m not sure that I want to spend my tournaments piloting the best decks. But what I definitely would like to do is build the best decks I can around whatever themes I’m exploring at the time, and to pilot them as well as possible.
When I was in grad school, I played a fair amount of go: I played weekly at the Massachusetts Go Association, I played in their tournaments four times a year, I read a lot of books, I even went to the US Go Congress once and took lessons for a bit. I’m no expert at the game (I’m only around 1 kyu or so), but I’m a lot better than I was when I started grad school, and I learned a lot about how to think about the game. It’s probably a similar level of time investment as I’m putting into Netrunner; I should start thinking about how to get as much out of my Netrunner time.
The parallel only goes so far: go has millennia of history behind it, I’m not aware of even a single Netrunner book, let alone a bookshelf full of them! So I shouldn’t expect to benefit from the same level of analysis; still, there is some material on the web. Also, there are four of us who are taking the game somewhat seriously; what do we need to do to become a real community of practice, of learning?
Looking at this through a go book lens: beginners books teach you the mechanics of the game, they teach you some basic local patterns of stones (e.g. how to make life given shapes of different sizes), and they start giving you conceptual frameworks such as the order of play (corners then sides then center), sente (making moves that your opponent has to respond to), and aji (making moves that give rise to latent possibilities).
Reading that, I feel like I have that level of Netrunner experience; and, actually, it makes me wonder how many terms from the go vocabulary would help in Netrunner. Sente is certainly there, albeit perhaps not so much on the level of individual moves: there’s frequently a question of who is controlling the tempo, even if that sometimes plays out as more of a waiting game rather than a response to individual moves. And aji, too: e.g. the way the runner manages their programs so that they’ll be able to pull out the right icebreaker in response to a piece of unrezzed ice.
When it comes to the next level of go books, though, I don’t feel like I have the same level of Netrunner knowledge. Take the Elementary Go Series: the titles there are In the Beginning (theory for the opening game), 38 Basic Joseki (specific patterns of stones that are common in the opening), Tesuji (local patterns of stones that can show up anywhere on the board), Life and Death, Attack and Defense (general middle game theory), The Endgame, and Handicap Go.
It’s a stretch to try to translate these directly to Netrunner concepts, but still: the first two books seem to correspond pretty directly to deckbuilding: general principles for how to do it well, and specific known top decks. I’d actually been a little anti net-deck, but looking at that through the lens of joseki, that’s just silly: it’s not just that there are known good approaches if you want to win, but also that those standard approaches have something to teach you about how to play the game well, and even if you decide to build a weird deck, you have to be prepared for different approaches that your opponent might take, including standard decks. One of the ideas I liked from the most recent Terminal 7 episode was keeping around standard decks to practice against: I think I’d learn a lot from testing my decks against a range of standard decks (instead of whatever three decks my coworkers happen to be polishing at any given moment), and I also think I’d learn a lot from piloting those standard decks myself.
I don’t think there’s a real analogue to life and death in Netrunner. There probably isn’t a particularly clouse analogue to tesuji, either, because you don’t have the same chains of stones, but I suspect you can find similarities if you step back a bit: standard moves and responses to local events. And I’d certainly like to see a general analysis of, well, attack and defense: the more tools to think about the flow of the game, the better.
There’s nothing like go’s endgame in Netrunner: there’s no situation where you have that kind of lengthy sequence of precise calculation. Not that calculation isn’t important in Netrunner, calculation just plays out differently with cards, money, and hidden information than it does with a massive grid of stones. And, of course, no analogue to handicap go, either.
So: I’d like to learn more about deck construction, both in terms of general principles and specific decks, and I’d also like to learn more about actual play (principles, tradeoffs, etc.). That all sounds pretty abstract, but the nice thing about go books is how many worked-through examples they go through. That’s even the case in books like the above, but there are also tons of books out there consist entirely of going through go games; I do spend some amount of time watching Netrunner videos, but the level of analysis in the videos that I watch isn’t there, and they’re also almost entirely missing the context of the actual cards that are in players’ hands and that are lying in wait in the decks.
Also, when playing go with live human opponents, it’s not all that uncommon for us, after the game is over, to talk not just about what went wrong in general, but for us to actually go over the first few dozen moves of the game. (And if we were better, we’d probably go over the whole thing!) And if you actually take lessons with an expert, then they’ll not only play in didactically informative ways, but they’ll also easily be able to remember and review the game with you.
I was about to say that that wouldn’t work with Netrunner; but, actually, it would, and in fact more and more frequently at work we’re talking about key situations in the game, what choices we made and whether or not we thought they were good ideas. And we’re even talking about our opening hands more, what choices we made at the start and how they turned out. (Especially on the runner side, for whatever reason; we should probably be more open about just what those secret corp cards were!)
Deliberate practice is all the rage these days. And, if I were to propose some steps for deliberately improving at Netrunner, here’s some proposals:
- Spend more time talking about games with coworkers. Talk about games we’ve finished; if there’s an odd number of us, have a third person pay attention to one or both sides. Heck, maybe even take notes.
- Spend more time talking about deck construction. Talk about what seems to be working and what doesn’t when piloting the decks, when playing against the decks.
- Try out a wider range of decks, including standard archetypes. Try out my own decks against a wider range of decks, including standard archetypes. Having some standard decks available would be very useful for this!
- See what theory is out there. If we can’t find it, create it.
- Watching videos if I have a spare half hour in an evening is probably not a bad idea; I’m not convinced that current videos are a particularly high-density way to learn compared to other options, but I’m also not convinced that higher-density options are out there.
What are people’s favorite online resources for improving at Netrunner?
This post has not been revised since publication.