by Jay Earle
The game of Android Netrunner basically falls into three phases, based on the board state. A key part of the strategy of the game is reading the board to know which phase you’re in and how to both move the board to the state you desire and how to play in the state you are in.
First, the three phases. I’m going to cover these in the order they generally happen in a game (to my experience) but this is more a guide than a fixed path. You can easily go from 1 to 3 or go backwards if cards are trashed.
Phase 1: both players set up
At the start of the game neither player has established a presence. This phase generally favors the Runner, as they can run repeatedly and make it into the corp’s forts with a minimum of ICE breakers (perhaps none) and force the corp to play uber defensive/ spend their money on ICE. During this phase of the game the Corp wants to try to stabilize as quickly as possible, leading into phase 2 where it has the advantage, while the Runner wants to take as much advantage as possible, hopefully lucking into an agenda or three. This is the part of the game most about luck, as the Corp could push it into phase 2 very quickly with the right ICE, or the Runner could just super-luck-sack and win by hitting a few poorly protected agendas.
Phase 2: The Corp has stabilized, the Runner is still building a rig
At some point in the first few turns (hopefully for the Corp; if not it has likely already lost the game) the Corp will reach a point where all of its key areas are protected, ideally with a variety of ICE such that the Runner can’t just rely on a single breaker – usually 2 each on R&D and HQ and 2-3 on a remote server. At this point the game swings to the Corp, as the Runner no longer has free rein and the Corp can actually advance agendas without interference.
During this phase the Corp should take advantage as the runner did in phase 1. Score agenda if it can, otherwise go for bits – a rich Corp is a happy Corp. The Corp hopes to win the game now, before the game enters phase 3 and the edge swings back to the Runner. Meanwhile the Runner should be attempting to swing the game into phase 3. He does so by setting up his rig. During deck building the runner should have planned out a full rig: a series of programs, hardware, and resources that once in play will allow him to enter any server. Basically it amounts to breakers for every type as well as the credits to fuel them. During phase 2 the Runner wants to construct this rig, which puts the game into phase 3.
Phase 3: the Runner has finished his rig and can get into any fort he wants
At some point the Runner finishes his rig, and once again has free rein on the Corp. This is the end game phase, as short of some major trashing of ICE or breakers the game will remain in this phase until it ends.
The Runner in this phase wants to do three things: 1) run on anything that might have an agenda (R&D, maybe HQ, and any servers the corp has set aside for advancement) 2) protect the rig (making sure not get hit by any program-trashing ICE the Corp has) and 3) feed the massive amount of credits needed to spend on runs. The good news is that in this phase, for the most part, the Runner will know what the costs are. Most of the Corp’s ICE will be rezzed so it’s easy to calculate how many bits must be stockpiled for any given run. A smart Corp will throw a few pieces of unrezzed ICE out to foul the calculations, but at this point the Runner should have seen enough of the variety of ICE the Corp is packing to guess what the costs may be and prep for the unknown.
The key for the Corp in this phase is to realize that it can no longer stop the runner, and instead needs to make it so expensive to run on the main forts (R&D and an agenda launching pad) that the Runner is not able to run each turn, giving a chance to actually score agendas when they are drawn. As mentioned above, the Corp can also toss a few ICE out on its forts (especially nice if it’s something that might cause real havoc such as a program trash or a major money sink) to keep the Runner guessing. Really phase three comes down to who is able to score the agendas that do show up. This is the meat of the game, no longer the luck of the first few turns but instead the careful strategy of a fully prepped Runner against a built Corporation.
Hopefully this article will help you understand the flow of the game you’re playing, as well as how to best capitalize on it for both runner and corp. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave questions in the comments.