Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Woes of Weyland - Part V: Capital Competition



Economy Creep


Hmm...

How could I even suggest that Weyland has monetary problems? What is this lunacy? Aight, here's the dealie. Weyland's economy is as good as it's ever been. The issue? Every other faction's economy (Corp and Runner) has considerably improved.

Long gone are the days of NBN and Jinteki haplessly clicking for credits. Sweeps Week alone catapulted NBN's economy (particularly if found turn 1 against Andromeda) and is seen in triplicate in basically any competitive NBN deck, while Near-Earth Hub's inherent synergy with assets heavily bolstered the likes of Marked Accounts (and the classic PAD Campaign).

Jinteki's economy situation is now extremely favourable - Celebrity Gift, the first in a long line of major buffs to J-money, was instrumental in bringing their credits up to par with their fellow Corp brethren. For more rush-oriented, less-glaciery Jinteki builds, Medical Research Fundraiser is another strong way to burst up in credits. Glacier Jinteki, on the other hand, Replicating Perfection in particular, have nigh-unparalleled asset economy with the excellent Mental Health Clinic and the superbly synergistic Sundew.

Haas-Bioroid was always the 'other' rich Corp in the early days, particularly after Eve Campaign showed her face to complement her Adonis counterpart. While Haas-Bioroid's economy remained fairly stable from that point onward (those two are already a plentifully profitable pair), their Campaign game was massively bolstered upon the arrival of Breaker Bay Grid. Even a single copy of this seemingly innocuous region will often make an HB deck nine or more credits over the course of a game (allowing for the free rezzing of Adonis Campaign, Ash and Cyberdex Virus Suite sharing the same server). 

Your time is at hand, PPVP. I shan't miss you though.

And the truth is - it's not just the other Corps whose economy situations have improved. Runner economy has massively improved since "Core and Genesis" days. Easy Mark and Armitage Codebusting are rarely seen in Runner decks nowadays, eschewed instead for the likes of more powerful economy 'engines'. While these engines frequently require a degree of set-up to get going, they provide greater income once they are established. Runners (Anarchs, in particular) are now able to Career Fair out Liberated Accounts and Daily Casts for much greater value than in the past; Prepaid VoicePAD enables Kate to set up a terrifyingly efficient economic engine alongside economy events such as Dirty Laundry and Lucky Find (albeit not for much longer); depending on how horizontal the meta is, Criminals can viciously exploit naked remote servers for both burst economy (Bank Job and Dirty Laundry) and sustained economy (Desperado combined with Security Testing). Lower impact, 'vanilla' economy cards that don't serve as part of a large strategy/engine are eschewed in favour of the higher-payoff options now available.

I mean, don't get me wrong - Weyland is very capable of making much moolah. We're all aware that Blue Sun can become economically indomitable if they get a couple of uncontested Oversight-Curtain returns, and I have personally made close to sixty credits in a game, solely from my agendas (3 Hostile Takeovers, 2 Profiteerings and an Oaktown). However, the former scenario is often highly luck-dependent (necessitates having both Curtain Wall and Oversight AI in hand) and the latter only applies if you are able to score agendas in the first place, and if you accept the major downside of taking bad publicity (more on this shortly, and in the 'Solutions' segment)! It's pretty clear, however, that presently the big W are no longer the towering giants of economy that they once were, especially when compared to Engineering the Future or RP glacier. So what economic tools is Weyland actually specifically missing, compared to the other factions, whose absence may be hurting the faction's economic standings?

Let me guess, Weyland - 'economy' isn't part of your colour pie?

The answer: 'drip' asset economy. At present, the other three Corporations have at least one straightforward, solid drip economy card in faction  - Haas-Bioroid has the Campaigns, Jinteki has MHC and Sundew (for RP/Industrial Genomics), and NBN has Marked Accounts. These cards require next to no set-up (basically, ice them if you want them to stick around) and proceed to simply 'drip' (hence the name) funds into the Corp's accounts on their turn; Marked Accounts is the exception in that it requires 're-charging', and as such is perhaps more similar to a repeatable, delayed Beanstalk Royalties. Yet again, Weyland is found wanting.

Now, this isn't say to say that Weyland does not have asset economy cards - they have several, in fact. However, unlike the asset economy from the other factions, all of Weyland's asset economy requires either building around or playing around: GRNDL Refinery is a pseudo-ambush in economy form, but requires outplaying/predicting one's opponent and tempo investment; The Root, while quite flexible in its recurring economy (of note, it still doesn't directly provide credits), is a substantial setback to rez and generally necessitates further ice protection; Executive Boot Camp potentially provides drip econ, but merely in the form of discounted rezzing; Mark Yale, while occasionally able to set-up dream scenarios wherein he is able to profit tremendously from Titan-boosted Firmware Updates, is both niche and highly situational; finally, Capital Investors - while basically a substantially more flexible, albeit less profitable, Melange Mining Corp - is highly click-intensive, quite the opposite of drip economy. The closest thing to drip economy for Weyland is the upgrade Expo Grid, which is nonetheless predicated on having rezzed assets on the board (thus, a combo card), and is turned off as soon as the the 'Expo'd asset is trashed. On top of the complex setup required for most of these cards, their inability to simply provide real, sustainable income is what prevents Weyland from building to 'snowballing'-wealth boardstates, in the way that HB:EtF and RP (last time I bring them up, I swear) are able to do.

Ahh, ill-gotten gains.

As mentioned previously, one of the very real ways that Weyland is able to rapidly burst up in credits is via their various economy cards that also involve the accruing of bad publicity. Hostile Takeover and Geothermal Fracking provide considerable burst economy, once scored, and GRNDL gives the Corp a big headstart on the Runner, in the money department. However, these all suffer from the pretty major downside of bad publicity. This bad publicity tends to erode any of the taxing ability present in Weyland's ice, and hence, the Runner, once they acquire a full set of icebreakers, is typically able to wreak havoc on the Corp's servers for next to nothing, credit-wise. While these BP-gaining decks typically also run the likes of Archer and Power Shutdown to reset the Runner's rig, the plethora of recursion tactics available to Runners - the likes of Clone Chip, Deja Vu and the dreaded Levy AR Lab Access - means that Runners will typically reacquire their breaker solution before long. Though this same point was addressed in Part II of this series, even the new ice proposed in "Rush Revisited" would not adequately address the damage that Runner program recursion does to most bad publicity-based Weyland decks. 

Put simply, most Corp cards that involve the self-infliction of bad publicity are not able to justify the substantial disadvantage involved in taking BP. While Hostile Takeover, Fracking and GRNDL give a large burst of economy in the short term, the amount that the Runner typically saves in the long term severely undermines the usefulness of these cards. Geothermal Fracking requires extra clicks to actually 'burst up' in cash, post-scoring, and, as a 4/2 agenda, is fairly difficult to score in the first place; GRNDL inexplicably has its influence reduced by a whopping 5, on top of its bad publicity disadvantage (compare to Andromeda who has no influence reduction alongside her massively impactful, early game ability, and even has a link thrown in); Hostile Takeover is the only BP card in Weyland linked with economy truly worth its salt, for its rapid credit burst and as a quick 1-point out of hand. Pretty clearly Weyland's BP game needs further support, as the advantage gained from its dirty money is rarely enough to outweigh the associated cons, let alone win games.

So how do we give Weyland the requisite shot in the arm to re-jump-start their economy? Is it a specific subset/type of cards they're lacking (as seen above, yes), or are there other factors at play inhibiting Weyland's merely modest income (again, yeah)?


Solutions?


Yep, we've seen these before.













Before proposing any alternative card solutions, and I realize this probably seems like a cop-out, I feel I should note that improving Weyland in at least a few of the areas mentioned in the previous articles of this series would bolster Weyland's economy considerably. Given just how many of Weyland's (better) agendas gain them money when scored (Hostile Takeover, Oaktown Renovation, High-Risk Investment), functional scoring upgrades (such as Cecil Arturez), score-accelerating tools (e.g. Avenard Grid), and more powerful ice (the likes of Gorgon and Sentinel) would allow Weyland to score these monetary agendas more frequently and consistently. That being said, Weyland can't rely on agendas alone for its economy...

Given that Weyland already has several economy cards (of varying degrees of quality), the ideas in this section are predicated on exploring design space that I deem the faction would actually benefit from. Firstly, the previously-discussed drip economy. Instead of simply going for a purely vanilla drip effect, I thought adding some ID-specificity might be interesting - the likes of Sundew for RP, the 'breaking and entering suite' for Geist, and (though not brilliantly executed) Rebranding Team for Spark Agency. Design-wise, Lukas, Damon & co. have tended to avoid printing cards that exclusively benefit a single ID - for instance, Sundew and the B&E suite are indeed playable in other IDs, albeit suboptimal. However, the aforementioned cards are pretty obviously designed to bolster specific IDs within their faction. Furthermore, as evidenced by Rebranding Team, the design team are willing to occasionally print cards that are purely designed to be used in a particular ID and serve no purpose whatsoever elsewhere. As such, I decided to go for a mix of specialization and general use, by going for an idea that thematically allows for both:

Yo dawg, I heard you like money...

With Sales Optimizers, I decided to double-dip with respect to design space. While the latter clause on Sales Optimizers provides a benefit for any ID, the former is pretty clearly designed for Building A Better World. Instead of the faction receiving another in-faction transaction (which the design team seems hesitant about), Weyland could get an asset which, on top of providing much-needed (for Weyland, that is) 'drip' economy, also doubles as support for BABW. Of special note, Sales Optimizers actually turns Subliminal Messaging into the BABW power card that it really always could have been. Of course, the Runner can simply repeatedly make runs to deny the Corp the opportunity to recur its Subliminal Messagings, but that either means making unproductive run-and-jack-outs or opening oneself up to the likes of SEA Source's 'successful run' condition.

In order to best use Sales Optimizer, however, a deck must eschew any bad publicity measures, which would reduce Sales Optimizer's merely average trash cost, and as such, would encourage a very different style of Weyland than what many are used to. Despite its synergy with BABW, this 'clean' emphasis also pretty squarely makes Sales Optimizers a Gagarin support card. This is made all the more obvious by the fact that Gagarin typically runs PAD Campaign in triplicate - with a rezzed PAD Campaign(s), Sales Optimizers will trigger without the Corp even having to spend a click to gain a credit, play a Hedge Fund, etc. Blue Sun also enjoys synergy with Sales Optimizers, as its return-to-HQ ability lets it trigger Sales Optimizers clicklessly. On the topic of cards that would be strong in Blue Sun...

Ctenocephalides felis under an electron microscope. Cat flea, son.

I thought Weyland could use a Pop-up/Pup equivalent - super-cheap, porous ice that doesn't actually require a breaker to pass. True to its namesake, Pest is a piece of ice that the Runner would really wish they could ignore, but the downsides to doing so are pretty deleterious. While Pest can trash cheap programs if the Corp has an overwhelming credit advantage, its primary use is as an economy card. Like Pup and Pop-up Window, Pest creates a two-credit swing on encounter - Pup: Runner loses 2 credits; Pop-up: Runner loses 1, Corp gains 1; Pest: Corp gains 2. Pup is the most taxing of the three, while Pest is the most lucrative for the Corp, Pop-up serving as a comfortable middle ground. 

Similar to how the other two ice can have their financial swing inverted (Yog negates Pop-up's tax on the Runner, the Runner can take net damage to avoid paying through Pup), Pest's swing can be reduced by the Runner actually installing a sentry breaker, thus preventing Pest from derezzing itself. In that sense though, Pest functions almost as a 'soft gear-check' in that, while it doesn't strictly necessitate a breaker in order to proceed, it strongly encourages the Runner to acquire a killer (or a Parasite), lest the Corp's economy escalate unchallenged. Of note, Pest likely wouldn't be a card for every Weyland deck - the fact that it in no way actually impedes the Runner's ability to access cards is a major ice no-no for many-a Weyland rush deck. For many others though (and likely even a few rushers), however, an early run deterrent that fattens the Corp's pockets would be very much welcome. And for those Weyland players who don't mind getting their hands and feet a little dirty...


Stomping down a muddy track, barefoot.
Face-painting with pig swill, whilst bathing in sewage.






















I propose two different variants of a bad publicity-bolstering economy card for Weyland, Protection Racket - the left, more conservative version I will henceforth refer to as PR1, the right, 'all-in' version as PR2. Now, both versions pretty clearly are cards that wouldn't see play except in decks intent on accumulating vast amounts of negative attention from the masses. Without any bad publicity, PR1 is substantially worse than a Beanstalk Royalties, as it costs more to play up front, nets you the same amount as Beanstalk and clicking for a credit, and is substantially less flexible (given that it's a double). As soon as you take your first bad publicity, however, PR1 becomes a highly impressive 6 credits for 2 clicks, and, as such, the card serves as 'soft' tech against Valencia. In this sense, PR1 is something of a general use economy card that is very playable for Weyland if you're expecting to score a Hostile Takeover or two in a game, and all the more so, if Valencia is a popular meta pick. 

This difference in BP is far more pronounced in PR2 - if played at 0 bad publicity, PR2 will give you a bad publicity (although it gives you more money, it obviously erodes the taxation of your servers considerably) but only net a mere 4 credits - fairly awful without initial bad publicity. The moment you acquire even a single bad publicity, however, PR2 will net the Corp 6 credits for 2 clicks, giving money equivalent to a Lucky Find, and it continues to ramp up from there - a PR2 following a Profiteering score is a minimum 10 credits for 2 clicks. While initially worse than PR1, PR2 rapidly supersedes its more conservative cousin from a pure credit standpoint, however, it also accelerates, and in fact actively contributes to, the demise of the Corp's ice defences. While already partial to PR1, GRNDL would likely regard PR2 as an auto-include, especially in the hypothetical universe where both PR2 and the proposed Urban Renewal from Part IV existed. To ensure that PR2 isn't able to get completely out of hand, money-wise, the (honestly, mostly arbitrary) cap of 5 bad publicity was placed on the card.

On top of PR2's mechanical dissimilarity to PR1, in rewarding an 'all-in' approach to bad publicity, PR2 also is more thematically sound - Weyland wouldn't be able to get away with a widespread protection racket without facing pretty severe public backlash, no matter how 'secretive' their methods are, hence the additional cost of taking BP. Furthermore, I like the idea that the more powerful PR2 only allows the Corp to benefit from the bad publicity if they acquire even more, thus forcing them to embrace multiple bad publicity. PR1, on the other hand, is much 'safer' from a balance perspective, in that it does not reward drowning in bad publicity to nearly the same degree. In general, PR1 is just a much more balanced card - a solid economy option for a Weyland deck with a few Grims/Hostile Takeovers, without pigeonholing the Corp into a dedicated BP-oriented strategy. 

Ultimately, bad publicity is a mechanic that I believe should be explored more fully, but any positive Corp uses for it would have to be balanced extremely carefully. In the end, testing of the two different Protection Racket ideas would likely determine one or the other to be more beneficial for the faction, whilst also retaining the balance of the game as whole, and thus I included both versions as speculative design considerations. 


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And that about wraps it up, people. For a series as expansive and (let's be straight up) lengthy as The Woes of Weyland has been (I counted over 16,000 words), it should be pretty obvious that I received a fair amount of help along the way. As such, I'd like to thank a few people before I check out.

Let's get a few of these in the score area, shall we?

First off, I'd like to thank the inimitable Donald Bubbins (Guv_Bubbs) - for letting me talk his ear off for months, for keeping this site running, for creating the fantastic title banners for each article, and for constantly encouraging me to get this dang thing published. The Woes of Weyland series simply wouldn't have happened without this guy.

I'd also like to give major credit to Willingdone for unknowingly providing the groundwork for several of my card ideas and discussing various Weyland-related things with me. I've plugged his stuff throughout this series, but just in case you crazy people still haven't subscribed to his YouTube channel, here you go.

A huge thanks to basically the entire Christchurch local playgroup - you lot are fantastic. Bouncing ideas back and forth, proffering suggestions, enduring my occasional (okay, semi-frequent) rants - you've been amazing. Ben, Mike, Dom, Luke, Leslie, especially, for pre-screening my articles and card ideas - y'all are great.

Much props to Jakodrako (who runs the excellent unofficial rule resource, ANCUR) for helping me with the wording on some of the more mechnically complex cards (Cecil Arturez from Part III, and Stalker from Part IV) and llama66613 for the sweet card design (and baller flavour text) behind Goons (also from Part IV).

To all who contributed to discussion about the series and just Weyland in general (Reddit, Stimhack, Facebook) - thank you. Your appreciation, insights and constructive criticism kept me going.

And, of course, hats off to Lukas Litzsinger and Damon Stone for creating the game we all know and love (to hate sometimes). While I obviously do not agree with all of the decisions they've made, design-wise, Android: Netrunner would not be the phenomenal game that it is if it weren't for the incredible work of these two gentlemen. Particularly special thanks to Damon for providing valuable feedback on the earlier articles in the series.

To everyone else - thank you for reading. Hope you enjoyed the series. Let's also hope that, by the end of the year if we're lucky, I'll be able to follow this series up with an article entitled "Weyland's The Bomb Now!" wherein I spout inordinate amounts of adulation over all the ridiculous new cards Weyland got in 2016.

We'll just have to wait and see I guess. Anyhow, till the next time. Divadus out.


3 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this series of articles. You put into words the problems that I had sensed but couldn't put my finger on. Clearly they could use some love in the cycles to come.

    Great read- thanks for taking the time to publish this!

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    Replies
    1. I very much hoped that my analyses would resonate with players, who, like you, figured out that something is wrong with Weyland, but ultimately never really looked into some of the root causes and contributing factors to the faction's decline. Really great to hear that my work paid off.

      Thank you for taking the time to read the series! Moreover, glad you appreciated it. And yeah, I'm with you - hoping that we'll be seeing a few power cards for Weyland soon enough!

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