Netrunner, the after-effect

> Journal Entry 03

This time I want to go away from the normal discussions I make around video games and public perception and talk about something more fun and intuitive (in a way), board games. Board games are what I’ve always fan-girled about since I was 5 or something. Netrunner was the epitome of my journey in board gaming with my recent 2nd place in the 2015 Belgian Nationals with some totally rogue decks.

Board games have always given me that satisfaction that just nothing else would. It gives you enough social interaction to make it acceptable as something not entirely nerdy and enough RNG-factors therewith to make it fun for just about everyone. That is the case with chess though, you can’t really have “fun” playing it on a really competitive level or enjoy it against less experienced players.

To get you into the whole matter, I have to begin with some more historical facts rather than cut straight to the point, you would be confused otherwise. I started out with playing anything my brothers would drop in front of me, be it the Pokemon TCG or Magic the Gathering, at first and some more complex board games later. My brother, Nikos Christakis, is an avid board gamer with more than 200 board games in his collection right now and does a lot of translations for the rules in Greek for many board games. He was also one of the reasons of why I got into board games so much. When he moved out of the house, I was one sad mofo since I had to visit him at his place which was 1 hour away to play any kind of game and that was quite hard without a driver’s license. I’m happy for him though, since he enjoys playing with his wife, his sister-in-law and her husband too. He also has a beautiful son who I’m certain one day will be beating his butt in every single one of the board games he owns.

My brother is a brilliant person (both of my brothers are), but specifically Nikos is the definite example of the “hard to beat” kind of player. Anything he would try for the first or the 1000th time he would be inexpicably good at and would thus be frustrating to keep losing from him. Since the time we first made our own Pokemon decks and went head to head day after day, I would lose every time to his stupid Misty deck (fuck Staryu and Starmie, seriously..). That though, made me get used to losing and even more taught me how to lose properly. I am a terrible winner for that reason though, I rarely ever won so I became one cocky fucker when I finally started winning.

So back to board games, there is not much to say other than the fact that I generally enjoy them because of the social as well as the strategic value they have. But I’m the kind of player that just adapts quickly and understands it fast enough to beat everyone else in the first 3-4 games. So I’m more the “element of surprise” kind of player rather than the meta player who knows how to pilot all the strategies in a flawless way. So as soon as someone has 20 games in, he will just be better than me after that and beat me. So, enter Netrunner.

Netrunner is probably, THE best board/card game I’ve ever played without any doubt and there are lots of reasons to explain that. Leigh and Quinns explain those reasons very well through their article on shutupandsitdown.com. So I don’t have to explain much about it. Other than the fact that the game is mostly appealing because of its assymetrical gameplay between the Corp player (the corporation player) and the Runner player (the hacker player) as well as the fact that each side has different factions with different IDs to pick from thus allowing for a lot of expression through gameplay and deckbuilding.

The game is based on deckbuilding as much as it is on being able to play the decks against anything you might be facing. You understand that with so many IDs and cards out there (about 736 cards available right now) you can make all kinds of combinations thus meaning that you have to “tech” against certain combos and prepare yourself to face anything. Making a deck that works against everything is almost impossible and that’s where the “piloting” comes into play. Being a skilled Netrunner player with lots of knowledge of what you can face is quite important since it allows you to protect yourself from pretty much anything that might come your way. Anticipation and intuition are two of the most important things you need to have as a Netrunner player.

But let’s dig a bit deeper. The expression that the factions allow you to have is something that is reflected through the gamestyle of each faction (and ID in advance). My personal favourite, the Jinteki faction, which focuses on doing net damage and playing mind-games is totally different from how the HB faction plays for example, since it’s more hostile and more of a high-risk oriented kind of game style. It was back in 2013 when I walked in the Rotterdam board game store (Gamers of the West) and I asked some guys if they are up for some board games, they were all playing Netrunner. They asked me if I play Netrunner and I said “yeah, I got some cards, never played more than 3-4 times though.” So they sat me down and I got to play against Dean, who was the most scary Jinteki guy for quite a while. As I explain in my article of how to play Jinteki (Kelf’s Neural Secrets), I got to the point where I was able to beat Dean and get better (if I say so myself) to the point where I could play my Jinteki decks competitively.

So after a lot of practice and personal deckbuilding, I started going to small tournaments in the Netherlands by tagging along with the guys from Rotterdam (Robert and Cees at first). It took me three to four NR tournaments full of terrible game losses to start winning any and getting into the sense of the game, but once I started winning I started getting more confident (and cocky) about my skills in the game. I heard lots of people were “netdecking” which is the art of looking online which decks did well and why and then playing them yourself. That is not necessarily a bad thing, since just like cooking, looking at a good recipe is something that people who don’t have the skills or the time to deckbuild do. I didn’t want to do that though, I wanted to work my way there because I really enjoyed deckbuilding. Because of that, it took me a while before I was able to get any good spots at tournaments and slowly but steadily, after 2 years I’ve successfully been placing 2nd/3rd in many tournaments with my own decks which is something that gives me great satisfaction. The fact that I manage that with my very own builds is the most important thing for me. All that led to the point where I managed to get 2nd place in the 2015 Belgian Nationals with my very own totally new and unconventional decks. That was my “moment of glory” for me and my final justification of all the wacky shit I did before that.

Up until that point, I was developing myself as a player and a person, tournament after tournament, game after game. As a Jinteki player at first, I explored how I should act while playing the game to entice players to run my “ambush” servers and how I should fake out certain moves in order to have a bigger percentage of winning. I needed to learn the math of the game as well as the game sense of a standard player. That of course was quite hard to achieve since if you learn one player, nothing can prepare you for facing another in a totally different country who has never even seen you before in his life. So I basically developed strategies while constantly playing the game, trying out things and failing badly. (More about my playstyle in my Neural Secrets article)

All that time, I lost terribly and I even had arguments with some of the people in my community regarding my deckbuilding since they characterized my decks as “cheesy” or “annoying” or “staple” even. One of them specifically told me the following:

“Some play this game to win, you play it just to get wacky combos. Everyone enjoys it for different reasons, so don’t get mad for not winning or don’t get mad for seeing them win with the *good* decks.” ~Mark

Well, I play to win too, but if I am going to do so, I might as well do it and really work for it, do it entirely on my own, with my own “recipes” and my own playstyle. The first time I saw that this was probably going to work one day, was during the Draft event one day before the Euregio tournament in Aachen (late May 2015). I won the draft event quite easily and many things throughout both the drafting part and the playing part assured me of how good of a deckbuilder I had become. I saw the potential of many of the cards that were passing by me way easier than other players’ from what I noticed since I had been trying to make all kinds of wacky shit with those cards (when others didn’t even know those cards existed or never saw them in play). I managed to make both a runner and a corp deck with having extra cards I wanted to put in there when at the same time other players were trying to fill their deck to the minimum deck size by including cards that they wouldn’t constantly yell out “I don’t wanna play that card, that card sucks.” When I won against Falko, he specifically said “you’re a terrible winner” because I got overly excited and astounded by how I managed to get first spot with the most prestige points out of 16 players.

Yes Falko, I AM a terrible winner, cuz I’ve barely ever won something like a Netrunner tournament. It was an odd and weird satisfaction that filled my very soul with joy when I managed to win something with decks that I deckbuilt and prepared myself on site. (Falko is only one of the many amazing people I’ve had the honor of meeting and playing with through NR)

So the time came when I would roll once again with a couple friends from the Dutch community to a tournament abroad, with hopes of one of us at least getting top 8 to get the acrylic tag promos that top 8 players get. I never once in my life imagined that I would get 2nd place with the decks I was playing. But that was lack of confidence in my decks, because of all the things I see around me winning tournaments and my decks were nothing like that. The playstyle of my decks is something totally different from the norm and I don’t expect others to do well with them either. As Stiv said “remember that someone else can probably not get as far with your decks”. I have even had complaints from people that said 2 days after trying out my decks “this totally doesn’t work, it just doesn’t,” well I’m sorry, it does for me. The element of surprise has yet again been my main focus in most cases, since I was able to win a lot of games just because people weren’t able to adapt to the new things they were facing fast enough to win the game.

But as I explained, it was a long journey, a journey of at least two years of deckbuilding and losing game after game, tournament after tournament, in order for one day to be at the point where you understand the game and the shifting metas well enough to be able to make a breakthrough like this. I believe that I can freely express how proud I am of that achievement since I did everything on my own and not by netdecking or following someone else’s playstyle. For once, I can learn how it is to win and not just lose. I thoroughly enjoyed the support of all the amazing people I met during the national championship who hugged me repeatedly, asked me to sign their cards and cheered for me non-stop.

Halfway through my Netrunner journey though, I thoroughly enjoyed the social aspect of the game a lot as well and that’s what pushed me into becoming an organizer and a judge of events as well. With my current and future studies being in management I enjoyed that part as much as I did playing. It’s a different kind of satisfaction of course, but still quite a pleasing one when people congratulate you on organizing a good tournament and thank you for your work and effort. I’m glad for whatever I’ve done for the Dutch Netrunner community since all of the people in it make me realize how well worth it was every time I talk or play with them. I don’t mind the time I spent doing what I did and I’m more than happy to say that I will continue doing it as long as I have their blessing and support. I’m really glad the Netrunner community bonded more since I started getting everyone together and more updated through nedrunner.nl. Hopefully I’ll manage to do the same with the European Netrunner Community Website-platform I am preparing (with the support of all the European communities) for all the European players. I’m proud to be part of one of the most welcoming and friendly Netrunner communities worldwide.

That being said though, the journey doesn’t end here since despite leaving a mark in Netrunner history with my rogue appearance, I now have to live up to the title I earned by continuing what I always did, losing with wacky shit until I manage to build something interesting and amazing again.

I would like to once again thank all of the people that helped me with all the things I’ve done Netrunner-wise and most of all Robert, who was always up to going to a Netrunner tournament on a weekend and practicing against my annoying Jinteki builds non-stop. Trust me, it takes courage to be able to play against my notoriously deadly shit week after week. Thanks Robert.

Netrunner is a great game that is well worth anyone’s time. It allows for personal expression while playing a game, how more amazing can it be? For me personally, it has become a form of art and expression since every time I play a tournament I feel like I’m making a statement through the decks I’ve brought and the way I play them. I wouldn’t mind spending some time to teach it to you too, all you have to do is ask. You might be just a casual player but the joy of the game is still there to be seen. I have to say I’m quite glad my new housemate is enjoying the game and asking me on his own for some games of Netrunner every now and then, it’s quite exhilarating to say the least.

The game has allowed me to meet and enjoy the company of some great people and it has allowed me to distance myself from some problems I’ve had during my stay in the Netherlands. Despite making me a better player and person in some ways, it has really been helpful and I’m really glad I started playing it, even on a competitive level, just because of all the amazing experiences it allowed me to have. Proof of that is the front page of nedrunner.nl with my happy face in lots of the pictures on there.

I will soon enough release a couple articles on deckbuilding since I was asked by quite a few people to do so in order to explain how I do it and how it just goes bad in most cases. So you can look forward to those! Until next time…

Keep runnin’ my friends, keep runnin’..

-Constantine “Kelfecil” Christakis

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