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Work Compression

Ian Neufeld
Canada
Burnaby
British Columbia
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Microbadge: Android: Netrunner fan - JintekiMicrobadge: Gaia Project fanMicrobadge: I play a Wizard!Microbadge: Terraforming Mars fanMicrobadge: Through the Ages - Culture
Originally inspired by hollis' article about secretly loving Jinteki, this article aims to explore the idea of "work compression" in a way that's approachable and covers a wider variety of work compression systems than the original ones hollis refers to. Before we understand work compression though, we need to first look at the concept of "work" within Netrunner.

Work

In the simplest terms, work is "what will it take to accomplish my next goal." That goal could be "access R&D," "trash that Adonis Campaign," or "get back to a position where I won't be flatlined." These are some typical short-term goals that the Runner might be looking to undertake at the start of their turn. Since a Runner only has so many resources to work with (four clicks, cards in hand, credits, installed programs), they generally want to use what they have in the most efficient way possible to achieve these goals.

Scenario: Corporation has put down ice defending both HQ and R&D on their first turn. The Runner checks both ice and discovers they are an Ice Wall and a Wall of Static (two barriers). Our Runner is sadly lacking an icebreaker in their starting hand however. With a 45-card deck, 5 of which have already been drawn, means somewhere in the remaining 40 cards is the breaker that our Runner is in search of.

"40 cards left in deck divided by 3 copies of what I want" means on average, our Runner will need to draw 13 times in order to find a Corroder, plus one click to play it for a total of 14 clicks of work in order to gain access to those servers. This works out to about 4 turns of nothing but drawing and discarding cards by Runner.

Smart Runners will of course strive to avoid this disastrous situation by including tutor cards (Special Order, Test Run), bypass cards (Inside Job, Sneakdoor Beta), or simply by changing their goals for now. Maybe you can't break into centrals, but you can still trash remotes.

Creating Work

The most obvious way that work is created is when the Corporation rezzes a piece of ice with an "End The Run" subroutine. In order to get to the other side of that ice, the Runner must now do something besides just spend a click to initiate a run. The runner will probably need to spend a certain amount of credits in conjunction with an icebreaker in order to achieve the goal of getting to the other side of that ice. They might instead be able to spend clicks directly (on Bioroid ice). These options represent workloads that the Runner can undertake in order to reach their goal.

Assuming most Runners will eventually install breakers and spend credits in order to break the subroutines on ice, these programs become a form of economic work for the Runner. The Runners in turn counteract this form of work by installing cards that improve their click -> credit ratio (Magnum Opus, Armitage Codebusting) or reduce the number of credits they need to spend on breaking ice (Datasucker, Personal Touch, Ice Carver). If a particular piece of ice represents a disproportionate amount of work for the Runner, they will often deal with that piece of ice directly (Femme Fatale, Emergency Shutdown, Parasite).

But ice is not the only way that the Corporation creates work for the Runner. Installing cards in remote servers and especially advancing them give new goals for the Runner, which they must decide how to fit within their workload (or ignore). Making runs to check facedown cards instead of advancing other goals is a form of click work. If the Runner chooses to spend to trash assets, this can expand into economic work as well. If the card in question is a Snare! or Junebug, now our Runner may have to deal with draw work in order to get back to a state that is safe from flatlining - either before the end of turn, or before their next run.

Ruhr Valley creates click work if it's installed on a server that the Runner will run, Hokusai Grid creates draw work. If the run leaves the Runner tagged, they may have more work on their plate if they believe there will be consequences for floating tags. Enigma doesn't technically create click work unless the Runner is forced to run on it without breaking the subroutine for some reason, but you'll see how it can amplify certain kinds of work later.

Types of Work

This is a rough attempt to categorize the different kinds of work that a Runner might be faced with.

Economic Work - Getting through a single piece of ice can be annoying, but getting through three or four is often crippling to a Runner's bank account. Weyland and HB capitalize on this kind of work using fortresses of ice, many of which end the run. Runners counter with strong economic cards (Magnum Opus, Armitage Codebusting, Liberated Account, Katie Jones).

Install Work - The Runner needs to get a particular program or piece hardware out to be effective. Chimera exploits this kind of work against a deck without Crypsis/Drawin/Wyrm. Trashing key programs with Aggressive Secretary, Ichi 1.0, or Rototurret creates more of this kind of work mid-game. Tinkering, Special Order, Test Run and Retrieval Run are examples of how Runners combat this kind of work, both short-term and long-term.

Tag Work - Getting the stain of tags out of your clothes takes clicks and credits. If the Runner is concerned about the consequences of being tagged, they will need to spend extra effort combating anything that gives them tags. Of course, if they don't care about the tags, this work gets put on the back burner or ignored.

Draw Work - Getting enough cards in hand to avoid being flatlined by completing a run (Snare!, Hokusai Grid, Junebug) or by the Corporation on their turn (Neural EMP, Ronin, Scorched Earth, Private Security Force). Plascrete Carapace is a mechanism for delaying Draw Work in many cases, while Diesel and Quality Time help complete the needed work faster.

Click Work - Generic busy work that a Runner needs to do in order to maintain knowledge of the game state, power up cards or as a result of certain powerful effects (Ruhr Valley, Jinteki: Replicating Perfection). Building up Datasuckers on an unprotected Archives, charging up Crypsis or breaking Bioroid ice with clicks are more examples where raw clicks are used as workload.

As you can see, for every kind of resource a Runner has (cards in hand, credits, clicks, installed cards) there is a corresponding type of work that can be imposed on them. Additionally, tags can create a fifth kind of work for Runners. Understanding what kinds of work your deck is going to create and put the Runner under is important to building a strong Corporation deck.

Working in Advance

Even when there are no immediate goals on the table, Runners are still able to perform work in a way that prepares them for possible future goals. The most obvious way is by taking credits during a turn in which there are no obvious threats on the table, thus preparing them for a future turn. Drawing a card or two allows them to look for a breaker they don't have out or a strong economic card, both good ways of making sure the Runner will be better able to handle a future goal faster.

Some forms of work are more difficult to prepare for. There are only a few ways in the game to prepare extra clicks for a later turn, and discarding down to your maximum hand size means you normally can't prep more than five cards in hand for next turn. Therefore not all forms of work can be prepared for equally.

Work Compression

Work compression is any point where a player struggles to keep up with the amount of work it takes to accomplish critical goals. Early-game this might be the work required to get a critical icebreaker installed to access a fortified remote server, or amassing enough credits to trash key economic cards. Late-game this could be the work required to check every newly installed card in case it's an agenda, or maintaining an R&D lock to prevent scoring out of hand.

Work compression is felt most strongly when failing to perform a particular action (or sequence of actions) this turn could result in a loss condition. Under these conditions, the Runner may either go defensive (if risking a flatline) or resort to "suicide runs" (if risking a winning agenda being scored) in order to avoid losing the game. A Runner who does not fear either of these outcomes can simply choose to continue preparing for their next goal by taking money, drawing, or installing new cards.

Some of the most interesting work compression occurs in the aftermath of a run that did not go well for the Runner. Non-trivial work was invested and the Runner hit a trap (Project Junebug, Snare!, Aggressive Secretary) or had an expensive dud (plowing through multiple pieces of ice to find a Marked Accounts). In these circumstances, the Runner is often stuck trying to make up their lost resources while the Corporation presses their advantage. The previously mentioned Enigma is an example of how this can be manipulated to the Corporation's advantage by encouraging Runners to run on their last click (thus saving a credit), leaving them with no clicks to recover from a bad run this turn.

Applied Work Compression

Corporation players employ workloads and work compression often without realizing or understanding it as such. A natural progression of the game will result in Corporations building up more ice on servers, while the runner attempts to counteract the rising costs with stronger economy and better breakers. Adding more ice to a central server the Runner is attacking, putting a new card in a fortified remote server, or the "Shell Game" horizontal install of multiple new remote servers. All of these are instances of deliberately increasing work for the Runner, but learning when and how to create work compression is key to a sustainable strategy as the Corporation.

Fast Advance decks use a lot of economic work compression - no agendas or critical assets are to stay in play, so the Runner needs to pluck the agendas out of HQ or off R&D. Otherwise they'll be scored as soon as they touch the table, without lingering in vulnerable remote servers. The Runner then faces growing pressure to keep on top of R&D, even as it grows 3 or 4 ice deep.

Never Advance decks are different approach to the same work compression - every turn there's a new card installed in that fortified remote server. It might be an agenda, it might be a trap, it might be Melange Mining Corp, it might be San-San City Grid. Next turn it might be scored, or give the Corporation a bunch of money. Once the cost to break into the server is greater than one turn's income for the Runner, this becomes a really hard form of work to deal with. And when you get in to discover Edge of World? Now you're really hurting.

Tag'n'Bag decks use more varied workloads. The NBN "tags everywhere" approach will force the runner to shed tags constantly (tag work) and balance their credit pool with the risk of a SEA Source landing a trace off-turn (economic work). Add in the possibility of any advanced card being Posted Bounty or Breaking News and you generate severe work compression - check that card or risk death, drop too far below the Corporation's wealth and risk death, end the turn with a tag and risk death.

PsychoBeale, Flytrap and Tagstorm decks all have ways to generate inopportune workloads for Runners. The Runner may be forced to slow down and clear multiple tags after Big Brother (tag work), a Midseason Replacement can provide a one-turn victory against a Runner who just stole an agenda without enough credits to counter the trace (economic work), and of course the risk of a Scorched Earth can prevent rapid installation of multiple cards (draw work).

Special Consideration: Jinteki

Jinteki is generally ineffective at generating large economic workloads for the Runner. A Runner deck tuned with enough economy to deal with HB/Weyland ice fortresses will crush the economic workloads Jinteki normally generates. Nor can they slam the Runner with the level of tagging an NBN deck does - at least not without sacrificing the ability to follow through with the tags. But Jinteki can excel at generating click work and draw work - which is what makes them unwieldy to a lot of players who expect to be trying to dominate the Runner economically.

While other corporations excel at generating a continuous economic workload for the Runner to access their servers, Jinteki decks tend to be very spiky in their work demands. Leaving advanced cards lying around is potential death-by-Ronin, but running them is potential death-by-Junebug (or "just" a crippling Aggressive Secretary). Hitting something before the Corporation advances it could mean a Snare! or Edge of World, but it might be a Braintrust instead. Any run on HQ/R&D risks uncovering Snare! or Fetal AI, while also opening the Runner up to retaliation from Neural EMP.

Jinteki: Replicating Perfection is a maestro of click workloads, demanding that one click be spent on running a central server before any remotes can be attacked. While having punishing ice on all your centrals is a good amplifier for this ability (sometimes forcing an extra 2-3 credits out of the Runner), the cost of a click just to bounce off a Wall of Static is non-trivial. If the Runner decides to "not waste the click" by pushing all the way through to your R&D or HQ, then the economic workload increases - and may be amplified if they hit a Snare! as their prize. Now they'll usually have to abort their second planned run this turn because of the risk of a flatline while they clear the tag and/or draw up. Adding in agendas like False Lead and Nisei Mk II, or even the Ruhr Valley upgrade, can result in the Runner being completely unable to perform the necessary runs to stop a winning agenda from being scored, or from drawing up to a safe number of cards before end of turn.

A good Jinteki player finds just enough work to keep the Runner busy dealing with cheap ice and periodic damage until they can turn the workload up to an unattainable level. The ideal end result is the Runner gets to choose between a possible flatline or jacking out of the run - and when they're foolish enough to choose to risk the flatline, they get it. Decks built around the idea of a "god combo" like Whirlpool -> Bullfrog -> Alderaan are unlikely to succeed unless the Runner can be forced (or is foolish enough) to run on a server with two facedown ice, without the resources to break a Chum (equal cost to Bullfrog, usually no more than 3-4 credits), while the Corporation is sitting there with many more credits (rez cost of Bullfrog + cost to force runner into switching servers + any costs to activate the death server).

Summary

Work is the amount of resources (clicks, credits, card draws) it will take to accomplish a particular goal. A goal could be accessing a particular server, trashing an asset, or checking face down cards to hunt for an agenda.

Work compression results when the Runner pursues one or more work-intensive goals designed to deplete their finite resources. Since there are usually multiple goals for a Runner that can be pursued in any given turn, this is often in order to trash a particularly good asset, steal a potentially game-winning agenda, or to recover to a state of safety after receiving damage and/or tags.

Pressure to act in the face of work compression often results in Runners making runs without sufficient preparation for all possible consequences (tags, net damage, brain damage, trashing programs) which will either result in their immediate death or severely handicap them in subsequent turns.

Understanding how work is created/handled, how to orchestrate work compression, and ultimately how to maximize the way your deck handles the type of workloads it creates is therefore key to a strong Corporation deck.

Acknowledgements

Big thanks of course to hollis for the article that got me started thinking about this. Many other people have shared tales of their exploits where Runners were forced to make hard decisions with imperfect information that ultimately flatlined them or gave the Corporation a win. Thank you all for sharing your stories, and I look forward to playing many many more games of Netunner.

Keep running, keep advancing.
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