Monday, 26 August 2013

A:NR Server Interruption: Team Covenant

We interrupt our usual Android: Netrunner blog series with this public service announcement:

Now GenCon is over and Zach at Team Covenant posted this video to say thanks to their supporters, it felt the right time to say a thank you back.

I discovered Team Covenant while researching Netrunner ahead of my purchase of the game – watching their data pack unboxing videos and their regional games with commentary. I was immediately taken with how well the videos are put together and the likeability of the guys involved, their enthusiasm for the game playing a major role in my decision to buy.

Team Covenant is a website, YouTube channel and retail store in Tulsa Oklahoma, set up by a small group of friends with a love of boardgames, card games and a vision - a mission statement, if you will - called Gaming Reborn. In short, their aim is to move the hobby out of the stuffy basements and into the wider community where it can connect people from all walks of life. 
They approach this task in a rather unique way in that they only stock and post content for games that they love to play themselves, look great and are made by good companies that can be relied on to support their customers.
Currently, TC supports the FFG games X-Wing, A Game of Thrones, Android: Netrunner, Star Wars: The Card Game and The Lord of the Rings LCG, as well as the table-top miniatures game Infinity from Corvus Belli, The Spoils - a card games made by Tenacious Games as well as a number of other boardgames and RPGs.

In their store they hold tournaments that are regularly live streamed and on their YouTube channel you will find many videos of developer interviews, unboxing expansion packs and commentating on regional tournament games.

As a Brit, to me all Americans seem to have a natural gift for speaking, where as we have to work at it. Either that or they make great effort look easy! The four main chaps of Team Covenant – Robert, Tim, Steven and Zach – are not only very knowledgeable about their hobby and work, but are also great on camera – clear, concise and very watchable. This coupled with infectious enthusiasm makes for a great and fun experience on the YouTube channel that I can’t praise enough.

Their website is well designed and has a great following; with new blog content posted regularly that is interesting and informative regardless of what game you play.

Living near Sheffield, I am duty-bound to support my local store when it comes to buying my games, but if I lived in the US, I would certainly look to their website as my main source. Not only do they have a great selection of games, but they have a subscription model where expansions for your favourite games can be automatically delivered to you on release. For more information, go here.

Final thoughts:

Team Covenant is an exceptional YouTube channel and website, run by a brilliant group who love what they do – and it shows.

Oh, and Robert has an amazing beard.

With a massive pond between us and Life’s tendency to get in the way, it pains me to think I might never get to meet these guys and shake their hands (and perhaps lose a couple of games of Netrunner to them). Maybe one day they’ll make a trip over here to cover some gaming event – in which case, I’ll be there like a shot.

Until then, I will continue to Like, Share, Retweet and support the site however I can.

Team Covenant - Thank you.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Android: Netrunner - My Journey in a Dystopian Future - Part 9: A Study in Static

Cyber Exodus is the third data pack released for Android: Netrunner and to say it had a big impact on the game is something of an understatement. Let’s take a look at my choices from the pack: 


1. Test Run
A 3 influence Shaper Event that can be played at a cost of 3 credits, take a look at Test Run’s ability in the picture here. It says it all really. There are many ways in which this could be utilised. Just one that springs to mind – You play Test Run and search your stack for Femme Fatale. You install it for nothing (instead of 9 credits) and select the piece of Ice the Femme can break through using credits. You use her during a run. At the end of the turn, she is placed at the top of your stack for you to draw the next turn, install if you have the credits and select a different piece of Ice to run on. Or if you have another Test run, you could trash Femme, only to then play if for free again out of your heap.

2. Personal Workshop
You can put this card into play at a cost of 1 and from there you can host any number of programs or hardware on Personal Workshop, each just costing you a click. You place power counters on these programs equal to their install cost and at the beginning of each turn, you choose one of the cards to remove a power counter. When all power counters on a card have gone, the card is immediately installed. You can also pay a credit to remove a power counter.
The power of this is not immediately apparent – but the key lies in the fact that paying a credit to remove a counter is not also costing you a click – which means it can be done mid-run. Let’s say you have a Sentry icebreaker in play (a Fractor). On your Personal Workshop you have a Decoder progam hosted, which will break Code Gate subroutines. You spend a click and make a run on a server protected by two pieces of Ice – the outermost piece being a Sentry. You break through this and the Corporation decides to rez the next piece of Ice. It is a Code Gate. So at this point, you can pay credits equal to the number of power counters still on your Decoder Icebreaker, remove them and install it. You can now break that Code gate Ice with this newly installed program.
This card may be 4 influence, but it is so good it has seen plenty of play in other decks, namely Noise – utilising Personal Workshop to more efficiently install Virus programs and forcing the Corp to trash R & D cards with Noise’s ability.
The card’s weakness? It is a resource, so if you’re tagged on the Corp’s turn, your opponent can trash this – along with all the cards hosted on it.

3. Emergency Shutdown
A zero cost, 2 influence, Criminal Event that you can play if you made a successfully run on HQ that turn. Then you can derez a piece of Ice. Best used on the more expensive Ice, this can completely mess with the Corporate player’s economy plans. On the your next turn, the Corporation may not have enough money to rez that Ice again, and you’ve got your way in.

1. Pop-up Window
At first glance this may seem a weak choice. The Runner sails past this Ice by paying a single credit. But it doesn’t cost the Corporation to rez it and every time the Runner encounters Pop-up Window, the Corp gains a credit. So if placed on a server you know the Runner is going to be targeting frequently – like R & D – it can be a nice little earner for you.

2. Project Vitruvius
Has Noise trashed something to archives that you needed? Well if you advance this agenda beyond its score limit of 3, you’ll be able to use hosted power counters to go and retrieve it. Indeed, the Corporation could willingly trash cards to archives in order to collect them later with this – Scorched Earth springing to mind. An excellent agenda for HB, as long as you can protect it long enough to advance it.

3. Commercialization
A Weyland Transaction card (so already a bonus for Weyland’s core ability of gaining a credit whenever a Transaction is played), Commercialization can be played for free and you’ll gain a credit for each advancement token on a piece of Ice. Considering that serveral of Weyland’s Ice can be advanced, this can be a good injection of income if you draw it at the right time.

A Study in Static – the fourth data pack in the Genesis cycle. Here are some of the highlights:


1. Deus X
A 1 influence Shaper Program that can be installed at a cost of 3 credits and a memory unit. Got an AP piece of Ice you need to get by? Trash this and you’re through. Jinteki about to flatline you with net damage? Trash this card to prevent it. Nice to have in play just in case – if you can spare the memory slot that is.

2. Doppelganger
A Criminal piece of Hardware that gives you 1 extra MU. Great. But it gets better. After a successful run ends, once per turn, you may use Doppelganger to make another run (without costing you a click). A brilliant ability if you have can make that second run successful. Could work really well with Anarch – make a run on R & D (trashing cards with Demolition Run or Imp), make another run on R & D with Doppelganger to see if there is now an Agenda waiting for you.

3. Scrubber
2 recurring credits to use for trashing cards. This Anarch card has a cost of 2 and to many it meant there was little reason to play as the Wizzard identity. Of course, you could play both Wizzard and Scrubber and be trashing cards left right and centre.


1. Weyland: Because We Built It
A new Weyland identity with 1 recurring credit to use to advance Ice. With Shadow and Ice Wall as in-faction Ice – both of which can be advanced – these cards are going to get stronger every turn, for free. An excellent ability if you’re already happy with your economy and don’t need that extra credit for playing transaction cards that Weyland’s original agenda offers.

2. Oversight AI
This card allows you to put out that piece of Ice you can’t really afford to rez otherwise. Great if it’s going to stop the Runner (and probably do some damage), not so great once the Runner breaks the subroutines on that Ice, because the Ice is then trashed, along with Oversight AI.

3. Uroboros
A strong piece of NBN Ice that if placed well and if you have the money for the traces, can stop the Runner from doing what comes naturally for the rest of his turn. Expensive to use, but affective.

In the next post in the series, we’ll be completing our round up of the Genesis cycle with the final two data packs – Humanity’s Shadow and Future Proof.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Next-Gen Graphics

Gamers know that the graphics aren’t everything and the gameplay is what matters, but we’d all be lying to ourselves if we said we didn’t want a new console to amaze us with its visuals. With so many upcoming games being released both on current and next-gen consoles, it is often a confusing time with publishers showing footage from both versions. Here are just a few titles and what footage I believe we’ve seen so far:
Battlefield 4 – Next gen. I don’t think they’ve shown any current gen footage yet, either single or multiplayer.
Watch Dogs – Next gen. With the possible exception of that dodgy video a few weeks ago that hasn’t been addressed by Ubisoft.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Until the stealth walkthrough below, I don’t think the version had been directly referred to. Here they specifically state it is next gen. AC has always been the best looking game around though, so it would always have been hard to tell on YouTube.
Madden NFL 25 – Aside from non-gameplay footage at E3, I believe we’ve only seen current-gen on this one.
FIFA 14 – The same as Madden.
TitanFall – A big one for the Xbox and they want to show it off. All next-gen footage here.
And what impression have the next-gen visuals left? Shock and awe? I remember Fight Night 3 was the first time I laid eyes on Xbox 360 footage and I was amazed. I don’t think we’ve quite had that jump this time, but the likes of Battlefield 4, Watch Dogs and The Division are still jawdropping.
While Call of Duty Ghosts will no doubt look great, I think we will have to wait for their first real next-gen effort in 2014 to properly judge.
What I’ve noticed about the visuals I’ve seen so far is how much more natural everything appears. The movements of the characters in Tom Clancy’s The Division – from walking up steps, moving into cover, shutting a car door and they slide past it – it is all perfectly natural looking and super smooth. The same can be said for the protagonist in Watch Dogs and all the AI around him.
Because developers pushed the current consoles so far and we saw the likes of the Frostbite 2 engine in action – the sights and sounds of the Xbox One and PS4 will not be so surprising (at least not in the first year or so), but I think the overall production value of games will be vastly improved, with every detail polished and rendered perfectly. There are great sights ahead.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Have I lost interest in Games Workshop?

I think it’s about time we addressed the elephant in the room. Have I lost interest in the Games Workshop hobby?
To recap, I got back into the hobby with Warhammer 40,000 about 6 years ago, after a childhood spent playing the likes of HeroQuest, Battle Masters, Blood Bowl and Space Crusade. I have 2000 points of Ultramarines, 2000 points of Eldar and a 1500 point Space Wolves army, as well as a pile of codexes and Horus Heresy novels.
But things have slowed somewhat over the past year. Here I will list the evidence and then I’ll go back and address each in turn with what I intend to do about it.
Those who read this blog or follow me on Twitter will know I’ve discovered Fantasy Flight card games in the last six months, falling particularly hard for Android: Netrunner, and so my attention has been taken away from the battlefields of the 41st millennium.
Until this past week, I hadn’t put paint to a model since Christmas.
My reading of the Horus Heresy series has stalled after Tales of Heresy.
Firstly, the card games. There’s going to be no change there, I’m afraid, I’m obsessed with Netrunner and that’s that. It’s just going to be a case of trying to balance it out. At the minute, the Games Workshop hobby suffers because my other hobbies require far less effort. All I have to do is get out my cards and deck build or sit down and switch on the Xbox.
I need to remind myself that with effort comes reward and so I’ve started painting again.
I have a small mountain of Eldar and Space Marines to paint, as well as scenery and bastions to finish. So what I’ve decided to do is start with the final Dreadfleet model I have left to paint. After that, I’m going to pick a single miniature like the Games Day model from last year and paint that. These are projects that you can see an end to and so can more easily get motivated.
The Horus Heresy reading slowed because I thought Legion wasn’t great and Mechanicum was bloody awful. That, coupled with the fact that Fallen Angels is like rocking horse s**t to get a hold of, things just ground to a halt. Now, I know I could just order the book from the Internet, but I’m old school. If I can purchase from a shop from a real life human being, I will. So what I’m going to do is buy the next book or two at Games Day, where they’ll have an abundance of them.
And yes, I have bought my Games Day ticket. I always enjoy the day and it is bound to spark my enthusiasm again. Also, I’ve told a friend from Twitter that I’ll give him a quick play through of Netrunner while we’re there.

There are a few other gripes of course, but I can’t really do anything about them. I’ve not being that excited by some GW’s latest products. The Khorne Lord of Skulls has crossed the line into toys and I’m unsure about the Space Marine Centurians from the leaked photos I've seen.
I’m still not a fan of the hardback codexes. They feel too much like the WWF and Dandy annuals I used to have as a kid and they aren’t conducive to flicking through in search of a quick rule clarification at the table.
And I’ve grown increasingly annoyed with the corner of the community who constantly moan about the company and their practices/prices/lawsuits etc. But then, as a videogamer, I'm used to whining, entitled communities.
But these, I’ll just have to live with. In all, I don’t believe I have lost interest in this hobby, I’ve just been distracted – moving out of the parental home and finding myself with bills to pay and cleaning to do hasn’t helped!
But I am hopeful that the next few months will see me back into the swing of things. While a new army won’t be on the horizon for some time, I aim to get more painting done and some games played.
For the Emperor…..

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Android: Netrunner - My Journey in a Dystopian Future - Part 8: What Lies Ahead

Being a Living Card Game, Android: Netrunner is supported by regularly released Data Packs that add new cards to the game.
There are 60 cards in each pack – 3 copies each of 20 cards – 10 for the Runner and 10 for the Corp.

In this post, I’ll be including what I think are the top 3 cards for the Runner and the top 3 for the Corporation in the first two Data Packs released for the game. You may have different opinions to mine of course, and more experienced players will be more informed on a card’s uses than me, but this is how I see things.


What Lies Ahead is the first Data Pack in The Genesis Cycle and the very first pack released for Netrunner.


1. Ash 2X3ZB9CY
By the time the Runner reaches the end of a run, a lot of the time, he will now be low on cash. So to rez this card when he hits the server you have a good chance in beating him on the trace. In which case, he won't be able to access any cards but this one - allowing you to protect an agenda for you to score it next turn, or bluff and conceal a trap or other asset.

2. Project Atlas

A Weyland agenda, that when advanced beyond that needed to score, allows you to add agenda counters which you can use to search for things in your deck. The only downside is you have to reveal what you just looked for, but you could still use this to play mind games with your opponent.

3. Draco

Though dependent on whether you have plenty of credits when you rez this Ice, Draco allows you to dictate how strong this is going to be. Of course, then you have to have the money to try to trace the Runner to tag him and end the run. By no means a great card, but useful if your pockets are deep.
And if you're curious about the Latin text. It translates as Do not mock conquered dragons.


1. Imp

When Imp is installed, place 2 virus counters on it. You can then use these - once per turn - to trash cards. It being a virus card it will also trash the top card of R&D if you're playing as Noise, when you install it.

I like to install these cards on Djinn to save on the memory slots, but whether you're doing this or not, Imp will always be just a temporary install. Once the virus counters have been used, this is a dead card, which makes it a good one to use in combo with Aesop's pawnshop - at the beginning of your turn, sell Imp to Aesop for 3 credits.

2. Peacock

Reasonably cheap to install, Peacock has a base strength of 2, but 2 credits will boost this by 3 when needed. It is then another 2 credits to break a Code Gate subroutine, so this is certainly not the most efficient Ice, but it is notable that this is the first Decoder for Criminal - an identity that has, until now, had to splash Decoders or rely on Crypsis.

3. Plascrete Carapace

And here we have the answer to Scorched Earth. A neutral card, Plascrete is a great defence against brain damage and if you manage to get two of them out, you are set to run on servers without fear. Your average Runner is clever enough to avoid tags without needing a third copy of this taking up a slot, but I'd certainly recommend adding at least one, particularly if you're going up against Weyland.



The second data pack in the Genesis Cycle. Here are my choices from the 20 new cards.


1. Fetal AI

This card marks the first time the Runner suffers damage upon accessing an agenda and on top of that, has to pay an extra 2 credits to steal it. How often have you used up your last credit during the run and have nothing left when you access the server? Quite a few, which makes this card an essential addition for Jinteki.

2. Sensei

Not drawing Ice with the invaluable End the Run subroutine? Fear not with this in your hand. Sensei adds the End the Run subroutine to all other Ice encountered during the remainder of this run.

3. Jinteki - Replicating Perfection

And a third Jinteki card - this time a whole new identity. If you're using Replicating Perfection, your opponent will not be able to run on a remote server unless he has first run on a central server. The run on one of the centrals doesn't have to be a successful one, but nevertheless, that's a click used up for a run he didn't particularly want to make.


1. Liberated Account

Still one of my favourite Netrunner cards. An Anarch card (but with just 1 influence, so this can go elsewhere), that is an expensive 6 to play, but the pay off for a Runner is superb. You place 16 credits on Liberated Account when it is installed and then for a click you can take 4 credits off it. Picture this: Install it on one turn and then on the next, 2 clicks to take 8 credits and then the third click make a run with money to burn. Brilliant.

2. Dyson Memory Chip

A neutral Runner card that for a cost of 3, will give you +1 memory and +1 link. Simple and effective, especially if you have no link strength to begin with.

3. Vamp

An Anarch event card of 2 influence,  Vamp is used to deplete the Corporation's funds. Providing you're doing ok in economy yourself to be able to afford to play this and pay the X amount of credits, this card could come in very handy.

And there you have it. We'll be following this post up with my picks from the next two data packs, so watch out for that.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Last Generation?

The other day on Twitter, one of the gaming accounts that I follow tweeted that some guy from Ubisoft or wherever had said he didn’t think this coming generation would be the last.
My first thought was, ‘well, why would it?’
But then I got thinking about how it might be.
While the PS4 might be playing it safe to the point of being a PS3 with shinier graphics, the Xbox One is clearly built with the future in mind. The power of the cloud, regardless of how vague they have been about it, will stand the console in good stead to evolve over time.
Considering how much the Xbox 360 has changed since it first came out thanks to updates over Xbox Live – just imagine the possibilities on the new console. Game worlds can be expanded beyond what DLC is currently capable of and game mechanics and characteristics can be shaped far in excess of what a title update can do today.
The two things stopping this upcoming generation from being the last are that the consoles will never be upgradable like PCs and our innate desire as humans, for something new. While the look and feel of Xbox Live might change over time and the games can keep getting better, we’ll still inevitably get tired of the same old console under the tv, in much the same way as we grow bored of the phones in our pockets.
The 8th console generation will undoubtedly last us another 10 years and it may be even longer, but you can be sure – as consumers – we’ll put a cap on it sooner or later and be crying out for the next big thing.

The End of Single Player?

This generation has shown how big a deal multiplayer is with Call of Duty, Halo and Battlefield being consistently in the top 10 most played games. And we’ve also seen traditionally single player experiences get multiplayer added – such as Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider and Mass Effect.
With “always connected” and “open-World” being the buzz words for upcoming games on the new consoles, it certainly looks like the shift towards cooperative and competitive multiplayer only experiences is going to continue. Consoles are about to have their first real stab at massively multiplayer online games to match the experiences PC players have been having for years.
That said, in this past year alone we have seen strong games like Dishonored, Sleeping Dogs and The Walking Dead, flying the flag for single player, and franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed remain focussed on their main story campaigns despite adding multiplayer modes.
With the integration of social networking, phones and tablet computers, games may be moving towards an all-encompassing social base, but there will always be room for that cinematic, story-driven experience that you can only have in single-player.