“We’ve developed a gesture at work to refer to them,” I say.
My guest, my brother-in-law, makes an inquisitive noise as he slips on his footwear- shoes or sandals, something very summery for this time of year, but I don’t remember exactly what- I can’t focus that tightly on irrelevant details.
I tap my arm repeatedly, frantically, in a gesture reminiscent of a druggie trying to raise a vein, and he laughs, nodding. He knows what I mean. We say our farewells and I wish him a safe drive home.
I invited him into my home four hours ago for the express purpose of trying my best to ruin him.
Kijiji may be a Canadian site or not; I don’t know and have never bothered to research it. If you’ve heard of it, you know what it is; if you haven’t, think of it as a more-savory version of Craigslist. It’s a giant flea market in much the way that eBay is a giant auction.
I’d checked it a few days ago, and they didn’t have what I wanted. On a whim I do the search again on Thursday morning, and there it is- someone’s got what I want for sale. Reasonable, if not extraordinary, price.
I jump on it.
It’s long been an article of fascination to me how good The Cuckoo’s Egg is. It’s a non-fiction account of a system administrator who discovers a minor problem with one of his computers, and grows from there. It’s written in the first person, like this posting. It reads like a spy novel.
It’s amazing. I’ve never been able to figure out if it’s the subject matter, the writing style, like the author’s recounting events for you, or some other, indefinable factor that makes the book so good.
Relax, I think. He’s more experienced than you, you’re still not confident in your tools, but this is just practice. Learn everything you can now. Follow the misdirections, learn from the failures, remember how you executed any little triumphs.
The man sitting across from me, a co-worker, is tall, thin and bespectacled. He steeples his fingers- I think unconsciously, though I’m darkly aware he could be doing it on purpose to throw me off balance- and then with a few well-chosen staccato sentences explains how he’d blunted, redirected and ultimately halted my attack on his servers.
His smile is quiet, just a couple points off of smug. We both know I was expecting that from him. We both know it was practice. I’d told him the real thing comes later and I was hoping to learn from experience.
It still stings a little.
I’ve been spotting every mistake I make right after it’s too late to fix them. It’s frustrating, and I have to mentally clench my teeth and shout at myself to calm down. As I shift position, I realize that I am, in fact, physically clenching my teeth, and force myself to relax, unclench my teeth, unlock my shoulders. My peripheral vision is gone. I’m staring at a half-dozen servers lined up in a neat row, waiting for the attack I am almost certain is coming.
“Find the lady!” I proclaim, and gesture grandly, almost knocking over my Coke can. My empty Coke can, with an empty ginger ale next to it- I realized after the first drink that if they were all caffeinated I’d probably be vibrating out of my chair by now.
“Well?” I ask. It’s not really rhetorical; it’s half to myself, roughly forty percent to my servers- only about ten percent of it has anything to do with anyone else. I’ve set up the best defenses I can around these, and the attack will come any second now.
Then, it doesn’t.
“Fourth click… I’ll take a money.” My brother in law scrunches his face as though he’s not quite happy with that idea, but he doesn’t contradict himself, and collects a little cardboard chip. I don’t bother to correct him- it’s ‘credit’- for a whole bunch of reasons, not least of which is that it would make me look like an ungracious poltroon.
I can actually feel the muscles relaxing in my chest and shoulders as I let out a huge sigh of relief, and start laughing- just a little harder than feels right- as I chant: “Click click click advance advance advance game!” I shuffle some cardboard chips around, flip over a card to show the symbol overlaid with a printed ‘3’, and lean back in my chair.
“Darn”, he says, and he’s laughing too.
I don’t remember which of us suggested another game. I do remember that this was the point at which I went to get us some water, and was surprised by the feeling of my muscles as I walked upstairs to the kitchen. I was spiked with adrenaline so hard my muscles had that primed-for-instant-action, we-are-in-mortal-danger burning feeling.
From a card game.
I heard of Android: Netrunner not long after it came out. I wanted it, of course- I’m a massive fan of board games in general, card games in specific, and constructed card games are my favorite within that category- but I never bought it. Mostly because I knew I’d want to get all the expansions, and as a college student at the time I also knew I wouldn’t have money for that.
In the two and a half years since that point, there have been more and more releases in Android, making the idea of getting in a more prohibitive one as time went on. Besides that, I was playing X-Wing, which though it may very well be the least expensive miniatures game around, is not actually inexpensive.
But that was the point I realized that all my prospective model purchases for X-Wing were $40 and up.
$40- well, $45- was roughly speaking the pre-tax price of a copy of Netrunner. Maybe I could find a copy used somewhere? After all, a whole new game to play vs a new model or two for an existing game, and I have always loved cyberpunk almost as much as Star Wars. Then a listing went up- $40, new in shrinkwrap.
“This game is hard!” I mutter, trying to decide what to do with my precious, precious actions. My brother in law laughs at me, taunts me to attack his servers, all of which have at least one card in front of them, seven of them face down and hidden from me. They could be dangerous. It could be a trap. I need points. I go in anyway.
It’s a trap.
Three turns later, my position is better. I can take on anything he can throw in my way, his corporate coffers are at a low ebb and he’s trying to decide if he can afford to put up more defenses and still run the ones he’s got.
“This game is hard!” he says.
“I know, right?”
“I’ve got adrenaline really pumping over here.”
I smirk. I know he does. While my position might not exactly be enviable- I’m certainly not winning- the amount of sheer stress his role as the defender has to be causing him will cause mistakes- just like the ones I made earlier. Each time, I spotted the mistake right after I made it and had to work hard not to flinch. Is he working hard not to flinch right now?
He’s got sweat on his forehead and steel in his eyes. I shrug elaborately and start preparing for my next attack. Every move I make that strengthens me for the eventual assault, I can see his reaction- I can almost see his blood pressure rising.
We ended up playing four games in three hours- I played corporation and lost, I played corporation and won, I played runner and won, I played runner and lost. By the last game, my opponent had played as much during the evening as I had going into it. We were essentially playing level. It was glorious.
The game is essentially three games in one box. Both players start by playing the same game by the same rules, in the deckbuilding phase. While this is absolutely something that can be done prior to the actual ‘game’, it’s very much a pastime in itself. Like the cards it’s built on, it’s a very pretty and aesthetically pleasing art… covering a machine of sheer mathematics and strategy.
While the Corporation and the Runner use a different library of cards for their decks, they do use the same rules for building those decks.
Then the other two games come into play, because while the game is on, the two players are actually playing very different games. One player is trying to slowly, steadily build up an economic engine, slowly, steadily progress their agendas, and eventually win. The other is trying to break all of Player One’s toys, throw a monkey wrench into their engine, and steal their agendas- scoring them instantly.
It’s highly strategic, very math-focused, and a lot of fun withal.
He’s on his way out the door and I’ve just made my frantic druggie motions.
“That was a really excellent game,” he says.
“Play again sometime?”
“Oh, yes, I think so.”
Next time I won’t be using any kind, gentle starter deck that the game suggested for me.
But then, neither will he.
This should be good.
The adrenaline subsided enough to allow me to sleep about two hours later.