A guide to paid abilities by Ben Finkel
A large number of card effects in Android: Netrunner are what the rulebook calls "paid abilities" - effects that are shown with the notation "cost: effect" such as "1[credit]: +1 strength." The flowcharts in the FAQ depict when these actions can be used, but the rulebook and FAQ are somewhat unhelpful in explaining how these paid ability windows are resolved:
- Page 21, Column 2, Paragraphs 5-6
- Timing Priority
Whenever there is an opportunity to trigger paid abilities, rez cards and/or score agendas (usually at the beginning of a turn and after each action), the player who is currently taking his turn gets the first opportunity to act. He can trigger as many abilities, rez as many cards, and/or score as many agendas as he wishes in the order of his choosing. When he is finished, the other player gets the opportunity to act. When that player is finished, the first player gets the opportunity to act once again.
After both players have had at least one opportunity to act and a player declines to act, then the players cannot trigger more abilities, rez more cards, or score more agendas until the next opportunity to do so.
The wording above can be confusing to many players. Here are four key concepts that clarify how these windows work:
- When a player has the priority to act, he or she can activate as many paid abilities as desired, in the order of the player's choosing, only capable of being interrupted by cards that specifically use the words "prevent" or "avoid".
- During each paid ability window, each player will have at least one opportunity to have the priority to act, starting with the active player.
- If a player chooses to act when he or she has priority, when that player stops taking actions, the opponent will have the priority.
- If a player passes immediately on receiving the priority and the opponent has previously had the priority, the paid ability window is concluded, and the opponent does not have another opportunity to act in this window.
Break It DownEdit
Wow, that still seems complicated! Why is this the way things are in Android: Netrunner? Let's examine it concept-by-concept.
This concept is the most important feature of the paid ability window structure, which is why it is called the "parliamentary structure" by players like me. When a player has the priority to act, he or she effectively "has the floor", unable to be interrupted by normal card effects. This allows a runner to normally use her icebreakers to raise strength and break subroutines without fear of the corp suddenly using a card effect to boost the ICE's strength (such as by Corporate Troubleshooter).
An important subpoint is that "prevent/avoid" effects return the priority to the player who was interrupted after they finish resolving - so if I use Tyr's Hand to prevent you breaking my Bioroid subroutine, that doesn't suddenly let me use Corporate Troubleshooter before you have the opportunity to break the subroutine again.
During many windows during a run, the runner will frequently have no actions to perform, such as during the approach of an unrezzed piece of ICE. However, during that window, the Corp definitely wants the opporunity to act - to have the opportunity to rez the ICE! If paid ability windows ended whenever any player passed upon receiving the priority, then corps wouldn't normally be able to rez anything at all during the runner's turn - and many other mechanics in the game would fall apart.
The other important feature of this concept is that the active player is the first one to act in a window. This has a large number of concequences on the game, usually dealing with making it hard for the inactive player to disrupt the active player's actions.
- Example 1
- The Corp has scored a Nisei Mk II, and the Runner is about to encounter a piece of ICE after suffering the subroutine of Chum. As the Runner is the active player, the Corp has no opportunity to use the Nisei Mk II before the runner breaks the subroutines on the ICE she is currently encountering, meaning the Corp cannot force Chum to deal its 3 net damage.
- Example 2
- The Runner has a Eden Shard installed. The Corp uses Power Shutdown to trash the entirety of R&D, presumably to use Jackson Howard and Accelerated Diagnostics to play a combo of three cards. The Corp has the priority first in the post-Power Shutdown paid ability window, so the Runner cannot use Eden Shard to cause the Corp to immediately lose before the Corp has the opportunity to use Jackson Howard to shuffle three cards into R&D. However, the runner can still use Eden Shard after the Corp passes priority back to the runner, to make the corp draw two of those three cards and prevent Accelerated Diagnostics being able to play all three.
This point effectively means that the opponent always has the opportunity to respond to whatever the player with priority has done to the game state. This response can't undo or preempt any of those actions, but there are often mitigating steps a player can take.
- The runner is approaching the unrezzed last piece of ICE on a server and reaches step 2.3 of the run. The runner passes priority. The corp rezzes the ICE and reveals it to be a Komainu, and passes. The runner uses a Clone Chip to install a Parasite on the Komainu and passes, hoping to use a Datasucker token to trash the ICE. The Corp then rezzes and uses Corporate Troubleshooter to raise the strength of the Komainu beyond Datasucker's ability, and then passes. The runner then uses another Clone Chip to install a Femme Fatale, choosing the Komainu as the ICE the program can bypass, and passes. The Corp rezzes Caprice Nisei in the server, as he cannot do so when this paid ability window is over, and passes. The runner has no other response, so she passes too, ending the window. This paid ability window had 7 passes of priority - most of which were mitigations of the opponent's actions when they had priority.
This point reveals the only way how paid ability windows end, and also imparts and important lesson to the player: if there's an effect you want to occur during this window, you better enact it, or your opponent may not give you the opportunity. Don't be tempted to pass before you've done all you want.
- The Runner is approaching a piece of unrezzed ICE, and would like to use Self-Modifying Code to install a False Echo and use it if the Corp doesn't rez the ICE. However, if she passes before using the Self-Modifying Code and the Corp passes upon receiving the priority, she will not have an opportunity to use Self-Modifying Code during this paid ability window. She can, of course, install the False Echo via Self-Modifying Code before passing the priority to the Corp, but she can't base that decision on whether or not the Corp would rez the ICE normally.
Many of those examples were pretty esoteric, but as the game grows these subtleties become increasingly important. Paid ability timing is one of the game's most fundamental features, and its structure is unique to this game and thus all the more important to understand if you want to be able to address novel situations.