15 Minutes with… Kitchen Table Netrunner

It’s 2019 and I have the rare honour to kick it off for our blog with an interview with the couple behind Kitchen Table Netrunner – a podcast that appeared online in November – so a bit after FFG’s announcing the end of their support of Netrunner. With three FOUR episodes under their belt (and hopefully more to come!), Tristan and Nicole graciously agreed to tell us more about their Netrunner and podcasting adventures. Here we go!

Vesper: Hello, Tristan and Nicole! Welcome to 2019 🙂 You know, the year of Blade Runner and what not… Before we dive into all the serious (and not so serious) questions around Netrunner and your podcast – what’s your take on our timeline not playing out like the one in that “genre defining” movie? Are you fine with the 21st century as it is or would you rather have it Ridley Scott’s way?

Tristan: Well, this is the part of the interview where I confess I’ve never seen Blade Runner. However, I have done some online research about themes and aesthetic, like this was some sort of college exam, in case that gives you some sense of how my brain is warped. Based on this, I have to say that 2019 is likely to give plenty of opportunities to reflect on what it means to be human in a world where the most intimate parts of our lives are commercialized. Plus, neon seems overrated.

Nicole: I have also not seen Blade Runner; I have just watched the 1982 trailer (you can see how Tristan and I differ in our research methods). I am a little disappointed we still don’t have flying cars but I don’t think I am ready for emotionless, super-strong humanoid robots.

Vesper: I hope your research leads you to watching it someday and I envy you a bit… you get to watch it for the first time! And then at least four more times, with each cut being slightly different ;-D

So how did you get into Netrunner? Some people discovered the game through their love of all things cyberpunk, others through their passion for card games. What was entry point in your case?

Tristan: We had been getting deeper into board games since maybe 2015, when a friend introduced me to Dominion and I realized that maybe there were things people could do with cardboard that were more compelling than Risk. Trying to find the best board games, over time, led me to the great content at Shut Up & Sit Down in early 2017. In many of the videos they had references or back matter about this game called Netrunner, and I think there was an article or podcast where Quinns specifically called it “The Best Game”. In October 2017 I finally decided to look it up, at the exact same time Team Covenant started releasing new intro videos coinciding with the Revised Core Set. I watched these and was totally captivated. I knew that as a two-player game, it could only work if Nicole (wife, best friend, and like 90% of my social life) also wanted to play, so I had to devise a cunning plan to convince her it would be fun…

Nicole: Tristan told me about Netrunner and told me I should watch the Team Covenant video. He texted it to me and I watched a little here and there while I was doing random things, like folding laundry, but it was not fast enough to satisfy Tristan; he kept pushing and asking me if I had finished yet until I finally relented and watched the whole thing. It seemed pretty cool so I said I was on board, though I was still a bit skeptical until I had actually played a game or two. Then, I was in love.

Tristan: OK, maybe not so cunning; Nicole always says I’m bad at being subtle. While she was in her “maybe” phase, I found the last copy in our local game store and grabbed it. As far as the aesthetic, I don’t know that I ever got very close to cyberpunk in the past, but I would consider touchstones like Firefly to be in an adjacent space, and I do programming-adjacent work for a living where I also have to think about the purpose of technology in society, so the Android universe is very compelling to me.

Vesper: That’s a really captivating story of getting on board as a team (and bitter-sworn rivals by now, I guess). SU&SD can probably be “blamed” for quite a few people discovering their favourite games through that site’s content.

So, how is your home meta going at the moment? Do you get to play often? Who’s got the upper hand? Any memorable plays you’d like to share? Any scoops on secret jank or combos that are going on at Kitchen Table Netrunner HQ? Tell us, please, before we move on with KTN’s origin story.

Nicole: We are currently creating and testing out new Core 2019 decks. We both seem to do better on the Runner side than as the Corp, not sure why that is. We don’t get to play together much, maybe a couple times a week. It is interesting to mainly play each other (as opposed to other people) because we know each other’s tricks; Tristan doesn’t fall for my Jinteki tricks as much as I think he should. It is, however, nice to play against someone who is as terrible new as I am at Netrunner so I can actually kick some butt now and again.

Tristan: It’s not just now and again – I am pretty sure Nicole wins a majority of our games, even though I spend at least three times as much of my day thinking about Netrunner, which can be a little infuriating. Maybe it’s because I build more experimental decks; maybe that’s just to save face. She’s very conservative as a Runner, always wanting to make sure she’s ready for anything and her rig is perfect, so I try to keep her off balance as much as possible (thank you Project NISEI for rotating Magnum Opus, maybe I can keep her from just outspending me).

Nicole: I am pretty conservative as a player. Tristan is so balls to the wall. He is constantly trying out crazy things that sometimes actually work. Once and a while I will try a bold move when I am somewhat confident in what I am doing and/or when I am pretty sure it is my last turn but Tristan will do crazy stuff like that the whole game (if only he would run my trick servers like that…). He often runs Anarch decks so he will tear down his whole rig faster than it takes to put it together because he isn’t afraid to face-check my servers. It can be difficult to play against that. He once had a Corp deck where he had, no joke, like 4 upgrades on a single server. It was bananas.

Tristan: That was the one deck where I feel like I created something semi-unique. Sometimes there were 5 or 6 cards in the remote, and I think my max was 7 tags stuck after a successful run on the server. I do love Weyland decks – there’s a certain swagger that fits my temperament.

Vesper: Whoa, that’s quite a lot of insight into your play styles and strategies (and thanks for sharing your secret Blockchain tech!), thank you very much – now I’ll be ready in case we meet at Worlds 2019 ;D Speaking of which, even if it’s not announced fully yet (or not even seriously spoiled anywhere) – are you considering going?

Tristan: Actually, we have been considering a family vacation to Europe for a couple of reasons, and October-ish 2019 is one of the possible timeframes. Are we good enough to compete with the world’s best? Certainly not. If we’re already in the neighborhood, might we show up anyway? Entirely possible.

Nicole: Yup. Pretty much depends on if our schedules cross and if we can figure out what to do with the kids if we were to participate – perhaps they would let us compete as a team?

Vesper: That would be amazing! (takes note to push for family friendly participation policies with the EDIT team). I’ll keep my fingers crossed for all of you making it to our as of yet undisclosed location this year 🙂

Now, let’s get into the main reason I approached for you for this interview – let’s talk about the inception of Kitchen Table Netrunner. How did you get into podcasting and what made you decide that connecting that and Netrunner would be a good investment of your time and energy, especially with the official support by FFG ending last year?

Nicole: The podcast was Tristan’s idea. We had tried a YouTube channel but couldn’t figure out how to edit it with the computer we had so it never came to pass. Imagine the surprise our children and grandchildren will have in a couple of decades when they find those old videos and wonder what the heck we thought we were doing… Essentially, from my perspective, we really love Netrunner and wanted to give a look at what it was like to join the excitement of playing Netrunner as a newbie in a well-established environment. How could we make it just a little more accessible, especially in the end of the official support?

Tristan: Confession time: the YouTube channel, and to a lesser extent the podcast, were mostly a manifestation of my insecurity that Nicole wouldn’t be as into Netrunner as I was. It was a way to have a dedicated time to look through the new packs, discuss strategy, and play games so we would have something to discuss. I proposed the podcast for a few reasons: the YouTube channel was going nowhere and editing audio seemed much easier than video, the big Netrunner podcasts were all having final episodes, and I’m only about 5 years behind popular culture in realizing that podcasts are a great way to create content. It’s much more that my love for Netrunner was seeking an outlet than that my desire for podcasting was seeking content, but since starting I have two more ideas for podcasts I want to start.

Nicole: Oh, Tristan, I love Netrunner as much as you do, it just doesn’t manifest in the same way; I am not an endless researcher-type person, I just want to play like I binge watch TV shows. Also, we tend to be about 5 years behind the rest of the world in everything.

Vesper: From where I sit, it is obvious to me that you make a great team and you are definitely up to trying out new things. As someone who dabbled a bit in YouTube and podcasting (not really Netrunner-related), I can only applaud your decision to go for it, despite the general direction of the game at the time.

So, what are the most fun and the most troublesome part of putting a thematic podcast together? Is there anything you’re cribbing from other people who have been podcasting about Netrunner in the past?

Tristan: Let me start by saying that I have no idea what I’m doing! The fun is talking about something that you love, and finding out that other people are willing to listen. The biggest challenge for us is finding a stretch of quiet time at our house, and then time to get the audio ready. Most of the things I’ve taken from other podcasts are really basic: have a plan for what to discuss, have an intro and music, edit your audio, and post new episodes on places like the Stimhack forums and reddit. A roundup of the news is something I took from Mythos Busters, an Arkham Horror LCG podcast.

Nicole: Tristan does most of the organization and editing so I can’t really speak to that. However, I would have to say the most fun and most troublesome parts for me are the same thing: talking/debating with Tristan but not saying anything dumb. I am somewhat slow at processing things and like time to think before answering questions but Tristan often likes to surprise me with new things and make me react in the moment (…Magnum Opus…).

Vesper: If I was to start a new Netrunner podcast in 2019, what tips could you give me – technically, thematically – basically anything you don’t mind sharing?

Nicole: Do it. Make a plan, have a basic idea, maybe even an outline but just make it happen. Probably it is also helpful to have a Tristan-like person to keep you on track but I say just go for it!

Tristan: Yes, step one is to commit and make it happen; our first episode was literally a single take recorded on my smartphone. Podbean makes it pretty easy to have a podcast without thinking about hosting etc; we’re about to leave their free service but it seems reasonably priced. If you’ve never done audio work before, Audacity is powerful and pretty easy to learn (I hear GarageBand is about the same for you Apple folks. At some point we will probably get a real microphone, and from what I read you can get a great upgrade from your computer mic for well under $100. As far as theme goes, just bring yourself into the podcast and share what you love about the game. Just make sure to give me credit if you use my amazing Netrunner dad jokes!

Vesper: I love the “just do it” attitude – and add my full support for it. There are many great sources of inspiration out there already, and the software and gear available nowadays is way better (and cheaper – or even free) than what one would have at their disposal 20 years ago, for example.

Let’s get back to the real kitchen table for a while. Are you the only players in your area? Do you visit your Friendly Local Game Store for any Netrunner events, perhaps? How far from the kitchen table have you strayed in 2018 and where do you plan to venture with (or without it) in 2019?

Tristan: We are pretty busy people between all our obligations (not least of which is keeping our 6 children alive), so the vast majority of our Netrunner is at our dining room table. However, here in Portland, Oregon, there is a decent scene, and most weeks there are one or two opportunities to play. In 2018 I think we went to about three meetups, a GNK, and the Portland Regionals. However, I’m nervous about what’s in store for 2019 – we got a GNK from Nisei to hold an event on January 12th, but that’s the only one I’ve seen posted, and I haven’t heard anyone planning a Store Championship at the moment.

Nicole: This makes me think we need to work harder on getting the kids into Netrunner

Vesper: Well, with 8 players being the lowest suggested number for competitive Netrunner on a local scale… I think you’ve got quite a great idea there, Nicole :-). And I do hope to see more Portland and Oregon events happening soon – it’s all in the hand of the community, now more than ever.

Have you tried getting other people you know into the hobby of playing Netrunner? What were the methods and resources you used? Alternatively, if you hadn’t and were to try to do so, what would be the methods and resources you’d use?

Nicole: We have tried to get a few friends into Netrunner. A couple have tried playing a time or two but only one has stuck with it. He seems pretty excited to play more so hopefully he will continue. We usually start with the Team Covenant introductory video so people have a decent reference point before the actual play. Then, Tristan makes a basic Runner and Corp deck from the Revised Core Set (but now it will be from System Core 2019) and we play with one of us available to answer questions while the other one plays against our newbie friend.

Tristan: Originally, I felt like having the new person play Corp first was best, because the Corp has more of the critical information, but I have changed my mind. I have heard the asymmetry of Netrunner described as the Corp building a puzzle and the Runner solving it, which I think is pretty insightful, and I definitely feel like having a sense of how to solve the puzzles before trying to build them is a more natural order of progression.

Vesper: Sounds like a solid and “new player friendly” approach. I am pretty sure that getting new players to try the game out will be one of NISEI’s focus points for 2019 as well, so consider yourselves a source of inspiration.

Let’s leave Netrunner alone for a bit – you’ve already mentioned SU&SD and your kitchen table is definitely seeing a lot of gaming action – what else are you into nowadays, game-wise?

Nicole: We just got the NES and SNES Classic consoles for Christmas (for the family…) so I have been playing some serious Bubble Bobble. As for board games some of our favorites are:

Potion Explosion, Arkham Horror, Takenoko, Qwirkle, and Agricola. We played Pandemic Season 1 with our oldest and had a great time (though we haven’t been as excited with Season 2).

Tristan: By far the majority of our non-Netrunner time has been spent on the Arkham Horror LCG with the teenage children. It’s about 80% as fun as Netrunner, though I feel like I have less control. When we got the NES and SNES Classic, I was hoping to rekindle the magic of our childhood for the kids, but something was missing. I made two rules: first, nobody else in the room could play games on laptops, etc, when someone is playing; second, everyone has to spend the whole time shouting advice and asking to play next. Now it’s exactly like I remember it, only with a crisper screen!

Vesper: 😀 I love the “classic gaming” rules. I get to play retro games quite regularly thanks to events or gamer cafes and it’s always nostalgically awesome to see all the pixels and hear all the beeps recreated faithfully on hardware that’s as close to the original as possible; +1 for better screens all the way, though 🙂 (and just like you have not seen Blade Runner, I haven’t had a chance to play Pandemic Legacy yet…)

Time for a not so serious part of my inquiry – if you were to launch a non-game related series of products based on or connected to the Android IP (for clarity: the universe in which Netrunner takes place, not the Google-branded mobile device OS), what would it be – and why?

Nicole: Well, to be honest, I am not very creative in this arena. I love playing Netrunner but I don’t really follow the Android Universe stuff. I have been listening to the podcast Full Immersion and I have enjoyed it. So, if I were to branch out with a different podcast I could see myself, along with several other people, doing some sort of role playing game similar to Full Immersion, so long as I don’t have to be the game master.

Tristan: I am also not very creative. I do feel like Nicole’s idea of audio fiction is pretty good. I also wonder if some kind of Android-branded tech education might be engaging, like learning application design from Chaos Theory and network security principles from Mason Bellamy. Asking for an Android TV show to fill the Firefly-shaped hole in my heart is probably too much.

Vesper: (takes more notes for the NISEI Creative team re: educational series with popular characters). Please, help me finish this sentence: “In 2020, Netrunner will…”?

Nicole: …continue being the best game ever and keep moving forward with a small but mighty group of dedicated players and volunteers.

Tristan: …probably still be the best game. It will also be exactly what we make it as a community by that point, so I guess it will be a mirror we can hold up and learn something about ourselves.

Vesper: Here’s to hoping we can all pull that off during this year! A question from our previous guest: “What are the most important criteria for you when it comes to deciding whether or not to attend a tournament?”

Nicole: Childcare. I realize that is not something the event organizers are going to take care of for me but without it we can’t really have both of us attend and play.

Tristan: Yeah, it’s mostly logistics for us. In addition to childcare, our calendar fills up with all sorts of regular events (church on Sunday, kids’ activities) and one-offs (who knew so many kids have birthdays these days?) which compete for our attention.

Vesper: Austin & team (wait, that’s me as well, haha) will have to definitely take “childcare” into account for future OP policies and tips. On the flipside, that eight player bracket we’ve talked about a bit before… sorted, seriously! I’m just wondering if it’s OK for family members to agree on an intentional draw before a game starts, hmmm. 😉

Time to end our first interview of the year and start getting busy with the rest of 2019 ahead of all of us 🙂 Is there any question you wish I had asked? And… what question should I forward to our next guest(s) on “15 Minutes”?

Tristan: Honestly I don’t feel like any stones were left unturned.

Nicole: “Any Netrunner/Android name suggestions for our next baby daughter due May 2019”?

Tristan: In case anyone worries like this is too much pressure, we aren’t set on an Android name, but we are trying to create a pool of baby names we both like, and feel like we’ve already used up all the ones we both like.

Vesper: Thanks for confirming I’m good at turning stones in search of answers 😉 Sweet! Now, that’s quite the question to our next guest(s), coming your way on the 16th of January – save the date to see what they respond! I am also curious if our comments section under this article comes up with something interesting…

Thank you so much for the podcast and the interview, Nicole and Tristan! Here’s to way more Netrunner content (also from Kitchen Table Netrunner) and good times in general in 2019 🙂

That’s if for the first interview of 2019! Bonus points for you if you were reading the answers in Nicole’s and Tristan’s voices, which you can of course listen to via the KTN podcast – don’t forget they that you can also contact Tristan through this Stimhack forum thread. As for 15 Minutes, we are always on the lookout for new people to talk to and new questions to ask, so speak your mind on Stimhack (or in the comments below).