Emergent Creativity (Card Evolution)

Hey there Runners!

First up, for the 75 of you who backed our Patreon… you’re awesome. For those of you who haven’t yet, there’s still two CEO-level slots left, not to mention all the other options.

My planned article for this week has had to be postponed, so I asked the rest of The Board if they had any ideas… and our resident Design Guru suggested this, which I gleefully took him up on… so without further preamble, I’ll hand you over to @crithitd20!

I thought it would be fun to share one of my personal experiences working on the design team, regarding one card in the cycle. I’ll save official spoilers for RC and his talented team, but here you can definitely get some ideas of what design and playtesting has looked like for this card.

Until recently, I’ve always wondered why designers never seem to know what cards exist in their game. The reality I have learned is that these designers have worked on way more than than the number of cards you see when opening up a completed product. This experience was totally new to me, and now that the hurdles have been passed I thought it would be fun to share the story of my favorite card in NISEI-1a: Mirrormorph. As a frame of reference, here is where the card started:

HB ID Prompt: The first time you spend 3 clicks on the same action, gain click.

At the time Downfall was not yet being worked on and I was experimenting with how strong of a card effect you could actually put on an ID. Anyone who has played Netrunner with me knows my love of unique card effects, and Jeeves Model Bioroids is probably my favorite card under that description. Compared to Director Haas it is way safer and therefore more powerful, but at the cost of majorly influencing how you deckbuild and spend clicks. With that said, after a few minutes of thought I decided that it was inappropriate as a consideration for an ID. It rewarded horizontal play too much, it allowed the corp to FA 4/2s with Biotic, and the only interaction the runner had for it was Employee Strike. Clearly unacceptable as an ID despite my preference. Was there something salvageable from this prompt?

Mirrormorph: 45/15, Division. The first time you take 3 different actions on your turn, gain click.

After hearing from @BreakOneBarrier that the HB identity for Downfall would be Mirrormorph I was immediately once again drawn to the idea of efficiency and Jeeves. I decided to see what it would be like to play under the opposite effect of Jeeves, which imposes totally different deckbuilding constraints and turn sequencing. You are incentivized to play a mix of card types, and rewarded for taking low power actions that may not normally make sense. In plenty of scenarios it conjured the experience of EtF, which was also immensely satisfying. So, what was wrong with this ID?

“Biotic, install, advance…”

Whoops! This ID still easily allowed players to fast-advance 4/2s at minimal consequence. This seems like a hugely obvious oversight, but to be fair, no one caught it even after I shared on several design channels. This was a huge lesson for me regarding initial designs; conceiving new cards is challenging, and even players skilled in a game can miss obvious things on their first pass. It uses a different part of your brain than just playing the game does. Our first attempt to salvage this design was:

Mirrormorph: 45/15, Division. The first time you take 3 different actions on your turn, you may gain click. You may only spend this click on an action you haven't taken this turn.

We added the stipulation so you could still cheat 4/2s and higher as long as you were willing to jump through some hoops and explore some of the support cards for Mirrormorph found in Ashes, but you no longer had the ability to easily FA 4/2s. There was some worrisome synergy regarding the ability to rush 5/3s with MCA Austerity Policy, but with cards like Political Operative in the card pool we were willing to test it. It was also harder to use Mirrormorph as a genetically high value ID unless you built around it, which was a plus in my book. This was the ID my team eventually submitted to Development along with 119 other new cards in the Ashes cycle.

At this point Rules determined that there was an unresolvable issue with this version of the ID. What happens if the player chooses to gain a click with the ID and then cannot spend it? As an example, if the Corp is at 0 credits and goes credit, draw, install with only a Hedge Fund in hand, what happens? The game already has too many instances of cards creating unresolvable game states that can only be verified either by breaking the rules or getting a third party to confirm, and Rules was unwilling to let an ID get printed with this problem. . This led to:

Mirrormorph: 45/15, Division. The first time you take 3 different actions on your turn, you may immediately take an action you haven't taken this turn, ignoring its click cost.

The functionality of this card is actually slightly improved from its previous iteration: you can essentially chain two clicks together, denying the runner a paid ability window to search for Clot, for instance. We felt pretty satisfied with this effect and gave it to playtesters…where things fell apart again. Many of them believed that ignoring the click cost also meant ignoring clicks found on additional costs and were very excited to credit, draw, install, Ultraviolet Clearance. While functionally this was solvable just by referencing it in the rules doc, ideally our cards should make sense when read, especially IDs, which often serve as flagships for their product. We went back to the previous language for Mirrormorph and told testers to assume the card worked while we searched for a solution.

At this point Mirrormorph went through several iterations in an attempt to make language and rules as clean as we possibly could. We knew that Rules was considering vetoing the ID due to complexity, game state issues, and unclear language. We came up some wacky solutions while preparing for this possibility, including:

Mirrormorph: 45/15, Division. The first time you take 3 different actions on your turn, you may gain click. You may only spend this click on an action you haven't taken this turn. Click: Gain 0. (An ugly solution that amusingly didn't solve the game state lock issue.)

Mirrormorph: 45/15, Division. Click, click, click: Take 4 different actions, paying all additional costs. (You really shouldn't be rewarded for playing Jeeves in the anti-Jeeves deck.)

We at one point were considering giving up on the ID, and came up with this as an emergency backup means of serving as a simple ID that functioned with the other cards in the cycle. While we did veer back towards the “3 actions” Mirrormorph due to a ton of positive playtester feedback, everyone on Design and Dev loved this alternative ID and I expect to see it further explored very soon.

All of these versions of Mirrormorph were a bit ugly, and sadly took away from the intent of the ID’s original spirit. While the early versions of Mirrormorph were broken in some sense, they were all a LOAD of fun. The sub game of manipulating HQ and controlling the board in order to keep up powerful turns that also triggered your ID was a blast, and that feeling you had while doing so also contributed to in-game immersion. You FELT like you were a master engineer at Mirrormorph while you protected your tools and methodically constructed an insurmountable scoring server. It played beautifully with the other HB cards in the cycle and gave new relevance to old favorites, and I was concerned at this point that we would lose that.

Thankfully this story has a happy ending. As we have approached the tail end of development, a subcommittee within NISEI was recently formed to allow Design, Development, and Rules to discuss the few remaining problem cards in the set. There, each team has since produced their own version of Mirrormorph, and I am convinced that we have the three cleanest versions of the ID we have since seen. We have also explored ways to integrate the ideas we independently reached, and I think the final product that Development will ship is going to be fantastic. March can’t come soon enough; I can’t wait to play the HB decks that I have been playtesting with everyone in just a few months.

There are so many more stories from this cycle I’d love to go deeper on:

  • The shaper console I made after a fever dream that everyone thought was awful and turned out to be so good it got 2 separate nerfs and redefined the Shaper ID itself
  • The cycle of Anarch virtual resources inspired by the Noisy mechanic from ONR, which have been textwise…well, noisy
  • The Criminal connection inspired by one of the most popular IDs in the game (rest easy – it’s not Leela) that has seen an unreasonable amount of iterations despite each one being totally playable and fun
  • The win condition we designed for Jinteki that everyone thought was unreasonably broken despite being heavily nerfed by my team so testers would try it…until they played it, whereupon it has received 3 separate buffs
  • The NBN 4/2 which is literally the only card to have 0 edits since being added to the set file, including its placeholder name
  • The placeholder Weyland sentry we begrudgingly added to the set which started as a 1 rez ICE, then 2, then 8.

Almost every card has a story, and each story has led to the product that we are all working on every day to get to you as quickly as possible. The cards are locked in and being adjusted for balance save 1 or 2 questionable ones, Creative has given the cards some sweet new names, and some fantastic art has started coming in. Here’s to an excellent year of running in 2019!

Other Business!

We’re still looking for a new graphic designer to add to our team of volunteers. With the upcoming Ashes cycle, you’ll get to work firsthand in bringing the community the first set of new cards after the official ETR!

A great candidate should have drawing/sketching experience, basic experience with Photoshop and/or Illustrator, a good eye for composition, and the time and passion to continue this game that we all love. A lot of the current workload will involve using the DeepDream software, so any experience there is a plus!

If this sounds like something you might be interested in, send an email along with some examples of your work to projectnisei@gmail.com with the subject ‘Graphic Design’!

We’re also still looking for more translators… if you speak multiple languages and are able to volunteer some time for this, we would love to hear from you via this form and we’re always going to be on the hunt for playtesters, if that’s your jam then fill in this survey and we’ll be in touch with you soon.

Until next week, when I come at ya with the regularly monthly update – you know what to do!


  • Serenity is the VP of Engagement for NISEI, and wishes it was her full time job. Known by some as "Netrunner's Cool Goth Mom", she's a DJ in her spare-spare time and streams under the psuedonym SwearyPrincess!