How to play by E-Mail

An introducing article by John Seanchai Grose with additional comments by Pierre Savoie

After you're done building your deck, you need to "sit down" with your opponent and decide how you're going to run things. Issues that need to be discussed are Draw Pools, the occasional roll of the dice, and if you will each get a copy of your opponent's Draw List.

Let's take a look at that last item. Since all you'll be giving your opponent is a number, how do you know he or she isn't cheating and playing with a card other than the one assigned to that number? Thus, if Card (03) is a Night Shift on the Draw List, how do you know your opponent isn't simply announcing Card (03) is a BBS Whispering Campaign because that's what he or she needs at the moment?

The best way to catch such cheating - after the fact - is to exhange the Draw Lists you make up. If you suspecy your opponent cheated, you can look up what he or she said was the card of a certain number versus what their list says it was.

But this leads to another problem: your opponent could not only be ignoring the real draw and playing with whatever card he or she wants, but could use your Draw List to give you less than wonderful draws. That is, if you really need more Ice, your opponent could look at your Draw List, pick a number to an Agenda card, and then give you that number as your draw.

There are a number of ways to prevent this. This simplest is to be trusting. I am fortunate and have been playing with someone I trust for over a year now. Even when I am going playing against someone I know well, I figure, it's just a game.

A second method involves a third party. Both players make up their Draw Lists, then send them to someone who has agreed to keep both list until after the game. If you think your opponent is cheating, you can still compare what he says he drew with what his Draw List say. But he can't use your Draw List against you.

And then there's archiving. I understand that some versions of PKZIP allow you to Zip up a file and then assign a password to it. That file can't Unzipped unless you enter the password. So you send your Zipped Draw List to your opponent and then send the password to that archive after the game.

Once you've decided all that, you sit down and create your Draw List. To do this, shuffle your deck, then sit down in front of the computer. Create a text file. Type in "1.", then turn over the top card of your deck. After the "1.", put the name of the card (and whatever other information you'd like). Type in a "2.", turn over the second card, and enter its name. Do this for all your cards. When you're done, each card in the deck will have been assigned a number. At the very bottom, type in the numbers from one to sixty. "1 2 3 4 5" and so on. Then print up a hard copy. This is very important, as you'll be using it for record keeping.

A sample Draw List:

  1. Night Shift
  2. BBS Whispering Campaign
  3. Hostile Takeover
  4. Planning Consultants
  5. ...

Once you're done, you're ready to play. Find out how big your opponent's deck is and then e-mail five random numbers from one to the biggest number your opponent has assigned. So if your opponent has a fourty card Runner deck, send him or her five numbers between one and fourty. Those will be your opponent's starting hand. Then your opponent should send you five numbers. At the same time, pick about six more numbers and send them to your opponent as his or her Draw Pool. Once you're done with that, get your printed out Draw List and then at the very bottom where there are just numbers, mark off all the numbers you just sent.

Here's an example. I'm playing against Jim. He's the Corp and I am the Runner. I've built my deck, typed it in, and printed out my Draw List. Jim says his deck is fifty cards, so I send Jim a message that says, "Starting Hand: 12, 20, 25, 34, 50. Draw Pool: 01, 23, 33, 41, 44, 47." I then immediately go to the sheet that has my Draw List and when I typed in " 1 2 3 4 5 6 7...", I mark off 01, 12, 20, 23, 25, 33, 34, 41, 44, 47, and 50. Basically, I am keeping track of the numbers I have sent him so I don't send them twice.

When Jim gets the number I sent, he's going to look his Starting Hand up on his Draw List. He won't, however, look up what's in his Draw Pool; he's not supposed to know what they are yet. I circle the number I get send when I draw them and put a slash through them when I play them. So Jim looks up cards 12, 20, 25, 34, and 50. He sees that he has a Night Shift (12), a Keeper (20), a BBS Whispering Campaign (25), a Hostile Takeover (34), and another Night Shift (50).

Since Jim is the Corp, he'll get an automatic draw at the beginning of his turn. I won't send him that number. Instead, he'll look it up in his Draw Pool. The first number listed in his Draw Pool will be the card that is "on top" of his imaginary deck. So in this example, Jim's first draw would be card (01). That's what I listed first in hid Draw Pool. The next time he goes to draw a card - say, if he draws as an Action - he'll pick the next number from his Draw Pool. It would be card (23).

Now that Jim knows what cards he has in his hand, he decides what he is going to do. What he does is fill out a pre-made form and send it to me. It will tell me everything he did on this turn, how many Bits he has, what cards are in what Forts, etc..

Here is a sample Corp form:
Automatic Draw:
Action One:
Action Two:
Action Three:
Bit Pool:
Cards in Hand:
R&D:
Installed Ice:
Hidden Data:
Upgrade:
HQ:
Installed Ice:
Hidden Data:
Upgrade:
Archives:
Installed Ice:
Hidden Data:
Upgrade:
Data Fort Alpha:
Installed Ice:
Hidden Data:
Upgrade:
Draw Pool:
Runner's Draw Pool:
Cards Face Up in Archives:
Cards Face Down in Archives:
Points Scored:

On Jim's first turn, he decided to play conservatively and does little. He Installs some Ice, draws a few Bits, and is done. Jim fills out his form accordingly and sends it to me. His first turn might look like this:
Automatic Draw: 01
Action One: Install Ice, card (20), on R&D
Action Two: Draw a Bit
Action Three: Draw a Bit
Bit Pool: 7
Cards in Hand: 12, 25, 34, 50, 01
R&D:
Installed Ice: (20)
Hidden Data:
Upgrade:
HQ:
Installed Ice:
Hidden Data:
Upgrade:
Archives:
Installed Ice:
Hidden Data:
Upgrade:
Data Fort Alpha:
Installed Ice:
Hidden Data:
Upgrade:
Draw Pool: 23, 33, 41, 44, 47
Runner's Draw Pool: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06
Cards Face Up in Archives:
Cards Face Down in Archives:
Points Scored:

Jim has already sent me the numbers for my starting hand and Draw Pool. I have looked them all up and know what I am holding. So once I see what Jim has done, I fill out my form with my turn and send it to him.

A sample Runner form:
Action One:
Action Two:
Action Three:
Action Four:
Bit Pool:
Cards in Hand:
Programs:
Hardware:
Resources:
Draw Pool:
Corp's Draw Pool:
Cards in Trash:
Points Liberated:

Here's my turn:
Action One: Draw a Bit
Action Two: Draw a Bit
Action Three: Draw a Bit
Action Four: Draw a Bit
Bit Pool:9
Cards in Hand: 23, 25, 26, 31, 32
Programs:
Hardware:
Resources:
Draw Pool: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06
Corp's Draw Pool: 23, 33, 41, 44, 47
Cards in Trash:
Points Liberated:

So Jim reads what I have done and decides what he's going to do. He copies his last turn, so he doesn't have to retype in everything, pastes it into his reply. He gets an automatic draw so he looks up the next number on his Draw Pool and puts it in the Automatic Draw slot. He erases that number from his Draw Pool. Then he fills out his form with what he wants to do. If he spends Bits, when he mails me the copy, it will just record the final number in his Pool. If he uses a card and puts in his Archive, he records its name and number. If he Installs something in or on a Fort, he lists its number in the Hidden Data slot.

On my turn, I want to make a run. All I send to Jim is this:
Action One: Draw a Bit
Action Two: Draw a Bit
Action Three: Make a Run on R&D

Looking at Jim's mail, I can see card (20) is Ice on that Fort. Jim writes back and tells me he is going to Rezz that Ice. The Keeper costs four, so he now has four less Bits. He will record that fact on his next turn. He will also list (Keeper) under Ice: for R&D. He will also list everything that appears on the Keeper card in the Card Text: slot. This way I know what the cards in play say without having to ask. I don't get through, so I send Jim my whole turn. I even repeat my first three Actions so we both know everything that happened.

Basically, we keep sending each these forms, modifying them as we go. That's all there is to playing by e-mail really. As I said in my initial letter, you have to have software that keeps a copy of your outgoing messages because you copy your last turn into your next.

Let me know if you have any questions or want to play.

Addendum by Pierre Savoie

You may find that you may want to make improvements to the Runner and Corp Turn Forms by eliminating blank lines between the actions, between Resources, Hardware and Programs, etc. to make the form more compact.

I am also a strong believer in encryption, such as to send encrypted card-lists so your opponent can't know your whole deck in advance until the end of the game, when you give him the file password. There is even a way to roll dice fairly with no cheating possible. The trick is for you and your opponent to make small files, encrypted, using for example the PKZIP -s feature, each file consisting of nothing more than a number from 1 to 6. You have given these files names like ROLL1.ZIP, ROLL2.ZIP, etc., and exchange these files, (you need something like UUencode, base64, MIME conversion or a working file-attachment system in E-mail you both can use, to transmit the 8-bit file across the 7-bit Internet) about 6 or 8 of them. Then when a die-roll is called for, you exchange the passwords to decrypt the first pair of files. Then you add the two numbers up, and subtract 6 if the result is higher than 6.

Since you already exchanged the files, a cheater can't alter their content, each person gets the same result, yet until the passwords are exchanged each person only has half of the die roll and knowing or changing his own file doesn't help.

There is trouble with some situations: If the Runner peeked but could not score a card in R&D and the Corp then automatically draws it, the Runner would know that card by its list-number and could know what it was if placed as ICE. In the real game, the Runner would know such a card was drawn but the Corp could shuffle cards in his hand and there's no way the Runner would be sure that was the card set down as Ice. One could rename cards in hand A, B, C, D or E if that happens, but then it is possible that the Corp can cheat by making an Ice card whatever he wants out of two or more choices in his original hand. The Honor System is needed.

I also find it useful to keep a copy of the ongoing game, so if I'm playing with Brian O'Keefe, each new move of his (or shorter remarks, if we're doing a run play-by-play) I save as file BOKNEW.TXT, and append it to a file of the game transcript. I then type up a response by calling up the file BOKOLD.TXT which contains my last move to him, and edit the form to make only a few changes because of my moves (this saves a LOT of time because most long card-lists such as in the Archives/ Trash will stay the same except for new entries). When I have written up my answer and checked carefully that the game turn-sheet is updated in all respects, I save this as both BOKNEW and BOKOLD. I append BOKNEW to the game transcript and then E-mail it to him, erasing BOKNEW afterwards for when a new turn comes from him, keeping BOKOLD as a record of my cards at present.

Remember that in a match the Corp goes first, so a game is initiated when the Runner player learns the size of his opponent's deck and furnishes non-repeating random numbers (no larger than that deck size, of course) for the Corp's Starting Hand and a Draw Pool. We find we need a Draw Pool of about 10 numbers, in case a player plays a card during his action that requires drawing 5 cards in a row. Rarely, such as in a Big Dig sort of deck, he may play two such cards in a row (but it's unlikely, the amount of discard would be murder). In case of lack of cards to draw, the play must be immediately halted to get some random numbers from the opponent.


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