To quote Alex White at Reading regionals to Dave Hoyland; "You don't know what you're talking about when it comes to flavour text Dave, you're just playing a game where as Chris (Dyer) and I are locked in an enthralling battle in an alternate dystopian cyberpunk future!" Flavour text is pretty important to some people, it gives us and insight in to the world behind the game we all play. It adds humour and personality it even breaks the 4th wall on acknowledgement of the game. We've asked some netrunner celebrities to give us their thoughts on what flavour text they like most...
I don't know whether this was planned well in advance, or whether someone was casting around for ideas when writing the flavour text on The Twins and formed a cunning plan, but I do know that it's absolute genius. There are probably people out there who knew it would come eventually, but it's something my playgroup just discovered by chance. I really hope it was a planned thing, because to me, the 2012 set up and 2015 punchline really exemplifies how smart the creators of this game are, right down from the lead designer to the artists and the people who create the lore and flavour.
Because choosing just 1 was too hard...
Honourable mention 1 - Quetzal "Why should we be slaves to our genetic heritage?" - because why should we?
Honourable mention 2 - Gabriel Santiago "Of course I steal from the rich. They're the ones with all the money" - really sums up the Criminal ethos. Not necessarily in it for any good, just profit.
Honourable mention 3 - Quandary - "It wants to have two subroutines when it grows up." - I just love it, it works on so many levels.
Honourable mention 4 - All the cards where the art, flavour text, and mechanics all marry up and create a completely cohesive entity. Sneakdoor Beta is my favourite example "The code isn't important. It's where the code takes you that is important." -g00ru"
OK I'll stop now.
The Red Queen of intellectual spice. I love her quote. If you've ever played a game of Netrunner with me, you'll note that I joke and make snarky comments quite often with players I'm more familiar with. *Glares at Eric Caoili* As someone who constantly talks to my opponents playfully, comparatively these words seem so damn savage.
Part of what makes her flavor text stand out is that those words come out as a declarative statement pointing out her superiority. It's not subtle, slow burn She's above your level or out of your league. By thinking you were playing the same game, you lost the moment you began playing. She's clever and so damn snarky. I love it.
Barriers have some of the best flavour text in the game. The connection between Ice Wall and Fire Wall is hilarious, as is the flavour texts of Heimdalls 1.0 and 2.0. Ultimately however, my favourite has to be the biggest and most solid of them all: Curtain Wall.
For starters, the flavour text breaks the fourth wall (pun most definitely intended) with the End the Game subroutine. Netrunners have been fantasising cards that have effects beyond the current boardstate - imagine a Caprice that must be ripped to shreds if the Corp loses the psi bid, or a Siphon that pilfers money from another player across the room. While we likely won't get any of that, Curtain Wall's flavour text comes the closest to giving us a taste of it.
Then there's the thematic tie to theatre, with the art suggesting a front curtain, and the outermost ICE mechanics reinforcing that. The symbolism of it all hits you as the Corp rezzes Curtain Wall on the scoring remote, lowering the curtains on the run. As you stare helplessly into the dimming lights, the scene comes to an end...
Agenda, exit stage left.
For the most part the Flashpoint Cycle has not delivered on the all important flavour text front. Packs are taken up by stinkers like Beth Kilrain Chang (trips over itself and doesn't sound half as cool at the writer thought it did) or Enforcing Loyalty (way to ruin any impact of the second sentence by having the speaker introduce herself for no reason in the first). With text this bad that a casual flavour fan like me is unhappy, I can only imagine how bad things must be for hardcore flavour enthusiasts like Laurie Poulter and Dave Hoyland.
Thankfully in a sea of flavour text mediocrity, Crisis Management has arrived for me to cling to like a drowning man to a life raft, proving that the FFG flavour text authors haven't just been goldbricking five days a week for the last six months. Given that Damon is now demanding £13 a go for my plastic blister packs full of cards for a children's game, this makes me pretty thankful. Security Measures does all of the things I like without doing any of the stuff I hate.
It doesn't state a dull fact about the Netrunner setting that I couldn't care less about while failing to show me why I should care (Crisium Grid). It's not so long that reading it makes me feel like I'm playing against Museum of History (Himitsu Bako). It isn't attributed to someone for no reason whatsoever, thereby lessening its impact (Wyldside ).
It does do is several things. For a start it actually tells us something meaningful about the setting. Weyland are implementing new security measures in response to the crisis, presumably the 23 Seconds incident. The flavour text implies that this is happening, without outright telling us. This is Good Flavour 101. Bonus points that it manages to do so without referring to the Netrunner universe. I could use this line around the water cooler at work or in a line to buy salad at Tesco without looking like the kind of person that uses the term ‘normies’ unironically. Flavour text that transcends the game it's a part of is rare in Netrunner.
This joke is genuinely pretty funny, and it also makes a meaningful observation about the real world. Usually jokes written on trading cards are only funny to the kind of person that only gets their jokes from trading cards.
I’m no student of literature, but in my opinion the fact that this card’s text is worth a chuckle is partly due to the fact that it has something to say. In 1984 Orwell observed “The best books …are those that tell you what you know already." Stating something we’ve all experienced but have never actually stopped and thought about before is good writing, and managing to achieve this on flavour text for a Netrunner card is no small feat. This effect is in no small part due to the fact that the quote is unattributed. If this was written as a quote from the Anarch’s Dictionary or the New Gospel of Whatever it wouldn’t have this impact at all. Unattributing it stops if from being a dismissable opinion.
It’s a true shame that flavour text this good appeared on a card with rules text and art this bad, and it's testament to the author that the flavour text is just about funnier than the thought of putting the card in a deck.
“Her eyes were the color of a vidscreen, tuned to a dead channel” is as evocative as it is multi-dimensional. It reveals the malign nature of the card subtly, using borrowed prose to show that the corp has suppressed the personality of the runner. It shows instead of tells, which magnifies the gloominess of the card and reminds the players of the violence of the Runner/Corp struggle.
Going beyond the literal, the flavor text is a paraphrasing of the opening line of Gibson’s Neuromancer which reads “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” I feel that the quote was adapted cleverly. It Illustrates the card’s effects while invoking the genre in a way that most players would recognize. In my experience, those unfamiliar with Neuromancer are compelled by the line to uncover its meaning.
Taking it a step farther, Gibson’s opening line was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek homage to the trope introductions of Noir serials. When you consider the Noir elements of Netrunner, the reference becomes twofold. This quote sets the theme for the card and for the android world by means of well delivered inside joke. The quote transcends its original context to take on a new meaning within the Netrunner story.
“Money is Power” is straightforward but so is the sentiment behind the Flashpoint Cycle. Sandburg debuts after the 23 seconds crisis and sets the tone by reminding us money is power and they have more money. When I read this card I could hear the words uttered by an executive while slamming a white knuckled fist into a board room table. It is also literal in that the richer the corp is, the poorer the runner becomes trying to breach servers.
Diving deeper into the theme of the cycle, this card heralds a time of distrust, aggression and hoarding among megacorps. The new divisions in this cycle have 12 influence. It seems the corps won’t share when survival is on the line. As they eye each other warily, they hoard cash and enhance their own power instead of relying on borrowed tech.
The most entertaining part of this card is that the flavor text echoes the mindset of the player who would use it. For glacier enthusiasts, money has always been power. Whether that be big ice, Ash, or other defensive upgrades. Now, in addition to those tools, your economy and piloting rewards success with more defensive power. Sandburg returns us to a time when creating a scoring window with ice tax was possible. With the MWL 2 and cards such as this we are seeing the revival of oldschool netrunner where ‘money is power’.
I didn't notice this until VERY recently, but here we have yet more Netrunner flavour text carried across a number of cards:
So, there you go! Order & Chaos; terrible for good cards, but makes for some epic poetry.
I think I was asked to pick only one Netrunner card, so while I'm cheating horrendously, here's the other card I really wanted to bring to everyone's attention:
This is 100% a reference to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - currently on Netflix and the episode you're looking for is "The Nightman Cometh". Don't think, just watch it and appreciate it for the masterpiece that it is.
Fun fact, "During rehearsals, Frank keeps singing the word 'soul' so that it sounds like the word 'hole', so that the lines end up sounding like 'You gotta pay the Troll Toll/If you wanna get into that boy's hole.' Charlie tries to teach Frank to sing it differently, but even when Frank sings the song in the show, it still sounds like he's saying 'boy's hole.' (http://itsalwayssunny.wikia.com/wiki/Troll_Toll)
I’m looking for three things in a great piece of flavour text. Firstly, I want it to be functional, to help build and explore the world that the card game is set in. Self-referential quips (I’m looking at you, Vanilla) need not apply. Secondly, I like flavour text that ties in to the art, title and mechanics of the card. And thirdly, I want something that’s clear, succinct and memorable.
So why on earth do I think the flavour text on Harbinger and Apocalypse is the best that Netrunner has to offer? You can’t even read it, let alone appreciate it. But that in itself is great flavour. Apex, the presumed subject of the cards, is a mysterious, unknowable entity living somewhere within the net; the fact that the language used is so obviously strange reinforces that fact.
Then some clever type on the internet tells you that all those dots are actually Baudot code, an alphabet invented in the 19th Century for use with telegraphs and a very early precursor to computer code. That invites you in to the mystery of Apex’s identity, posing the same questions being asked by people in the Android universe. Why would Apex use such a code? What does that imply about who or what it might be?
Then you find the translation for the code; the two cards together say “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” This is a quote from the Bhagavad Gita, but is more famously associated with Robert Oppenheimer when he helped to create the atomic bomb. And that’s cool and evocative; tying flavour text in to real world references helps give context to the meaning, and also gives the reader a little thrill of satisfaction when they recognise it. In this case, the horror and devastation caused by the atomic bomb in our world leave you in no doubt as to the threat that Apex poses.
We’re left with flavour text that works on multiple levels, with each tier of understanding giving you a different insight. And then you remember the cards that the flavour text appears on, and the overall meaning is immediately clear. Apex is the Harbinger of the Apocalypse.
That’s how you write flavour text.
This roughly translates into “thus is the paths to the stars” which is an amazing way of describing the ability which Gagarin promotes whilst sounding like a corporate motto (spoiler: it's actually the motto in one form or another to countless companies, air forces schools and similar). However, this isn’t the bit that really excites me about this flavour text, it's the back story behind this phrase.
The full quote is; “Blessings on your great courage, boy; thus is the path to the stars; son of gods that will have gods as sons”. These words are spoken by the Greek god Apollo to Ascanius in the Latin Epic poem Aeneid. The poem Aeneid concerns the story of Aeneas of Troy who was the son of Aphrodite and a Trojan prince. Aeneid travels to Italy in search of a new home and war with the people he finds there.
Whilst there he is tricked into riding out into battle, leaving his encampment in the charge of his young teenage son, Ascanius. The camp is attacked by the armies of the enemy with overwhelming force. Ascanius holds out against the odds, loosing an arrow during the battle killing the leader of the opposing army, Numanus.
After the battle Apollo appears to Aenas asking that Ascanius be removed from harms way as he and his ancestors are meant for greatness. He became the ancestor of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome and the Julia family, the first emperors of Rome.
This story is a perfect example of what I think Weyland are about; the agendas Weyland are progressing are destined for greatness and the company will be the most dominant as a result. We will keep them away from your grasp (by putting them in space!). But, if you try and trick us Weyland will loose their arrows and enforce the will of the Gods and have you killed for thinking you could try to best us! Incredible flavour text.
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