What is Netrunner?
Netrunner is a collectible card game designed by Richard
Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering. It was published
by Wizards of the Coast and introduced in 1996. Netrunner
was lauded by critics, such as InQuest magazine, for its level of
strategy and tactics, balanced game play and impressive artwork,
and is regarded by many players around the world as one of the best
CCGs ever published.
Basic storyline and game aspects
Netrunner is based heavily on the Cyberpunk 2020
role-playing game published by R. Talsorian Games,
but also draws additional flavor from the broader cyberpunk genre.
Netrunner depicts cyberspace combat between a global mega-corporation
(the Corp) and a hacker (the Runner). The Corp's goal is to complete
their secret agendas before the Runner can hack in and spoil their
secret plans for world domination. It isn't easy, though, as the
Corp has strong defensive data forts protected by malevolent computer
programs known as ICE (short for Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics).
The Runner must use special programs of their own (called Icebreakers)
to break through and steal the hidden plans - to keep the Corp from
taking over completely. All this is paid for in the game by a system
of resources called bits (representing currency), which are earned
and spent during the course of play.
An interesting feature of Netrunner is that each side
has different abilities and uses completely different cards distinguished
by alternate card backs. This contrasts with most other CCG's, which
usually depict a "battle between peers" where each opponent
draws upon the same card pool. While a player does not have to play
both sides except in tournament play, it is commonly held that a
firm understanding of both leads to better overall player ability.
The following quote is taken from InQuest Magazine, May
"Probably the best CCG on the market. Netrunner's only
drawback is that it can't be played with more than two players.
However, this is a small price to pay for such a marvelously crafted
game of strategy and guile.
Every time you play, you'll face the challenges of having to
make the right tactical decision, judging your opponents poker face
and executing bluffs of your own. You must consider every move your
opponent makes, and he'll be putting you under the same scrutiny.
The skill and concentration Netrunner requires enhances its enjoyability.
Netrunner also does a great job of simulating the the feel
of R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk RPG. As the Runner, you'll feel like
you're putting your life on the line every time you investigate
the Corp's data forts.
Unlike most other games, Netrunner plays best out of a starter.
Add two or three boosters and trim both your Corp and Runner Decks
down to the 45-card minimum and you're ready to go. Netrunner is
the benchmark of CCG's."
The Netrunner cards were initially released as a base
set, followed by two expansion sets for a total of 580 different
- Netrunner base set (v1.0) - 374 different cards
- Release Date: April 26, 1996
- Netrunner Proteus (v2.1) - 154 different cards
- Release Date: September 1996
- Netrunner Classic (v2.2) - 52 different cards
from the (unfinished) Silent Impact set- Release Date: November
The cards were originally distributed in the following formats:
- Netrunner (Double) Starter: 120 random cards
(60 for each Runner and Corp) from the base set (v1.0)
- Netrunner Booster: 15 random cards (Runner
and Corp mixed) from the base set (v1.0)
- Proteus Booster: 15 random cards (Runner and
Corp mixed) from the Proteus set (v2.1)
- Classic Booster: 8 random cards (Runner and
Corp mixed) from the Classic set (v2.2)
In addition, these units were also sold in boxes of 6 (Double)
Starters, 36 Boosters (v1.0 and v2.1) or 24 boosters (v2.2).
There are 4 different types of Runner cards...
- Hardware (40): a piece of electronic gear or
transport, e.g. a microchip, a computer deck or a motorcycle
- Prep (80): a one-time special option to make
Runner's life easier, e.g. gaining bits or drawing / searching
- Program (105): a software used to directly
attack and break the Corp's defenses (Ice) or to generally support
- Resource (65): a helpful connection in or outside
netspace, e.g. to provide bits or protection
...and 5 different types of Corp cards in the game:
- Agenda (47): a highly sensitive project that
has to be advanced and finished (scored) by the Corp or liberated
by the Runner
- Ice (106): a program to protect Corporate data
forts from intrusion, e.g. a firewall, code gate or watchdog
- Node (55): supporting data or function that
is not highly sensitive, e.g. to provide bits or to threaten or
trap the Runner
- Operation (38): a one-time special option to
make Corp's life easier, e.g. gaining bits or advancing an Agenda
- Upgrade (44): an improvement to a data fort,
e.g. increasing the cost or difficulty for the Runner to break
As with most other CCGs, Netrunner cards have different
degrees of scarcity/rarity, denoted as
- vital (44): mostly Agendas and Ice-breaking
Programs, as many of them are needed in typical Corp and Runner
- common (180): cards with elementary function
that usually make up a large portion of every deck
- uncommon (176): cards with a somewhat special
function, often quite useful but in smaller numbers
- rare (180): cards with a very special function,
some very powerful in the right context, but otherwise often useless
Every Starter includes enough vital and common cards plus a few
uncommons and rares to build a pair of balanced and well-rounded
decks that can provide many interesting and challenging matches.
Experienced players, however, looking for more different card effects
and combinations, specialized winning strategies or just a complete
set of cards may want to add boosters which include more uncommons
and rares (relatively speaking). But these uncommons and rares are
not needed to enjoy the game, in fact they are not even very useful
in general without the support of vitals and commons.
For those who like to know, the rarity distribution in Starters
and Boosters is as follows:
- Netrunner (Double) Starter (v1.0): 22 vital,
60 common, 34 uncommon, 4 rare (half of those in each deck)
- Netrunner Booster (v1.0): 2 vital, 7 common,
5 uncommon, 1 rare
- Proteus Booster (v2.1): 10 common, 4 uncommon,
1 rare (there are no vitals in Proteus)
- Classic Booster (v2.2): 6 common, 2 rare (there
are only commons and rares in Classic)
(Lack of) Card distribution and game support
Unfortunately, official production, distribution and support of
Netrunner has finally stopped some time ago (due to the
lack of commercial success compared to other CCG products). This
has caused several critical problems that are still unsolved today:
- No more cards to buy. Almost all distributors and resellers
have already emptied their stocks and archives. New players or
collectors are more or less left with what Ebay has to offer.
This holds true for all sets.
- No official tournament organisation (including prize support).
Remaining tournament activity is very low and locally spreaded.
- No official keeper of rulings, FAQs etc. Rules questions have
been solved by an internet discussion forum for the last years.
- No official source of information. On the WotC website, no information
about Netrunner is available anymore.