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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 1997:

"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 cards

The Netrunner cards were initially released as a base set, followed by two expansion sets for a total of 580 different cards:

  • 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 1999

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 cards
  • Program (105): a software used to directly attack and break the Corp's defenses (Ice) or to generally support such attacks
  • 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 through

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 decks
  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. No official tournament organisation (including prize support). Remaining tournament activity is very low and locally spreaded.
  3. No official keeper of rulings, FAQs etc. Rules questions have been solved by an internet discussion forum for the last years.
  4. No official source of information. On the WotC website, no information about Netrunner is available anymore.