Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Quick Guide to Netrunner

Netrunner is a game for two players, largely about bluffing and calculated risks (see my full review here). Learning to play Netrunner for the first time can be a daunting task - with two distinct roles, it can feel like learning two games at once. The packaged rule book is thirty pages of new lingo and diverse card types, which can be torment for the new player to get their head around. Here, I will try to provide an introduction for new players, covering the essentials for their first few games. Hopefully, this should help beginners find their feet and actually get round to enjoying this wonderful and compelling card game.

The Basics

In Netrunner, two players battle for control of "agenda" cards by assuming opposing roles. The first role is the corp (corporation): an evil organisation. The second role is the runner (hacker), who must break into the corp's computer servers and mess with those big-wigs. Both of these roles have entirely different rule-sets and mechanisms for victory.

Victory Conditions


  • Gather 7 agenda points (see below) or
  • Force the runner to discard when they have no cards in their hand.


  • Gather 7 agenda points or
  • Force the corp to go through all their cards and draw from an empty draw pile


The important features
on the agenda card.
Agenda cards are contained in the corp deck. Each agenda card has an agenda value, which counts towards each player's victory. You should always bear in mind the special effects attributed to agendas (see image), which can be very powerful.

Set Up

Before play, each player builds their deck. In the simplest terms, using the core set, players should simply take the cards for whatever identity they have chosen (there are four choices for the corp and three choices for the runner) and shuffle these with the cards not associated with any identity.

Each player takes a hand of five cards (this is maximum hand size and both players must discard down to this after each turn) and five credits. If you don't like your hand you can mulligan one time (this means shuffle your cards back into your deck and draw again). The corp sets out their basic servers (detailed soon). The corp makes the first move.

The Corp Player

The corp's play area is made up of various servers, protected by ice (firewalls). Central servers are default and exist from the start of the game. Remote servers are constructed manually by placing a card in them and these servers may contain agendas, assets, traps and upgrades. If you play as the corp, then throughout the game, the runner's objective will be to attack your servers, so you will protect them with cards known as ice.

The corp player's view, consisting of the four server types and their contents. Correction: The discard pile is actually referred to as the "archives", not the trash pile.
When the corp plays cards on the table, they are placed face down - known as being unrezzed. The corp may look at these face-down cards but the runner may not. To use the ability of a card, be it an asset, agenda or ice, it must be turned face up (rezzed) and the rez cost must be paid (see later card examples for details on rez costs). You may rez a card at almost any time, before your turn, at many points during the runners turn, etc, if it has already been placed in a unrezzed state, but the effects may not always happen immediately. It's important to know that you cannot rez an agenda outside of your own turn and ice can only be rezzed when the runner approaches it (or another card causes the ice to rez).

Often times, you will want a card to remain unrezzed for a long time, if it has no benefit to you, such as the following example of a Snare. The corp should leave it unrezzed and then rez it when the runner gains access to it. In it's unrezzed state, it may appear to be an agenda from the runner's perspective, but when the runner access it, rather than scoring, they will suffer net damage (damage is explained in the final section).

A corp asset.

To Score Agendas

The corp player wins agendas by placing them face down into a remote server and advancing them by the number of advancement tokens required (see agenda image). Each advancement token costs one credit and one click (action point) to place. You represent advancement tokens by placing a credit token on the card you are advancing, white side up. Once you hit the required number of advancement tokens, you can rez the agenda, take the actions described on its face, and move it to your score area.

So other than agendas...

An upgrade.
You also have access to assets. These are, like agendas, placed in the root of a server and must be rezzed when you wish to use them. Often times they act as traps or ways of making money (see the above example of a Snare card). You cannot have both an asset and an agenda in a remote server at the same time

Upgrades can be placed in any server (remote or central), even if there are other cards in those servers. Upgrades have a variety on effects on that server if they are rezzed. There is no limit to the amount of upgrades that you can place in a server.

Operations have a credit cost to play, and take an click to use, but do not need to be put into a server. They have an immediate and one-shot effect.
An operation.

And the all important ice.


Ice acts as the defensive wall to your servers and keeps the runner from accessing and possibly stealing or discarding your cards. It is absolutely vital.

Every piece of ice has four main features.

1. The rez cost. When the runner approaches your ice (when attacking a server) you pay this many credits to rez your ice. This is usually a one-time fee and your ice stays rezzed and active for the rest if the game. You can choose not to pay the rez cost, in which case the ice stays unrezzed and has no effect on the runner.
2. The strength. This number represents how tough your ice is in the face of the runner's attacks.
3. Ice type. The runner's icebreaking tools often only work against specific types of ice, so keep this in mind.
4. Subroutines. These are effects that the runner must suffer if they cannot break through the ice.

Bearing these in mind, you need to place ice horizontally in front of your servers. I'll cover how ice interacts with the runner in the later section on runs.

Placing ice on the table, like any card, costs a click (action point). You can have as many pieces of ice protecting a server as you'd like, but must pay increasing credits to place ice (see the image for cost details).

Detail of ice costs.
You may only place ice in the further most position on a server and cannot rearrange the order of ice. You can, however, discard any piece of ice, at no cost, during your turn.

Turn structure

The corp gets three clicks (actions) per turn. Before they use any of these clicks, they must draw a card from R&D (the corp draw pile) - this is compulsory. On their turn they have several different ways of using their clicks:

  • Draw another card from the R&D for one click.
  • Take a credit from the bank for one click.
  • Install a card for one click
  • Play an operation for one click
  • Spend a credit and use one click to place one advancement token on any card that can be advanced
  • Spend two credits and one click to trash a resource on the runner's rig, if the runner has been previously tagged
  • Purge all of the virus counters that the runner has in play for all three clicks
  • Use an ability on a card
Remember, rezzing cards that have already been installed on the table face-down does not require a click.

The Runner

The runner's play area is made up various pieces of hardware, programs and resources. The runner installs these cards in order to assist in attacks on corp servers. By attacking corp servers, runners are able to steal agendas from the corp and attain victory. Unlike the corp, runners don't have to pay for or advance agendas - they simply steal agendas.

So on a runner's turn, they have four clicks. They install cards to their play area (always face up) by paying the associated costs, run events (similar to corp operations) by paying associated credit costs, and then make their all important attacks on the corp servers. These attacks are known as "runs".

An icebreaker.
First off, some important info on the kinds of cards you can install onto the table (known as your rig) when you are the runner.

Icebreakers allow you to smash through various pieces of ice. Notice that they only affect certain kinds of ice, so you need to make sure you have the right ice-breakers to deal with the right types of ice. Each icebreaker has an indication of its strength and a usually a method of boosting it's strength, usually by spending credits. And then, each icebreaker finally details how much it costs to break a subroutine on a piece of ice.

Viruses are nasty cards which offer you must more versatility when they are played. In their icebreaker form, they often allow you to attack any piece of ice. To counter their versatility, but often need to be powered up with virus counters, before they can be used. Powering up a virus might cost a click, or might happen automatically under certain conditions, depending on the card itself.

Both icebreakers and viruses has a memory cost. Bear in mind that the runner, by default, has a memory capacity of four. If you wish to place a new icebreaker or virus and don't have enough memory, you will have to start discarding other installed cards.

A virus
Hardware gives a variety of bonuses - really too many to detail here. Also look out for consoles under this category. You can only have one console in play at any one time, but they are very powerful pieces of equipment.

Resources give you credit boosts, link boosts (used for resisting a corp's attempt to trace you) and so on. If you are tagged, the corp is able to trash your installed resources, so be careful!

You can make a run without any of these cards installed, but they improve your chances of breaking through ice unscathed.


Making runs of servers is your main job as a runner. A runner can run against any corp server. This includes the three default central servers and any remote servers established by the corp. Running each server has a different result:

Central Server, HQ: This server is represented by the corp's identity card. If you get through the protective ice and access the HQ, then you get to look at any one card from the corp player's hand. If it's an agenda, you score it. If it has a trash icon, you can pay that many credits to make the corp trash it. Other cards must usually be returned to the corp's hand.

Central Server, R&D: This is the corp's draw pile. If you access it, you may look at the top card. The same rules regarding cards accessed in HQ apply.

Central Server, Trash: If you access this sever, you may look at all the cards in the pile, including ones that were discarded face-down. If you find any agendas, then keep them.

Remote Server: Accessing the root of a remote server allows you to access any cards within in whatever order you like. If you find agendas, score them. If you find decoys and traps, good luck dealing with their effects!

So to access the root of a corp's server, you need to execute the run itself. To do this, spend a click and designate the server you want to approach. If there is no ice protecting the server, you go straight through and gain access. If there is ice, you deal with it one piece at a time, starting with the ice at the outermost position.

If the first piece of ice is unrezzed, the corp must decide if they should pay the credits to rez it. If they don't, ignore the ice and carry on past it, accessing the next piece of ice or the root of the server (if there is no more ice). If the corp player pays to rez the ice, you must deal with it. If the ice has been left rezzed from a previous run, then you must deal with it.

First, if you intend to break the ice with an icebreaker, make sure your have the correct kind of icebreaker. Then compare your icebreaker strength with the strength of the ice being encountered. Your icebreaker must match or exceed the strength of the piece of ice being encountered, so spend the credits required to boost its strength (note, that is an icebreaker states that x number of credits means a gain of y amount of strength, you can run this command as many times as you like, provided you have enough credits, in order to arrive at the correct strength). Once you are at the required strength, you must pay additional credits to deal with the subroutines on ice. Again, refer to your icebreaker for details. Always bear in mind that you may not want to break the subroutines on the ice, perhaps because the effects that the ice has are not a big deal to you at the time. In this case, don't boost your strength, keep your money and simply suffer the effects.

Gordian Blade is able to tackle code gates and already meets Enigma's strength of 2, so you do not need to spend credits to upgrade Gordian Blade's strength. Enigma has two subroutines, so you may spend 2 credits to use Gordian Blade's first ability to break these subroutines. Of course, you may only wish to break one subroutine, or none at all, in which case the subroutines will take effect.

This assumes that you have spent the one click to gain a virus counter on Crypsis. Upon encountering Neural Katana, if you want to tackle it and defeat its subroutines, make sure that you have this virus counter. Then, you spend 3 credits to boost Crypsis' strength up to 3, to match Neural Katana's strength. Neural Katana has one subroutine, so you need to spend 1 more credit to break that and you are through. If you choose not to break Neural Katana, you will suffer three net-damage.  If you defeat a subroutine on Neural Katana, you have to discard one of the virus counters on Crypsis.
Once you move through the ice, unless it has forced you to end your run, you can encounter the next piece of ice. Now, it's important to know, when you are between pieces of ice, you can choose to abort your run. You cannot do this while you are in the midst dealing with a piece of ice and you also cannot end your run if you choose to approach an unrezzed piece of ice and the corp rezzes it in return. In that case, you are locked in for the duration of that ice.

So your task is to burst through all the ice protecting a server and you get to access card(s) in that server. Finger's crossed for an agenda!

Turn Structure

The runner gets four clicks per turn, which is one more than the corp, but they do not get the free card draw at the start of each turn. The runner can do the following:

  • Draw a card from their stack (draw pile) for one click
  • Gain one credit for one click
  • Install a card into their rig for one click
  • Play an event for one click
  • Spend two credits and one click to remove a tag 
  • Make a run on a corp server for one click
  • Use the ability on a card

Odds and Ends


Some cards allow the corp to conduct a trace on the runner. These actions are followed by a number, in superscript, which indicates the base strength of this trace. The corp then boosts the strength of this trace using credits: one credit means +1 strength and once the corp has set the trace strength, they cannot go back and change it. The runner then looks at their link stat (on their character card, it is the number followed by two squares in the top-left). The runner may boost their link stat using the same rules: one credit means +1 link strength. If the runner's link strength matches or exceeds the trace strength, the trace fails. Otherwise, the corp succeeds and the trace effect happens (detailed on which ever card was used the initiate the trace).


Some cards allow the corp to give the runner a tag. These are very dangerous and allow the corp to trash runner resources and play some high level attack cards. The runner can remove tags, one at a time, by spending two credits and one click.

Bad Publicity

On the flip-side of the tag counter is the bad publicity counter. This is a damage effect that the corp can take as a result of various cards, but it's quite rare at the moment. For every point of bad publicity that the corp suffers from, the runner gains a temporary credit at the start of each of their runs, to be used during that run. Bad publicity can not be removed and affects every run the runner makes.

Types of Damage

The runner can take several types of damage.

  • Net damage and meat damage both mean that the runner must discard cards (at random) from their hand equal to the damage amount. If they have zero cards and are forced to discard again, they lose.
  • Brain damage means the runner must take a brain damage token for each point of brain damage. They must discard cards, like with net damage and meat damage, and then their maximum hand size is reduced by the amount of brain damage tokens they have.

In Conclusion

Those are the basics of Netrunner. I hope I have got the bulk of the gameplay down. At the very least, I hope I've made the game a little more approachable - so put your deck together, get out there, and steal some evil agendas! Or of course, kick some runner ass!


  1. simply written, excellent

  2. Great tool, I'll use it to teach my friends

  3. One minor point:
    IIRC If you encounter HQ, R&D or Archives you MUST access cards.

    1. Thanks for this, just tried the game for the first time last night and I see some things we did wrong.

  4. Cheers for this.

  5. well written and simplifies a lot of the rules and jargon.