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So You Want to Start Playing Netrunner

14 Jan , 2015  

Hello and welcome to our first contributor written piece. In this article our friend Martin talks about starting Netrunner, what to do and how to have the most fun as a beginner. You can trust Martin’s opinion and advice because the first time we met he announced his nickname as “Trustworthy Martin”. He then proceeded to act rather suspiciously in our game of The Resistance and ultimately the brave underdogs were brought down by his trickery and deceit. However, when he’s not busy selling out to corporations he can be found on his Netrunner podcast Ice Analyser over at Oh No! Video Games!

Martin | Netrunner is amazing. It’s super good. If you’re reading this article because you nodded when you read the title then congratulations, you’ve made a great choice. As someone whose most recent previous obsessions were Street Fighter 4 and Spelunky, Netrunner is exactly the kind of life-consuming competitive game that I need; it’s deep, complex, constantly evolving and interpretative. Playing Netrunner is fun in the margins of the actual plays itself. It’s fun because, while there are good and bad plays, the minute-to-minute action of a game is about making a thousand tiny choices which snowball into a climatic final run, or a perfectly executed bluff, or a well-timed Scorch, or-,

I’m getting ahead of myself here.

So you want to start playing Netrunner, huh? The most common question I see on the various forums I look at is, basically, where do I start?

To answer that with a little more detail than the usual ‘Buy a core set and play it a bunch’, I need to know a little about how far down the rabbit hole you are at this point. To help with that, I’ll put you into one of three categories:

  1. I heard about Netrunner from the internet and I’m desperate to play, but I don’t really have anyone to play with because I live in a tiny town beset by game-eating wolves! How the heck do I get into Netrunner?
  2. I have a buddy / significant other / significant buddy who is down to play with me! What’s a good entry point for us?
  3. I’ve got a friend who loves it and keeps nagging me to join them in the swirling cyber-abyss. What do I need to not get stomped?

So, with those in mind, let’s get into how you start playing. People in categories B and C can jump straight to step two if they want!

Step one: Find Someone to Play With

For a minute there, step one was going to be ‘Buy a core set’, because, obviously, right? The trouble is that, for people in category A, having a core set but no one to play with is basically worthless. Netrunner, you see, is not a simple game, and FFG are notoriously bad at writing rulebooks, so what you need more than anything is someone to learn along with. Playing in person helps with a lot of the more obscure rule interactions, and it also helps when it comes to grasping the more physical joys the game offers; snatching cards out of someone’s hand, turning over ice, physically stealing agendas – everything about the game which can’t be explained neatly in a rulebook, basically.

If you’re stuck in a small town or you have trouble getting to a Netrunner hub for other reasons – life is complicated, I recognise it – you’re likely going to have difficulty leaping off the cyber-diving board. I think a lot of tabletop game reviewers underestimate how much of a barrier to entry simply having people around can be, and it’s really exacerbated by a rules-dense game like Netrunner, which you can’t exactly just pull out at the pub and goad people into playing collectively.

That said, there are other ways in. Most areas have a meet up group if you Google for it, and I’ve found that players are generally more than happy to help out newbies at these events. I definitely have the advantage of being an Obviously Nerdy White Dude in those spaces though, so I’m likely not getting the full Terrible Nerdboy experience; if you’re worried about going in alone, it might be worth looking for a venue with a safer spaces policy or, alternatively, asking someone you trust to come to where you live for a couple of games.

If you’re reading this and feeling nervous about doing either of those things, feel free to contact me and I’ll look into events in your area for you. My ultimate endgame with this article is to pull more people into my ridiculous life-consuming hobby, so if I can help out with that, let me know.

Step two: Buy a Core Set

Because, obviously, right?

For complete beginners, the Core Set contains enough cards and factions for you to get 10-20 solid games out of it, switching sides and thinking about new strategies and deckbuilding and everything. It’s an amazing package, and if you’re part of category B, this is really all you’ll need for a hot minute.

And how to play with the core set? Well firstly, I’d recommend playing Gabe (Criminal) versus Haas-Bioroid (HB). Gabe has a lot of vicious sneaky tricks, and HB are great for learning how to build and ice servers. Chances are you’ll make a bunch of mistakes your first couple of games, and that’s fine! Figuring out the weird rules interactions is an important part of the game, and before you know it they’ll be second nature to you.

Once you’ve learned the rules thoroughly, there are a few deck types you can try and build as an exercise in learning how the different factions work. Rather than give you their names and letting you figure it out manually, try and build the deck types I’m hinting at with the cards you have available:

  1. Use NBN to make a Corp deck that tries to score Agendas in the same turn they are installed.
  2. Put together a Criminal deck which uses the fixed-strength Anarch breakers (Mimic & Yog) rather than their own in-faction ones.
  3. Scorched Earth is four influence for a reason – it’s incredibly powerful. Make a Weyland deck where your only game plan is to Scorch the runner.
  4. How many times can you install and then re-install the same virus programme as Noise?

Those should be enough to go on with for a minute! Go play some Netrunner!

Step three: Buy Some Expansions Maybe?

So, what’s next? By this point, you should be familiar with some archetypes and have some idea of what kind of faction appeals to you. Alternatively, maybe you’re category C and you want to buy a couple of datapacks along with your core set.

Honestly, I’d recommend at this point you take a look through the NRDB card listings  and seeing what seems exciting to you personally. That’s such vague advice, but if you’ve got the time for it, it’s worth it; you’ll see cards which you’re certain you can make work and that you have to get immediately, cards that seem busted and broken, and cards which don’t seem to make any sense until you see another one two packs later and it all clicks into place. It’s the best way, ultimately, because you’ll start building decks along with how you want to play the game, rather than along with the meta or whatever else.

Alternatively, what if you just want some general recommendations? Well, the first data pack, What Lies Ahead, is usually a solid starting point if you’re not sure where to go. It gives every corp a new agenda so you can vary up your decks a little, it gives you a solid answer to Scorched Earth – which, if you’re coming from a Core Set only background, is likely the bane of your existence at this point – and it gives the Anarchs a new, interesting identity to play around with. It’s also worth picking up a second Core Set, especially if you’re playing repeatedly with someone else; it makes the whole process of taking apart decks and putting them back together much simpler when you’ve got two of everything, and getting a full playset of Astroscripts and Datasuckers is invaluable.


If you just want more options, you could consider one of the big box expansions. Creation & Control and Honour & Profit both offer a lot of bang for your buck in terms of new archetypes, but it can be hard to run the IDs in them effectively without the necessary support cards from other datapacks – for example, Jinteki: Tennin Institute can be sort of a damp squib without Trick of Light, so it’s worth knowing what you’re getting into. If you’re just interested in varying up your game though, they’re definitely a good place to get going.

On the whole, my advice is to take a good look at the cards that are available and make a list of the ones you want to play around with the most, and then go get them. Ultimately, no buying guide is going to be as useful as actually knowing what you want, so I’d recommend leaping in from there. That might be a little disappointing for category C players, but unfortunately if you’re playing against someone determined to stomp you for your first 10-15 games, chances are you’re going to get stomped; the nature of competitive games means that if someone is determined to be an over-competitive jackass towards a new player, there’s not a lot you can do about it.

I’ll probably write something else soon! Stick around for more Words About Netrunner: With: Your Friend: Martin!

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  • James D.

    Is this the same as the old game “Netrunner” I still have a bunch of those laying around.

    • Andy Jones

      It’s the 2012 release of the game by Fantasy Flight Games. It’s been modernised and made awesome.

    • Danives

      It’s not “exactly” the same as the old game. FFG have bought the licence rights and rethemed it within their own Android universe – however a lot of the old cards have been reprinted in this version of the game, and I’d say the mechanics are pretty similar, bar some rule changes / terminology.

      Definitely a great game though.

  • Eddie Guerra

    I think the Big Box should be right after the Core as far as recommendations on what to buy next. Love it or hate it, those cards will be around for a while, despite rotation (assuming that does not change). They help add more options for corps and runners in a significant manner while galvanizing the core themes.

    • Jason A. Martin

      Of course, most groups will just ignore the “rotation”, since it’s anathemic to the whole “LCG” covenant. MTG screwed many of us over years ago, ripping our favorite cards from us, restricting them, banning them. Most old timers are hesitant to retravel that road.

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