Netrunner online is rough but worth the click


Android: Netrunner is a two-player card game set in a cyberpunk world where a hacker and a corporation angrily click their mouse buttons at each other until one of the following things happens:

1. The corporation researches a bunch of terrifying technology.

2. The hacker steals all the files the CEO accidentally left on his desktop.

3. The corporation runs out of ideas, and just sits there going: “Uhhh.”

4. The hacker dies from too much internet.

We have a much better explanation below. For now, let’s say it’s a good game. The downside, however, is that it’s not a PC game. You can only play it in meatspace, with real, germ-spreading cards bought from fleshy human vendors of physical antiquities. At least, that’s how it seems. Turns out there’s an unofficial website called that lets you play online for free. But is it worth the click? Matt and Brendan take a look.

Brendan: lol hi matt, asl?

Matt: Oh Brendan. You think I’m just going to give you that information?

Brendan: lol m8 c’mon i’ve got ur linkedin login anyway i know ur secrets

Matt: Aha! You’ve fallen prey to my cunning trap! Dare I say: check “m8”.

Brendan: haha wat r u talking abou– [Line disconnected — Node not found — Diagnostic: Total cerebral collapse]

Matt: Well, that’s pretty much exactly how a game of Netrunner goes. Need we explain more?

Brendan: [Connecting back-up Brendan] I think we should explain some things but not too much. The rules of this “living” card game are very itty-bitty and learning them is probably the most intimidating thing about it.

Matt: That’s true, and I think it’s worth saying upfront that I wouldn’t recommend playing your first game of Netrunner in this digital incarnation. There’s an overwhelming amount to pick up, and I wouldn’t fancy contending with that and the interface’s foibles at once.


Brendan: Agreed. You should put aside an evening and play against a real person first. But for those who want to know what they’re getting into, let’s simmer this game down to the gooey basics.

There are two players. One is a corporation, the other is a hacker (a “runner”). It’s an asymmetrical game in that the players have similar goals but different methods. The runner wants to get into the corp’s stack of cards and peep at them, hoping to pull out valuable “agenda” cards. If they steal enough of these, the hacker wins. The corp, meanwhile, wants to keep the hacker out while “advancing” their own agenda cards. Basically, the corp wants to spend money and time researching cool robots, and doesn’t want the runner to get their dirty hands on ‘em.

The hackers cards are laid out face-up, as if he or she is putting together the perfect computer to hack his target. The corp’s cards are played face-down, arranged like mysterious servers. These servers might host expensive robots, like I say. But they might have, uh, other things. Nasty things. The problem is: the hacker doesn’t know.

For a more thorough run-down of the rules, it’s probably best to just check the official tutorial. It’s 20 minutes long and easy to get lost in, but you have to learn somehow, meatbag.


Matt: Those are just the basic rules, too! There are so many cards that change the way you have to look at a game. Even once you’re up to speed on the core rules, it’s not uncommon to have to pause for a minute or two as you figure out exactly what a new card does.

It’s intimidating, sure, but that’s part of the appeal. In some ways, Netrunner reminds me more of Dota than of other CCGs.

Brendan: Because it’s a nightmare for newbies?

Matt: Kinda! When you hear two experienced players talking to each other about the game, it’s like they’re speaking a different language. At the same time, there’s an immediate appeal that I never quite got with Magic the Gathering or other card games I’ve tried.

I think the asymmetry is at the core of that appeal. Netrunner is a game about information, where the corp player knows all and the runner has to deduce what they can from risky plays and psychological battles of wits.


Brendan: It’ll help if we give an example. Remember the time you took a “run” at one of my servers and brain damaged yourself just to get inside and see the juicy contents. But the juicy contents turned out to be a really angry AI secretary who deleted a program on your computer? That was good. I liked that.

Matt: It was awful, and I now respect you less as a person.

Nah, that’s not true. I like being the trickee almost as much as being the trickster. This is a mark of many a good game, but that feeling of “Oh, if only I’d done THAT instead” is why I love Netrunner so much. You can get screwed over by a bad hand, sure, but at the end of the day you win or lose each game because of your decisions. Your terrible, terrible decisions.


Brendan: At one point, Adam asked us if we were done playing “cyberpunk poker”, which I think perfectly describes it. As the runner, you have to constantly gamble on trying to access particular servers. In other words, you take a cyber-sprint at a row of cards on the corp’s side. But these servers will have “ice” protecting them. These are like awful antivirus protection. Firewalls designed to make you spend loads of money on expensive kit to bypass them. Or they might just be pop-up advertising that steals “clicks” from you, sapping you of the time you need to get things hacked. You can’t see any of these at first, so you’re going in blind. If it goes wrong, you might die and lose the game. Because the corp’s hidden cards can mess you up baaaad.

Matt: That really plays into the psychology of it. In our most recent game, part of the reason I lost was because I was terrified of your program-trashing ice that stung me early on. After the match was over, you revealed that everything protecting your servers wasn’t scary at all – I could have waltzed in and won the game whenever I liked.

Brendan: My corp puts on a bold front, but it’s actually just three overworked blokes sweating in a windowless office trying to sell penny stocks.

Matt: With just enough cash for one intimidating auto-turret.


Brendan: Let’s talk less about Netrunner itself for a minute and more about’s implementation of Netrunner. This is the website we’re playing on. You use it to build decks and play others in public or private match-ups. You build decks by sifting through dropdown menus and selecting cards. Or more easily, by pasting in a plain text file which lists all the cards you want. It turns words into decks! (We did this to get the “starter” decks we played with).

I think this part of the site is a great tool for people who know the game intimately, but less helpful than any deckbuilding page you’d find in games like Hearthstone, Gwent or Duelyst, for example. Those games have polished libraries of cards that you can zoom in and inspect, with simple click-to-add interfaces. doesn’t have anything approaching that in terms of user-friendliness. It’s a good tool, I think, but often feels like a rough and ready solution to the problem: ‘there is no digital version of Netrunner’ (at least, for now). What did you think of the whole set-up?


Matt: I think that sums it up nicely. Considering how many bitty systems Netrunner has, there’s an impressive amount that it does automate for you – though we had to hash quite a few things ourselves. We both had moments where a misclick undermined 20 minutes of play, so an undo button would make a world of difference.

Even if that button ever makes it into the game, I dread to think what it would be like to play with someone who you weren’t on voice comms with.

Brendan: Definitely. For veterans, it’s probably not an issue. But if you’re an inexperienced Netrunner, the way we did it is probably best. Skype, starter decks, cups of tea, and plenty of time.

Matt: This is entering uneasy legal territory, but it’s also a way of trying out cards that you don’t have access to. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do that, but it did cross my mind that using the moral reasoning that (I think) governs emulated games, playing with cards I already own is a little less dodgy?


Brendan: Right. This is why it’s MASSIVELY unofficial. I’m guessing there are a lot of people who play on between tournaments and game nights, people who already own everything, who splurdge on card packs the day they’re released. But theoretically, yeah, you could use all the game’s cards without ever buying a single pack. That’d be why Fantasy Flight, the owners of the Android: Netrunner card game, sent a cease and desist notice to the programmer who designed and runs the website, Minh Tran, telling him to take it down. He still hasn’t though. And regardless of how you feel about property rights, there’s something thematically appropriate about a sizeable board game company going toe-to-toe with a single programmer.

Matt: They were hacked at one point, too!

Brendan: That’s right! was hacked. So, uh, we should probably caution our readers to use unique passwords and such. I mean, you should always be doing that anyway. Given that we already occupy a Gibsonist reality.

Matt: All my passwords have ‘133T’ in them, which I believe makes me hack proof.

Brendan: You’re right. It does.


Matt: So, do you think you’ll play any more of’s Netrunner?

Brendan: I’d play more if it was just you and I, or with another friend over voice chat. Because it does lack a lot of beginner-friendly features we take for granted in our CCGs. For instance, “matchmaking” here consists of pulling up a virtua-chair and saying “who wants a fight?” and then seeing who comes. You can name your game “Beginner” or “Starter deck”, and the community is probably small and tight-knit enough to be decent about new folks. But I’d always be afraid of playing too slowly for someone else. Then again, that can happen at any Netrunner meet-up.

Matt: True, though those pauses are less boring when you can study your opponent’s face for vital clues. The same goes for the things you say and your tone of voice: we both tried to mislead each other at vital moments, and you wouldn’t get that with a silent internet stranger.

Brendan: We also made plenty of mistakes, and I think there’s more leeway and forgiveness when playing with a pal online. Remember when I threw away some valuable manbots by accidentally clicking the wrong part of my screen? You just let me reset my credits and rejig things. With a stranger online, explaining that and asking for a re-do seems like bad form. In a CCG like Gwent, you wouldn’t get a re-do. You just swallow it, do a sheepish “whoops” emote and move on. Likewise, in person, like you say, playing a stranger would be different. It’d feel more forgiving. You can each see that you’re both slovenly bags of fallible flesh. Mistakes can be undone, no worries.


Brendan: So I suppose we sorta recommend It’s rough around the edges, but it works, even automating a surprising amount of the card abilities. But if it’s not for the freshest newcomer, who’s it for?

Matt: People like us, I suppose, that know and love the physical version but don’t get the chance to play as often as we’d like. I remember you saying “ah, I’d forgotten how good this game is”, and I had exactly the same reaction.

Brendan: Lapsed runners, in other words. Guys and gals who’ve hung up their rig, and given up the stims. That world is behind them now. But something is stirring on the net, something UNOFFICIAL. Now, they’ve got to jack in again… for one… last… run.

Matt: Exactly. Fancy another game?

Brendan: lol kk, where you can play Netrunner online, is right here.


  1. biggergun says:

    Netrunner is great. If MTG is poker, Netrunner is an ideal hybrid of chess and poker.

    • Vandelay says:

      This would be true, if Doomtown didn’t exist to be the true combination of chess and poker in card game form. You literally have to consider your poker hands while constructing decks, as that is how gunfights are determined, whilst movement of your dudes to control the deeds and town square is vital.

      Fantastic game and can’t wait to receive my motherload pledge from the recent Kickstarter for a new expansion.

      • biggergun says:

        Never heard of it before. Thanks for the hint.

        • Imbecile says:

          Can I also big up Shadowfist. Along with netrunner, it’s my favourite CCG. It’s probably more superficially similar to MTG but is much better multiplayer and has more of a focus on skillful play as opposed to skillful deck building. (Though obviously that’s still important!)

  2. Blackcompany says:

    How in the world, with their clout and budget, are Fantasy Flight NOT getting into the Digital Card Game business? Are they afraid of cannibalizing their paper game? Cause…that fear didnt work out so well for WoTC and Magic…

    As for Netrunner itself…its a little too asymmetrical for my taste. The game tends to feel like two people player solitaire across a table from one another, with rare (but brilliant) instances of actual interaction and counter play. Its one of those cases where its well designed, but not a game I care for at all. Especially since its also skewed in favor of the Runner to a problematic degree…

    • Vandelay says:

      They are getting into the digital game. As linked to above, they announced a digital division shortly before Christmas. First game will be an adaptation of their Lord of The Rings co-op game. Not my preference for games for them to make (Netrunner would prob be top), but I’m glad to see them converting their games.

      • PiiSmith says:

        What is the relation between and Fantasy Flight Games?
        I really would like to see FFG make a stronger move in the digital realm and would not mind to pay for good digital conversions of their tabletop games, especially their LCGs.

    • Sunjammer says:

      The idea that Netrunner is skewed in favor of the runner is patently ridiculous. As fun as running is I strongly prefer playing corp. There is nothing more satisfying than clamping the game ending trap down on a confident run.

      • biggergun says:

        This. It’s just the runner is (normally) stronger early game and the corp late game. The power curves are different (besides all the other asymmetry).

    • obscurica says:

      I would chalk this up to a mindset/familiarity issue, to be honest. Prior to the most current tournament changes, corporations had a heavily favorable matchup against most runners — and, historically, the balance’s shifted from one side to another based on new card releases (as with any game, of course).

      Even if you only go with core set only, though, my experience’s been that it depends a lot on the individual’s mindset and approach to the game. I’ve traditionally had a much easier time winning as corp.

  3. Sunjammer says:

    This shit is illegal as fuck, and unfortunately necessary IMO. Netrunner is my favorite card/board game of all time but getting new folks into it is very difficult. I honestly wonder why FFG don’t set up some legal way to play core-set Netrunner online in this way given how little money the core sets actually bring them and how good a representation of the game as a whole the set is. It could be a fantastic gateway drug for beginners, and a great “lite” way to play remotely for veterans.

  4. Relenzo says:

    Jinteki provides a useful service to players, but I can’t even imagine trying to use it if you don’t already understand the game. Everything happens instantly, text is super small, and there’s a million other things.

    To respond to an above comment–sometimes, as in the early days, the game is tilted towards the runner. But the current meta (Feb 2018) is almost definitely skewed in favor of the Corp. It can changes quickly.

  5. Iggy says:

    Ho is it possible that you didn’t post a link to your own (and epic!) review of Netrunner card game?

  6. MrUnimport says:

    I’ve played a couple games on J-net (I don’t own any physical Netrunner goods) but I couldn’t get into it. The meta seems to be dominated by a couple of very strong archetypes that rely on specific cards, and there are a lot of ‘silver bullet’ cards. It felt like the fun decision making and personalization had already been done for me by people in the community, and if I didn’t choose a meta deck I would have profound difficulty keeping up with another meta deck.

    • Cederic says:

      The meta is why I don’t play these card games.

      I want to play a game, not study the meta. I want to be good at playing the game, not good at the meta.

      It’s a shame, because collectable card games can be a lot of fun. Just not when there’s such a disparity between people wanting to play and people that spent eleven weeks learning the meta.

      • April March says:

        The solution for this, for physical card games, is to play with your mates. You don’t need to sweat to learn their meta.

        • malkav11 says:

          Yes, exactly. There are people for whom the metagame is fun, but if you just want to play a cool card game and have fun with combos and things, you want to play with specific friends who are also on board with this plan.

          (Or do a coop game like LOTR or Arkham Horror LCGs, or play a singleplayer mode in something like – well really mostly just Hex: Shards of Fate, as there are vanishingly few digital card games that bother with singleplayer and nobody else has put nearly as much time into it.)

  7. Sunjammer says:

    IMO the best way to get started with netrunner is core set ONLY decks. and its ilk represent a very unrealistic scenario where everyone has access to every card ever, including multiples of core sets, and can copy-paste world championship winning decks in on a moment’s notice. There were meta-dominating decks in the past that made the game patently dull to play, decks that for all intents and purposes would play themselves, and it was ruinous for the game. Those decks are only fun until you realize everyone you play with are miserable. In reality your local meta is likely to be much more contained, more driven by personal relationships and less driven by the latest and greatest decklists from championship X and Y. In my group we recently reverted to core set decks to get new players on board and it’s been absolutely fantastic fun, so much so I almost wonder why I spent so much money trying to keep up with the data packs.

  8. Lars Westergren says:

    I don’t understand why Jinteki don’t have the core decks available? I’ve only played a handful of times, and I’m only just understanding the basic themes and strategies of the decks. “Ooh, so the Media company deck specializes in getting lots of credits, and tagging the runner. And this runner specializes in viruses, which means she should be strong against THAT corp…”

  9. mcgiants says:

    I always introduce Netrunner to people with the tutorial video, but it really does a disservice leaving out what traces and tags are, since (at least in the old core) both can happen from a neutral corporation ICE.

  10. Epicedion says:

    I love Netrunner, but I fell out of love with playing awhile ago, and I’m not sure if it’s gotten better. There were a bunch of decks that were extremely successful but utterly reliant on playing a different game than the extremely fun runner/corp contest, existing only to carefully fire off some winning combo or build an impenetrable board state that can neither be mitigated or countered.

    I enjoyed Netrunner the most when it consisted mostly of being clever and adaptable, and very little when it came down to two people just trying to hit their “I Win” button first.

    • aexia says:

      The revised Core Set and rotation have made the meta substantially better. The solitaire-style decks have pretty much been eliminated.

  11. April March says:

    Aw, I really wanted some way to try Netrunner before comitting to it. I don’t want to buy it without knowing if I’ll like it… or if my friends I’d play it with will like it.

  12. Damien Stark says:

    I’ve been playing games for decades: PC, console, card games, board games, tabletop RPGs, all I can get my hands on. Netrunner is my favorite game full stop. Above all the rest.

    And I pretty much discovered it due to RPS! Quinns and Alice mentioned it quite a bit in years past, so when I saw a Meetup in my city I checked it out and have been hooked ever since.

    That said, the answer to “why doesn’t [do this thing] that would be super helpful to newcomers everywhere?!” is addressed in the discussion that it absolutely is not intended to be the game you play instead of real life Netrunner. is not some company’s offering trying to entice players into the game. It’s a free tool for people who have already bought into playing the game IRL.

    If it genuinely started to lure large numbers of people into playing it in lieu of purchasing the cards and playing in person, it would be in danger of legal action. That said, the game is genuinely way more fun in person, as bluffing and body language are a big part of the hidden information game, and the Netrunner community is welcoming and great.

  13. RaymondQSmuckles says:

    I just want “INWO SubGenius” Online

  14. doodler says:

    I have plugged this website since I first discovered it when I picked up the core sets years ago. It is definitely not beginner friendly but it makes it so easy to construct decks and manipulate once you have a basis of the game that I would say it has spurred me to purchase more data packs than I ever would have without it.

    However as others have said the Meta can be pretty brutal(and at times boring af) but the best way to avoid this is to play with friends. The other issue with the website esp without voice comms or skype is a lot of the game is about bluffing and reading your opponent that just doesn’t translate. It can definitely skew some of the deck builds when they can only see you through the cards you play.

    That said the best way to get people started is just using the core sets and then build from there. I love being able to go on this website and just mess around with my deck to see how the new cards will work and then go buy that pack. This is helped by the fact that it isn’t random what you’re buying like other CCGs so I just get the data packs I’m going to use. (Really only applicable at the local shop bc my friends prefer to keep it simple with the core sets)

  15. bill says:

    It’s really frustrating that there isn’t a proper digital version of Netrunner.
    I’ve wanted to play it for ages, but there’s no chance I can get a physical game going, and apparently this site isn’t the core game but is full of expansions (?) so it might not be the best place to start.

    • hardflipman says:

      the entire card pool is available but you can build decks using whatever restrictions you like. is the best place to get deck lists to use.
      and the community is friendly enough that if you start a game titled beginner or first time player you’ll likely get someone inclined to help you

  16. Brinx says:

    There is also OCTGN (link to which has a plug-in for Netrunner, all other Fantasy Flight LCGs and many other cardgames. You should google ‘OCTGN games’ yourself, because I don’t know if it’s technically copyright infringement. Fantasy Flight at least is fine with it (as I heard the lead developer of the LOTR LCG state) since it provides possibilities like Twitch streams to get new players into the game and the image pack providers wait at least half a year after every expansion.

    It is not easy to use and doesn’t provide matchmaking (so you have to have a friend available), but the online communities of (at least) the Fantasy Flight LCGs couldn’t exist without it.

    • Evan_ says:

      OCTGN provides a framework that can model numerous card-games. AFAIK there is nothing illegal in it – until you actually download the cards. Of course that isn’t distributed by the developers.

      I’d never admit if spent years of playing digital MtG, having 4 copies of ~150k cards.. from the very start.

      • Brinx says:

        Well I don’t know about Wizard of the Coast, but I heard Fantasy Flight employees talk about OCTGN on podcasts and they don’t seem to have a problem with it. Caleb Grace, developer of the LOTR LCG has literally sat on podcasts with people talking about their OCTGN Twichts. So I assume that’s save at least.
        (Personally, I refuse to play cards on OCTGN I don’t physically own and only know people who follow that rule, but I cannot speak for everyone.)

  17. Farnbeak says:

    Thanks for covering my favourite physical game! A:NR is one of the two things that consistently let me achieve the flow state (table tennis being the other). Love it :)

  18. Cosmo D says:

    Is this article a veiled nudge towards Fantasy Flight / Asmodee to stop leaving money on the table, get with the f’n times, and finally go digital with this game?