THOSE of you familiar with trading card games (TCGs) will definitely love the fun and dynamic aspects of such games. The frequently refreshed pool of cards, in the form of new expansions, is the key unique selling proposition and main draw for fans and collectors alike.
This does necessitate repeat purchasing, and is something of a blessing as well as a “curse” of sorts for TCGs. What starts off as something fun and exciting often degenerates into an expensive past time.
Sure, you don’t need to buy every expansion that comes your way, and can certainly control the spending in packs (expansions are sold in packs that have random card assortments), but the temptation of the new stuff can be pretty strong, and in competitive play new cards are always pretty much essential.
Well, while TCGs look like they’re not slowing down anytime soon – Magic: The Gathering, for instance is still chugging along nicely almost two decades later – it was inevitable that a new breed of collectible card games is making their presence felt, and occupying gamers’ minds everywhere.
Easier, cheaper, better
Leading boardgames, role-playing games (RPG) and card games maker Fantasy Flight Games was one of the first to alter the TCG when they came out with their line of “living card games” or LCGs.
The core concept of LCGs is simple enough: Players share basic sets which have fixed assortments of factionally-aligned cards, sorted into ready-to-play decks. Expansions are also sold in fixed assortments, so there really is no need to buy packs and end up with tons of unnecessary duplicates.
Fantasy Flight’s LCGs now cover a gamut of the hottest fantasy franchises, such as A Game Of Thrones (based on the books, not the TV series), Lord Of The Rings and Warhammer Invasion (the fantasy franchise).
If anything, the cheaper-but-equally-fun proposition for LCGs is certainly compelling enough for them to have a loyal following.
“I’ve always been a big card game fan, but my wallet didn’t agree with the “collectible” nature of games like Magic: The Gathering. The LCG format shifts the focus from trying to collect all the rare, powerful cards to looking for combos within a fixed card pool,” said David Lian, digital consultant and partner of Warp Space Games. He has been playing A Game Of Thrones and Warhammer Invasion for one and a half years now.
“I love the A Game Of Thrones LCG particularly because of the theme, and its simple yet deep nature of gameplay. There are really a lot of strategic decisions to be made,” he explained.
His experience with TCGs, otherwise known as CCGs (collectible card games) back in the earlier days, was pretty much a mixed bag, due to a variety of factors. Availability and high “upkeep costs” were among the factors cited by him for eventually giving up on TCGs, and moving on to LCGs.
“I’ve actually played my other card games – Magic, Legend Of The Five Rings, and even the old BattleTech, Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings CCGs. However, the games I loved playing either got discontinued (such as Star Wars) or became an endless pursuit of never ending card cycles (such as Magic). It’s not much fun when the CCG market is driven largely by competitive play and even casual gamers insist on playing with only “legal” cards”.
“The great thing about LCGs is that old cards never phase out. The first cards produced are still legal for play today,” added Lian.
Hot on the heels of LCGs are deck-building games. Companies such as Bandai have started making standalone card games based on popular franchises such as Star Trek and Resident Evil. Deck-building games are almost similar to LCGs, with the exception that it feels a lot closer to boardgames, more than anything else.
While LCGs allow and encourage the tweaking of decks in-between games, similarly to TCGs, deck-building games only allow the tweaking, and upgrading of decks during games. This concept is similar to boardgames, in which players attempt to “level up” and strengthen their hand during games.
The most successful and iconic deck-building game is Rio Grande Games’ medieval-themed Dominion card game. Recently, other companies such as Bandai have cashed in on this genre of card games by introducing a series of popular franchise-driven variants.
“The best part of deck-building games is being able to play straight out of the box, so there is no need to pre-customise decks,” said event manager Richard Chua.
“The games end up being fun and different due to the randomised nature of cards being drawn and differing player strategies, based on cards available to them. And for titles such as Star Trek, games may also be varied to the unique scenario-based play by factions,” he said.
Being a one-time TCG fan, he no longer plays them due to the high costs involved, and the random factor, which makes buying them exorbitant.
The future is bright
For now, TCGs will never get replaced wholesale, but LCGs and deck-building games will certainly continue to have a solid following as time goes on.
As Chua points out, franchised games such as Star Trek are also “accessible to non-fans who enjoy them purely for gameplay value instead of thematic fan experience.”
There is an increasing amount of effort by fans of LCGs at least, in boosting their popularity, especially via organised play and regular events. Local comic and games stores such as Comics Mart in Kuala Lumpur, run regular LCG leagues and events.
Warp Space Games is in the midst of starting up an A Game Of Thrones league, so interested players can contact Lian at firstname.lastname@example.org, or browse www.warpspacegames.com for further information.
* Chee Yih Yang needs more time on the new Blood Bowl teams – almost there! E-mail the esoteric gaming nut at email@example.com if you have comments, questions, hot gaming news and tips, and trading lists and deck ideas, for both Magic and World Of Warcraft. Check out his blog at http://blog.rage.com.my/category/cards-and-boards, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/arcturus_mengsk.