With Fantasy Flight announcing they are releasing Booster Draft packs for their living card games, are they admitting their Living Card game format is wrong? Or is it just the next step in the evolution of card games?
What do I know?… about card games!!
I have been playing different types of Collectable Card Games (CCG) and Living Card Games (LCG) since the mid 90’s and I have played a lot of different ones. In fact over the years I’ve built up quite a collection; Magic The Gathering, Battletech, Rage, Vampire, Alien Vs Predator, Middle Earth, Lord of the Rings by Decipher and Fantasy Flight Games, Call of Cthuhlu, A Game of Thrones and too many different Star Wars card game systems to count. There are many more Card games I’ve tried, but these games I still have sitting in the draws in my games room. All these CCGs & LCGs play differently and like all games, some have great mechanics and some not so great.
Before we can start asking which type is better, let’s ask first why play them in the first place? I started off at school playing D&D and then moved into Warhammer 40k, both of which at the time I loved, but they needed a bit of planning. With the Role play games, we needed to find time to get everyone together and the wargames we needed the space to play. So when a friend introduced me to Magic the Gathering it was a perfect filler game. We just needed a deck of cards and a 20 sided die each. The rules were very straight forward and in those days the cards were a lot cheaper than they are today! So this was great; when not everyone was around or the only space available in our messy bedrooms was a small space on the floor, we still had a game to play.
At this time there were only Collectable Card Games and we soon got in to the collecting bug. The fun of selecting your boosters; opening them, hoping for a something new that no one else had. Or getting a card you knew you could trade with you friends for something you really wanted. (Thankfully this bug has worn off now). Also at this time there was a whole range of CCGs coming out and I collected a lot however Magic was always the most accessible and so all through Uni I carried a few decks at the bottom of my bag and taught most of my friends how to play. It was good to fill in an hour of down time or to fill a relaxed evening over a drink or two.
The best card game ever…Star Wars!!
While I played a lot of Magic The Gathering at University it was not my favourite game. The Star Wars card game by Decipher was by far the best card game I have ever played. Sadly the game is no longer made, but there is still a lot of love for the game online. I mention this because it is the game I will always compare all other card games against. Back in its heyday, I was always buying boosters looking for another Darth Vader card. I would spend hours at night creating and tweaking decks with new cards when I got them. It is the only game that I went to regular sanction tournaments for and I have yet to find any game that for me really competes with it.
The Common Factor…Deck Building!!
So apart from being a great transportable game, that is great for filling in a spare half an hour or to while away a whole evening, what else does this format of game offer? Well the biggest draw to both types of card game is the deck building aspect. This is where a lot of the skill comes in, as you sit there with hundreds of cards in front of you and you need to select what cards will work together to make that killer deck. Now this isn’t just a case of picking all your most powerful cards and chucking them together in the hope that the opponent doesn’t have even more powerful cards. This is about finding cards that work well together, that support and complement other card abilities, while at the same time making sure you have built the deck in ways to combat what the opponent is going to throw at you. On top of that, you can make your deck more thematic by making it an Elf only deck or based around the rebel x-wing pilots, or what else takes your fancy. Each game system will put its own limitations on deck building to add a level of fairness; this is normally just a limit on the number of copies of the same card you’re allowed to take. It can sound a bit boring but trust me, once you have played a game or two this really does become fun, engrossing and exciting, as you put your final tweaks to your new deck in confidence that it cannot lose! (But 9 times out of 10 does on its first outing)
So what are the differences…Between Living and Collectable card games?
The real difference is just how the new cards are released.
For CCG’s they release new sets several times a year, a new expansion set of new cards ranging from 180 to over 300 cards in each set. Each of the cards will have a rarity value which is often split into a third of the cards are common, a third will be uncommon and a third would be rare. If that was not enough Magic the Gathering these days now have Ultra Rare cards! These expansions will be sold in booster packs of around 10 to 20 cards depending on the game. Each booster pack will normally contain one rare, a few uncommon cards and the rest commons all randomly selected.
For LCG’s they will have a core starter box with all the cards needed to start playing and then release every month a pack of 60 cards which is a fixed list of cards made up of 3 copies of 20 different cards with no rarity associated with the cards.
That is the real difference, but what are some of the Pros and Cons of each format?
Collectable Card Games Pros
- There is so much fun to be had opening boosters to find out what you have got.
- The expansion sets are larger and so have more scope to influence game play quickly.
Collectable Card Games Cons
- It can get very expensive trying to get particular cards and even more so if you want to get a complete set. Singles can be bought from specialist web sites but they do hold a premium cost.
- There can often become an imbalance in the game based on the players who can afford to sink a lot of money to just to get all the wanted cards and those who just casually collect.
Living Card Games Pros
- Costs to play are a lot more manageable with fixed expansions that give you all the cards, including the duplicates up to the maximum you’re allowed in the decks.
- A balanced playing field where everyone has the same ability to access all the cards.
Living Card Games Cons
- The evolution of decks can be very slow when only 20 different cards are released at a time. You sometimes need to wait for a couple of packs to be released to get the full use of new card traits.
- These games on the whole tend to require more tokens and extra bits and so can be less portable than shoving a deck of cards in your pocket. But this is still far more transportable than most board games let alone a wargame.
So Both have Their Advantages… but is One Better than the Other?
Well for me these days I prefer the Living Card Games format, because you can buy a single pack and have all the cards you need and that helps keep a level playing field. But I will admit to missing the good old days of getting a new CCG expansion booster box and hoping for that one elusive new rare. However none of the advantages or disadvantages really affects the game itself. If the Decipher Star Wars CCG was an LCG, it would not have changed the fact that it was still the best game play I have come across. Two of Fantasy Flights LCGs (Call of Cthuhlu and A Game of Thrones) started out life as CCGs and changed later on as Fantasy Flight Games came up with the LCG idea.
But What About this New Booster Draft Packs… FFG are releasing?
So far I have really just talked about playing the games with friends, but another huge element of these games is the tournament scene. There is a lot of competitive play organised for both CCG and LCGs.
For competitive play I personally think the LCGs are far better, because it comes down to the players working with the same resource pool to build the best decks. As I’ve already stated as one of the Collectable Card Games cons; players that are prepared to shell out more money can gain an edge over those who can’t afford it.
However, the current LCG format prevents one of the most fun methods of competitive play CCGs has to offer, the Booster Draft. This is the way CCGs can really level the playing field. Players will build their decks from a collection of boosters that are opened at the event. Normally you open a booster take a card and past the rest on so everyone gets a fair chance at getting some good cards. Without boosters this has been impossible for the LCGs to run this kind of format but not for much longer.
With this new format for the LCG, players will need a single starter pack giving them the core cards needed for most decks, which they will have to take to each event. Then there are the Draft packs which will contain a randomised collection of cards. What is really nice about these draft packs, is the pool that the cards are selected from. In CCG booster drafts, you just tack a bunch or regular boosters and use them, which will result in some cards being absolutely worthless in the current format, because they need to work in combination with other cards or require multiple copies to become useful. For the Living Card Games the pool of cards, the random selection is taken from has been tailored to remove these issues making, this format even better and more competitive.
So have the LCGs sold out by making this format available? Absolutely not, what’s more they have managed to make this format even easier for newer players to jump right into the mix, with the more experienced players. I think this is a great move by Fantasy Flight Games and I hope we see other companies follow the LCG format.
Last words…Old Habits Never Die!!
I may prefer the LCG format over the CCG format, but that would never stop me looking at new CCGs. The most important thing is how the game plays; if the Decipher Star Wars CCG came back I would get straight back into buying it.
Post written by Paul Gothard 09/3/2014
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By Day - Director of online Games and Toy Store Gamesquest. By Night - Father to two girls and husband to one wife! Board Gamer, Blogger and general dogsbody!