And we’re back from our scheduled holiday break. Hope you had a great and geeky couple of weeks. Your uncle Geekly sure did. Let’s get this Monday started with a new 3 Lists of 3.
Ah. Collectible card games represented a very specific time in tabletop gaming history. When Magic: The Gathering came out in 1993, a deluge of similar games came out in its wake. Every gaming company wanted to throw their hat into the CCG ring. Several of these games were good, but few of them lasted.
Old Uncle Geekly has played several of these games, so get your booster packs ready.
Overlooked, Long-running CCGs
Vampire: The Eternal Struggle
Let’s start with Richard Garfield’s follow up to Magic, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. This game is deeper than people might first think. It’s based off White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade RPG, so there’s plenty of political intrigue as well as combat and hunting for food. You know, the stuff you’d think vampires would be up to at night.
The series may come and go, but fan support for Vampire: The Eternal Struggle persists, and it remains in production (as of this write-up). What truly separates Vampire from Magic is that Vampire insists on a higher player count. It’s best played with more players, so gamers can form alliances and potentially betray those alliances.
Battle Spirits is a Mike Elliot design—you’ll see Mike Elliot’s name again on this list—that never really took off in the States due to inaccurate translations from Japanese to English, but it has interesting resource management component. Like a simplified Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, Battle Spirits players use their core crystals (also their life) to summon creatures.
The push-pull of when to summon these creatures is magnified in Battle Spirits as there are fewer crystals with which to summon creatures. If you run out of core crystals, you lose. It’s a fun, brisk tight-rope walk. Battle Spirits was first released in 2009, and as of this write-up, it’s still in print.
Legend of the Five Rings
Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) makes this list on its character development and lore. It was in print from 1995-2015 and has since become a living card game, but while it was in print as a collectible card game, players affected the world in which they played.
If a certain faction won a tournament, that faction would assume power in the world of Rokugan. L5R’s actual card play centers on building one’s stronghold. Dynasty and fate cards may alter a stronghold’s future or the surrounding land. The personality cards are based on characters of L5R, and they change and grow during each match as well as the stories after major tournaments.
CCGs with Unique Game Mechanisms
Doomtown combines Poker with a collectible card game, and the Poker aspect to the game is the one that determines a player’s combat power. Each card has an ability but also a card suit and value. This leads to a very interesting push-pull. While most collectible card games require a gamer to think of only a card’s ability, one may choose one card over another because it works better for playing the Poker side of things.
It also doesn’t hurt that Doomtown is more of an area control game. Movement is just as important as combat as players go back and forth, building up the town and trying to control as much of the town as they can throughout the game. The currency may be called “victory points,” but it functions as money. One must consider the ebb and flow of their actions to be successful and that makes for an interesting puzzle.
I never realized how many collectible games Mike Elliot has made in his career, but Hecatomb is another good one. It’s essentially Magic with pentagon cards that players can play on top of each other. The edges of the pentagram can hold extra play text and that’s how each player upgrades the creatures they summon.
It doesn’t surprise me that Hecatomb is no longer in print. The production value was through the roof and unsustainable, but it’s an excellent game and if you find it in a sale rack or garage sale, it’s worth a shot.
Dark Age: Feudal Lords
I hope Dark Age: Feudal Lords gets reprinted as a self-contained game or living card game because the combat system in it is unique. It borrows more from miniatures games and RPGs than it does from typical collectible card games. The characters have a range of numbers (on a die) that can hit your opponents and power up cards add to that range. It’s a simple, elegant combat system that’s a lot of fun.
I could take or leave the actual theme (dystopia) so a rebranding of this combat system would be welcome as well. Still, if you can find Dark Age on the cheap, I’d highly recommend it.
Collectible Card Games that Became Living Card Games
I’ll preface this section by clarifying what a living card game is. The term living card game (LCG) can only be used by Fantasy Flight Games because they trademarked the term, but many other card games qualify as LCGs.
LCGs work differently than CCGs. While CCGs have random packs that players may purchase, and players must purchase a lot of packs—and I mean a lot of packs—to gain a copy of each card in a set, LCGs have everything available from a set in one box or series of boxes. Both game types encourage—or better yet require—deck building.
A lot of people’s favorite LCG Android: Netrunner started as a CCG, and it was a very good CCG, but it works just as well as an LCG. The two players have asymmetric decks. One side plays as a futuristic corporation while the other plays as a hacker trying to break into the corporation’s defenses.
I always liked the concept behind Netrunner, but it’s a game that has a lot of barriers for entry. While the two sides have similarities in the card types they play, the game renames these cards. It’s almost like learning two new games for each side, and there are plenty of Netrunner fans who know how to play your deck better than you if you’re a beginner.
Still, it’s a solid game that deserves its community. Each side feels different and thematic.
Star Wars: The Card Game
The Star Wars Customizable Card Game was fun to play, but the unruly card sets made it difficult to balance the game. It may have followed the movies a little closely too. If the rebel player built a deck centered around destroying the Death Star (and they’d win the game by blowing up the Death Star), the empire player would only have to not play the Death Star to prevent the rebel player from winning.
Star Wars: The Card Game LCG does a better job of balancing these discrepancies while still giving the players the flavor they want. The various objective cards a based on the specific decks each player constructs, so one side can’t play keep away. Players will want to use as many of the various expansions as each one invokes a sense of place. The Hoth expansion feels like Hoth.
Vs. System 2PCG
The Versus system was a relatively short-lived CCG from the early 2000s. It did a decent job of depicting all manner of comic book characters. You could even pit one comic book world against another—Marvel versus DC anyone?—and that wouldn’t happen again until Dice Masters.
Vs. System 2PCG takes elements from the popular Versus system and turns it into an LCG. Of course, it’s not named an LCG because it’s published by Upper Deck, but it functions the same way. Vs. System 2PCG streamlines the original gameplay and while that may turn off some Versus purists, the game had gotten bloated. The new LCG does a better job of introducing new players to the system. Marvel, Alien, and Predator have gotten their own LCG releases. We’re still waiting on DC.
That’s what I have for CCGs. I’m sure I didn’t collect them all. If you have any suggestions or complaints, leave a message with my answering service or just leave a comment.