CCG LCG BGG QVC LSD QRS TUV. There’s a lot of options, whether you choose to play collectible or so-called living games. Which one(s) should you play? We talk about some of the finer points, and origins, of each system.
LCG: Living Card Game (eg. FFG’s line of card games)
XCG/ECG: Expandable Card Game (eg. AEG’s Doomtown: Reloaded)
CDG: Collectible Dice Game
DBG: Dice Building Game
TMX: The Missing Example We Didn’t Think Of
What’s the difference?
They go by about five hundred thousand names: CCG / TCG / LCG / ECG / CDG / DBG, but they boil down to two main types:
Random collectible systems (best example is the Collectible Card Game, or CCG, Magic: The Gathering) that incorporate scarcity or limited productions and a blind-buy purchase model of certain items. You don’t know what you’ll get and some of the items may be rare.
Fixed game systems (of which FFG’s Living Card Game, or LCG, format is a great example) have same cards in every pack with no scarcity model. When you buy a pack you know what’s inside and they’re all the same.
CCG / LCG Arguments
Let’s look at the reasons for and against playing both the LCG and CCG models. This will also cover some of the reasons why the CCG began morphing into the LCG.
Living Game – Reasons you should play LCGs:
No buying your way into a killer deck with expensive rares. You’re either good at the game or you’re not.
Starter decks and booster packs are predictable introductions of new cards into the system, which everyone has access to and can get experience with before competitive play.
Ongoing costs are fixed, with smaller monthly expansions going for around CA$15/month, and larger expansions periodically (quarterly, perhaps) in the CA$30-40 range.
There are a lot of LCGs still being published. Fantasy Flight Games puts out 7 (not including the upcoming A Game of Thrones 2nd Edition).
One of the selling points was that it would be easier to find LCG opponents because everyone has the same card sets and the playing field is leveled. Not sure this is true when you look at game store events on, say, a Friday night.
Fantasy Flight Games has done an excellent job of organizing and supporting organized play events.
Planned obsolescence of cards. A Game of Thrones LCG is already heading into a 2nd edition which will not be compatible with the first. And Netrunner is planning on phasing out early card expansion in the coming years. Is this a bad thing? Not for this kind of game. It keeps the game competitive and prevents the game from becoming unwieldy at a competitive level. You won’t need eight binders of errata memorized to compete at Netrunner in a few years time.
Living Game – Reasons you might not like LCGs:
While your OCD will be satisfied, the collector buried deep within will be dissatisfied at how easy it is to collect LCGs. Just open your wallet and you, too, can have it all right now.
Are there any other cons to a fixed system with regular expansions? Did I mention this fixed system plays just fine as a base game all by itself for quite a while (we got a few dozen plays out of Android: Netrunner before beginning expanding) and the expansions are simply nice if you want to take it further.
Collectible/Trading Game – Reasons you should play CCGs:
Collecting things with built in scarcity is fun. I suspect this treasure hunting aspect made Magic feel kind of arcane and special when it began.
Aftermarket has commodified the game which is good for speculators and investors. Wait…
The card pool gets amazingly large. There are currently over 17,000 distinct Magic cards. Compare this to the Call of the Cthulhu LCG which only has around 1,500 unique cards. To be fair, the Cthulhu LCG has only been around since 2008, whereas Magic goes back to 1993. So a 15 year head-start. But if you do rough math it works out to 772 new unique cards per year of Magic’s 22 year lifespan. I don’t see any LCG having that kind of card growth. For comparison, the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) has in the neighbourhood of 10,000 unique cards and it’s been around since 1998 in North America.
Start cost is relatively inexpensive. For example, two pre-made Magic decks from their Duel Decks collection is around $20. Compare that with an LCG base set which runs $30-50 dollars (although often includes a variety of factions decks to play).
If you are playing Magic you have the advantage of playing a well-established system with wide store based support. Friday Night Magic seems to be a religious event.
Emotional attachment to cards/card universe
Collectible/Trading Game – Reasons you might not like CCGs:
A lot of the pros of the LCG system are cons here.
There is very little market space for multiple CCGs in the North American market. Many have come and gone, leaving Magic with market dominance. From a consumer point of view, it is probably too expensive to play multiple CCGs at the same time. From a publisher’s perspective, it must be quite expensive to manage the growth and mechanics of a system like Magic, for instance, that can be prone to breaking by powerful rare items and vast numbers of card interactions. An example of a CCG that is popular in Japan but didn’t fare as well here is Battle Spirits, which spawned an anime series (and made designer Mike Elliott an anime character). Perhaps this lack of promotion across multiple mediums (think Pokémon) in the North American market makes it difficult.
Because I’m too lazy to add it up, I looked at one of the online stores that sells a whole LCG collection (including sleeves) as a package. Those packages come in around, or well under, a thousand dollars.
Compare that with a full set of Magic or Pokémon which currently sets you back the GDP of a mid-sized industrialized nation.
Where is it headed?
Seems like there’s room for both systems. CCGs are not going anywhere. Isn’t Magic: The Gathering finally getting a movie adaptation? That will do nothing but breathe life into CCGs. The collectible nature of the game attracts a certain kind of player. Someone who both enjoys the game as a game, as well as playing at the eternal chase for those special super duper ultra mega quadruple rares.
While there was a lot of vitriol when FFG quit CCGs and entered the LCG market (just look at the FFG message boards from that time period), LCGs aren’t headed anywhere. They are card systems of a limited size, often of licensed products, which make them fun for competitive play. Part of their appeal is that they represent a gamified card form of an existing universe with a built in fan-base (A Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Warhammer, Cthulhu).
If all goes well I’ll be playing Netrunner in the retirement home instead of Gin Rummy or Crazy Eights.
It appears there’s room in the world for both collecting card games and collectible card games after all.