Friday, 23 March 2007

Ken's Top 10: Collectible Card Games

Though I have as of late heaped tons of scorn upon the collectible model of gaming, it wasn't always that way. In fact, I can directly thank Collectible Card Games (CCGs) for keeping me tethered to the gaming world long enough for me to discover boardgaming again.

So, in tribute of this fact, I thought I would list my top 10 favorite CCGs...ever. I wondered about the relevance to "Ameritrash", but then realized that CCGs are essentially Baseball Cards combined with Dungeons and Dragons....I just don't think it gets more Ameritrashy than that.





10.) RAGE

Well, I can already sense your disappointment in the way this list has started, so let me come to the defense of this practically forgotten CCG. The premise was simple; you have a pack of werewolves, and you either want to outscore your opponent or eradicate his tribe. Points were scored by moots ("votes", or political actions) or by straight out combat with either "Enemies" in a central area of the board or by fighting your opponent's werewolves.

The fun of the game lie in combat, combat, combat. Long story short, you could really heap some abuse on your foes, using cards with charming titles such as "Entrail Rend", "Spine Crushed", and the ever-popular "Mangle". When you had multiple people involved, the fun multiplied as the number of foes to brutalize increased. And the more players there were, the more "political" you needed to be...the winner was often the one who flew just under the radar long enough before going on a killing spree.

Why it isn't #9:... Unless you're a BIG fan of combat, you may very well not enjoy this game. Only about 20% of the cards in this game are useful (assuming you have access to all of them...some of the rares are so broken, you'll be screaming "WTF?"...The "politcal" actions were often very weak and difficult to pass, making fighting the usual path to victory. The lack of depth hurts this one quite a bit, but it really is a blast to play.




9.) LORD OF THE RINGS (DECIPHER)

Hey, I admit it. I'm a HUGE Tolkien fan. I played the fun-but-oh-so-convoluted ICE Middle Earth game (and still have the headaches to prove it). So I jumped at the chance to play a game based on the new movies coming out.

The game is based on the premise of moving the ringbearer (Frodo, though sometimes Sam lends a hand) from the first site of the game all the way to the last. Along the way, your opponent will try to impede your progress, using ferocious beasts like the Witch King and the Cave Troll to try and stop you cold (or, better yet, eradicate your Ringbearer). There's going to be a LOT of fighting along the way, but I believe Sam said it best: "There are some things worth fighting for."

As par for the course, the cards are gorgeous, using nicely captured images from the films. And much like another certain Decipher CCG, you're going to get a chance to use even the most minor of characters to help you in your quest ("Albert Dreary", a card from the first set, is based on the brief cameo by director Peter Jackson that literally lasts 3 seconds).

Why it isn't #8: As fun as skirmishing is, it sometimes feels like that's really all there is to it--move, skirmish, move, repeat. The game also suffers from a lack of different paths to victory...either get the ringbearer to the end, or kill (or corrupt) your opponent's ringbearer. This leads to some fairly limited gameplay.

Also, there are some balance issues, with about 30% of cards actually being useful...suffering from the "rare cards are better" syndrome that plagues lots of games (some early cards are so good Decipher has had to ban them, a practice they once promised they'd never employ). Still, this is a solid game with a huge following--and rightfully so.




8.) WWE RAW DEAL

Raw Deal simulates the battle of WWF...er...WWE superstars as they try to outwrestle and outsmart your opponent. You play maneuvers and actions in hopes of depleting your opponent's "arsenal" (read: deck) and scoring the victory. However, you aren't helpless during an opponent's assault--"reversal" cards can help you prevent your opponent from crushing your skull with a bonecrunching piledriver or body slam.

So how did this game, based on the silly antics of professional wrestling, end up on a list of "Best" CCGs? It's mainly because of the diversity of strategy present. Each wrestler has a certain special ability that you can abuse to help achieve your goals. Some wrestlers, like Chris Jericho, specialize in stripping your opponent's hand of cards. Others, like Kane, focus on dealing direct damage to your opponent. Essentially, if it's a strategy you've seen in other card games, it's one you can pursue here. Use Flair to control your opponent's resources...or the Undertaker to slowly turn your discard pile into a growing resource of its own. Aggro, control, discard, lockdown...*all* of these strategies can be pursued in Raw Deal. And since some of your actions and maneuvers will be more important than others, you'll find yourself trying to bait your opponent to reverse the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Raw Deal has been dubbed "Chess with Chair Shots"--a description I can wholeheartedly endorse--and even if you AREN'T a pro-wrestling fan and don't know your Triple H from your Kurt Angle, there's probably something here for you to like.

Why it isn't #7: Well, I'd be fooling myself if I didn't understand that hey, the license just isn't for everyone. Unforunately that can detract from the game itself (which would ironically work with multiple licenses and concepts--change "maneuvers" to "military attacks" and you can see where I'm going). Also, the Ultra-Rare chase cards can be tough to come by, and are necessary for a number of decks to work properly. Not all the useful cards are rares--but you're definitely going to need multiples of some of the "staples", which can put you at a disadvantage over someone who does have them.



7.) MYTHOS

Okay, I also have to admit I'm a huge Lovecraft fan, so naturally I had to give this little niche CCG a try. In Mythos, you play the role of an "Investigator" trying to get to the bottom of some very mysterious happenings in jolly old New England. Of course, the things you find out just might drive you mad!

You try and complete "stories" by travelling around using location cards and play each of the pre-requisites of the story. For example, one story may require you to have a certain mix of allies and artifacts in play as well as travel to a certain location. Most of the time these stories mirrored existing Lovecraft tales, a very nice touch. In order to slow your opponent, you could play monsters that if not defended against would drain their sanity. You immediately lost the game if your Investigator "went insane" and lost all sanity points. A dark (and darkly humorous) game that will really sit well with fans of either Lovecraft or horror tales in general.

Why it isn't #6: Unfortunately, the game's mechanics rewarded a player a bit TOO much for driving an opponent insane. This lead to games of pure "monster rush" strategies, which really detracted from the point of the game (telling stories, more or less). In tournament play, in fact, games were four players to help curb this type of strategy. Still, it really takes some of the fun away when you try and play a deck about "The Shadow Out of Time" and your opponent is simply intent on attacking you instead of accomplishing anything on his own.




6.) DOOMTOWN

Something's weird in the wild west, partner. In Doomtown, you play as one of many factions who have some sort of agenda (or something at stake) in the wild west. The game is all about playing locations and getting influence and victory points in order to establish dominance.Oh, and you play poker to settle gunfights.

Yep, that's the really neat twist on Doomtown...when your dudes square off in a gunfight, you draw "poker hands". Each card in your deck serves a dual purpose; it also has a suit and card value associated with it. And since you could "stack your deck", well, it ain't uncommon to see four kings...of clubs. Doomtown is a great game in which you "build the board" as you go, and your gunfighters move from site to site trying to either control locations or smoke out your opponent. It's your choice, partner.

Why it isn't #5: Speaking of cheatin'....it was a little TOO easy to cheat. This lead to some fairly degenerate strategies early on, particularly "flush" decks. And the cards to penalize your opponent were often not severe enough! Add to that fact that in the early going some of the factions were hideously unbalanced (Sweetrock, anyone?) and alot of gamers were turned off by the game in the early going. Some of these issues were addressed eventually, but most of the time "house rules" were the only things preventing some rather unfun gaming sessions. Too bad--Doomtown's combat is likely the most innovative we will ever see.




5.) LEGEND OF THE FIVE RINGS

A brilliant game of tactics, intrigue, and honor, L5R stands tall in the crowded field of CCGs. Different clans war with one another to either crush the others, achieve enough honor to be elevated above their foes, or to find true enlightenment. Of course, much blood and political intrigue will stand in the way of victory, and many issues will have to be settled on the battlefield of war.

Each player has "provinces" which represent the resources available to that player. Each turn new resources are revealed and gold can be spent on hiring personalities, followers, and items for battle. You can hamper your opponent's efforts by sending your troops to attack your opponent's provinces. If you ever reduce your opponent's provinces to zero, you have achieved a Military Victory.

But not so fast--some personalities won't work for you if you don't have high enough "honor". In fact, achieve high enough honor through a variety of means, and you will achieve an "Honor Victory". And "Enlightenment Victory"...well, it's a tough one to pull off, but it is there if you want to try it. A flexible, open game that is rife with strategy, you'll definitely want to give it a try.

Why it isn't #4: There is one facet of the game you need to be aware of: The "Big Battle" syndrome. You see, whenever your armies square off, you compare power vs. power. If you lose, even by *one* point...the entire losing army is destroyed. ALL of them. Couple that with the unpredictability of combat (certain cards can remove personalities from battle or kill them outright) and one simple mistake can cost you the game. Also, it is worth mentioning that in a two-player contest, it is nigh impossible to come from behind and snatch victory away from your opponent. Usually, the loser of the "big battle" is done for good, no matter how many provinces are left under his control.




4.) JYHAD/VAMPIRE

Jyhad is a game depicting the struggle of Vampire clans battling for supremacy. Each player undertakes the role of ancient vampires pulling the strings of underlings to accomplish your dastardly deeds. Working from a starting pool of 30 "blood", you spend this to bring locations, vampires, and items under your control. You then use them to attack or undermine your opponent's efforts to win the game. But watch out--the more you spend, the less you have--and run out of blood, and the game's over.

Jyhad succeeds on so many levels because of its depth. Some vampires have "titles" which grant them rights to call Votes (usually represented by cards). Some of these votes (unlike Rage) can have drastic impact on the game, and buidling a viable political deck is fairly easy to do. Likewise, some clans prefer brutal fights, and their gifts support such endeavors. The combat system itself is fairly deep, having its own phases, and covers hand-to-hand, the use of weapons, the elements, and even the range that combat takes place. Get two combat decks together and you're going to virtually be playing a miniature game of chess during combat, which is often visceral and thrilling.

Lastly, some clans prefer to eschew combat and utilize stealth to destroy an opponent's resources. They can do alot of damage this way, but most decks oriented this way are in some DEEP trouble if the combat fiends ever get their hands on them. With multiple players, there will often be layers of things going on, and if you don't pay attention (and occasionally wheel and deal) then you aren't going to last long. A very "elegant" CCG, indeed (with apologies to Mr. Barnes).


Why it isn't #3: Well....let's just say that a multiplayer game of Jyhad can take a while. A LONG while. I once participated in an eight player game that lasted four-and-a-half hours. Now, I enjoyed every minute...but the game length can DEFINITELY be a huge stumbling block for some players, and I can understand that. Honestly, though, if the game were sped up or some of the elements removed, it wouldn't be the same game at all. Also, in two-player most of your outcomes are easily predictable, so these contests are generally not much fun at all. Oh, and since the game received a rename after it's first set, you'll have to use sleeves if you want to mix the cards. Despite these flaws, it truly is a great game--but you've been warned on the time thing.




3.) NETRUNNER

Okay, stop me if you've heard this one. Future setting--mega-corporations are corrupt--and "hackers" are the new "anti-heroes" who use their "l33t skillz" to strike back at these corporations and essentially make a living. Sounds like just about every Cyberpunk story since...well...Cyberpunk, doesn't it?

In Netrunner, you take on the role of either the dastardly corporation or the plucky "Netrunner". The corporation wants to protect its resources and advance its agendas at all cost; the runner wants to expose and destroy these resources and agendas and score a little coin for himself. That's all well and good, but the beauty of this game is in the gameplay. The corporation can create "Data Forts", which are merely face down cards that usually represent some agenda (though they can be traps, too). Then, they can fortify these areas with "ice", nasty programs who will have to be dealt with before the runner can access what's inside. Fortunately the runner has the aid of programs who can help him defeat or shut down these counter-measures. A cool concept here is that the corporations hand, deck, and even discard pile are legitimate targets for the runner to attack, and have to be defended as well. A very high concept game that is a real blast to play, especially if you're into the setting.

As a bonus, this is one of the very few CCGs that actually plays better out of a starter than with preconstructed decks. One factor cited in less-than-stellar sales of the game was the fact that you could purchase two double-starters and be perfectly happy with that gameplay experience for quite awhile...hardly the CCG method of sales, for sure.

Why it isn't # 2: Remember the whole "rares are better" mentality that plagues LOTR and other CCGs? Well, it's in full effect here. A person with more rares is obviously much better off, and I simply don't agree about that being a good thing for CCG design. Also, there are some balance issues between the runner and the corporation that become evident after much playing and tweaking. Still, you could do worse off than give this CCG a "run".




2.) STAR WARS (DECIPHER)


Star Wars lets you take the roles of Han, Luke, Leia and even Vader, Boba Fett, e.t.c. to take control of the galaxy. You "build the board" as you go along, and try and control strategic locations that will help you damage your opponent. Add that to a nifty resource mechanism (your cards are your life are your resources) and a miles-deep combat system, and you can easily see why this is (almost) the King of CCGs.

When Star Wars debuted, it was to great skepticism as well as great excitement. The property as a whole was seeing a huge upswing after being dormant for several years, with new novels, toy lines, and other merchandise being introduced. Thankfully, the game was released during the era of CCGs where CCG designers were not afraid to make "gamer's games", and even though the learning curve was steep gamers quickly found there was plenty of strategic depth in Decipher's Star Wars CCG.

Basically, if you could do it in the movies, you could do it here.

The game ran all the way through Episode I, before it died an unjust depth so that WotC could publish Garfield's rancid dice-based version.

My advice? Battle through the intense learning curve. It's worth it.

Why it isn't #1: Oooh, boy. You ever tried teaching this to someone inside an hour or two? Three? A day? To say Star Wars has some *serious* rules complexity going on would be like saying that Matrix Revolutions was *slightly* disappointing. Layers upon layers of rules await the unitiated, and the learning curve is steep. Some of the rules ultimately add nothing to the game (Bluff Rules? Asteroid Rules?) and some will cause you such rules headaches that even pros still wrestle with them.

Star Wars, however, remains that "enlightened" state of gaming...once you "get it", it's in you forever. Like in the Matrix, where they stare at the code and see "Blonde, Brunette, Redhead" you'll soon reach the state where you look at the table and see "Force Drain, Destiny Draw, Crushing Battle." One of the best of all time, if not for......





1.) MAGIC THE GATHERING:

Look, I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't try to displace this one from the top spot. In actuality, the fact of the matter is this: Magic is the grandaddy of CCGs, and if you doubt its quality and staying power, simply note that IT'S STILL HERE while many others on this list are already gone.

I'll break it down for the one or two folks who never played or at least witnessed a game: you try and use your lands (resources) to cast creatures and spells to knock your opponent's life to zero. How many ways can you do that? Well.....that's the real beauty of Magic, and why it's still alive and kicking. Every time you sit down to build a Magic deck, it's like an open canvass. How do you want to defeat your opponent? What do you want to do? If many of these other CCGs are capable of accomodating so many strategies, it's only because Magic invented them in the first place. Aggro? Control? Counter? Direct Damage? All here.

The flexibility of the game is staggering, and literally every deck you build can feel and play differently. I may not actively play Magic anymore, but even *I* know a masterpiece when I see one.Is Magic perfect? Well, let's not go that far. The "Type II" format has been both condemned and praised (sometimes in the same breath). Magic's a "money game" no doubt about it. Because whole sets of cards rotate out of the competitive environment, you're going to be chasing a lot of cards and spending a ton of cash. However, if you just want to play with friends--well, you're all set. Everything's legal!

Also, of all of the CCGs listed, Magic is one of the few where decks full of Commons can still be viable. I'll never forget competing in a big tournament in Memphis with a deck of 20 multi-lands, 4 Juzam Djinns, a Black Lotus, and more "power cards" that put the value of the deck over $1,000 (this was in 1995...I shudder to think it's value now). I was put out n the quarter-finals by a kid running Kird Apes, Scryb Sprites, and Giant Growth. Total value of the deck: probably less than $20. Yikes. "Humbling" doesn't cover it.

28 comments:

Robert Bowsher said...

I could not learn the rules for _Star Wars_ from the rules booklet provided with a two-starter beginner's set. And although I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, generally I think I do okay. But those rules had me whipped.

I've got a box of Doomtown starters and two boxes of boosters in the basement, that I got at a discount at Origins a few years back. I love the concept, just wish I could drag it out to play more.

I used to play in pro-tour qualifiers and such back when I played M:tG. When it's good, there's not a better game out there anywhere. I had a 5CW T2 deck that looked like a collection of crap scraped out of the bottom of the bag that won a lot more than it lost. Invariably the latest victim would tell me how to 'fix' it.

Shellhead said...

Ken, this is a great list. I love the format, especially the final paragraph on the first nine entries. I wouldn't list the same games in the same order, but it's probably hard to find any two CCG-players that would make the same list.

Did you ever try the second version of Rage? It was almost identical to the original but with a slightly more structured gameplay. Unfortunately, the combat cards were incompatible between the two versions.

I was a little disappointed that Legend of the Burning Sands didn't make your list, though it's understandable since that game was only around for maybe a year. But it was similar to Legend of the Five Rings, only better in nearly every way. It was undermined by a critical lack of support by Alderac and then doomed by that idiotic Rolling Thunder strategy that also hurt L5R, Rage 2.0 and Doomtown.

And I was shocked that you didn't mention Shadowfist, the second-best multi-player CCG after Vampire/Jyhad. While no longer availble in stores, Z-Man is continuing to publish new cards for Shadowfist and selling them from their website and also through potomacdist.com. Shadowfist is comfortably similar to Magic in some respects, but adds an important element of terrain. It's like your fighting over the land cards from Magic, only there is considerable variety in those land cards. The multi-player version of the game is very dynamic, with the potential for every player to be involved in every combat.

Ken Bradford said...

As for their omission, though I often say I've played "every CCG there is" (and have a Geeklist to prove it!), I have tried neither Shadowfist nor Legend of the Burning Sands.

Shadowfist simply never had any kind of presence whatsoever in my area and Burning Sands was a blink-and-you-miss-it affair. I have heard it was a pretty good game, though.

Octavian said...

Ever play the Shadowrun CCG? Admittedly, I haven't played many...but that one was pretty fun and deviated from the usual "attack the deck" M.O. And it captured the flavor of the RPG reasonably well - unless you were a shaman. Being a shaman sucks in the CCG.

-MMM

Michael Barnes said...

Alright Ken, I call a dispute...MIDDLE EARTH was a lot better than the neutered LOTR CCG. MIDDLE EARTH is an _amazing_ game, but it is very much the MAGIC REALM of CCGs so I understand your complaint about it. That being said, it's such an intricate and interesting system- lots of detail, some die rolling, a neat hazard system, and a real sense of adventure.

Let's see what else...NETRUNNER is there, good...everything else checks out. I thought WARS was pretty good, but I never played STAR WARS. The CALL OF CTHULHU CCG was alright, probably not as good as MYTHOS.

Some other notes- gamers of ANY persuasion that don't at least respect and appreciate the impact that MAGIC: THE GATHERING has had on hobby gaming have their heads (and likely copies of CAYLUS)up their collective ass. There are only three other games in the hobby that have represented a larger degree of success for designers, publishers, retailers, distributors, and industry folk and these games also represent the _REAL gateway point for most people into the hobby now. The other games are D&D, WARHAMMER, and SETTLERS OF CATAN.

For all these bitchers who bemoan the collectibility and weird culture of 14 year olds that sometimes surround the game, the fact remains that the game is immensely influential, significant, and to top it off it's a great fucking game.

I see time and time again all these self-styled "game evangelists" trying to win over people with these idiotic imported childrens' games- which seems to work for attracting lonely middleaged men- but break out some Magic decks with a group of under-20s and you'll create a least a couple of gamers for life.

Sure, the collectibility bug is pretty rotten and it created a very unstable crutch for retailers to lean on...but MAGIC is one of the most important games ever released.

Ken Bradford said...

Michael, my problem with Middle Earth was not only the completely insanely dense rules (after our sixth game, we were STILL checking that little book with the tiny print frequently) but the absurd theme.


Think about it:


Gimli, Robin Smallburrow, Gandalf, and Glorfindel II wander Middle Earth for awhile. Gimli finds a nice treasure horde; Gandalf succeeds in getting the Riders of Rohan to follow him; Gollum joins the party to help; and they find a few other assorted trinkets.


When the Council of Elrond comes, this ragtag band strolls in.


"What wisdom do you have to show for us, Master Gimli?" asks Elrond inquisitively.

Gimli hems and haws for a bit before tossing a few gold rings on the table (a few of them are even fake gold), a cool helm and buckle he found out in the woods, and an autographed photo of Eomer.




Clearly impressed, Elrond declares that Gimli has proven his worth, and that all the Free People of Middle Earth should follow his lead. Gandalf stands to the side disinterestedly, shooting of some fireworks.

Michael Barnes said...

Ha ha!

You're absolutely right about that Ken...it really doesn't have any "direct" correlation to LOTR other than place names, characters, and a couple of items here and there...but you've got to remember that it's coming from ICE, who was doing the Middle Earth RPG and that Hobbit game with all the weirdo "non canonical" stuff in it...I think their concept was not to retell LORD OF THE RINGS but to create new stories/ideas in the Middle Earth setting.

And that really, is kind of where it gets neat in terms of deck building- you can make decks that are specifically designed to quest for rings, muster factions, or just run around killing things. You can also adjust your hazard mix likewise so if you wanted to do all dragons or undead you could.

I guess I don't see it as a way to necessarily reenact anything LOTR...but that being said it might have actually done better if they came up with their own fantasy setting for it.

That tiny rulebook though...geez...I actually bought the big printed and bound one- it helped a lot.

Michael Barnes said...

BTW- you owe it to yourself as a gamer to check out the critical failure tables in MERP, or any other ICE rpg title.

Shellhead said...

Ken, your harsh criticism of the theme of the Middle Earth game is on target, but you didn't apply the same criteria to Magic. The abstract role of the Magic player, at least with respect to the mana-generating land has always been sketchy at best.

I agree with Barnes that Middle Earth is the Magic Realm of CCGs. And maybe that complex MEtW system would have been a better match for a D&D CCG using either Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms in place of Middle-Earth. Because aside from a few famous characters and locations, that's what MEtW felt like to me, a big D&D wilderness campaign.

Ken Bradford said...

The same criteria doesn't apply because Magic is its own work and not based on an already established piece of fiction or work.

For example, in Magic it's perfectly okay to say, "There's a flying hippo creature with an anagrammed version of Richard Garfield's name." Because there is no pre-existing piece of literature establishing the fact that this is not the case.


Plus, LOTR (Decipher) actually does several of the things that Middle-Earth does in a more streamlined fashion. You wander from place to place (albeit in a "linear" fashion, you still have a massive amount of choices to pick from along the way), you "find" items, allies, and characters to help your quest, and your opponent can only interfere during your turn by playing bad guys, half of which his deck must be devoted to.


In the interest of fairness, Decipher lost the plot when the changed their site path system to remove the linear nature of the paths. In the very first set, for example, you would typically start in the Shire/Bree, wander by places like Weathertop on your way to Rivendell, pass through the Mines of Moria, cross into Lothlorien before the climax on the banks of the river near Amon Hen.

With the way they changed the site path, you could start in Rohan, go back to the Shire, go check out the Prancing Pony, teleport to Gondor, go back to Amon Hen before wrapping things up in Saruman's Chamber.



So...uh...all my lavish praise for the game predates all of this nonsense.

Godeke said...

Quite a few of the games got bashed on the "you have to have the rares" point. However, there are some of us who got tired of the rare-race and have adopted a different method for playing the games.

These days we simply pool cards into a massive collection and then "draft" our decks. The drafting process is quite a bit of fun as players pay attention to the cards that the other players draft and thus have the ability to draft counters.

After drafting is done we play out a game and then instead of side decks, we can all swap out cards with the remaining pool.

Lather, rinse and repeat: it is *more* tactical then buying sealed boxes of boosters in the hopes of getting that one rare (or enough trade bait to acquire it).

It also means we pick up massive collections of cards on the cheap from the prior generation... and it doesn't hinder the amusement value of the game one whit (because all those "next gen" cards that obsoleted the cards we picked up aren't in *our* mix yet).

We still spend quite a bit on the games, but we get quite a bit *more* out of them per dollar this way.

Robert Bowsher said...

The problem with any restricted draft domain for M:tG (or any other CCG) is that you just don't get the pleasure of playing a constructed deck that's as lethal as the format will allow. It was always fun for me to play decks that could reliably kill by the fourth turn, or have your opponent completely locked down permission-wise. Granted you're susceptible to Mr. Suitcase Syndrome, but so be it.

Shellhead said...

I enjoy the drafting aspect of Fairy Tale, because it is an intrinsic part of the game and somewhat strategic.

I tolerate a draft in a sealed deck tournament for a CCG that I enjoy, because a sealed deck tournament plays to my strengths as a CCG player, although drafting boosters then shifts the advantage back somewhat in the direction of the superior deck builders.

But the idea of just drafting decks from a shared pool of cards has little appeal to me. That's just too much time wasted on drafting and not enough time playing the actual game. I suppose the draft creates a little meta-game action, but most CCGs are more fun than a card draft.

I have had some limited success with an alternative approach. I build a bunch of decks of very similar power level, each with a different faction/theme. Then the whole group plays with my decks, with me getting the final (and random) pick. This has only worked with dead CCGs or when recruiting new players to an existing game like Shadowfist or Vampire. And now that there are two sets of amazingly good starters for Shadowfist (Year of the Dragon; 10,000 Bullets), we don't even need my decks to play a good game.

Mr Skeletor said...

Am I the only person here who has never played M:TG?

dbuel said...

Another thing that's helped Magic survive all this time is Wizards' willingness to admit when cards, game mechanics and so on are broken and need to be fixed/nerfed/shelved.

Anonymous said...

Man I miss Vampire. I only got into Magic as a deal with my friends that they'd buy Jyhad on it's release. Of course that never really worked out because they wanted something that played just like magic. I know it's still out there, but there is zero availability in my area. On the other hand, I have boxes and boxes of cards, but never quite finished a set with the Jyhad backs.

MWChapel said...

MtG of course is the king of the hill, just for it's immense selection.

I did enjoy Rage quite a bit, such a great flat out hack and slash(literally) kinda game. It was about how you set up your attack deck that was key.

Star Wars was an OK game, play wise, but it was cool getting all the character names from the movies. For me it was a great background resource. I mean, who knew biggs darklighter?


I also enjoyed Doomtrooper as well. I loved the background storyline, and played quite a bit of the RPG back in the day.

The last one that played quite well, that gets little attention was TSR Bloodwars. It covered the planescape universe. The art wasn't the best, but it played great.

The last one that had terrible art, but played good was Wyvern, about dragons. Here is a missing hidden gem.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or is anyone else repelled by the illiterate spelling of "Jyhad"?

the red phantom said...

As much as I enjoy and agree with Mr. Bradford's other submissions, I can't get behind the order of the list. NetRunner and L5R are works of art unto genius. Magic may sell well and be fun, but it's not in the same league (haha). The less said about SW and LotR, the better.

Ken Bradford said...

Re: Jyhad--Garfield was probably looking for a name he could patent. Turns out it was confusing for some, hence the re-named base set and expansions thereafter to "Vampire".


Re: Star Wars and LotR--hey, I put both 5 Rings and Netrunner above LotR. But I stand by Star Wars as being as close to CCG perfection as it gets without being named "Magic". Brilliant, brilliant design.

Shellhead said...

To be honest, I never bothered with any of Decipher's games after trying that first Star Trek one a single time. I immediately formed a negative opinion of Decipher and subsequent remarks that I heard confirmed my concerns.

First and foremost, Decipher was unusually ruthless about card scarcity. The basic CCG model is inherently somewhat greedy, enticing players to part with more and more money to get those rare cards that are often crucial to staying competitive. Decipher took it way beyond that with ridiculous scarcity of the most popular characters. Wanna play Han Solo? Buy three boxes of boosters, and you *might* get Han, if you're lucky. That's pretty brutal.

Thematically, does it *feel* like Star Wars, when you're just playing with dudes from the Cantina scene and some other miscellaneous minor charactes? Decipher reportedly did this with all of their licensed games, though maybe to a lesser degree with LOTR.

And one thing that really annoyed me about that first Star Trek CCG from Decipher. There was a serious problem with keeping track of which cards belonged to which player, and this was back before colored card sleeves were readily available. It made me think that nobody at Decipher in any of those playtest games had ever thought about how real card owners and card players would handle basic game activity without confusion.

hughthehand said...

Ken...good list, though I haven't played most of these.

Never played Netrunner, but from all that I have read, it deserves its spot on your list.

Star Wars...played it. Just ok in my opinion. Hard not to get into the theme though. I hated the fact that when you started losing, it was damn near impossible to come back. In MtG, even at 1 life you could still win the game.

Magic at number 1? Hell yes. I don't play anymore, but I do keep up with the story lines and mechanics, just to see what Wizards is doing with it.

To the comment by shellhead
"The abstract role of the Magic player, at least with respect to the mana-generating land has always been sketchy at best."

This is true if you never read the books. If you did (especially the entire Urza/Mishra war set) then a lot of it made sense. You are whatever Planeswalker you wanted to be: Urza, Mishra, Yawgmoth, Telfari and so on, or a just a generic one.

Any opinions on Doomtrooper/Dark Eden or Dune?

Ken Bradford said...

Shellhead--Decipher rectified these problems with Star Wars after that initial period. I believe after Dagobah (or perhaps during it) they did away with tiered rarity. They also made main characters much, much, MUCH easier to get in later sets. The game didn't start out "perfect" but got there after a bit.

Many of the easier to get characters released later were more powerful than their earlier versions, so this was a bonus. You weren't having to "settle", as it were.


Star Trek CCG was indeed rancid. I remember trying so very, very hard to like that game. I even went back and gave it another chance during First Contact (I love that movie!) but still...just a bad, bad game!


Hugh: Netrunner is getting more and more scarce these days. If you can chase some down, I recommend it.

Doomtrooper CCG--though I love the setting and property, I *hated* the CCG. It had some awful, terrible flaws. I remember the clerk selling me on two starters, but after I got it home it was obvious he hadn't actually played it. Doomtrooper belongs on my "Bottom 10 CCG" list, which I just might do eventually.


Dune came and went faster than expected. I understand it was okayish, and the more easily obtainable Game of Thrones CCG apparently dupes most of the mechanics from it anyway, giving it much the same flavor of gameplay. I wasn't wowed by AGoT CCG, so I'm not sure how that reflects on Dune.

Alex said...

Something I'm curious about is the newer generation of CCG's. They seem to have had a bit of a resurgence, not unlike what happened when Netrunner came out - about 15-20 (more? anyone remember? it felt like a new one every other week) CCG's hit the market all at once and almost all of them died within 1-2 years.

In the past few years there have been Game of Thrones, Call of Cthulu, Obsidian, Spycraft, World of Warcraft, Allegiance, and a bazillion anime titles including Zatch Bell, Naruto, Duel Masters, ad naseum. I think there was even a Simpsons one for a little while.

Has anyone played any of these or any other recent CCG enough to be able to comment? If they aren't cheap on ebay yet, they will be soon, I'm sure.

I'll mention how much I miss Legends of the Burning Sands and throw one more into the top-15 category:

Warlord, in which you sqaure off in a battle of obscenely unbalanced cards to see who's more unbalanced this game. Basically plays like D&D the card game. There's a nice little rank and file system that adds some tactics, there's range and stealth and magic and overpowered items and tons of dice-rolling. Can be lots of fun with enough cards, I think, although I never got into it quite enough to find out. Still going strong I think, with a core of devoted players.

Alex (whose innate love of CCG's pushed him to stop lurking)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the list. Authoritative and convincing.

Many CCG's have captivating deckbuilding. But then they can feel like they play themselves. You've heard it before, and I know it's not true, but you know what I mean, I think.

How many have interesting play? Can you - or anyone - comment on this. Rage and Doomtown are the only ones on this list that I would say had interesting play. Jyhad sounds like it might have. Magic, Star Wars, the others, seemed to me that most of the time the play is obvious. Few important decisions to be made during the course of the game.

Ken Bradford said...

Wow--tailender talkback! I almost didn't check back this far.


Star Wars immediately comes to mind as actually having a TON of important decisions each game--where to deploy, when to strike, where and when to entrench, when to spread out, when to hoard force for a larger battle, where you should fire your weapons and use your special abilities...

The better player at Star Wars almost always won. Always. It was all about building a good deck and making the right decisions.

It's only #2 because the system isn't as flexible as Magic. Star Wars is a deep, deep game. Rich in strategy and theme.


Jyhad--also very interesting. Mostly due to the predator/prey relationship as well as the multi-player dynamic, the game breaks down in 2p.


Netrunner--pshaw, this game is nothing BUT a series of interesting choices. Only so many actions to take per turn, and only so long to accomplish your goals. Unfortunately the system was very limited in terms of deckbuilding, there were only so many themes to work from. The game does play very well out of a starter, though.

Anonymous said...

Super late post:

Doomtown - best CCG ever. Stronger cheatin' cards came out in later sets, but we also enjoy playing bicycle format (where you must build a regulation deck) and dispensing with cheating altogether.

Star Wars CCG - turned off by buying/splitting 2 booster boxes with a friend. Neither of us got any major characters (he got the Executor, and that was pretty much it). Pretty brutal distribution.

magic - deserves bonus points for:
a) those glorious first days/weeks/months when it was all brand new. Really an eye opening experience before it became a huge money pit.
b) selling off my moxes etc. a few years ago and taking the wife on a European Holiday.
c) the old Lich black card (among the few cards I kept) - your life total = the number of you cards in play - you ARE the Lich.

Vampire/Jyhad - played a bit, then loaded up on $5 booster boxes when they were being cleared out (minimum order was $100 = 20 boxes, enough for 3 complete sets plus a large enough card pool we could all make whatever decks we wanted). Great fun!

One other CGG that hasn't been mentioned was the Warhammer War Cry game. Really did a nice job of simulating moving army units around (somewhat similar to the vs. system with attacking rows). Probably my second favourite after Doomtown.

Blogger said...

I've just installed iStripper, and now I enjoy having the best virtual strippers on my taskbar.