Collectible Card Games Retrospective

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© Copyright Stoneblade Entertainment

© Copyright Stoneblade Entertainment

I was introduced to my first trading card game, or TGC, back in high school, when my friends started playing Magic: The Gathering during their lunch hour despite the high risk of being forever labelled as nerds. I was instantly drawn to the idea of collecting different assets and coming up with unique strategies to defeat my opponents. Years passed, and a plethora of card games started popping up on the Web, allowing me to partake in yet another favourite pastime without leaving the comfort of my home. For fear that players might exploit the system by creating multiple accounts, few of this new generation of TGCs permit trading, so they’re now commonly referred to as CCGs instead, short for collectible card games.

Setting a game online has some obvious advantages. For one, players no longer have to go to a game store or annual comics convention to find an opponent. Your next bout is a simple click away. Also, the AI will follow the rules to the letter, sparing you hours of arguing over how a card is supposed to work. What’s more, a good CCG will use its additional computing power to improve its features, powering up creatures over time or generating random numbers for certain attacks. For example, Bloodrealm has a creature card whose power increases by a percentage after every turn. Keeping track of this simple trait would prove a royal pain in real life, but it’s a trivial matter for a machine.

Of course, there is a flip side to collecting cards online. You may fall victim to the usual Internet problems: server outages, connection drops, trolls who refuse to keep playing when they are losing, etc. More importantly, virtual cards, by definition, don’t exist and hence have no worth. This means you can’t go to your local game store and sell off your extra cards, something to keep in mind when investing in a CCG. In addition, since all these games use cloud storage, there’s always a chance, no matter how small, that your whole stockpile will one day vanish.

All right, now that you’ve been warned, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of it: the game mechanics. The basic CCG has you summoning creatures and casting spells in an effort to reduce your opponent’s life to zero. You start with a hand of however many cards, and you replenish it by drawing from a pre-built deck. How many cards you can play in a turn is usually limited. Some games, like Magic: The Gathering or the upcoming Hearthstone, have you cast spells from a limited mana pool. Others, like the recently released Solforge, allow you to play only two cards per turn. It’s crucial you keep these rules in mind when building your deck and formulating a strategy, a topic I’ll cover in more detail in my next article.

© Copyright Blizzard Entertainment

© Copyright Blizzard Entertainment

It’s worth noting as well that another type of CGC has recently cropped up. Instead of having players purchase cards to personalise their deck, these games have opponents playing with the same cards. Titles like Dominion and Race for the Galaxy are gaining popularity as gamers feel everyone starts on the same footing. Although these new franchises are more akin to board games than traditional trading card games, they retain the CGC designation because at least one player has to purchase, or “collect”, the base set and expansions.

Which type of CGC is the best depends entirely on your preferences. My only advice is that you try out any game for a few days before committing to it. There are a number of issues on which you should keep your eye before starting your CCG journey, including the stability of the title’s server and the friendliness of its community. Some may want an interesting lore. Others may favour draft tournaments. For me, a single player option is almost mandatory, but again it all comes down to what you look for in a game. There’s a CGC out there for everyone.

Over the coming weeks, I will review various CCGs available on the Internet, focusing on the free ones because I’m cheap and underpaid. Granted, online collectible card games really comprise a genre as opposed to a single franchise, and developers typically try to make their games as different as possible from their competitors’. However, most of the CGCs currently on the market have common traits that make it easy to compare them and track their evolution, which is why I’ll be critiquing them as part of this single series. Hopefully, I can help you find the right game for you.

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Video Game Correspondent: Nicolas or, as his friends like to call him, Dr Nick has a PhD in physics as well as an unhealthy obsession with video games. He won the 2006 Nininger Award for his work in astrophysics and hates vegetarians as a general rule.