Thursday, 16 May 2013

Glossary: Living Card Games and Collectible Card Games

Two formats for massive card games, usually involving two battling players with pre-built, personalised decks.

Collectible Card Games

The Collectible Card Game (usually abbreviated to CCG) is the older style of these two formats, usually associated with Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, and so on. In these games, you buy a base deck and then buy randomised booster packs of additional cards. Because of the random nature of these games, players may have vastly different decks in play, often encountering unexpected or relatively rare cards. But to get the most unexpected and rare cards, you have to spend a lot of dough!

CCGs reward cash investment and subsequently:
1. Require a dedicated player base so that you can keep playing and don't feel ripped off
2. Require players to buy a lot of updates so that they can fully engage with this player base

Because they require a dedicated player base, most CCGs do not remain in existence very long - with a few notable exceptions. Now a lot of modern CCGs (particularly in Asia) tie in digital game aspects in order to give their games greater longevity and raunchy card art to keep teenage-boys engaged en-mass.

It's unfortunate that often times CCGs end with a pay-to-win model. This is because the winner of a CCG game is often the player with the rarest, most expensive, and powerful cards. Of course, this is a generalisation.
A selection of CCGs (from Wikipedia)

Living Card Games

Living Card Games (LCGs) are a more modern invention and an attempt to mitigate some of the negative aspects of CCGs, whilst still extracting your moolah. Most significantly, LCGs totally do away with aspects of chance and randomness when you buy booster packs. In an LCG, booster packs come in named, standardised decks, so players should have a fair idea of what one another potentially has in their deck, and subsequently, the game should take on a form that rewards skill in-game and during pre-game deck-building rather than rewarding cash investment.

LCGs are mainly the forte of Fantasy Flight Games, who produce titles such as The Game of Thrones LCG (which I don't play) and Android: Netrunner (which I play loads of and have a review of right here).

By doing away with randomised and rare cards, LCGs should be much cheaper than CCGs, but I'm not totally convinced of the validity of this claim. Granted, with CCGs, you may waste a lot of money on duplicates or weak cards, and may pay through the roof for a rare and powerful card, but with a LCG, playing in any kind of competitive environment does require that you keep relatively up to date on booster packs (often released monthly), or else face being disadvantaged in a game, by a player with a more flexible deck.

In the six months since I've owned Android: Netrunner, in order to remain competitive, I've dropped 140SGD (113USD) on the game and data packs (booster packs). Doing so has not been the wisest way to spend my money, but frequent small purchases meant that I hardly even noticed. Without these data packs, I would be a sitting duck at a tournament, with predictable cards and underpowered attacks and defenses. I would have a miserable time without those extra cards. 140SGD is nothing like what I could have spent on a game like Magic: The Gathering, but nor is it a reasonable amount.

Android: Netrunner (from the Fantasy Flight website)

In Summary

In both competitive and non-competitive environments, LCGs really win out, generally demanding smart card play over savvy purchasing. But if you take LCGs into a competitive environment - tournaments or regular boardgame store events - be prepared for the war of attrition on your wallet.

I don't want to close this post sounding like a Scrooge because there's a reason why so many gamers take these expensive LCG and CCG routes. Because of these games' personalisation structure, many CCGs and LCGs do become more than games. Building your decks before a planned match-up can become a labour of love. It might take me an hour to build the two Netrunner decks I need for any given event, but making these decks work requires a lot of attention and thought. Cards initially need to be categorised into function; I have to make broad strategic decisions (faction choice) and decide on a general deck direction or trick; I have to select the cards, cull any excess, and figure out combos. That's a lot of brain-work and in the end, when I bring it to a match-up, it's incredibly rewarding. There's a level of game (or meta-game) there that you don't get with a standard board or card game. If you're willing to commit the time and money to a CCG or LCG (and you can find opponents who do the same), they do give back in a wholly unique way.


  1. If you want to play a CCG with around the same number of cards as a lcg base game its probably a lot cheaper, there is a benefit to ccgs that have been around for a long time is that they have lots of very cheap cards. That being said, I stopped playing magic when my 600$ deck got stolen.

    Great post, I have yet to see an actual comparison of the 2 other than just quick comments on forums so I am going to link this page on my blog :)

  2. Great post, however as a long time Magic player as well as starting to enjoy the LCG scene with Android: Netrunner I've a few comments to make. To begin with you've missed one of the huge advantages of CCG's which is the limited format tournament. Whether it's draft or sealed deck these events focus on a player's quick-thinking and deck-building skills and remove the idea of largest budget wins. The other point I feel should be made is because CCG's (and especially Magic) have been around so much longer than LCG's they have a larger playerbase. I live in Canora, SK which is a small town with a population in the four digits. I have several friends in town who play Magic and a store running tournaments within an hour's drive. No one but me has gotten into Netrunner and the nearest tournaments are over three hours away! Finally after analyzing some of the older LCG's it becomes very clear that power creep is far more sharp in LCG's than CCG's. As you said yourself any time a new pack comes out your old cards become obsolete. If the power creep were kept to a minimum this wouldn't be the case. All of the above is obviously my opinion and I stand by what I said at the beginning of my little diatribe. Very well written article :)

  3. Hello there,I'm personally interested by the idea of blending the LCG and CCG format,by having built faction or element (color) boxes that serve to support the player in deck building substantially more than a standard starter deck would in MTG,for instance,while even now having booster sets where that gamble for rares exists,without making them refute the house.Moreover,I'd like to offer the consumers the capacity to buy single rares straight from the organization's website,to take a cut of the pie that is created by the secondary player market, and evacuate the inclination of uncertainty when purchasing cards off some irregular individual on eBay.What do you folks think about this distribution model?
    ~Tina Long.

  4. It's about money.A rich man will constantly beat a poor one when playing a CCG.LCG conveys approach chances to all players.Perhaps you think CCGs are cool in light of the fact that they have randomness.Let me tell you,randomness vanishes when you can pay money for the cards you require.This prompts rich people having every one of the cards they need and, obviously,the best decks.In the LCG world each player has the same cards.With a specific end goal to win he will need to fabricate a compelling deck and play it effectively.Drawing one single card (the costly one) won't give him the game.@Lillie Jensen.