Tag Archives: Magic The Gathering

Tales from the Fireside – TCG, LCG, WTF?!

This week Campfire decides to lay his cards on the table.

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Recently I found myself in an altercation with a friend over which were better: Living Card Games or Trading Card Games. Being tabletop gaming fellows and therefore somewhat civilised we resolved the matter by agreeing to disagree, but even as we shook hands our jaws were set and our handshakes just a few pascals short of turning into a thumb war. Obviously there was still some resentment between us and, equally obviously, for all their similarities Living Card Games and Trading Card Games were two very different beasts.

“Living Card Whats? Trading Card Whos?

Okay–and bear with me on this, because despite having my own column on The Little Dog Show website I’m no gaming expert–they work kind of like this:

Trading Card Games or TCGs are sprawling games in which players build decks from a vast and ever-increasing pool of cards. The cards are generally sold as starter decks containing everything you need to play the game, and booster packs, which contain a random assortment of cards you can swap with those from your starter deck; doing this changed its composition and accordingly the way you play the game.

Let’s say you and a friend are playing with a starter deck each. You both have the same cards, so whoever wins the game is down to a) your skill at playing and b) the luck of the draw.

You win a couple rounds each and decide you’re one as good as the other.

But what if I gave you a booster of, say, fifteen new cards, some of which are more powerful than those you already have in your deck? You swap them out, play another round and lo, you win! In any other game this would be cheating; in a TCG, it’s the way the game’s supposed to be played.

Your mate now buys a booster of his own–in fact he buys four, increasing his chances of finding cards better than yours. He wins the next round and you buy a whole box of boosters to put his deck to shame.

As you both build bigger card pools you realise there aren’t many cards left from your initial starter still in your deck; you have enough cards now to build multiple decks, each of which you fine-tune to counter anything your opponent might be building.

The regular game session that began so innocently now has the raging ferocity of a pit-bull spitting bees; things go further downhill when the game’s publisher releases a new set of cards to play with. Some of your most powerful cards are made obsolete–you’re no longer allowed to use them in professional competition–while the best cards in the new set sell for high prices online, where players have already found them and now auction them off individually. Perhaps you’ve heard of people paying £50+ for a TCG card on eBay; perhaps you thought this was a joke.

All the while you’re further refining your deck–in TCG lingo, making it ‘tighter’. As most TCGs involve drawing cards from a randomly shuffled deck it pays to have multiple copies of the same few cards, increasing the odds the you draw something useful on any given turn. Of course, if you want multiple copies of that £50+ card in your deck, you’re going to have to pay a hefty price for them.

Warhammer Invasion box art depicting friend of the show Gordon Bloodthirster on holiday in Skegness.

TCGs are big business. Loads of them have been released over the years, and while only a few have stuck around since then those that have spawned tournaments that offer big money prizes. Players spend a fortune piecing decks together card by card, and while their collections can cost hundreds, even thousands of pounds, it’s possible to travel the world winning high level tournaments and living off the prize money–just look at Justin Gary, creator of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer and guest on Episode 27 of The Little Metal Dog Show.

At first, Living Card Games (LCGs) seem very similar. They’re packaged in starter deck ‘Core Sets’ and have cards pools from which players build their deck, but rather than rooting for rare cards in random boosters, when you want a particular card you need only buy the expansion pack that contains it. You see, LCG expansions aren’t random at all: each expansion has a set number of cards which are all catalogued online. There are no surprises in LCGs and no super-expensive cards to chase down.

(Here I should mention that ‘Living Card Game’ is actually a registered trademark of Fantasy Flight Games–who currently produce four LCGs and have a fifth on its way–but there are other games like Blue Moon and Killer Bunnies that follow or have followed the same kind of expansion distribution as Fantasy Flight’s LCG titles)

As much as I like the gameplay mechanics of TCGs I could never play them properly. I hate buying booster packs filled with chaff in the hope I might get a card I want. I know this is where the ‘Trading’ part of ‘Trading Card Game’ comes in but let’s face it: us tabletop gamers are pack-rats. We build towers from game boxes, take over entire cupboards and never let a charity shop bargain pass us by. Some of us even have multiple copies of beloved games–Tichu, anyone?–stored just in case we wear out copies already in use. We don’t like getting rid of our old games so why trade away our precious cards when they’ll probably end up being used for coasters?

But there’s something almost narcotic about opening boosters. It’s a small-scale gamble, a cheap thrill that becomes expensive as you need more boosters to get yourself off. If you’ve never opened a booster pack, think of the satisfaction you get from punching board game tokens and imagine that one in every fifty punched will randomly reward you with chocolate.

LCG expansions don’t contain that thrill of the unknown; neither do LCGs have the same grand tournament prizes as Magic: The Gathering, World of Warcraft or Pokémon–if you get down to brass tacks they don’t even come with everything you need to play the game packaged in the starter decks. The Core Sets and some of the early expansions have between one and three cards of each kind inside them, meaning if you want a ‘tight’ deck made from three of each card, you’ll need to buy three sets containing the card you want.

Which sounds horrible when you put it like that. Having to buy three copies of a game in order play it? You’d have to be out of your tree.

2009 WoW TCG World Champion William 'Billy P' Postlethwait holds aloft the
grand prize of all the glass he can eat.

This is where my pal Jonny and I approached the games from two different perspectives. He’s a TCG fan who likes the idea of LCGs but finds their advertising blurb rather dubious: he thinks when it says you get ‘everything you need for a complete and self-contained game experience’ in a Core Set you should get everything you need.

Which I say you do. Forget all that nonsense about buying three of each set; buy a single LCG Core Set and you and your friends can play ‘til your hearts’ content, not realising there’s anything missing because as far as you’re concerned, there isn’t.

Jonny’s card-gaming needs are different to mine. Coming from the World of Warcraft tournament scene–where a deck that isn’t tight enough can cost you the match–these LCG sets and expansions seemed to be missing a third of their cards. With only one or two of copies of each card they were too random for high level play and therefore useless: they certainly weren’t ‘a complete and self-contained game experience’.

He also took umbrage with Fantasy Flight’s insistence that LCGs had ‘no rare or promo cards’ when, if you need to buy three of an expansion set to collect enough cards for a tight deck, the cards that only come only one per pack are considerably rarer than those that come in threes. Even though this is another thing inexperienced players won’t be concerned about, in this case he has a point.

But there’s a wide gulf between the rarity of cards in these early LCG expansions and those in a typical TCG. Buy three sets containing one of these rare cards and you’re done–by TCG terms these cards are common.

To contrast, a mythic rare card from Magic: The Gathering appears on average once in every eight boosters. There are ten mythic rare cards in the current block of releases–New Phyrexia–meaning in every eight boosters you open you’ll find one of these ten cards. I’m no bookie, so I’m not going to work out the odds of finding three copies of any one of these mythic rare cards in three consecutively opened booster packs, but by my calculations you’d have to buy two hundred and forty boosters to ensure getting the three cards you need–and as the cards are randomly distributed, there’s always a possibility you’d still not get the cards you were after.

A fat pack of Phyrexia boosters: nine down, two hundred and thirty-one to go...

I doubt even the hardiest Magic player would buy that many boosters in a single block; fortunately he doesn’t have to. There’s a healthy online market for individual card from the most popular TCGs–but there’s also the option not to chase rare cards, and only play with the cards you already have at your disposal.

Which is exactly how LCGs work.

But in case this isn’t good enough for you, in the past couple years Fantasy Flight have eliminated those few ‘rare’ cards from their expansions: every recent LCG expansion now contains three copies of each card, making it both cheap and easy to build a tight deck to play with, if that’s your bag.

There are other differences between LCGs and TCGs, such as the vastly different number of available cards and the frequency with which older cards are moved out of play as the game pushes players towards new product. LCGs have a much smaller card pool than established TCGs, and have a rotation much less volatile, with older expansions still in print, available for both purchase and play.

The thing that separates the two most, however, is you, the player: What do you want from a game? Personally I’m not interested in tournament play; I’d be far happier at home building decks from cards I already have and kicking back with friends while the world passes us by. If I want to get an expansion, I’d rather know what I was buying, and pick up only those expansions that sound interesting, that contain cards I think will be fun to play.

Maybe you feel the same way.

Or maybe you’re a gambler chasing prizes and thrills alike. Maybe you want to spend the last couple quid of your paycheck on a booster that might just contain a mythic rare, or spend the wee small hours sniping bids on eBay. You might want a card pool so large you have almost infinite strategic options at your command. You might want that.

Which are better: Living Card Games or Trading Card Games? There’s no objective answer; there’s only what’s right for you. I hope now you know the differences between the two, you’ll be able to decide for yourself.

You can’t, you say? You want me to choose for you? What, do you want me to tie your shoes as well–clear off!

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Tell Campfire Burning what you reckon. Who knows, he may even respond! Email: campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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Episode 23 – A Bit of Magic

Get the episode from iTunes or directly from here: http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/z5i7gs/LMD_Episode23.mp3

This is another one of those episodes where it baffles me how it actually happened. Why? Well, I got to speak to Richard Garfield. The guy who single handedly started the whole Collectible Card Game genre with Magic: The Gathering. There’s not many people who can say they’re responsible for beginning a genre of game, but Richard definitely can. As well as M:TG, he’s also designed games like RoboRally, The Great Dalmuti, Netrunner, Vampire The Eternal Struggle… the list is huge. He’s also just released his latest game, King of Tokyo, a battle of the behemoths! I ask him about pretty much everything I can (as you would, of course) and yet it still wasn’t enough time to get everything out! Here’s hoping I get the chance to talk with him again some day.

Chris also returns this episode with answers to a stack of questions. If you want to get in touch with us, you can email us: michael@littlemetaldog.com and chris@littlemetaldog.com. Thanks to Gryphon Games for sponsoring this episode, and thanks as always to you for listening.

Oh yeah. There might be a competition hidden somewhere in the show too. Maybe.

This episode’s links!

 

Mirror Mirror on Kickstarter – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/167427101/mirror-mirror-a-game-of-deception-reflection-and-l?ref=live

Magic: The Gathering home – http://www.wizards.com/Magic

Richard’s excellent Three Donkeys site – http://www.threedonkeys.com/blog/

The UKGMN’s videos from UK Games Expo – WARNING – you will see my face – http://www.youtube.com/user/Weirdchris56

Don’t forget, we’re part of The Dice Tower Network as well! The home of fine gaming shows! – http://dicetower.com/

 

 

 

 

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Higher Ground – Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer review

I do wonder sometimes how game designers come up with their ideas. Do they have an algorithm that specifically works out the silliness of a backstory to the Nth degree? Do they roll custom made dice covered in words in order to come up with the name? Or do they just drink a lot of beer, take a thesaurus, choose some random entries and hope for the best? Who knows, but ladies and gentlemen – it’s time to look at Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, a brand new deck-building game from first-time publishers Gary Games…

So, what’s different about Ascension then? Can we not just stick with Thunderstone or Dominion? Well, no. First of all, it has roots in the daddy of all deck-builders, Magic The Gathering – it was designed by MTG Tour champions Rob Dougherty, Brian Kibler and Justin Gary (who also founded Gary Games). While this may be their first release, you can tell that they have considered their approach – this is no rush release, thrown together to capitalise on a craze. The team have thought about how the game should play and what to do in order to make it stand out from the crowd.

So, how exactly does it differ? Well, first of all, it’s a simplified take on the genre. Ascension focuses on three areas – Runes (which allow you to buy new cards), Power (for smooshing monsters) and Honor (this game’s take on Victory Points – and yes, I’m using the American spelling as it’s plastered all over the cards and board). Depending on how many players are at the table, a certain amount of Honor points – depicted using little plastic crystals – are set aside. Once these are gone, the game is over – total up how many you have, add on the Honor from the cards in your deck and the highest total is the winner.

There’s no limitation as to what you can do here as long as you have the Runes or Power – unlike in Dominion with it’s one action / one buy mechanic. Similar to other deck-builders, you start with a weak pile of cards, but your purchasing options are slightly different. You always have the option for beefing up your deck by grabbing Mystics (more Runes) or Heavy Infantry (more Power) cards, or beating up the Cultist for a single Honor point, but there’s also The Central Row. This is a bunch of six cards that will cost more Runes or Power to acquire or defeat, but will bring greater rewards – getting rid of one of them will see it’s spot replenished immediately, so judicious decisions can really reap you some good stuff.

Monsters, as mentioned, will at least get you some Honor, but could also allow you to banish a card (chucking it on the Void – this game’s discard pile – which means you can strip out the poorer cards from your deck) or affect another player’s turn. Heroes boost your power, making monsters much easier to despatch, but there’s also another type of card to consider – the Construct.

Constructs are an interesting concept. Where most deck-building games have you discard everything you touch in a turn, the Constructs you manage to get your hands on actually stay in play, often giving you hefty bonuses (especially if you manage to pull a selection together). Other cards in the deck can see Constructs returned back to players’ hands or discard piles, so they won’t always be around – but when they are, you’ll certainly have an advantage.

Games are quick – even a four player effort can be done in 45 minutes. The artwork is good, really showing the differences between the four in-game factions, while the cards and board are great quality – satisfyingly heavy and made to last (although you can get Ascension branded card sleeves if you so desire). Some of the flavour text is a bit cheesey, but it doesn’t detract from the game. Also, while it’s not a bad thing, you can tell that the whole game has been put together with expansion in mind, but what do you expect from a design team with such a huge love for MTG?

Michael has lots of Constructs! Michael will lose this game by one point! Michael is sad.

So, is it worth picking up? I reckon so. If anything, it’s a good introduction into the deck-building genre and plays quicker than Dominion or Thunderstone – the level of simplicity is incredibly appealing… hell, the rules to the game are so easy they’re printed on the board. Twice. After a few plays you’ll find yourself working out strategies rather than just going for The Big Stuff – will you focus specifically on on faction or go for a range of different ones? Keep an eye on what your opponents are picking up though – remember that the winner is the highest total Honor points, and that includes crystals and cards. All in all, an awful lot deeper than first impressions portray – the more I play it, the more I enjoy it. Ascension will be coming to the table pretty regularly, I think.

Ascension: Chronicles of the Godslayer is published by Gary Games, and will be available here in the UK from August 31st. Designed by Brian Kibler, John Fiorillo, Justin Gary and Robert Dougherty (with art by Eric Sabee) – there’s no word on price yet, but looking at what it’s going for in the US, it’ll probably be around £30. Cheers for reading!

 

edit: My oh my. Months on and I’m still playing Ascension – and now you can do it on iOS devices too! There’s an excellent conversion of it available now on iPhone and iPad, complete with asynchronous play (in other words, you don’t have to all be playing at the same time and it’ll notify you when it’s your turn)! If you fancy a game, give me a shout – my username is idlemichael. Just ask me on Twitter!

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