The CCG Thread – What is a CCG Anyway?

Welcome to the *CG thread, where we talk all manner of Card Games – Collectible, Trading, Living, and otherwise!

We’ve covered the history of card games and talked about digital games and what they mean for the medium.

But just what is a collectible card game? What makes it different from other games? And are Deck Building Games collectible card games? And what’s the deal with Living Card Games?

Let’s start with the basics:

CCGs use cards.

Am I going too fast? This isn’t complicated, but there are nuances. Cards can be replaced conceptually with tiles or dice or pogs, but cards really do have this tactile appeal to them. Plus, cards are convenient to take with you anywhere.

CCGs are collectible.

I know, complicated. But the collection part is, surprisingly, key. It gets each player invested in the game. This is a major divergence from most traditional board games, where one player generally owns the whole set. Even with LCGs, there’s the collection aspect, though the method of acquisition is different. Whether it’s random from boosters or in small LCG expansions, building your own collection of cards creates that addictive frisson that keeps you trying to get as many cards as you can.

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CCGs are games

That is to say, they are more than one player. While there are often variants for single-player, 2-player is the norm. In digital games, where there’s no mode for total free-form, kitchen table-esque play, that’s usually where it ends. But in physical games, you can play with 3, 4, or 100 players. (It happens, it’s called Grand Melee, and it’s stupid/great/really stupid)

CCGs are customizable

One of the great things about CCGs is how much they can be personalized. Generally, players will bring customized decks to play against others, so it’s a way of putting yourself into the game. Making your own deck is a type of experience that you don’t generally find in a game. And having such a wide variety of decks makes the gameplay consistently novel (assuming a well-developed metagame (and we’ll talk about metagames in another post))

CCGs are competitive

Not that other types of games aren’t competitive, but more than other types of board and card games, (and here I’m mostly thinking of your victory point-based Euro-style games) CCGs are more directly competitive. Your opponent usually has some sort of life point (although in Pokemon you have a team of Pokemon and in Duel Masters/Kaijudo you have Shields) are usually attacking your opponent somehow (although it’s sometimes more indirect or abstracted, like in Netrunner). Most Deckbuilding Games use more of the aforementioned victory-point type victory, though some don’t, like Emergents: Genesis or Puzzle Strike (which doesn’t even use cards soooooo) which is why I tend to count them separately from CCGs.

CCGs build over time

This is true on a micro-scale and a macro. On the macro-scale, they are designed towards an expansion model. New sets will always come out, and if the game lasts long enough, eventually old sets will have to rotate out (More on rotation to come in a later blog). Where a good board game might get a remake or a sequel or a new edition, when you make a CCG, you’re already thinking about the next one.

On a micro-scale, an individual game of a CCG will build up over time. Usually this is accomplished through some sort of resource mechanic that lets you actually do things. In Magic, it’s lands, in Hearthstone it’s mana crystals, Pokemon has Energy cards, etc. There’s a whole ‘nother post on resource management in games and I know I keep saying that, but I’ve got a lot of babbling in me. And then, at it’s absolute core, the number of cards in a player’s hand is the ultimate resource. While some games eschew the “cost” style resource, all CCGs use hand management to some extent. The point of resource management is to give each game a “plot arc” from early game of gathering resources, to midgame of jockeying for board position, to what is hopefully an exciting climax where one player gains the advantage and wins. Some of the worst, most degenerate eras of CCGs happen when the resource mechanics get bypassed in some way. (In one particularly bad period of MtG, it was said that the early game was shuffling your deck, the midgame was drawing your opening hand, and the endgame was Turn 1.)

And that’s my overly wordy, yet still incredibly high-level overview of the main aspects of CCGs. There are for sure more, and not every CCG is going to have every one of these.

This week’s prompt:

What is a CCG to you? What is it that you like about CCGs?

Or just talk about whatever game you’re playing this week or anything CCG that you’ve been up to.