Transcript of our podcast from 14 February 2009

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Living Card Games

by Moritz Eggert

Hello my friends! I have to excuse myself for my long silence, but my family and me have been under quite a sick spell for the last weeks, mostly all the illnesses that you never had as a kid but which your own kid makes sure you don't miss later in life.

Today I want to talk about a new concept that our favourite game publisher Fantasy Flight has recently unveiled and which has had relatively little fanfare yet even though it is quite a break from accepted business models.

I am talking about the "Living Card Games", in short LCG's, a new idea that might or might not change the future of collectible card games.

We all know that Collectible Card Games, or CCG's, have had a rough time lately. There is no doubt that the really big franchises like Magic the Gathering of dust on my countless cards from thousands of different sets are still going strong, which mainly has to do with the fact that they were the first and basically managed to establish and hold the leading position in a market which has shrunk immensely in the last years. But of course there are many other good CCG's about there, many of them now out of print or supported by small bands of loyal supporters like the original Middle Earth CCG.

Fantasy Flight has long supported 2 of the better CCG's: "A Game Of Thrones", based on the immense mythology and cast of characters developed by George R.R. Martin, soon also to be a TV series produced by the excellent HBO channel, and "Call of Cthulhu", the successor to the original "Mythos" CCG originally published by Chaosium. Both of these games were solid and well-developed CCG's with a loyal fan base and of course also the good production values of other Fantasy Flight games. But they of course never were huge hits like Magic The Gathering.

The Dice Tower would normally not be the place to talk about CCG's, as they are a bit beyond the scope of normal boardgaming, but FFG has decided to call it quits and morph their 2 CCG franchises into a hybrid between normal card game and collectible card game, the Living Card Game. So what is different? First of all, there is no "collectible" aspect anymore. This aspect that is enormous fun for those good at trading and with unlimited financial resources was usually the biggest turnoff for regular gamers who prefer not to be forced to buy hundreds of booster packets to acquire one single card for their killer deck. Instead FFG has decided to completely stop producing boosters but instead publishing fixed decks of cards called "Chapter Packs", which always include the exact same cards, so you always know what you get. They plan to publish these packs once per month, so in theory you can get all you need to keep your deck building game going for 8,95 Dollars per month instead of 300 Dollars.

Sounds fair to me. But is it really that simple? Let's look at "Game of Thrones", which is a solid and fun design and was the first to be published in this format. What we have in its basic set is a 4 player game that includes 4 faction decks that can be played multiplayer or against a single opponent. Each of the upcoming chapter packs has 40 cards, 10 cards that appear 3 times and are "common" and 10 cards that appear only once and so are rare. The cards in these chapter packs are of all factions in the game, of which there are six in total, so you get a mixture of various faction cards.

Now to the problem that I have with that. The basic game has smaller decks for each faction than the rules actually ask for - they have 48 cards whereas the rules demand at least 60 cards per deck (I have to add that these decks are playable though). Only 3 copies per card are allowed in a deck, and of course everyone knows that deck building means you want to put more copies of strong cards in your deck to make sure you draw them. If you want to build a Stark deck for example, the first chapter pack gives you 3 common and 1 rare cards for your faction. This not only makes your total of cards still below the legal size of 60, but it also means that you have to buy the chapter pack more than once to get more copies of your rare card in your deck. Which also means that you get all the common cards again, even though you don't need them anymore as you already have 3 of each. To get 3 copies of a rare card you will eventually have to acquire 9 copies of your common cards, you can basically throw away 6 of them as nobody will trade with you when they have at least 3 of these cards if they have acquired the chapter pack only once. Even worse, you will have to wait for a couple of chapter packs to appear before you can finally assemble your first really legal deck for tourney play. And of course the basic set cards are all completely unique but have powers that lend themselves to deck building, so as a real crack you will have to buy even the not completely cheap basic set 2 more times, which also means that you have a lot of plastic and tokens with it that you really don't need. So to get your first interesting deck we are looking at an investment of probably 200 Dollars, which is not little in this day and age. Still much better than buying even more hundreds of useless cards in random boosters, but far from being the clean and elegant expansion set system that many expected and for which Fantasy Flight is famous for.

Still, it is a step in a right direction, and I hope that Fantasy Flight gets their act together and is able to explain all what I explained to you better to the fans and making this new system work in a slightly less greedy way. I am perfectly willing to give FFG my money as they have many games that rock and are lavishly produced, but I don't think that pretending to be no CCG anymore while still retaining some of the money shilling aspects is that great. Still, Game of Thrones is a fun game that I plan to play for a while; we will see how this model will develop in the future.

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2009, Westpark Gamers