Collectible card games (CCGs), also called trading card games (TCGs) or customizable card games (CCGs), are played using specially designed sets of cards. While trading cards have been around for longer, CCGs combine the appeal of collecting and strategic gameplay.
The first collectible card game was The Base Ball Card Game produced by The Allegheny Card Co. and registered on April 5 1904. The modern concept of CCG games was first presented in Magic: The Gathering, designed by Richard Garfield and published by Wizards of the Coast in 1993.
Each CCG system has a fundamental set of rules that describes the players' objectives, the categories of cards used in the game, and the basic rules by which the cards interact. Each card will have additional text explaining that specific card's effect on the game. They also generally represent some specific element derived from the game's genre, setting, or source material. The cards are illustrated and named for these source elements, and the card's game function may relate to the subject. For example, Magic is based on the fantasy genre, so many of the cards represent creatures and magical spells from that setting. In the game, a dragon is illustrated as a reptilian beast, may have the flying ability, and have formidable game statistics compared to smaller creatures.
Most CCGs are designed around a resource system by which the pace of each game is generally controlled. Frequently, the cards which comprise a player's deck are also in and of themselves a resource, with the frequency of cards moving from the deck to the play area or player's hand being tightly controlled. Relative card strength is often balanced by the number or type of basic resources needed in order to play the card, and pacing after that may be determined by the flow of cards moving in and out of play. Resources may be specific cards themselves, or represented by other means (e.g., tokens in various resource pools, symbols on cards, etc.).
Players select which cards will compose their deck from the available pool of cards—unlike traditional card games such as poker or UNO where the deck's content is limited and pre-determined. This allows a CCG player to strategically customize their deck to take advantage of favorable card interactions, combinations and statistics.
During a game, players traditionally take turns playing cards and performing game-related actions. The order and titles of these steps vary between different game systems, but the following are typical:
- Restore - Make all in-play cards ready for the upcoming turn.
- Draw card(s) - Necessary in order to circulate cards in players' hands.
- Play card(s) - Use the cards in hand to interact with the game.
- Conflict - The primary method for victory in most games (combat is a very popular theme).
- Discard card(s) - Discard to a maximum hand size, or need to refresh for next turn.
In addition to actual physical card games, collectible card games have also been developed that are played over the Internet. Instead of receiving physical cards, a player establishes a "virtual" collection that exists only as a set of data stored on a server. Such cards can be purchased (using real money) or traded within this environment. Titles include online versions of games that originated as physical CCGs (e.g., Magic: The Gathering Online), as well as games that exist solely online. The first online CCGs were Sanctum and Chron X, both developed in 1997. Both still exist, producing new expansions a decade later. Chron X was developed by Genetic Anomalies, Inc, which later developed other online collectible card-style games based on licensed content.
In some cases, a new element is added to the CCG - the online card game Sanctum includes both a game board, and animations for each of its spells. The NOKs, on the other hand, offers talking figures and action-arcade game play. In a different case, The Eye of Judgement, a CCG that has been combined with a PlayStation 3 game, brings new innovation with the CyberCode matrix technology. It allows real cards bought in stores to be scanned with the PlayStation Eye and brought into the game with 3D creatures, animations, spell animations, etc. as representations. It is played over the PlayStation Network.
A related concept is that of software programs which allow players to play CCGs over the Internet, but without relying on a central server or database. When making use of such software, players need not purchase any (real or virtual) cards, and are instead free to create any deck they like using the cards supported by the client software. In some cases, these programs have limited rule enforcement engines, while others rely completely on players to interpret the complex interactions between the cards. Some of these software packages actually support the play of more than one virtual card game; for example, Magic Workstation was originally designed to play Magic, but can technically support additional games as well.
The systems for online play that support the greatest variety of games are LackeyCCG and CCG Workshop. Offerings include many copyrighted games whose manufacturers are no longer publishing the game, most notably Decipher's Star Wars Customizable Card Game and Precedence’s Babylon 5 Collectible Card Game.
Specific game cards are most often produced in various degrees of scarcity, generally denoted as common (C), uncommon (U), and rare (R). Some games use alternate or additional designations for the relative rarity levels, such as super-, ultra-, or exclusive rares. Special cards may also only be available through promotions, events, or redemption programs. The idea of rarity borrows somewhat from other types of collectible cards, such as baseball cards, but in CCGs, the level of rarity also denotes the significance of a card's effect in the game, i.e., in general the more powerful a card is in terms of the game, the greater its rarity. A powerful card whose effects were underestimated by the game's designers may increase in rarity due to those effects; in later editions of the game, such a card's level of rarity might increase to reduce its availability to players. Such a card might even be removed entirely from the next edition, to further limit its availability and its effect on gameplay.
Most collectible card games are distributed as sealed packs containing a subset of the available cards, much like trading cards. Some of the most common distribution methods are:
- Starter set - This is an introductory product which contains enough cards for two players and includes instructional information for the specific game. In order to speed the learning process, the card content is typically fixed and designed around a theme, so that the new players can start playing right away.
- Tournament or starter deck - This contains enough game cards (usually 40 or more) for one player. It usually contains a random selection of cards, but with some basic elements so that it may be playable from the start.
- Theme deck - Most CCGs are designed with opposing factions, themes, or strategies. A theme deck is composed primarily of cards that will work well together and is typically non-random.
- Booster packs - This method of distribution is most similar to trading cards as the packs contain a random selection of roughly 8 to 15 cards.
- Games published in the form of trading cards.
- Games in which a player selects a collection of tradeable elements and uses that set to compete with other players.
- Certain aspects of gameplay originally developed for Magic: The Gathering, such as "tapping" a card to indicate it is temporarily depleted.
As a holder of the patent, Wizards of the Coast has requested that all trading card game publishers license the mechanics described in the patent, usually for a royalty fee based on total sales.
In October 2003, Wizards of the Coast filed suit against Nintendo and related companies in U.S. District Court in Seattle shortly after its distribution agreement expired. The suit alleged, along with other claims, that the Pokémon Trading Card Game infringed on the company's patent. In December of that year, the parties settled the case on undisclosed terms.
While game themes are sometimes based on owned or completely original intellectual property, it is frequently the case that games make use of existing third-party fictional characters or worlds. If the company producing the game owns the rights to the game world and artwork, then the game is a proprietary game. If another entity owns the characters and/or world, then the game is licensed from that company. Any such licensing agreements have a start and end date, making it possible for the license to expire or move between companies over time.
The advantages of a licensed collectible card game include the following:
- Automatic access to existing characters, concepts, and artwork.
- Name recognition and built-in fan base.
- Joint promotions between the two companies involved.
The disadvantages include:
- Reduced profitability due to licensing fees.
- Potential loss of license after a time, making future expansions impossible.
An example of a licensed game is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Collectible Card Game from Score Entertainment, based on the television series. While this title may have been financially successful, Score lost the Buffy license in January 2004, prematurely ending game production. This also prevented Score from releasing the game in the United Kingdom, as with the Dragonball Z Trading Card Game, although this does not prevent resourceful individuals from importing foreign versions and selling them as well.
- ↑ Sports Collectors Digest (April 7 2000) at 50. Description of the first known collectible card game, The Base Ball Card Game produced by The Allegheny Card Co. and registered on April 4 1904 featuring 104 unique baseball cards with individual player attributes printed on the cards enabling each collector to build a team and play the game against another person.
- ↑ Old Cardboard: 1904 Allegheny Card Game. Retrieved on 2007-07-18.
- ↑ http://www.decipher.com/starwars/rfd011228transcript.html
- ↑ Wizards of the Coast (15 October 1997). Wizards of the Coast Inc. Granted Patent on Trading Card Games. Press Release.
- ↑ Cook, John (11 October 2003). It's Wizards vs. Pokemon as ex-partners square off. Seattle Post-Intelligencer.