What the Heck is a Living Card Game?

February 20, 2017

There are a lot of card games out there beckoning you to experience the joys they can provide. Fortunately, most of these games are excellent. Unfortunately, they often employ different methods for adding new cards to your collection that can be a bit confusing for the uninitiated. While the outcome and mechanics of these games is similar – purchase cards, build a deck with them, and play – the processes for going about that can vary wildly. You’re likely to hear terms like “booster pack” or “Data Pack” and wonder what that even means. I’m here to help you out.

Right now there are two major categories of expandable card games: what is known as Collectible Card Games (CCGs for short), and “Living Card Games” (LCGs).

Before going further, I should note that “Living Card Game” is a term trademarked by Fantasy Flight that refers to many of the games they produce. Such prominent games as A Game of Thrones: The Card Game, Warhammer 40,000: Conquest, and my personal favorite, Android: Netrunner are all Living Card Games produced by Fantasy Flight. Even though “Living Card Game” is trademarked by Fantasy Flight, other card games do a similar thing. AEG’s Doomtown: Reloaded, for example, operates under a similar model, but is dubbed by that company an “Expandable Card Game.”

Collectible Card Games are the older of the two formats and are built upon the blind-buy booster pack model. This means that, in order to get more card s with which to build your deck, you’ll be purchasing booster packs that contain 10-15 random cards. You’re never sure what you’ll get in each pack. These packs tend to be relatively inexpensive (usually under $5 per pack) and are a nice way to quickly add to your collection.

The most prominent CCG is, of course, Magic: The Gathering, which has been going strong since the early 90s. Another prominent example in the Pokémon Trading Card Game. In addition to booster packs, these games also present a wide range of products that can help introduce new players to them. These mostly consist of pre-constructed decks that are competitive and introduce the basics of deckbuilding, but can also come in the form of bundles of boosters with extra goodies like dice and card sleeves.

ANRDataPackLiving Card Games, on the other hand, do away with the randomized booster pack model in favor of something a little different. These games usually come in the form of a “core” set that gives players everything they need to get started. All the cards, tokens, rulebooks, etc., that you’ll need are provided in a core set. From there, additional packs of cards are released each month. However, instead of being randomized, each pack contains the same cards, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting each time. Typically, these packs contain about three copies each of around 20 new cards (in case you want to include multiple copies of a card in your deck). As you’re getting around 60 new cards instead of 10-15 in CCG booster packs, packs for LCGs tend to be a little more expensive, right around $15 per pack.

Obviously both formats have their own appeal. While CCGs are much less certain about what you’re going to get, they bring a rush of exhalation when you hit on a really good card. It’s like hitting the jackpot at the slot machine. Seeing as you’re getting the same thing as everyone else, LCGs might not bring this rush, but they do provide nice, steady helpings of cards. Plus, like regular issues of comics or TV episodes, they’re definitely something to look forward to every month.

In either format, there are plenty of good games to choose from. Magic and Pokémon have been around for so long that they’re practically institutions. With them you’ll find a deep pool of cards and plenty of players of all skill levels. As the newer kids on the block, Living Card Games are a good place to start if you’re looking to join a growing community. Fantasy Flight has an ever-growing stable of LCGs and that cover a wide range of media properties, from Star Wars to Call of Cthulhu. Better yet, they’re all pretty unique. I’m currently intrigued by the LCG based on The Lord of the Rings, which is actually a cooperative game where players work together through adventures in Middle-earth.

In the end, no matter what your taste, there’s probably a card game out there for you. The ability to add cards to it only sweetens the deal. Whether it be a CCG or a LCG, I wish you luck and, most importantly, have fun.

Brian K

Brian K was born the same year the Nintendo Entertainment System was released, so he's been a gamer all his life. When he's not working at the Bayshore store, he's busy teaching composition and working on his PhD at UW-Milwaukee. His favorite games include Escape: The Curse of the Temple, Pandemic and King of Tokyo.

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