Cards and Boards: House of cards


  • TECH
  • Monday, 28 Jul 2014

In the cards: The TCG that that started it all - Wizards of the Coast's Magic: The Gathering.

Get started on a hobby that involves lots of cards and has a digital counterpart.

Cards and Boards

It did not seem like too long ago that ­trading card games (TCGs) were the poster boys of games played over tables. (As ­purists will tell you, TCGs and their ilk are not tabletop games because they are not based on miniatures.)

The stunning success of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) in the early 1990s spawned a new industry that’s still very much flourishing. The number of TCGs may have dwindled, but MTG has become the card and boardgame industry’s 800lb gorilla, since the early 2000s, at least.

After all, what’s there not to like about TCGs? They’re mostly easy to learn and pick up, aesthetically pleasing (subjective, I know, but plenty of people do dig the card artwork), and are pretty damned addictive.

The downside is a little bit more subtle to former fanboys like me: TCGs, as the “trading” part of the name suggests, are sold in “starter” or “intro” decks and “booster” packs. Starters and intro packs are “ready to play” decks, while booster packs contain random cards.

The cards are printed in different tiers of rarities. The “common” cards will make up the bulk of any pack followed by “uncommon” ones, and a “rare” card is usually only found once per pack.

Generally speaking, many rare cards have better gameplay abilities than their ­uncommon and common brethren, which gives rise to the “chasing” aspect of TCGs. Yes, buy many packs for the good stuff!

Or, you could be prudent by trading cards that you might not need to obtain cards you want for your decks. When I was heavily invested in TCGs back in my college days, having a strict student allowance meant that trading was pretty much the only way I could tune and refine my decks. And boy was it fun!

MTG served me till the early 2000s. When the Lord Of The Rings movie trilogy kicked off, a little game company called Decipher Inc started rolling out a new, cool looking TCG based on it. It had already given me a good impression earlier by making a handful of really impressive, if complex, Star Wars TCGs. I bought a pack out of curiosity, and scored a Witch-King rare card. The LOTR TCG would hold my interest for a good three years.

Boarding time

By the early 2000s, the offline gaming ­market here started to benefit from developments in Europe. “Designer” boardgames, often set in seemingly benign and abstract themes, started to flood the market.

The emphasis of these games were not on dice rolls, but on the clever placement of tiles, tokens and pieces. You’d often do stuff like mining, farming and exploring. Yes, farming over tiles and boards!

Meanwhile, my obsession with TCGs ­continued. When LOTR TCG started “dying”, I moved on to whichever franchises would excite me. I think I had a really fun time with Sabertooth Games’ Warhammer 40K CCG (collectible card game).

Having a deck full of Space Marine cards was more appealing than owning a ton of ­miniatures. But then again, I just couldn’t stomach the investment in time and money required by tabletop gaming.

Today, you will no longer get strange looks if you are in the market for good old-fashioned tile-placement type of boardgame. Or a simple card game about building buildings.

Living cards

Today, TCG is still king, as Euro boardgames continue their unchallenged march to capture the hearts and minds of families and friends everywhere.

Quietly nipping at their heels is a bunch of other games, ranging from deck-­building games (DBGs), to Living Card Games (LCGs or card games for people looking for a more non-random packaging of cards). The Kickstarter platform is also having a fair bit of influence on card and boardgames, with a wide variety of games making their mark.

(Cards and Boards is back on a fortnightly basis and Chee Yih Yang will be focusing on physical cards and boardgames that have ­virtual twins.)

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