Back in 1993, an unknown game company called Wizards of the Coast released a game called Magic: The Gathering (in those days, games all needed to be “Something: The Something”.) It was an altogether new type of game — the Collectible Card Game, or CCG — and I got hooked on it. I more or less stopped playing Magic before I started this blog, and yet I’ve posted about briefly getting into the online version, being tempted to get back into the actual game, creating my own, unplayable block of cards, thinking about selling my cards, and selling my cards.
But I’m not here to talk about Magic, not today. Today I’m going to kick off CCG week by talking about some of the other CCGs I tried out. The success of Magic caused a ton of competitors to pop up and try their hand at
siphoning cash from geeks this exciting new game format. My friends and I avoided some of the more odious ones, but we’re not made of stone. Here are some of the games we briefly dabbled in.
Jyhad – One of the first non-Magic CCGs I remember playing was Wizards of the Coast’s 1994 game, Jyhad. It was the second CCG they put out, so we felt pretty good about picking it up. Unlike Magic, it was for more than two players, which was part of the appeal. However, it wasn’t that big of a hit for us. It was pretty convoluted, seemed to have only a limited number of strategies, and in general, we just didn’t find it as fun. We abandoned it before the first expansion came out, and before they changed the name to “Vampire: The Eternal Struggle” to both be in line with the FTC’s “Something: The Something” rule and to let people know that the game was about vampires, something “Jyhad” somehow failed to do. The game is still going on, I’m pretty sure. I think I gave all my cards away.
Illuminati: New World Order – As a fan of the original board/card game Illuminati, I was really looking forward to this CCG version of it in 1994. Sadly, it was a huge disappointment. It was pretty clear this went out of the factory half-baked, as it was unbalanced, untested, and nearly unplayable. I got on the rec.games.trading-cards.misc newsgroup and asked if we were doing something wrong, since people were winning on turn three and was told, “You’re doing something wrong if people aren’t winning on turn three.” The rules got a little better with the “Unlimited” edition, but the damage was already done. There was no reason to play this instead of the original game. I still have my cards, for some reason, and even bought some of the “Assassins” expansion, even though we weren’t playing the game anymore. Steve Jackson Games released a “One With Everything” version that was all the cards in the main set, and rules for playing with just a big stack of cards, but again, I don’t know why you wouldn’t just play the original game.
Heresy: Kingdom Come – Brady and I bought into this thing, drawn by the oddball cyberpunky theme. It was a clunker. We tried to love it, but it was fatally broken right from the outset. Mercifully, its publisher killed it off before its expansion was ever released. I wrote about the game here and shortly afterwards I sold my cards.
Rage – I know we briefly dabbled in this game about werewolves, but I don’t remember much of the details. I think maybe Chris and I played around with it when it seemed like the game was dying and we could get cards for cheap. Whatever it was, our interest didn’t last long, and I can’t tell you much about it.
Middle-Earth: The Wizards – A friend at work, Rob, who also tried out a bunch of CCGs, got me into this one. Although I’ve never been a huge Lord of the Rings fan, I liked that the game did something different from, “my guys attack your guys”. Your characters moved around a map through different terrain, completing little adventures. My lack of interest in Tolkien was actually a plus here, as I could enjoy the game as it was and not be upset that I wasn’t faithfully re-enacting the books or reliving the death of Walda, twelfth king of Rohan, in 2851. I didn’t play it for very long, but I enjoyed it while I did. I believe it had a couple of expansions.
Star Wars Customizable Card Game – Knowing me and Chris, one might think that we got into this game hard, but neither of us did. Decipher, the publisher of this, first came out with a CCG based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it seemed awful, with any character you’d ever heard of being an ultra-rare chase card. In addition, Decipher hadn’t figured out that rare didn’t necessarily mean more powerful, so when you finally got your hands on Beverly Crusher, there was no reason NOT to play with her, since she was superior to other cards without having any drawbacks. So we had every reason to believe that Star Wars would be treated exactly the same and, sure enough, it was. Because every major and most minor characters were all rare, the games consisted of bands of Jawas fighting to liberate a portion of Bespin from tie fighter pilots. (This is how I imagine LotR fans felt about “Middle-Earth: The Wizards” above.) Decipher also liked idiotic card combinations and cards that referenced other cards. So you might get a card that only works well with Han Solo, but you’d have to mortgage your house to get Han Solo himself. We got starter decks and tried it a time or two, but it didn’t stick around for us. The game itself has bunches of fans and went through a lot of expansions. though.
On the Edge – This was a bizarre card game based on a bizarre role-playing game about secret societies clashing and plotting on a strange Mediterranean island. The setting reminds me a lot of Grant Morrison’s stuff in Doom Patrol. I think I got hold of a box of cards for cheap and Becky and I gave it a try. I remember it being pretty neat, and different enough from Magic, but even though we kept trying out new CCGs, we had put a lot of money into Magic and weren’t really looking to buy heavily into another. The game had (and still has) a big cult following, and released a few expansions.
Galactic Empires – It would be incorrect to say that we got into Galactic Empires. The fact is, Chris and I went in halvsies on a couple boxes of this thing for dirt cheap. We then sat down and tried to figure out the rules. Everything went well until we got to the part about ending the game, the problem being that there wasn’t a part about ending the game. The rulebook stated that whoever had the most points won, but nothing about when to calculate them. This was a problem we couldn’t seem to get past, for some reason, and that was the end of Galactic Empires.
Legend of the Five Rings – So, here’s the deal. I know I played this game. I know I had some cards for it. I know I kind of liked it. But I have no idea how I got into it, who I played it with, or at what point. So it’s included here but I have no details on it at all. I know it also has a big following and maight still be around, for all I know.
Battletech – I remember playtesting this at a Comic-Con, and I bought a few packs of it (which I still have — I even got a couple of brand new ones off someone at BGG not long ago) but I have no idea if I actually played it much at all, or with whom if I did. I remember liking it, and I want to give the cards a spin again. It went through several expansions, but I don’t know anyone who really got into it. It came out in 1996 but for some reason I think of it as coming out much later.
Star Wars Trading Card Game – In 2002 this game was released by Wizards of the Coast to coincide with Attack of the Clones. Dave Thiel and I tried it out and…it was nothing special. With the Clone Wars angle it at least made a little more sense than the original Star Wars CCG — you didn’t really have Tusken Raiders flying Y-Wings around Endor — but this game honestly didn’t have much of a chance of sticking with me, even if it had been better. I wasn’t looking to get into another CCG, we’d be moving away from Dave soon, and the prequels had lost the initial sheen for me.
There were a few other games I tried out, but we’ll be talking about those later on in the week. As some additional foolishness, if you were into CCGs in the mid-90s you got hold of a LOT of promo cards. I still have a bunch of mine, for some reason, and I wrote about them here.