Collectible Card Games Week: Not Just Cards

As we’ve seen, the CCG bandwagon was huge, even if many of the performers were just playing an out-of-tune variation of what Magic was playing. Some folks looked at Magic and tried to copy it, some looked at Magic and tried to do something different with their card games, and some looked at Magic and stopped at the word “Collectible”. “Hang on,” they thought. “What else is collectable?” Then they went temporarily blind because their eyes filled up with little dollar signs.

The first collectible non-card game I remember was Dragon Dice, and I don’t know how I didn’t at least try this out, given how much I absolutely love dice. Part of it was that by this time TSR had released the CCG Spellfire which was regarded as pretty terrible, so another faddish game from TSR didn’t seem appealing. However, I’ve heard that it’s a really good game and it has a huge following to this day.

I remember ads around this time for a collectible board game. It was some kind of dungeon crawl or something in which different tiles had different effects or something? (I can’t remember the name of it, and perhaps it never actually came out. The games I’ve seen that sort of fit this description — Vortex, DiskWars, and Heroes of Might and Magic — are all post-2000, and I’m pretty sure this was earlier.) Later on, Dreamblade would show up as a collectible board game of sorts, but it landed with a thud, possibly due to its idiotic marketing campaign (the game itself was supposed to be pretty good.)

In 2000, WizKids came out with MageKnight, a collectible miniatures game. This had a lot going for it. Not only were the minis well-produced and painted, there was an innovative “clicky dial” mechanism that caused their stats to change as they took damage. My friend Chris got into it in a big way, and naturally that rubbed off on me some, but there were two insurmountable barriers for me. By 2000, I wasn’t looking to do anything collectible anymore. I was out of Magic, I wasn’t yet really into boardgames, and even my comics buying had ebbed (I was still getting Star Wars figures, though). Second, and more importantly, I am absolutely terrible at miniatures games. I mean, awful. As a cause or result, I don’t like them that much, so the gameplay of MageKnight didn’t really appeal to me. Eventually WizKids expanded the clicky-dial CMG genre to include superheroes and I did get a couple of characters from Hellboy as HeroClix minis, but not to play with. In traditional geek fashion, they are sitting on display on a shelf, knee-deep (to scale) in dust.

It would be criminal not to include this sparkling gem, even though I never “played” it. Someone I know tried it out at GenCon, but I can’t remember who. I thought it was Dave T. but he’s not sure. Nevertheless, I’ve asked him to talk about it:

Dave L. may be right. I have a vague memory of BreaKey, but when I recall the story it’s as if I’m experiencing it outside of my own body. So, maybe this was my story, and maybe it was someone else’s and I’m just appropriating it. Frankly, I’d rather be writing about Monsterpocalypse, a collectible miniatures game that I actually like (Ed. note: I played this with Dave, and it is a pretty cool game!), but Dave L. has decided I should write about BreaKey.

I recall myself recalling a huge banner over the showroom of Gen Con Indy 2003 proclaiming “BreaKey: Collectible Key Game.” I thought, “Hey, I like games. And I like…keys?”

Approaching the booth, I noted that the area was littered with colorful nubs of plastic. There was a friendly guy there waiting to demonstrate the game, and I said to him, “Alright, what’s this about?”

He eagerly pulled out a pair of small, plastic keys and gifted me with the BreaKey experience. Each player held out his key so that their nubs interlocked. Then they twisted the keys, as if to open a magic door to a world of pure delight. And…one of the keys broke. The little nub dropped off to join its brethren on the scrapheap of inadequate tensile strength. I don’t even remember whether I won or lost. I looked at the booth guy and said, “Oh. Then what happens?”

In that moment, I saw through his eyes and deep into the unlit, hollow space in his soul where dreams went to die. For, of course, there was no “next” to BreaKey. It had all the strategy of pitching pennies, except that the losing penny broke on impact and you had to spend a couple of bucks to buy a new penny.

I walked away from the sounds of crying children, over the mounds of shattered keys, back to the light. With time, BreaKey would fade from my memory until that bastard Dave L. brought it all back.

WizKids’ next move was Pirates of the Spanish Main, a different kind of CMG game. You bought packs that had these laminated, plasticy cards in them, and you punched out pieces that built little pirate ships. The ships looked great and as a bonus they came with teensy-weensy little dice to roll in combat. Problem was, the game itself was something of a mess. Rules were unclear, it was kind of boring, and there was some real weirdness to it (for example, pirate ships could do a complete 180 in the spot where they were). I bought a couple packs, but the messy rules and the fact that it was still a minis game meant it wouldn’t last too long with me.

At some point on BoardGameGeek I read about a game called Clout Fantasy, a collectible poker chip game. I commented that it sounded kind of like goofy fun to me, and next thing I knew, one of the designers sent me some of the chips to try it out. It turned out to be more goofy than fun to me. The idea was that you tossed the chips (which were very well made) into the game area and they would attack other chips within a certain distance of where they landed. They also have certain abilities that affect chips near them. It’s a neat idea, but not for me. I ended up sending the chips to the gang back in Illinois, who I think had a pretty fun time with them, so hey.

And that was it for collectible things for me. These days, as with many gamers, the word “collectible” is something I specifically avoid. Companies are aware of this, however, and although CCGs are still going strong to some extent, games have been moving away from collectible formats. Customizable and Living Card Games are now more common, with the entire card set available in a starter kit and complete expansions released later, which can be added into the mix. It’s a lot more economical and satisfying. I haven’t really gotten into any of these systems (the closest I’ve gotten is maybe Thunderstone, a deckbuilding game that releases periodic expansions) but as I said earlier this week, I’ll be grabbing the re-released Netrunner, which will be following the LCG model.

I had a lot of fun during the CCG craze, and it was also pretty exciting. How often do you get to be at ground zero for a complete revolution in one of your hobbies? Honestly, despite the number of games I tried out (and I’m sure there are more I just don’t remember) there are still ones I’m surprised I never played.

Shadowfist was probably one of the biggest rivals to Magic. It had a huge following and got a lot of press, plus it had snazzy card art. How did I not even play it once? No idea.

Mythos also got a lot of attention and seemed to be pretty different, but again, I never even tried it. This was partly because I didn’t really know much about the Cthulhu stories until much later.

Being a huge fan of the show, a CCG based on Doctor Who seems like it would have been an auto-buy. However, it’s near-universally regarded as being awful — we’re talking Super Deck! awful — which to be honest is not unexpected when it comes to Doctor Who games. Also, and perhaps more importantly, it never showed up for sale in my area. I’d love to get my hands on some of these and see how bad it is for myself.

I could go on. The X-Files. Sim City. Blood Wars. Deadlands: Doomtown (I think maybe Chris got some of these and we played it once?) Hell, a lot of folks enjoyed the Pokemon CCG (in fact, all Osco has is Pokey-man, and they don’t even have those.) Obviously it’s not just buying CCG cards that can be addictive, it’s buying into CCGs in general.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little series as much as I enjoyed doing it!

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