Card games come in many forms and variations, two of the most popular being collectible card games and Living Card Games, and it can be difficult determining which works best for you.
A Living Card Game (“LCG”) is a trademarked term from Fantasy Flight Games that refers to a variation on traditional collectible card games (CCGs) like Magic: The Gathering. In an LCG, players purchase a game’s Core Set, complete with starter decks and all the tools required to start play, and then can purchase monthly expansions for even more cards. You know exactly what cards you’re purchasing with an LCG’s expansion pack, whereas CCGs require players to “blind buy” packs and pray that there are good cards inside.
MTG is a CCG, SW: TCG is a LCG. Very clear!
While there are certainly benefits and drawbacks to each kind of card game, LCGs provide an experience reminiscent of that of CCGs but for a wider audience. They’re fun for the board gamer and the CCG player alike.
LCGs seem like a natural addition to the collection of any board game player. During game night, an LCG is just as viable a choice as any other board game on your shelf: you can simply open the Core Set box and start setup. Each player doesn’t have to bring their own carefully cultivated deck—if one player has the Core Set (and any other desired expansions), you can begin play. LCGs may lack the massive competitive tournament lifestyle of CCGs, but they make up for it with a much easier entry point for new players.
Those who are CCG aficionados can also find enjoyment from LCGs. With the monthly expansion packs, this means that the older the LCG, the larger the card pool. In Android: Netrunner from 2012, you have the options afforded by years of expansions, so the intense CCG player can find many opportunities to plan and strategize. Less randomization in LCGs means more of a focus on strategic play, as well. A player could have an advantage in Magic simply because they were lucky with card packs or because they spent thousands of dollars searching for the rarest cards, but there are no “rare” cards in an LCG.
With LCGs you get the same feeling of customization that you do with CCGs without the unpleasant “chase.” The “chase” refers to the feeling in CCGs of scrambling to find the rarest cards. It’s playing catch-up for a player who maybe can’t afford to purchase every new pack or, if they can afford a pack, can’t seem to find the cards they need. But LCGs still offer the player rare options, sometimes featuring special cards with new art or fancy finishes that players can spring for to grant them that exclusivity.
LCGs can also be a perfect introduction for people looking to get into CCGs. Ingratiating yourself in a CCG community like that of Magic: The Gathering can be daunting task. Tens of thousands of unique cards exist in Magic, and you don’t necessarily know which ones are “good” or even usable without doing extensive research. Since the first card set in 1993, some cards have been restricted or banned entirely from tournament play, and some keyword abilities have been removed from the game (such as Banding). If you play Vintage format Magic, you can play cards from any set throughout the entire history of the game, with caveats for some cards, including the banned Chaos Orb and the restricted “Power Nine” from the first set.
While there can be a lot of expansions and cards available for an older LCG, you know exactly what cards you’re getting, whereas CCGs feed off players not knowing what cards are inside any given pack. The “blind buy” is frustrating for the consumer but good for companies; therefore, LCGs in general are easier on your wallet than CCGs are. You can spend anywhere from $100 to $600 on a competitive Magic deck (sometimes more), while the Core Set of an LCG costs around $40, and each expansion runs anywhere from $15 to $40.
In addition to competitive LCGs that are evocative of Magic’s play style (Netrunner, for example), there are also successful cooperative versions. In Arkham Horror: The Card Game, there are even role-playing elements that persist from session to session, forming an ongoing campaign. Your deck is tailored by abilities and items specific to your character, and this works because the cards are not attained in randomized packs. Specific roles can be established and retained.
There's nothing scary about trying a new LCG!
In this same way, LCG expansion packs expand on the universe of the game in a way that is entirely different from developing lore in a CCG. For The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, players can purchase “Saga Expansions” and play through specific narratives set in Middle Earth. For example, The Flame of the West leads you through scenarios from The Return of the King. Even more narrative-focused are the “Standalone Scenarios” like Murder at the Prancing Pony, in which you solve a murder mystery at the famous inn.
Be the Lord of the Living Card Game at your next gaming party!
In contrast, players do not experience Magic’s lore through narrative gameplay but rather through themes and mechanics that are intricately woven into the history of the world, exemplified by Saga enchantments in Dominaria, which reinforce the expansion’s theme of history by including different abilities that trigger as the game progresses.
Ultimately, it depends on your play style and on how much time and money you’re willing to invest in a card game. While CCGs like Magic offer a depth of cards to wade through and collect, LCGs offer a wide breadth and variety of options, including cooperative modes and mechanics unique to each setting. Both CCGs and LCGs are dynamic gaming experiences, and it will be exciting to see how they each evolve and expand in the future.