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The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Collectable Card Games

What are Collectable Card Games (CCGs)? They are the cross over between Collectable cards like baseball cards and playing card games. CCGs sprang into existence in 1993 when Richard Garfield designed and published Magic: The Gathering. Magic as its more commonly known has printed billions of cards since the 1990s. Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokémon, Legend of the Five Rings and Star Wars have all had big success in the CCG market. In 2023 Magic is still going string position $250 million a quarter. 2023 Also introduced Disney's first foray into the CCG market with Lorcana published by Ravensburger.


Examples of Collectable Card Games
Examples of Collectable Card Games

History of the Collectable Card Game

Collectible cards have been a staple in American culture since at least the 1860s. The oldest known surviving baseball card is from The Brooklyn Atlantics dating to 1860. Since the 1800s Baseball cards have grown and grown. In the early part of the 20th century they were used by tobacco and confectionary companies as promotional material.

...the first modern sets of baseball cards it that they could actually be used to play a game that simulated baseball.

Topps one of the largest collectible card companies started as a tobacco import company founded in 1890. After World War I and the great depression suppressed supplies abroad Topps looked to reimagine itself. Topps went to chewing gum. Topps started out with Bazooka Joe gum and included a small comic in the package with the gum. Then in 1951 Topps came out with two 52 cards sets of baseball cards. These cards had plain backs and were known as Blue Backs and Red Backs. The most interesting part of the first modern sets of baseball cards it that they could actually be used to play a game that simulated baseball. Each card had on it an event that happens in a baseball game like Fly Out or Single. It could be said that this was the precursor to the CCG. In 1952 there was a much larger set released designed by Sy Berger. These were the blueprint for modern day sports cards. The 407 cards featured a portrait on one side and stats on the other and they were in packages with a stick of gum. Topps would go on to buy Wizkids in 2003. Wizkids created Mage Knight the first Collectable Miniatures Game (CMG), This is a story for another time.


With roots in both confections, baseball, fantasy and video games CCGs are unmistakably a core part of the hobby game industry. The CCG game market hit almost USD 13 Billion dollars in 2021. The industry is grow in the physical as well as digital. For example Magic has an online game arena where you can collect digital versions of the game. Its clear that this is still a growing sector in the hobby game industry.


What are Collectible Card Games?

Collectible Card Games are card games that have a collection aspect to them. Since Magic: The Gathering was released in 1993 the formula has been pretty similar with some small tweaks here and there.


We will start by looking at the collectible part of the CCG then we will have a look at game play. There are Starter decks and booster packs usually for each game. Starter decks are usually around 60 cards and booster packs contain 10-15 cards depending on the brand you are buying. Starter decks will contain everything you would need to play a game, a booster pack will not.


The human brain is especially good at pattern recognition. Its my option that that easily translated in to collecting things. People want to finish collections and this idea shines bright in CCG players. Each set of cards for a game will have different rarities to them. This means there are some super rare cards and some common cards and some cards in the middle there. For example there are 4 levels of rarity in Magic (common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare). For example in the booster packs there are 10 common, 3 uncommon, 1 rare and there is a chance (1 out of 8) that the rare card will be a mythic rare card. There is also one land card in a Magic booster pack(again not enough to play the game, you need . On top of that about 1 in every 45 cards are foil cards meaning that they are printed with foil in the process making them shiny.


How Do Collectable Card Games Work?  So now you have cards now what? I will be using Magic: The Gathering as my example here as its the CCG I am most familiar with. Magic is typically played by two players battling each other trying to knock down the opponents health points to 0. Players will use decks of cards that they create using a minimum of 60 cards and no maximum. Players should stick close to the minimum so that they can have more predictability. Creating a deck is half the fun of playing CCGs as it allows players to create limitless combinations of cards.


Example Magic Cards
Example Magic Cards

There are five factions in Magic red, green, blue, black and white. Each of these are associated with a land type mountains, forests, island, swamps, and plains. In magic players need to play land cards to then use to play creature, spells, and artifact cards. Typically the creatures are what will damage the other player and the spells and artifacts will enhance the attacks. As you may have guessed the creatures and spells associated to a color will likely need at least one land of that color (ex. mountains for Red) to play the card. Players will go back and forth playing land cards taping (using) them to summon creatures and spells. Then they attack the other player where they can defend with their creatures and spells. This goes back and forth until one of the players reaches zero HP.


Most of the CCGs that I have played follow this basic notion, that you play cards that are used to play new attack cards or enhancement cards in a battle to knock out the other player. Lorcana flipped this around a little bit where you sacrifice a playable card to use in to play new cards. and rather than taking away your opponents hit points you are building up your own score. This is more or less similar mechanically to Magic and Pokémon.


Thoughts on Collectible Card Games

Special edition Magic Cards
Special edition Magic Cards

I want to preface this section that I played magic a lot in the mid 1990s and enjoyed it. I loved opening a new package of cards and seeing what cards would be revealed. There is a huge market for these cards driven by the collectability of the cards. The chance of getting an amazingly rare card is exciting similar to playing Powerball. The secondary market for CCG cards is also huge. I go to Gen Con every year and there are always a ton of companies buying and selling cards. As I have gotten older I find that my preference is to play a more self contained game that has all the aspects of CCGs but without having to constantly buy booster packs to update or go out and buy those cards I NEED for my deck. Dominion and Star Realms scratch that itch for me now. You can buy the base game and never have to buy anything after that.


Also one thing that Magic does is that they release multiple series of cards every year and lately they have been on an IP theme kick. Magic has had releases of Lord of The Rings, Transformers, Doctor Who and now Clue themed card sets. Since there are multiple sets and the rules evolve over time sometimes older cards now break the system. These cards are banded and may not be used in tournaments. As new Magic sets come out old sets get cycled out of being able to be used in tournaments. It's a really good model for CCG companies however it can be taxing on its players.


I have bought in on some Lorcana cards so the jury is out if I am truly done with Collectable Card Games. They defiantly are fun to play and the excitement of opening a new pack is really cool.




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