[apologies for some slightly wonky audio on this one - it's another one-mic-two-boys special!]
In this close quarters episode of the Shut Up & Sit Down Podcast, Tom and Quinns are having a natter about two very interesting Collectible Card Games they’ve played recently - Flesh & Blood and SolForge Fusion! Enjoy nearly an hour of rambling chat where we don’t entirely know what we’re talking about - but are having fun regardless.
(And LOLZ at getting confused by elemental mechanics. Definitely an odd set to start on for a review. Elemental cards involve showing a card from hand to activate the ability of the played card, so requires a bit of set up to work well. Uprising may have been a better initial sell I think. One simple go wide aggro hero, one with dragon permanents, and a wizard with instants from arsenal.)
Flesh and Blood sounds cool but I can’t really imagine getting into another CCG ever again. The business model is just not for me. And it’s not like I have a shortage of 2p dueling games. BattleCON, Exceed, Dice Throne, some Small Box Games stuff…
This episode sent me on quite an odd personal journey. Flesh and Blood is the only game I’ve ever played that made me regret being an antisocial loner with no friends, and listening to them talk about Tales of Aria (the set I jumped in on) just reminded me of how much fun the game is. It’s extremely text-heavy, and the living rules make the core “chain” concept sound like a doctoral thesis, but the actual gameplay is quick, snappy, and tense, and near-perfectly replicates the feel of a one-on-one duel. I really don’t enjoy personal interactions, but the mechanics are good enough that I actually went to a draft tournament, and had a whale of a time. Maybe now would be a good time to dive back into the game.
…Then, I looked into buying some more cards, and it’s really expensive! Booster packs are pricey, and even more insidiously, the first wave of boosters for each set are actually more expensive, I guess just to punish people who really like the game. (Maybe this is standard across CCGs, but I think it sucks!) And, because the community really small, the availability of organized play is fairly thin on the ground, and my aforementioned lack of friends or willingness to make them means I’ll never get to actually play.
… Then, I remembered another game that I once considered learning and diving into, which is Go. Like Flesh and Blood, it’s a game with a dense, steep learning curve, a dedicated community surrounding it, and the feel of a life-or-death fight against another opponent. Of course, Go is also much simpler, much cheaper to get into, and much easier to play without interacting with real live people.
… So, thanks to this podcast episode about collectible card games, now I’m learning Go? Not what I was expecting when I started listening, but here we are.
The TCG model works out really weirdly for FaB. They have a no rotation system, so great cards don’t become obsolete, but then they have an issue with how to keep providing the older cards forever more. Reprinting is more difficult for various reasons, so is an option but very limited in its use. The earlier cycles (first 3 cycles) are out of print now, so they created the History Pack which compiles a lot of the cards together into a single set (they bumped out some chaff, and missed out a few strong cards for some reason). But then this creates the problem of a really wide set - in the first 2 sets there are 8 heroes. There is no splashing class cards between classes. So one set with 8 classes becomes a real mishmash. You can’t really buy a box and build a single hero, because you end up with a bit of everything. And more established players have all the cards, which means they’re not buying history packs, leaving it in a really odd place. In an ideal world, stores would open up the history packs and sell the singles, but I’ve not seen that happen.
Oh, and they made history sets more expensive because they have 50% more packs (but 10 card packs, instead of 15). Everyone speculated they would be making legendaries more common to get those important cards out there and to make buying these boxes actually worthwhile… but no.
LSS really need to sort it out or they’ll have the typical TCG accessibility issues.
Having said that, draft is great in FaB. Each set has a different draft structure, and it feels really dynamic and versatile. The community are brilliant, as a competent but not great player I’ve made good friends all around the world. But it is a lifestyle game for those with disposable income.
Talishar.net is a free way to play the game. It’s fan-made, but unofficially condoned by the publisher (it doesn’t run tournaments so the publisher considers it a “training tool”). It’s how I play most my games outside of the tournament scene now, and a great way of staying in touch with the game without spending money.
I don’t CCG (or UDG) because I find the core business model, of selling you something but you don’t know what it is, hateful. (If you love it, good for you, I’m not claiming moral authority.) The impression I get is that modern CCGs try to keep that in place for the players who really want it so that they can make money off them, but also have much cheaper or free online options so that you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to.
I’m a lot happier with the LCG model where I know just what I’m getting. Seems to be more friendly to casual play too even if there is a strong tournament scene.
The difficulty is the LCG model just doesn’t work in the long term. Maintaining store and publisher support, and regular competitive tournament scene is really difficult for LCGs. When someone breaks the model wide open, then it’s time to rejoice. TCGs are what keeps a lot of boardgame stores open.
But I don’t think board gamers and TCG players will ever meet in the middle. It’s a different mind set. I see TCGs more like playing sports. You need to regularly buy equipment and pay for court hire etc. Boardgamers expect much more from a one off payment and getting value from that.
I think what could work is a publisher facing the limits of LCGs head on. Create a game, state it’ll be around for 4-5 years. Build a changing meta specifically for that timeline. When that’s over, start another game (maybe a slightly altered system or a completely new system). In TV terms make it more of a Breaking Bad with a beginning, middle and end, rather than trailing off and cancelling the show. It’s something more similar to the Bandai model of TCGs, with the endless churn of IPs with a vaguely related system that’s always developing, but could be interesting in the LCG space. It would need a big publisher to back it though, I’m not sure what Plaid Hat are doing with Ashes is really working with it’s limited reach for example.
Certainly most CCGs and competitive LCGs seem to demand to be the One Game You Play, which is not my style - though I’ve found Ashes surprisingly welcoming to filthy casuals. My board game mindset says “try to get the game design actually right, rather than having to correct cards after the game is out” – then, using that limited-time model, the game you have at the end is a game that the people who really care about can keep playing without everyone saying that card X is broken.
Yeah, commitment is the big thing. One aspect I wasn’t expecting with TCGs was burn out. As the one game you play, combined with competition and prize cards, it can easily creep in where players get hyper focused and it becomes quite ugly. I certainly had a period where I was rushing everywhere to fit in gamenights when I really just needed to stop and admit I didn’t have the time. Finding spaces to duck out the game really helps keep the game fun and try out other things. As one of the older players I consciously try my best to set a good example.
The other side of that though is I’ve found once fundamentals are established, taking breaks is fine and doesn’t harm competitiveness. If anything having the community to bounce ideas and develop as a team is far more important. And I used to buy every card, but now am settling into just buying what I need on singles - sealed is rarely worth it.
FaB has been pretty good with bans so far. For the most part it’s been a few clearly busted cards (the infamous “We’ve made a mistake” headline for the Duskblade ban just before it’s set’s release), but mostly cheap cards that have been outgrown by the game (i.e. fine at the time, but would facilitate silly degenerative loops in the newer sets). They’ve fortunately kept errata to a bare minimum, with only 1 card ever receiving an errata, and that was a hero ability rather than playing card. Time will tell if that holds out. I would describe FaB as outside the honeymoon period, but entering into the stage where the earlier decisions could catch up with them.
Having now listened to the podcast, I think Quinns was hitting a similar problem: SU&SD typically says “this game is one that you might enjoy adding to the general pool of games you play”, while CCGs are trying to be the game that eats your whole hobby life. (And being fair not just CCGs - I know a few people who play Go, but it’s very clear that to get to even a basic level of competence I’d have to give it a lot of time.)
Spot on regarding why LCGs often die. Except for Netrunner, which died due to licensing issues rather than a slowly dying culture.
I’m pretty much a casual nowadays in this kind of duelling card games. In this case, I will end up picking Android: Netrunner and Summoner Wars, which can be played casually. For something even lighter, there’s Blue Moon / Blue Moon: Legends. As for 2 players in general, I have a go-to list which includes War of the Ring and Napoleon’s Triumph. So, CCG’s can’t even fit in the picture. If I am gonna pick up one, it may be Hearthstone because it’s digital.
Even Netrunner was getting a bit wonky with power creep and player attrition. The revised core set and what was to become the last cycle were great efforts to pull it out of a tailspin, but we never got to see whether it was enough. The cynicism from many players at the time instantaneously became nostalgic musings as soon as the cancellation was announced!
People who’ve been in a card game tournament scene more than I have are welcome to correct me, but I’d guess there’s always a tension of desires between long-term players (I have everything, give me more options) and newcomers (how do I get started) — and without a flow of newcomers any game will fail.