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The Changing of the Card Game Guard: TCG vs. LCG

The Changing of the Card Game Guard: Trading Card Games vs. Living Card Games


By: Kevin Lien Edited by: Andrew Davidson


If you grew up in the ’90s like me, you probably took some of that hard-earned money you earned from scrubbing the toilet with a toothbrush just the way mother asked, or money you received as an allowance, and invested into collecting cards. Whether it was buying the pack of bubble gum that came with baseball cards, or you chose to play one of the seemingly infinite Trading Card Games (TCG’s). You probably spent what appeared to be a small fortune on a randomized pack of cards in the hope that you could find that ultra-rare card you needed to craft the perfect deck. Growing up, there were very few things that felt better than crushing your opponent with the deck you spent hours and dollars crafting.


Looking back on my childhood, filled with a few fond memories of Saturday afternoons spent in-game stores and bookstores. Playing in tournaments for Yu-Gi-Oh and a game called Redemption occupied a chunk of my precious teenage time. More recently, I found Dice Masters, a card game that comes with collectible dice to be used to activate actions or as your army, attacking your opponent with no mercy. Unfortunately, I was never committed enough to TCG’s to invest the time and money necessary to be truly competitive.


Don’t get me wrong, I love the gameplay of most TCG’s. I like the one-on-one (duel) aspect of TCG’s, and I love building a deck, or team, with a pool of dice or cards. Over time, I shelved any TCG’s I was once into. It was a sad day. I sang “Ava Maria” and, thanks to YouTube, did a 21 gun salute. Rest in shelf peace, good buddies.


Until one day, I met a good friend of mine, Alex. Alex and I worked together at a camp located in northern Minnesota. As we started to spend more time together, I found that Alex loved a little game called Magic: the Gathering—you may have heard of it. Alex and I began to play Magic almost every Thursday night. We played where I selected one of the many decks he had built, then he would grab a deck, and we would go head-to-head. For me, the barrier to entry seemed incredibly low, and I immensely enjoyed playing the game.

On one occasion, Alex convinced me to play in a Magic torment. The format for the tournament is more completive. He tossed me a deck he had put together. As I played, unfortunately, I had a miserable time. I lost every game of every match I played. One thing became clear to me: The metagame. The one aspect of TCG’s that I will never like. Honestly, it spoils the whole game for me. Meta comes from the bigger word “meta prime,” which means a self-referential element. However, in the game community, meta is defined as any approach to a game that transcends or operates outside of the prescribed rules of the game, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. Got it?


Okay. Examples of meta would be learning someone’s tell in poker, playing off of your relationship with other players at the table in a negotiation/social deduction game, or the observation of a certain players’ strategy or style of play in something like a chess tournament. For Magic, and really all TCG’s, the metagame is a reasonably simple concept; more cards give you more options as you build your deck. If you have more access to better cards, you can often build a better deck. A lot of players into the TCG scene know that if you want to keep up with your chosen game, you have to spend lots of scratch buying as many booster packs as possible to find the right cards, or to start buying cards on the secondary market for quite a lot of money. Quite frankly: It is clear that the best TCG players are the ones with the biggest wallets.


Now the bigger TCG’s out there that have stood the test of time have tried to put measures in place to try and combat the meta of their games by doing things like introducing a restricted or banned list. Those players are limited on some of the cards they can have in the deck, or by saying that some of the more powerful cards are completely banned from organized play altogether. They implemented rotating formats where only the newest sets are legal to play with. Also, styles of play like a booster draft where a player can only play with the cards they draft from a set of random booster packs. All these measures put in place for TCG seemed to only put a band-aid on a broken arm. A valiant effort, but it did not rid of the meta monster. Even today games that follow the TCG’s are more a game of money then they are a game of skill (and when you play the game of money, you win or you die. There is no middle ground).

As someone who enjoys playing games like Magic: the Gathering, Dice Masters Redemption, and at one point, Yu-Gi-Oh, I think the mechanics of these games, the deck building, the marketing, and the staying power already makes these incredibly innovative. What can you do to scratch that itch without paying through the nose?



Enter the era of the Living card game! The term “Living Card Games” happens to be a trademark of Fantasy Flight Games. For clarity, anytime I say Living Card Games or LCG’s I’m referring to deck construction games that come with a fixed distribution for its packs or expansions instead of random distribution.



The LCG take one of my favorite mechanics of TCG’s, the deck construction, and streamlines the whole process. So, instead of each player having thousands of cards to choose from, or the player with the deepest pockets coming out on top, players are now once again on a more level playing field. Because if you want the same card as somebody else, you know exactly which pack you need to buy to get that card—instead of having to scour eBay to find the cards you want, or opening countless packs, you only need to buy one pack/expansion. In many cases, for LCG’s you do not even need multiple packs. If you just want to play the game, and are not a “completionist,” you can buy just the base set or a single deck to play with. Having friends that enjoy the game with you, you will be able to get lots of gameplay for a tiny investment.



In addition, some LCG’s introduced the concept of cooperative or solo play. Now you no longer have to worry about the deck you make being better or worse than an opponent’s. You can play by yourself. There is also the add-on of campaign gameplay for a lot of LCG’s, so you can get a lot of play out of a single box. All of the aspects combined create an innovative gameplay experience.


Now, full disclosure, LCG’s have not solved the problem of spending too much money. I just ordered an expansion and a hero pack for a LCG called Marvel Champions, and I was thinking about catching up on the Arkham Horror: The Card Game LCG. However, that has more to do with me being a tad bit of a completionist instead of being forced to buy cards and packs from a new set every year. If Trading Card Games have left you with a bad taste in your metaphorical gaming mouth, explore and swim in the cool waters of a Living Card Game. Some of my favorites are:


1. Arkham Horror: The Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games in 2016.

2. Epic (which also has a fantastic free app for IOS and Android) by White Wizard Games in 2015.

3. Marvel Champions: The Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games in 2019.


Here are some LCG Honorable Mention’s

· Doomtown: Reloaded

· Star Wars: The Card Game (RIP)

· A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (RIP)

· Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn

· Android: Netrunner (RIP—for the second time!)

· Codex: Card-Time Strategy

· Blue Moon Legends

· Millennium Blades

· Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game (otherwise known as L5R)

· The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

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