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Audio Report: the death of the grown-up CCG

June 25th, 2006: Mike Sugarbaker says...
Audio Report: the death of the grown-up CCG

BSG is great, and it doesn’t matter. That’s the crux of the first half of this show, with Gen Con talk comprising most of the rest. Our question to you for the comments: what, literally speaking, stops you from buying $20 worth of BSG and pretending it’s a non-collectible 2-player game? Discuss. (And subscribe.)

27 Comments »

27 comments

  1. mearls says:

    Skidding on pavement – I had exactly the same thoughts.

  2. Chris says:

    I have been trying to work with the FanPro folks on marketing the game to new players, and they just don’t have the bandwidth or money. It’s a pretty big bummer.

  3. Paul of Cthulhu says:

    The Collector Compulsion.

    “Gotta Catch ’em All!” – Oh wait, that’s going to cost quite a bit of money and leave me with a lot of redundancy.

    Not got it all… game… incomplete… aarrrghh! Phooey.

    Well, it’s one theory. 😉

  4. Tom says:

    Re: Starter and 2 boosters.

    1.) I don’t do that because I don’t feel that the boosters will provide the right mix of cards to keep the 2-player game interesting.

    2.) I really hate collectable games on principle. Games shouldn’t be a scavenger hunt or a “biggest bankroll wins”. Games should be complete in and of themselves. When major game components are subject to artifical scarcity, that just annoys me. I really, really, really wish the D&D minis weren’t collectable and you could just send in an order for as many of a specific kind as you like. I like the D&D minis but I always feel like I’m getting ripped off every time I buy a pack because there’s usually a particular figure or two I actually want and I don’t want to wade through six boxes to get it.

    So in general, I don’t support Collectable anythings (D&D minis being the odd exception) because I’d really like to see this idea stamped out of gaming.

  5. Benjamin says:

    A CCG, while collectible, is also customizable. For myself, and I imagine many others, the fun part about most CCGs is not the just sitting down and playing. They’re not built to sustain interest in such a format. If they were, they probably wouldn’t be designed as a CCG. Without new cards, without changing and optimizing decks, you’re missing out on a large part of the game as well as dooming yourself to boredom once you’ve figured out each others’ decks. Hence why so much Magic discussion is about the metagame.

    For a concrete example… The Magic Battle Royale (and I believe the Beatdown box was the same) was a fun collection of four small decks built to be interesting in a multiplayer format. It was cheap and replayable. You and a friend each buying a theme deck and playing against each other? Good for maybe an hour or two of fun tops.

  6. Mearls says:

    Tom –

    Popular Collections is a great place for single figures. I also had good experiences with the Paizo web store. If you’re willing to hunt on eBay, I’ve also had very good luck with a number of sellers.

  7. Mearls says:

    About CCGs:

    I came very close to buying the BSG starter set, but didn’t for two reasons:

    1. I had no idea what was in the starters.
    2. There was no promise that if I bought more boosters that the cards would work well with the starter decks.

    A few years ago, my gaming group got heavily into Magic. We started with a few of the preconstructed decks, then bought boosters to add to our precons, then started building decks from scratch. The great thing about the precons was that they gave you a good idea of what they did simply by reading the sell text on them. Also, since they were built from the current block, it was easy to open two or three boosters and find something worth adding to the deck.

  8. Matthew says:

    Most of my mates (mainly Euro players) will not play CCGs *on principle*.

    I recently discovered Netrunner (long out of print) which I play with my wife with starter decks (no boosters). I have suggested playing it with the guys – they won’t, because its collectible. This is despite the fact that it is long out of print – so fairly unlikely to ‘suck their money’…

  9. misuba says:

    Yeah, Matthew, there it is – people can be distinctly irrational about it. I mean, half the people in this thread have answered the question “Why can’t you pretend it’s not collectible?” with the answer “Because it is.” Um… I’m not sure if that’s a failure of imagination or of reading comprehension.

  10. Chris says:

    Or that the style collectable games are packaged and presented are truely that much of a turn off.

  11. Michael says:

    I would like to say, in general, I really enjoy your podcast. It’s both entertaining and informative. but it seems like you went a bit off the deep end this go ’round.

    *Nothing* stops you from buying 2 starters of *any* CCG and pretending it’s a non collectable game

    Then what?

    Then, if you treat it like a non collectable game, it sees a few plays and then sits on the shelf or gets shoved in a bag when you go to con. Just like any other board game. Very likely, it only sees the light of day a few times a year. If you’re satisfied with that, then great. But, in my experience at least, most people who really like a game enjoy expanded play options for that game. That’s where expandable games (collectable and non-collectable alike) come in.

    So, to take your oft-cited example of Blue Moon, what makes it such a sound buy as opposed to a collectable game? The starter set of blue moon is comparable in price to two starters of any ccg, and the 30 card expansion decks cost 10.00, which is comparable to the price of about three boosters for most ccgs, which also nets a comparable amount of cards for the money. Both options allow the buyer to play the game in a new way,the only difference being that in the booster packs the only constraints on what you’ll recieve are the rarity distribution and the contents of the set. So, what makes blue moon the better buy? The fact that you know exactly what you’re getting and you don’t have as many involved decisions to make in deck construction? I think while releasing static expansion decks may keep the game fresh for a little while, the experience will grow stale much more quickly than a ccg. No one says you have to spend several hundred dollars to enjoy a ccg. You *do* have to spend that much money to be ompetitive on the tournament scene, but if you’re competitive streak sends you out big game hunting as it were, is that the game’s fault or *your* fault?

    When’s the last time you heard about a high profile, several hundred player Blue Moon tournament?

    When you’re at Gencon, take a note of the number of people playing ccgs. Then note how many you would say are paying for the game themselves. It should be a sizeable number. That’s a small sampling of the number of people you just called stupid and gullible. I would say for our regular Friday M:tG draft at my local game store we get about 16-24 people a week. Maybe 2 of those are under 18 and another 3 still recieve some kind of parental support. Everyone loves the draft format, because of the level playing field. Endgame not seeing enough profit margin to continue running drafts doesn’t imply that the end is near.

    The professional tournament scene and frenetic expansion release cycle are, in my experience, what drive people away from a collectable game. Most players that stay learn to cope with the fact that they’re playing for fun where the guy with the 300.00 standard deck is probably trying to turn the game into a day job. The constructed scene is where the often lamented cost barrier and money sink associated with ccgs actually comes into play. But, this has been an issue since the game was first released back when I was in high school, and it certainly hasn’t killed it. If it was going to, you think it would have happened sometime a little earlier along the 13 year or so timeline since M:tG has been released.

    I’m not saying the concept/business model of the ccg doesn’t have it’s flaws, but I hardly think it’s time to write up a first draft of the obituary while nursing a nice glass of scotch.

    Also, some people actually *enjoy* the complexity of games, and simply because a game is complex doesn’t mean it’s doomed to failure. If that were the case, why would anyone ever buy Axis & Allies? Warhammer 40k? Warmachine? Any of the huge Fantasy Flight games? The average American has an admittedly decreasing attention span, but is that the kind of person you should expect to see walk into your FLGS? Also, World of Warcraft has somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 million subscribers worldwide (that’s $90,000,000.00 a month for those keeping score at home) and that game isn’t simple by any stretch of the imagination. More simple than previous MMOs? Probably until the endgame, but that’s another discussion entirely.

  12. Torquemada says:

    Hi.

    “What stops you from buying $20 worth of BSG and pretending it’s a non-collectible 2-player game?”

    Maybe is just the impression we have about CCGs being a money pit. Personally, I just no longer like CCGs enough to buy them over, say, a real non collectible card game or a roleplaying manual.

    Also, a CCG is just not DESIGNED in the same way as a non collectible. The former are designed for “replay value” to be added with every expansion. The later are, mostly, designed to get replay value out of the same resources over and over again.

    What happens if one day you decide to go play at your FLGS or enter a tournament? Your limited card pool would reduce your probability of winning with every published expansion. The strategy of your card pool would stagnate. You might get to the point where you lose not for lack of skill, but of cards.
    So, in order to not get frustrated you might a) stop playing, b) buy some “fresh strategy” (giving in to the collectible aspect) or c) play against similarly limited card pools.

    I should know. I have a box full of 90’s CCG glut collecting dust. I’ve really PAID for my sins. 😛

    Well, it was fun for a while.

    Bye.

    ps: The podcast sounds much better, BTW.

  13. Targetboy says:

    Why not buy a starter and three boosters of a CCG? Waste.

    For example, I bought five or six packs of Pirates (not a CCG, but close enough for illustration) and I have a decent pirate fleet and one or two of other fleets. I have captains with bonuses on ships that I do not own. Out of the 10 ships and miscelaneous stuff, about 40% is not really useful.

    What I would like to see is something like what Battleground Fantasy Warfare does. You buy a $15 box with all the ‘stuff’ for a single army. If there is a card that works well with another card, you have both. You do not get cards for unrelated groups or factions.

    I would love very few things more than to go to a store and buy a Rocketmen fleet with, say, a space station, three capital ships and five fighter wings with a smattering of crew for $25 or $30. I may buy two, so I could play with friends.

    Here is a question for you: I have seen retailers sell single cards for CCGs. Why not build decks in the store and sell them as a pack? Would it be worth your while to open a box of Rocketmen, sort the cards into fleets that made sense, and sell them as a bunch? Would WOTC sue you if you tried?

    I am not talking about decks/fleets of only the best stuff, but solid groups with the same common/uncommon/rare mix as the standard packs sorted to remove the waste.

  14. Corphus says:

    “What stops you from buying $20 worth of BSG and pretending it’s a non-collectible 2-player game?”

    1) I don’t care for the source material.

    2) In my experience, CCG starter decks are not designed for a balanced play experience like a non-collectible card game, they are designed to “encourage” you to buy more cards. Even in the case of preconstructed decks, one of the decks tends to be more powerful than the others. It’s one of the subtle parts of their marketing strategy: let some new players lose knowing that they can make their deck better with those shiny booster packs. Once the first player buys a booster it becomes an arms race.

    For example: a friend and I decided to buy 2 starters of Sabertooth’s Soulcalibur III CCG with the same intent you suggest for BSG. My Voldo starter contained 4 cards that can’t legally be played in the deck and another 3 that severely limit your play options if used. As a result, my friend’s Nightmare deck kicks my butt nearly every game, and I get the urge to buy boosters just for a chance at winning.

  15. misuba says:

    Michael – I don’t have time to address all these points right now, but you’re right to call me on the implication that tournament CCG players have been somehow suckered into what they do. Very much not what I believe and I’m sorry I inadvertently implied it.

    Of course, both my inadvertent implication and most of the rest of your comment show off the biases of the speakers – I was thinking exclusively about casual players and you were thinking exclusively about obsessive ones. Neither of us was really operating on the whole picture. I have more to say about that; later today, I hope.

  16. misuba says:

    A couple of other things I should clear up: our CCGs-are-commercially-dead statement was about new CCGs that target adults. Relatedly, we were not talking about Magic, because Magic is not a CCG; Magic is Magic. Just as surely as D&D will remain in print and active when the RPG “industry” “dies,” Magic has its own life and follows its own rules.

    Okay. On to the rest of your points.

    First, your statement that a Blue Moon-model game will automatically get stale faster than a CCG carries a couple of false assumptions: first, that new cards randomly packaged are the only thing that can keep a game fresh (having strong gameplay to begin with has done a fine job keeping great card games and board games fresh for a while), and second, that new cards randomly packaged always have the effect of freshening a game (they may deaden it for many players, due to increasing choice paralysis, or the oft-observed tendency for unintended results to arise from the interaction between new rules and old). If a new Blue Moon deck doesn’t keep the game fresh, that’s because they designed the deck and/or the game wrong, not because the model has some inherent limitation.

    Second, the last time I heard about a high profile, several hundred player Blue Moon tournament was right around the last time I heard of a tournament-driven CCG actually expanding the hobby. (Well, okay, I heard that when Magic was new. But again, Magic is its own thing.) This is the difference in our viewpoints: I don’t think that tournaments matter as much as casual play. Tournaments are inherently an exclusive phenomenon, as you say, and that makes them a poor strategy for growing (and therefore sustaining) the player base. A tournament-driven culture plus a welter of new cards equals a squeeze-the-base-harder strategy, as opposed to a grow-the-base strategy. And it works very well… in the short term. In the long term, you need to support casual play if you want your game to sustain itself.

    Third, you’re quite right that a lot of people love complexity, and your example of World of Warcraft points to exactly why and how I think UFS fails to bring people in. WoW doesn’t really ramp up the complexity until you’ve leveled most of the way up – until you’ve shown you’re invested and can take it. It has a nice, friendly learning curve. UFS hits you with most of its complexity up front. That isn’t going to fly for most casual players. (Although Magic did a much better job of building its complexity slowly over time, current card sets have also shown a tendency to hit even experienced players who’ve been out of the scene a little while with a lot of new things at once.)

    Failure to grow your base doesn’t kill you quickly. It may be that CCGs with existing player bases will do fine even if they don’t find ways to bring people in faster. Failure ever to get a base is a much different story, and looking at the observations and, yes, prejudices evidenced by others in this thread, it just looks like the obstacles facing a new CCG are insurmountable.

  17. Chris says:

    “Failure to grow your base doesn’t kill you quickly.”

    Define “quickly.” It took less than a year for Hecatomb, Kids next Door, Shaolin Show Down, and several others to flat out get cancelled. People aren’t screwing around nowadays. Manufacturers have learned they are producing CCGs (and other games) in a highly impacted market. Whereas they may have struggled through a couple years’ worth of releases in the past, they are putting games up for the chop much faster than ever nowadays.

    A note on tournament play: Having been in the position several times of organizing tournaments of one sort or another, I always become seriously distressed when a game focuses itself around tourney play. You can probabily tell that from the GTS show we did where I mentioned a few times that if felt like it was going to become the “year of OP.” I am all for people having fun doing what they are gonna do, but seriously competitive tournament driven games have a highly eroding base. I agree that casual play is important, and would also add that many of the companies producing collectible games seem to wanna ignore the casual player entirely. Look at how many people in this thread alone won’t touch a collectible game for fear of an unbalanced buy-in at low cost. If someone won’t even try your game, how do you grow your base amongst the finite base of tourney players. Oh…you pay them to play. Always an interesting model. Pay your customers to buy your product. I am not saying it doesn’t work in some cases…but eventually, you just plain run out of players who have the time to devote to that many tournament level games.

  18. misuba says:

    The games you cite are all cases of failure to get a base, not failure to grow one.

    As for tournament play, I think we’re looking at a bigger, more serious issue for the health of the hobby: hypercompetitive people, understandably drawn to games, are pushing casual players away. Online gaming gives these two groups better tools for coexisting than we do in many ways. We’re seeing this problem really starkly in CCGs, but I think it spells big trouble for board games, and is a part of the problem for RPGs in a sense. So yeah.

  19. Chris says:

    Well in the case of RPGs, sone of the biggest buzz seems to be around games that are short and not necessarily campaign driven. People are also asking for short two player board games more frequently now -ah-days. Wonder if that’s the real issue. Not lack of desire, but lack of time. CCGs inheriently are time sinks…

  20. Corphus says:

    Regarding games getting or keeping a player base, I think gamers in general are starting to get wise to a lot of the standard business tactics. They can smell “disposable” games that are made to milk kids (or their parents) of money until the source material isn’t popular anymore (Shaolin Showdown, Kids Next Door, Teen Titans, etc.). As for Hecatomb, I was excited about the mechanics of the clear plastic card/hexagon things but was put off by the fluff and marketing. It seemed like something targeted at teenage boys who wanted a “mature” game to distance themselves from all the little kids who play Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh.

    On casual vs. tournament play:
    I’m a casual player through and through, but a good OP program is a sign that a company is serious about their game. Given two collectable games with solid rulesets, one with OP and one without, I would take one with OP. An organized play program usually shows that the company has a long-term plan for their game, and that means I won’t be selling my collection for $5 on eBay when the game flops in 6 months.

  21. Marbles says:

    Thought you might be interested in a new project I’ve started – a weekly miniatures review vidcast on YouTube…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JosJD0EadfY

    Thanks for the the great podcast!

  22. Chris says:

    Hey Lee,

    Thanks for the call. I don’t know if you feel confortable mentioning it here, but here is sure a chance to get some slight focus group magic for your idea. I won’t mention it here, cause I don’t wanna let the feline out of the sack, as they say.

    Ch

  23. Martyn says:

    If I buy a starter and three boosters, will I be able to play the game I want?

  24. Martyn says:

    If I buy a starter and three boosters, will I be able to play the game I want?

  25. Rick says:

    “What stops you from buying $20 worth of BSG and pretending it’s a non-collectible 2-player game?”

    Or I’ll read “BSG” as “any CCG”.

    Obviously the first is balance. How many CCGs are properly built to be played well out of the starter box? Even if you add a few boosters in, will it be enough? Fantasy Flight and Wizkids have track records of terrible distribution. It took MtG many years and expansions to get Sealed Deck to a point where it wasn’t a joke.

    Second is, interestingly, the theme of the game. Let’s take BSG as an example. If you pretend it’s not a CCG, then you expect certain things in the game. I would expect to have all the major characters for one thing, so if I’m somehow missing the cards for Lee Adama or Kara Starbuck or Laura Roslyn or god forbid the Battlestar Galactica itself, there is no way you’re going to be able to believe the game isn’t collectible. You’ll always get the nagging feeling of “where’s the Galactica? Oh right, it’s a chase rare and this is an effing CCG” and get frustrated.

    Finally, the CCGs of today are quite simply designed to be collectible. Many cardsets have cards that are quite useless on their own, and need to be synergized or comboed with other (specific) cards to be useful or even interesting. MtG has has this problem for a long time. Cards aren’t designed to stand alone, but are made to be a part of the cycle.

    Are those reason enough?

  26. Thomas says:

    I can finally post my response!

    Why won’t I purchase $20 of BSG and just go? Well the whole thing is the collectable aspect. I keep thinking that there’s a bunch of cards in the mix that are cool, but they’re probably sealed in some foil pouches I don’t have. Even if I somehow get some good cards to play with, I’ll have the nagging feeling that the good cards are over there and I can’t play with them.

    Look at the Magic decks/cards my wife and I have. We’ve got three or four copies of Card A. This card allows me to sacrifice the card and get Card B from my deck and instantly play it. The only problem is even with the number of Magic cards we have, we don’t have Card B. I have no idea if BSG’s cards have other dependencies or links with other cards that make them more powerful or interesting in play. But just my luck, it’ll be like Decipher’s Star Wars CCG where I had copies of Vader’s Lightsaber but no Darth to use them on.

    I can see how the random seeding would be worse with a propertly like BSG. With the random seeding of the starter deck (I believe only a third of the cards or less are the same in every starter, the rest are random) and the boosters, I’m likely to play Battlestar Galactica with Starbuck, Boomer, Hot Dog, and Kat, but no Apollo. Or I’ll get Commander Adama, Dee, and Lt. Gaeta, but no Colonel Tigh. Or Baltar, Zarek, and Billy, but no President Roslin.

    Now if they had released the game as a set game plus expansions, then I’d purchase it.

  27. Thomas says:

    As you can see by my post, I totally agree with Rick on his second point. But his reply brings up what I hated about Decipher’s Star Wars CCG. Somewhere along the development line, they decided to switch the main characters’ rarity from common to rare/ultra rare. So instead of playing Han Solo, I wound up playing that one guy at the cantina that pointed Han out to Obi-Wan and was only on screen for four seconds.

    Whee.

    However, I have no problem with WizKid’s Pirates of… game. I just heard on your July 13th podcast that they’re completely out of stock of those until November. As soon as payday comes around, I’m getting me some of the most recent expansion set. With the Pirates game, there’s no setting material it’s based off of, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out if I only have $20 worth of booster packs. Even the linked crew/ships thing doesn’t upset me if I don’t have the corresponding card. (Although I would feel slighted if I had something like BSG’s “Boomer, Ace Raptor Pilot” card, where I get extra bennies if she’s got “Raptor 242” in play, but I have no “Raptor 242” card.)

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