FFG takes two CCGs to potentially interesting fixed-set model

Okay, this is creepy. I was literally just thinking about how the CCG was only one model of business, and of game design, in what is probably a much wider array of yet-undiscovered possibilities, and about how much I’d like to see somebody start exploring that (the same way that the space of play possibilities near what we’ve always thought of as RPGs is being pushed outwards). Maybe you could say that online CCGs are best equipped to do this, I don’t know. And I don’t think this is really necessarily it either, but it’s a step: Fantasy Flight announces the “Living Card Game” release format for A Game of Thrones and Call of Cthulhu (PDF link). Maybe the only difference between this and a card game expansion is the marketing term… but maybe people will take to it. The commons-and-rares angle is kind of interesting and might support things like league play (remember leagues? Ah, memories) in new ways.

So, what do we think? Nevermind for now whether it’s a new idea; fixed sets of 10 single cards and 3 copies each of 10 other cards – good idea, or bad? It reminds one of the periodical model that Pinnacle tried back in the day with Doomtown, but maybe with better survival characteristics in this day and age.


  1. I’ve seen several customizable games do something like this. Heck, even our game Powerstorm was non-random by the box. However, I think the real marketing savvy here is to do starter decks only. When we were discussing Powerstorm with some naysayers they kept bringing up Blue Moon. To get as many distinct playable cards in Blue Moon cost an almost identical amount to Powerstorm, but with Powerstorm, to guarantee non-randomness you had to buy by the box. The overall price of the collection was the same, but the incremental cost definitely favored Blue Moon (since you could expand it with one very specific thing on the cheap). Foil, whether its contents are random or not, screams collectible to some people. So by going with starter deck type products, this should send the “non-collectible” signal to fans and keep the incremental price point low. The only downside is, however, that these are non-collectible expansions to otherwise collectible products. What I’ll be interested in seeing his how competitive a deck can be constructed from non-randomized two player starters for A Game of Throne, for example, plus some of these new non-randomized expansion packs. If you can’t build a competitive deck, then this is just a marketing lure, ’cause you’ll still have to chase down random cards. If you can build a competitive deck from a non-random assortment of cards, then this will be a major coup for FFG and its fans alike. I wish them much luck. Breaking away from the collectible paradigm is a tough thing to do, but I hope they pull it off.

  2. Competitive in what context, though? I mean, these aren’t games with big tournament scenes, so I guess netdecks aren’t gonna spread like wildfire. Sealed-deck might be a non-starter on this model, but then again, the periodical thing makes it so you might have new models like “here are three months chosen at random, now build a deck.” “Competitive” means radically different things depending on what you’re competing at.

    It’s too bad that league play doesn’t excite people more in an organized-play context, because this model seems ideal for that. It seems like that’d be a great way to explore the periodical aspect, too, letting the cards for one chunk of a story circulate around for a bit, having some time to get used to them, then getting a new batch. I could see really digging that.

  3. By competitive, I mean this. I have bought the collectible block of cards. You have bought a non random starter plus two packs of non-random expansions. Do I continuously beat you? Is the only way you win if I intentionally build a deck worse that what I would reasonably field in a tournament?

    There have been local tournaments in Boston for A Game of Thrones, for example. Would new people joining into that play group take constant losses even after their play skills are up to snuff?

    Lastly — most CCGs have certain required core cards to build a deck around. Are these going to be available on in the randomized sets? Or will they be available in the non-randomized expansions? How regularly? For how long?

    These are questions that I would raise about competitiveness for a game moving from random to non-random collation, Mike.


  4. So tournaments as we know them now are the benchmark? That strikes me as a transitional issue, for all the reasons I brought up.

    This, of course, brings up the problem that the new periodical-fixed-set model is starting now (for AGoT), but the new starter to go with it? …not until August. FAIL

  5. I was not suggesting that tournaments were the benchmarks. I was implying that in a tournament you build the best deck you can potentially build given what you know about your own cardpool and what you know about the other good decks that can be build from a large cardpool. Serious tournament players almost always have access to a larger cardpool than non-tournament players do. So I was effectively saying, will someone with a huge cardpool including collectible cards have a serious power advantage over someone with only non-randomized cards, and will someone with only non-randomized cards be even able to build a rules legal deck.

    My note about local tournaments in Boston was in response to your claim that these games aren’t games with big tournament scenes. Maybe not, but AGOT has some kind of tournament scene, which typically means players with suitcases of cards. New players who have access to only small (20 distinct cards per box) releases, may have real problems with fielding decent decks unless FFG walks a very fine line in terms of game design.

    Your idea about using blocks of cards for league play is interesting, but FFG is proposing producing only 20 total cards per deck box in their new model. Even if you said 3 of those was a block, that’s only 60 distinct cards available in the block. In most customizable games, that’s nowhere near a critical mass of cards to support any kind of real deck diversity beyond say 2 common deck archetypes.

    As a regular player of customizable games, that wouldn’t really interest me. I really see FFG’s current model as keeping a flow of cards for current players. I’m less confident that this is a model for bringing in new players. For that you need a critical mass of cards and ready access to sources of pre-constructed decks.

  6. Well, we also don’t yet know what the post-LCG-model starter decks are going to look like. If I were FFG I’d make certain they included cards that couldn’t be had in the monthly sets.

    One set a month, 80 new cards in the time normally taken up by one Magic expansion which is… what, 120 cards? Maybe that’s a little tight, yeah.

  7. BTW, as a follow-up to my most recent post, and to give you an idea of what “three months chosen at random” would mean, that’s 60 cards. To make even ONE of the pre-constructed AGOT starters that I have takes about 50 unique cards. That would mean to build that ONE of FFG’s standard pre-constructed starter decks would take about 2.5 releases of cards. That should put my point about a critical mass of cards for diversity into place. It’s really hard to come by releasing 20 new cards at a time, unless new players have access to a good base set of cards. And there I agree with you, Mike, that releasing a new starter set later instead of now isn’t a great move to attract new players.

  8. Mike, most Magic expansion are NOT 120 cards. Small late expansions in a block can be around 150 cards (Morningtide). The opening set for a block tends to be large (300+ cards). The core set (like 10th edition) can be between 375 and 400 cards.

    So a three set block has around 600 cards in it. That would take FFG 30 expansion sets in the proposed model to equal one Magic block. It would take them 7.5 expansions just to hit a small Magic set (an expansion to an existing block). It would take them about 19 expansion sets to make up a set as big as the Magic 10th edition set.

    For comparison, our starter set for Powerstorm had over 275 cards, if memory serves.

    A 60 card set (3 months of expansions) or even an 80 card set (4 months of expansions) is not terrible as expansions go, but would probably be fairly terrible in terms of diversity for most customizable games.


  9. Hmm.

    So, if you can’t make tournament play viable on this sort of model due to the lack of card variety, do you just have to go all the way to the Blue Moon model and sell “customizable” fixed decks that nobody really customizes? Because that seems to take a lot of the charm out of this style of game.

    Or is there a model in between?

    Hmm. I may be having a thought.

  10. Without knowing how FFG are going to design these releases, I’m not sure we can make meaningful comparisons. Lee is right about the size of Magic expansions, but I’d say that a significant percentage of the cards in a Magic set are not going to get used in competitive constructed-format decks, and that the designers know this. These deliberately underpowered cards serve a purpose for sealed-deck tournaments, but are just so much junk for constructed-format players. Also, every large Magic set pretty much has to include a certain set of essential core cards (such as Counterspell) so that sealed-deck can work.

    FFG’s new model isn’t going to work at all for sealed-deck, so from a game-design perspective it would make sense not to include deliberately underpowered cards or duplicate cards. I’d say it might be possible for FFG’s model to deliver as many useful cards in 12 months as you’d get from one Magic block. Whether this makes sense from the business perspective is another question altogther.

    The other factor to think about is whether players actually like the rate of introduction of new cards that Magic uses. One of the reasons I stopped playing Magic tournaments was that the rate of change ground me down, mentally as well as financially. Maybe there is a market for a customisable card game that has a gentler rate of new releases. Then again, maybe the people who would be that market got burned out by Magic and have all sworn mighty oaths to never again touch anything that looks like a CCG.

    Reading between the lines of Nate French’s letter (http://www.agameofthrones.com/PDF/designer-agot-letter.pdf) it looks like FFG are doing a little of both: it sounds like they’re getting rid of underpowered cards, and also slowing the release rate down.

    On balance, I think this is a good idea, although I wonder if they are going far enough. I’d be a lot more tempted if those packs had no commons and rares, just two of each new card.

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