I’m a wargamer from way back, a good twenty-five years at this point. Never dabbled much in minis, play a ton of Euros, and own a nice collection of role playing game materials. I consider myself broad-minded in my gaming interests. But collectible card games? No, thank you.
The perceived wisdom amongst the chit-and-paper-map crowd is that CCGs are money sinks with constantly changing rules and a mostly adolescent (or adolescent-acting) audience. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who got sucked into a CCG and abandoned the true faith, ranting instead about mana screws and the superiority of a red/black control deck.
Still, the grandfather of all CCGs, Magic: The Gathering, has been around for almost twenty years now, and my experiences with some of the computerized versions (notably Duels of the Planeswalkers on the 360) revealed a significant depth of play. The customizable (read: collectible) nature of the card decks, the millions of potential randomized interactions with another customized deck, and the elegant basic rules intrigued me. Luck plays a role, but it’s mitigated by strategy. There’s some good gaming to be had here.
So, having some free time on a recent Friday, I took the plunge and visited my new Fine Local Game Store on Capitol Hill here in Washington, DC, Labyrinth, and participated in their Sealed Deck Friday Night Magic tournament. The Sealed Deck aspect was key—you buy the booster packs you play with on the spot, a twenty dollar outlay, and use those and those alone the whole night. No need to spend hundreds on a competitive deck with the new flavor of the week card. The event, a “sanctioned” tournament in Wizards of the Coasts’ international tournament structure, was well run, and while there were quite a few seriously competitive players showing off their binders with thousands of cards, everyone seemed pleased to interact with the more casual attendees. I got in four hours of play, met some decent people, and thoroughly enjoyed myself for a minimal expenditure. And now I’ve got some cards to build a deck with if I want to keep playing.
I can easily see how the game becomes addictive. There’s a thrill in opening a sealed booster pack and hoping for a rare card, and every new card adds to the potentials for your deck. Even the constantly changing cards (many of which become ineligible for tournament-level play after a year or so) make sense from a play standpoint—the speed with which you can play matches (fifteen minutes each) can make the extant cards seem stale after months of gaming with them. Most of the people I met didn’t play other games, so keeping their gaming experience fresh is both profitable for Wizards and enjoyable for the consumer.
So, while I may not be a convert to the Church of Magic, I think I’ll attend Friday Night Magic at Labyrinth when I can if they’re running Sealed formats. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to inventory my cards and see about buying some sleeves . . .