Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Joy of Collectible Card Games

All of us have hobbies, whether it's sports, video games, or collecting items (whether it's stamps, cars, or toys). One hobby that I fell in love with a few years ago was the concept of collectible card games (CCGs): it's essentially trading cards which you can actually play with by following a unique set of rules. But of course, since it is a commercial vehicle, there are some challanges for the consumer. For starters, it's sealed in packs and the distribution of cards is random. I mean a typical booster pack contains 15 cards, and there's probably 300+ cards in the set. But just to make it a little bit more difficult and so that you don't complete the entire set by just purchasing 20 booster packs, there's rarity. Usually, cards fall under one of three categories: common, uncommom, and rare. Common cards usually make up most of the booster pack, something like 11 out of the 15 cards will be common. Uncommon, as its namesake, is a bit more difficult to obtain. Around 3 of the 15 cards will be uncommon. And of course, rare cards would comprise the last remaining card in a booster pack. So if everything was that complex, why would a person pursue such an activity?

Upon retrospect, CCGs actually target several kinds of people. I'll start with the most obvious. First is the collector. I mean a collector collects things for the sake of it. I mean aside for aesthetic purposes (and for some, the financial incentive), why do stamp collectors collect stamps? I'm sure each one has their own reasons, ranging from the historical importance of stamps to the sheer challenge of obtaining such uncommon relics. But simply put, they collect to collect. The more I have, the more happy I become. Perhaps what you don't notice is that stamps is actually a great thing to collect, because most likely, you'll never be able to collect all the stamps in the world! Why? Because new stamps are being produced everyday around the world in addition to the difficulty of obtaining old stamps. Unless you have an organization of dedicated people willing to scavenge stamps for you, it's an uphill battle. But at least you'll always have a goal. And in the same way, that's the beauty of CCGs. I mean one of the oldest CCGs is perhaps Magic: The Gathering, and that started more than a decade ago in 1993. Even until today, they're regularly churning out new cards and new expansions for their card game. It's a collector's dream come true. And of course, while it may be difficult to obtain a particular card, the more gratifying it is for a collector when he or she finally obtains that specific card (or has multiple copies of it).

Of course the cards of CCGs contain more than just text. They contain art as well. Some people may not be interested in playing the game or the collection of cards per se, but they may be interested in the art. Soon, these art aficionados find themselves collecting cards as well, either of a particular artist or a particular theme (i.e. dragons, vampires, angels, etc.). And of course, these people who are interested in CCGs just for the art is perfectly legitimate. I mean if artwork wasn't so important, why bother putting them on the cards, right?

Third is the gameplay itself. Let's face it, as human beings, we need entertainment in our lives. CCGs are a form of recreation. And perhaps what's attractive to me is the fact that it's a competitive sport. I mean playing solitaire, for example, is nice when you're extremely bored. But wouldn't you rather be playing something that involves other people, such as poker or bridge? It's different when you're playing with other people. It adds a random variable to the challenge. And for some, defeating other players, especially those with better skills and/or reputation, can be quite gratifying. Wizards of the Coast, distributor of Magic: The Gathering, holds regular tournaments worldwide, and some are even covered on ESPN 2. Playing card games holds the same thrill as playing basketball, or soccer, or boxing.

Fourth, some people get into it to hone their bargaining skills. I mean CCGs are commercial enterprises and that means money moves around with them whether you like it or not. It takes money to bring them to the store, money to buy booster packs, money to purchase specific cards. A lot of people I know don't like this aspect of CCGs but hey, the designers of CCGs never claimed that CCGs wasn't a business. It's a fun game, yes, but it's a business enterprise as well. There are people who buy cards cheap and sell them at a profit. There are also people who specialize in trading the cards. There are even people who earn a lot by buying them cheaply here in the Philippines and selling them over the Internet at its international price. It might not appeal to some people but remember, it takes two to tango. If people weren't willing to buy it at a particular price, then there would be no sellers or traders. One can treat CCGs like a business and in certain respects, it's a good training ground for enterprising people. Some people hate them for that but I think that's being unfair. You don't have to trade with them (and remember that in any trade, both parties consent to the rules of the trade) and these people actually help other CCG players by giving them options.

Lastly, CCGs are portable games with instant gratification. I don't need electricity to play a CCG. It's all pen and paper (and for some games, counters, dice, and other non-electronic paraphernelia) and of course, my cards. And since it's cards, it can be played nearly anywhere (well, perhaps not in a swimming pool...).

Everything seems simple now that CCGs are popular. But more than a decade ago, it took someone really creative and innovative to come up with such a successful idea.


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