Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One of My Many Weaknesses: Collecting Card Games

I've played a few collectible card games over the years. No, not Magic, but a few others. But you know the drill with these games: you can play them, although the gameplay is often slow, complex, and not much fun. But that's not the ultimate point of them. The ultimate point is to get you to buy as many cards as possible. Some publishers are apparently realizing that this eventually drives the player/collector to resent the system; Chaosium's newer Cthulhu card games are billed as "...a Living Card Game: A Living Card Game (LCG) breaks away from the traditional Collectible Card Game (CCG) model by offering a fixed card distribution method. It offers the same dynamic customizable, expanding, and constantly evolving game play that makes CCG’s fun, but without the blind buy purchase model that can burn out players. The end result is an innovative mix that gives you the best of both worlds!"

And in fact I am burned out; having become engaged with three CCGs, I would be extremely hesitant to buy another that follows the collectible model (although Chaosium's fixed-rarity products do intrigue me -- but with at least 20 expansion sets currently in print, at $15 a pop... I think I'll wait on that).

It's because the cards are produced and collated into the packages following specific card rarity schedules, and you purchase sealed package. They are, as Chaosium calls them, "blind buy" -- you don't know exactly which cards will be in the packages. Often there are three, four, five, or even more rarity levels. A typical card set might comprise 400 cards, divided up into 200 common cards, with the same distribution level, 100 uncommon cards, and another 100 rare cards, sometimes with subdivisions of rarity, like rarity level 1, rarity level 2, and extremely rare. Magic has produced over twelve thousand unique cards to date in English, according to Wikipedia. Ratios might go approximately like 100 commons to 30 uncommons to 10 rares to 1 extremely rare card.

So if you want all the cards, you could trade, or find a retailer who sells individual cards, or you could buy lots of cards and wind up with hundreds or thousands of redundant common cards. And of course there are limited editions, some cards appear only in certain sets, and games go out of print. Acquiring all of the Magic cards would cost so much money that I prefer not even to attempt to estimate it.

Bizarrely, Magic even established a patent on its gameplay system. Some of the claims seem like petty modest innovations, such as manna and the equivalent of hit points. But amazingly the patent also claims innovation in that "players construct their own library of cards, preferably from trading cards, and play their library or deck of cards against the deck of cards of an opposing player. Cards may be obtained from retail outlets, trading with other players or collectors, and winning cards at games and tournaments." I'm unclear on how many card games might thus be claimed to infringe Magic's patents.

Anyway, the games I've decided to collect are not the best-known; they are Chaosium's Mythos, Dark Age: Feudal Lords, and some of the earlier releases in the Middle Earth: The Wizards series.


Note that I'm talking about Chaosium's original Mythos card game. There is a modern Cthulhu card game that has an entirely different fixed rarity scheme.

Mythos didn't have great gameplay, but it had very cool artwork, and was based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft, which pretty much guaranteed that I would be a fan of this work. It was first released as limited starter decks, unlimited "Standard" two-deck sets with a fixed set of cards, and three types of booster/expanders packs. Oddly, I had a "standard" deck that was scrambled, consisting of one complete steadfast deck and one screwed-up steadfast deck missing some cards and containing some duplicates.

According to Chaosium, "The Mythos starter decks are created from an array of 200 cards and the nine Investigator Cards. In each starter deck is found 6 rare cards, 12 uncommon cards, and 42 common cards, plus one Investigator Card and a 32-page rulebook. Each booster contains 67 new cards plus a blend of the cards that appear in the Mythos starter decks, at the ratio of 2 rare cards, 3 uncommon, and 8 common cards for a total of 13 cards per pack. The rarity level of the cards is identical across the Mythos starters and the boosters. A rare card found in the starter decks is printed in the same frequency as a rare card found only in a booster. Otherwise, a "rare" card from a booster would be more rare (there are fewer of them) than a "rare" card in the starters."

Anyway, that might be a bit confusing but trust me, it is not nearly as confusing as some of these games get. Basically, it means that if you acquire starter decks or booster packs, you get about 10% rare cards. There are no extremely rare cards.If you want everything in the original Mythos group of cards, you're looking at a 104-card standard set, and then you have to collect 400 cards from the combination starter and booster limited card distribution; you've also got to track down 9 investigator cards which were distributed in the limited decks. This is somewhat daunting now that everything is out of print, but there were apparently a lot of Mythos cards printed, and the game didn't really become a big seller. I now have just about all the cards; I bought most of them back when they were released, and I've recently been fleshing out my collection with a few individual cards and sets purchased on eBay recently. I'm not a real purist; I don't keep the boxes or the booster packs sealed. They aren't in protective sleeves or binders, but just stored in card boxes, and I don't wear white cotton gloves when I handle them! Really, I just want to see all the cards in a set, and have some usable decks on hand for playing. If they are one day valuable enough to consider selling, I might do that, but I'm not going to go to great lengths to keep them in mint or sealed condition.

Currently from Mythos Limited I've tracked down one of my last three missing cards, Eusapia Paladino. In any case I'm now lacking only two rare cards, which I think also occurred only in limited starter decks -- Olaus Wormius and The Lonely House in the Woods -- and I'm bidding on a 4,000 card lot that has a good chance of containing my last two rares. I've seen The Lonely House in the Woods come up as a single card on eBay, but Olaus Wormius seems to be MIA; perhaps it was rarer than I think?

As a result I have a big surplus of Mythos Limited cards; hundreds of duplicate common and uncommon cards and quite a few duplicate rares. Most of them have not been played, just handled a little, sorted, and stored in boxes. Quite honestly, I'm just a bit obsessive, and especially like to see all the artwork. If you are looking for specific cards to trade, get in touch with me. But what does one do with twenty duplicates of a common card that every Mythos collector has on hand? I'm considering some kind of art project.

Anway, there is another set of Mythos cards that I also find interesting: Mythos: Dreamlands. These are rarer (in terms of numbers of cards printed and sold, not in terms of card rarity ratios). I found a number of Dreamlands boosters via eBay but my set is far from complete, and it seems that it might be quite difficult to track down the rest. The eBay lot of cards I'm bidding on does contain some Dreamlands cards, but probably not enough to fill out my collection. I don't have very many Dreamlands cards to trade but get in touch if you have something in specific you're looking for.

There is one last Mythos set. Chaosium released Mythos: New Aeon, and then these products were promptly discontinued. All are now out of print. New Aeon cards now seem to be quite rare. I would love a complete set, since these have particularly fascinating artwork, blending Lovecraft's stories with modern day settings and artififacts. Single starter decks are going for several times the original price, single cards are quite expensive, and I haven't seen any boosters for sale in some time. So a complete set of New Aeon might not be, err, in the cards.

Dark Age: Feudal Lords

This game has some of the best artwork I've ever seen in a card game. I'm collecting it pretty much just to see all the artwork. This game was distributed as starter decks packaged with dice and stickers. The ratio is about 10:1 commons to rares in starter decks and boosters. Each starter deck got one leader and 1 location card, but the booster packs also contain, very rarely, leader and location cards. There is a small set of very rare foil cards that appear in the boosters. I've got a handful of these, but no duplicates to trade.

I'm currently missing one rare character, Red; five rare instant cards, Blood Ritual, Get Out There You Big Lug, Goliath Syndrome, Imposter, and Once More Into the Fray; the rare skills Field Medic, Hypnotism, and Quick Shot; the rare supply HooDoo Totem; three rare weapons, Glue Cannon, Flash Grenades, and Flame Thrower; and two rare victories, I Hear Good Things and Get the Goodies. I'm also missing a few leaders, locations, and a few of the very rare supply cards. I have a number of duplicate rares I'd be happy to trade.

Middle Earth

Finally, I have a pile of cards from the Iron Crown Enterprises Middle Earth games. This game I find excessively complex to play, and because it has such a large number of cards, with some extreme rarities, I gave up attempting to acquire a complete set. I've got quite a few from Middle Earth: The Wizards, including a number of starter decks; fewer from the Middle Earth: the Dragons set, and a few from Middle Earth: Dark Minions set. I don't have any cards from the later Lidless Eye, Against the Shadow, White Hand, or Balrog sets, or any of the reprinted-card challenge decks. If there's something in particular you want to trade from the sets I mentioned, please ask. I could also be convinced fairly easily to part with the whole collection.