My name is Lol Craven and I’m here to convince you all that card games are brilliant and if you haven’t given them a try yet then you should! Any of you reading this who are already into the card game scene can sit back and sagely nod your head with the air of enlightened wisdom that you are thoroughly deserving of.
I love card games, despite an uncertain introduction to them. Three years ago I made a disparaging remark to a close friend about his interest in Magic the Gathering. Back then I wasn’t interested at all and thought the whole idea was a bit daft. To his credit, rather than give me a right hook, he challenged me to sit through an evening playing it with him and then see how I felt.
Fast forward three years and I have to have a book shelf – an entire bookshelf – dedicated to keeping my card game collection(s) organised. There isn’t any room left for the humble pie. My absolute favourites are the LCG (living card games) produced by Fantasy Flight Games. A Game of Thrones, Netrunner, Warhammer Invasion, Star Wars, and Call of Cthulhu are my top draw when it comes to spending my hobby time and budget.
“Back in your cave, witch!” I hear some of you cry, “BoW is about miniatures and stuff, don’t come in here with your fancy ways! We like painting, army building and blowing each other up!”
To that, I say, “Calm down, dear(s)”.
I like all that to. In fact, I really like it. Like pretty much all of us my introduction into the hobby world was through all things Games Workshop. I still love it to this day. The best thing is, all the things I like about wargaming are perfectly replicated in the card game scene. I don’t feel like I’m choosing card games over miniatures because as far as I’m concerned, both types of hobby gaming have an awful lot in common.
It is with this concept in mind that I sat down to write this opening article. I asked myself what are the similarities between playing the Game of Thrones living card game, for example, and Warhammer 40k? What synergy exists between two vastly different types of game? In essence, what would I have said to myself three years ago when I thought card games weren’t worth looking into? If I would have had any chance of convincing ‘me of the past’ that I should give Magic a go, I would have done very well to appeal to my current interests and show the similarities.
When considering the appeal of miniature gaming I believe it comes to a small selection of factors. Social interaction; Army building; Fluff; Organised competitions; Painting and finally, the actual tactical to and fro of the battles themselves. If there any things you think I have missed out then hit up the comments box with your thoughts.
Getting involved in one, or more, of the card games out there can not only satisfy all those needs but in some cases actually present entirely distinct advantages for the enthusiastic gamer.
Put simply, this is hanging out with your friends/bitter enemies and exposing their armies to a fusillade of highly charged laser fire. Or, indeed, a sky darkening hail of arrows and the ravenous onslaught of your horribly mutated infantry. Or, you know, something along those lines.
It’s the meat and gravy of what we do as gamers isn’t it? Meeting up, playing a game and then going back to the daily grind of commuting, taking the bins out and avoiding credit card bills. What you need is a decent gaming club, some nice scenery, all the normal accessories and the time to…
Oh, the ‘T’ word. Anyone else noticed this yet? I certainly have. When I was a younger man, I seemed to have more spare time than I knew what to do with, so I filled it with epic Mordheim campaigns, 3000 point aside Warhammer battles and weekly Blood Bowl games.
Now though, the opportunity to fit in a whole evening of wargaming is somewhat more difficult. Factor in the preparation sometimes needed – get those last few models based, finally finish off that scenery, transport the whole lot – and time suddenly seems to vanish. Whether it is down to work or other commitments, sometimes the time just isn’t there to give the miniatures the outing they deserve. Unfortunately this sometimes result in that most important aspect of gaming – actually meeting up with other gamers – disappearing.
Without a doubt when it comes to assessing the biggest roadblock to getting decent wargaming in on a regular basis, time is the biggest one.
This is where having a few card games to rely upon can be a god send. If you suddenly find yourself with a spare two hours, or someone gets in touch late in the day looking for a game last minute, it is as simple as picking up your deck box. I have even played Magic in the pub! It’s easy and due to the nature and variety of the card games on offer, getting more than one person involved is really easy.
I have had countless excellent evenings playing Game of Thrones that have been organised on the fly, involving four people and plenty of laughs. In those scenarios it would have been impossible to get an equal amount of gaming in if we were playing Warmachine.
One of my favourite things in wargaming is getting a decent brew on, settling down with an army book and a pad and paper and putting together a force. From 40k to Hordes, the tactics and strategy start right at that moment and it feeds into all the other elements of the hobby. Home brew fluff, painting and modelling can all be influenced from the moment you put pen to paper and start building an all conquering army.
Similarly then, one of my favourite things about the card games I play is deck building. I know some people who have a savant like ability to see card combinations and synergies in a stack of cards knee deep. I however need to take a far more measured approach that shares many similarities to army building for a war game. Cup of tea, pad and paper and my collection stretched out in front of me, looking for shared traits, complimentary mechanics and things that look cool and nasty! My wife has become accustomed to seeing piles of cards laying around the house, each one representing a deck idea in various states of completion.
You can of course build a deck to take on all comers. Plenty of people do, just like some people rarely vary their 40k army list from game to game. But, it’s just as often you will find yourself modifying your deck to counter the cards a regular opponent plays. Or, building a deck to take advantage of the killer ability on the card you just picked up in a booster pack. You can build theme decks, flashy decks, decks centred around a character or mechanic, centred on a single faction or a grand alliance. It naturally depends on the game, but Call of Cthulhu for example, has the potential for 58 different combinations of faction alone. That’s before you start dealing with card synergy and the like.
Deck building and army building are practically interchangeable in their experience, the only difference is between the miniatures and the cards themselves.
An old friend of mine, not a hobbyist by any means, once described his experience of reading 40k literature as like ‘experiencing Shakespeare with guns’. I’m of the opinion that the 40k universe in all it’s glory is the best sci-fi universe ever conceived. To be a successful wargame it is integral that your fluff fits the theme of the game and draws in the imagination. Without it, war games become dice rolling and the passion simply isn’t there. Luckily, we are spoilt for choice in this regard. There are dozens of established games out there with fluff that could, if separated from the miniatures, exist as a legitimate product in its own right.
So, its safe to say that having well fleshed out back stories for your models can greatly enhanced the experience of playing wargames. It is quite reasonable to wonder how can this translate into card games.
The answer to that query is, ‘very easily’.
For some card games, the answer is more obvious than others. Game of Thrones was a fantasy masterpiece long before the first card was printed. The master stroke in this regard was making the game mechanics so effortlessly fit in with tone set by the source material. The game is defined by intrigue, betrayal and warfare and every element of the card game from card design to faction mechanics fits seamlessly with the novels so many of us love.
There is even a whole denomination of Game of Thrones players who label themselves as ‘Neds’, who eschew competitive builds to instead focus on building decks that fit in with the storyline. It echoes the honorable, if not very combative, approach taken by Ned Stark.
This is a concept repeated in Call of Cthulhu, which perfectly matches the nature of H P Lovecraft’s peerless horror story telling. It is another game that actually has the affinity with the source material integrated into its rules and mechanics. This game is full of the investigation and other worldly horror that is commonplace in all of Lovecraft’s stories.
The fluff for Warhammer Invasion and Star Wars needs no introduction. Both games are influenced in card art and play mechanics by the extensive legacy of their respective sources. Netrunner has a legacy all of its own in the cyberpunk movement and whilst not official, reading anything by William Gibson will make the next run you make against a heavily fortified corporate server far more immersive.
As for The Lord of the Rings, I think it really goes without saying.
If fluff is your thing, then card games owe allegiance to decades of seminal fantasy and science fiction story telling. There really isn’t a lot more you can ask for when you think about where these games have drawn their inspiration from.
It’s not all kitchen table stuff when it comes to card games. For those of you who like attending the big events and tournaments, then the card game scene will have something to satisfy you – guaranteed. From humble events like Friday Night Magic up to world championship events, the manufacturers behind the big card games really put it out there for those of us with a competitive streak.
Fantasy Flight Games give tremendous support to the community and winners of the big competitions are often invited to design a card that is then introduced into general circulation. Regular support in the form of game night kits give participating venues the chance to dish out some cracking prizes throughout the year. When regional season kicks off, there is the chance for big prizes and invites to the world championships in the USA for those that triumph. Tabletop Nation played host to a handful of regional events this year, with even bigger and better things planned for the future.
Every major Magic the Gathering release is an excuse for a deluge or organised events, usually in the form of pre-release weekends and midnight store openings. Naturally, exclusive cards and rewards are on offer for winners and participants.
Due to the variety of card games on offer there is a wide choice of competitions out there which can allow you to pick something at your level. If you haven’t made the investment into a card game to consider yourself a contender in a big event yet, then simply pick a smaller scale one, or a game night, or a league at a participating venue. It’s that simple, there really is something for everyone.
This is the only downside. There is no way to replicate that feeling of painting up a cracking model and having everyone coo over it when you reveal it for the first time. There is, of course, nothing stopping you painting your cards if you really want. We can all agree that it probably won’t be that fun though.
However, what painting is, in a way, is stamping your own mark on your miniature. You personalise it and make it your own.
To an extent this is possible with card games and can really set your deck apart from those of your friends. There is a wealth of accessories out there for you to just that. My favourite selection of such things is for the Game of Thrones card game. I’m exceptionally proud of my limited edition Cersei Lannister card sleeves and the granite House Greyjoy house card I picked up in this years regional championships.
There is a sense of completion with sleeving your newly created deck in some eye catching card sleeves, or using acrylic and highly detailed counters in place of the standard issue ones in Netrunner.
It’s an opportunity to stamp a bit of character on what could otherwise be a bit of a uniform and unexciting experience.
The Gaming Experience
All of the things I have just mentioned wouldn’t account for an awful lot if the experience of playing card games wasn’t very good. However, this really isn’t an issue. That is because, simply put, the card games I’ve mentioned in this article (and indeed some that I haven’t touched upon yet) have provided some of the most memorable gaming experiences I have ever had.
Near misses, glorious victories, betrayals never to be forgotten and moments of near lunacy. No two games are ever the same and its very rare not to get plenty of games done in a single evening. Whether it is the head to head play of Netrunner, the multiplayer of Lord of the Rings or Warhammer Invasion or the single player of Lord of the Rings, each of the games out there has vastly different mechanics. This not only means there is something for every taste, but also it is very hard to get bored of one system. At a moments notice you can pick up another, still reaping all the advantages that card games offer while enjoying what is, for all intents and purposes, a brand new experience.
I don’t just settle for card games because they are easier to fit into a busy day, or because I make do with them. Instead, getting three or four people together and clashing over the Iron Throne is my preferred way to spend an evening of gaming now.
If you have stuck with this article this far and you are one of the readers who has never given card games much thought then I hope it has at least given you a fresh perspective. For those of you already playing one or two games regularly, you will be glad to know that this is the first of many articles focused on the card game scene. Keep your eyes peeled for information, analysis and reviews on all the big names and some of you may not have heard of before.
Thanks for reading everyone. If this article has piqued your interest and you fancy giving a couple of card games a go in the near future, I will be running a series of introductory events at Tabletop Nation over the next few months. All the cards are provided so all you will need to do is pick what games you want to try out and turn up on the day.
Look forward to seeing some of you there.
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