When I think of why I got into trading card games (TGCs), the first thing that comes to my mind is the thrill of opening a pack and seeing which cards you get. In fact, all trading card games are based on the fact that new cards are released routinely in sets and that these cards will have a different level of rarity. Obtaining all the cards you want for playing or completing all that make up a set if you are collecting, requires a mixture of luck, efforts and costs.
Even if after years the excitement of collecting the cards is still a big part of the hobby, the main reason I love TCGs is playing with the cards. First, there is the feeling of expectation you have when you build your own deck and you plan your strategy. Then, there is the tension of drafting one card after the other while critically thinking on how to progress your strategy to overcome your opponent. Finally, disregarding how much you have prepared, there are so many different cards, combinations and combos in these games that you will never be fully prepared for whatever your opponent may throw to you.
If you came to this article knowing about Trading Cards Games, I bet you already know these feelings very well. For those that are very new to the hobby or that are looking to get into it, one key aspect to consider is which game would suit your style better. Admittedly, there are a lot of different TGCs available today and, considering how expensive this hobby can be, it would be recommended to know the differences among them before getting into them. With this purpose in mind, a few bloggers of the team have come together to provide an overview of five Trading Card Games you may want to consider. Obviously, there are so many TGC games available that the selection below is by any means an exhaustive list but it still includes some of the most played TGCs as per today and we think can provide some useful insight into this hobby.
When we talk about trading card games, we cannot avoid starting from the progenitor of this genre, Magic the Gathering. This iconic game was first released in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast and it is the very first Collectible Card game ever created. Together with opening the path to other TGC, Magic has also set the benchmark for this genre. It is quite common to see other games that came after this one to either borrow some aspects or mechanics of Magic or to go the exact opposite in an effort to difference themselves from their great gran-parent. But what makes Magic the Gathering so great?
In Magic, a player takes the role of a Planeswalker, a powerful wizard who can travel between dimensions of an ever growing Multiverse. Planeswalkers battle each other by summoning powerful creatures, by casting spells and artefacts. A player also needs to control different terrain types (“land cards”) as these need to be spent every turn (“tapped”) to provide the resources to summon the creatures and to cast their spells.
The mana generating system allows the game to prevent powerful creatures and spells to be summoned too quickly. In addition, all cards in Magic are based on one of the five colours that are represented on the iconic back of each card. Each of these colours not only represent a type of land but also a realm of magic that has strong relationship with the creature that can be summoned using that mana. For example, white represents light and order, and draws mana from plains while black represents death and corruption, drawing mana from swamps.
With respect to other Trading Card Games, Magic the Gathering can be played in various formats and I think that this is the aspect of this game I like the most. At the time of this article, the most common format is called “commander”. The Commander format is quite unique among the TGCs and requires a player to first pick a legendary hero card as the leader of their deck. The rest of the deck is then built around the leader by picking 99 more cards with the only huge limitation to have only one copy of each card with the exception of basic lands. The considerable size of the deck and the fact you only have one copy of each card make every game very different and provide an extremely fun experience.
In addition, this format can be played as free-for-all multiplayer. Playing this game in four or five people is a very fun, very messy, challenging experience and a great way to enjoy time with your friends without the need to play just one versus another. Last but not least, this format offers a great way to smoothly step into this hobby as pre-build Commander decks can be as cheap as £20 with the more advanced ones in the range of £40.
What attracted me to Flesh & Blood was the direct combat nature of the game play. I was after a trading card game that was easy to get into, didn’t necessarily require any deck construction and gave me that bite I required.
FaB pits two fighters from fantasy tropes against each other. Each can be equipped with armour and weapons pre match and will play attacks, spells and alike until one of them flops in defeat. Decks can be 40 or 80 cards depending on the format you play. My favourite format is the 40 card deck ‘Blitz’ variant. To play this format you can simply pick up two pre constructed Blitz decks at around £10 each. This enables you to get a taste of the game with a low cost to entry.
However it might be better to pick up the Classic Battle pack of two blitz decks with some rules and some paper game mats to organise everything. If you find yourself enjoying that you can grab some more Blitz decks or start buying boosters to change up your blitz decks a little. Boosters use to come in an early launch set adding rarity to all cards from that set, but thankfully that has been done away with making it a simpler proposition. The official Flesh and Blood website is a brilliant source of information and guides for deck construction if you need a bit more information.
The gameplay is mechanically simple with the depth coming from keywords and card effects. On your turn you have one action, often you will use this action to play a card that gives you further actions. Actions can be to start an attack chain, create tokens and so on. All very familiar to seasoned TCG fans.
The unique element comes in terms of resource management. Each card has a cost to pay but also gives you an amount of resources to spend. Cards that are spent (pitched) as resources will make their way back into your draw pile so they won’t be wasted, but you will need to be able to afford them when they come back around. Thankfully playing cards as defence when you are attacked doesn’t cost any resources.
Reaction cards can be played after the initial attacks but these will require you to pitch cards to pay for them if you need to. At the end of your turn cards you have pitched will be placed on the bottom of your deck in any order you choose. This all adds a good level of strategy and tactics to the fun.
Blitz games take around 20-30 minutes with full 80 card deck games taking 40-60 minutes. Due to the shortened length your champions in blitz are younger versions of the full characters with half the health. This means if you do go the booster route you may end up with young champions or old champions that you don’t wish to use so bear that in mind. However all in all I highly recommend FaB even it, like me, you settle for the blitz variant!
“Digimon” (short for "Digital Monsters") are creatures that inhabit a Digital World that coexists with ours in a parallel universe connected to Earth's via some sort of communication network. Although a TGC was already released in the late '90s, Bandai has re-styled and launched it in 2020 and this new version of the game has seen an impressive explosion of players since its release.
The cards of this game are divided into four types; Digimon, Digi-Eggs (from where the Digimon evolves), Tamers (Humans who fight along side Digimons), and Options. All cards are also divided into seven colours with the colour of the cards being associated with a specific playing style. For example, Red Digimons focus on attack and they have higher Combat Points while Yellow Digimons focus on recovery.
In Digimon, the main goal is to destroy the opponent’s security deck and in order to make one final direct attack to the other player and win. The security deck is made of five random cards from your main deck of 50 cards and can include any type of cards (apart from Digi-eggs). This aspect is similar to the 6 prize cards used in Pokemon.
In order to win, each player needs to bring a strong team of Digimons to the field by playing them directly or by evolving them from previous ones or from Digi-eggs. When a Digimon digi-evolves, it keeps any inherited skills it had previously, making this strategy a powerful way to bring strong units to the field.
In Digimon, there is no mana or energy card like mechanics. Instead, both players share a memory gauge which goes up and down according to the cost of playing a card. After playing a card, the gauge is updated and, if it goes over the zero, the turn ends and the next player can start playing their cards The mechanic is quite balanced as playing a very strong card with a high memory cost will bring the memory gauge far into the opponent side of the gauge allowing the other player to either play many cards or a strong one too before the gauge passes again the zero and their turn ends.
Overall, the game mechanics are pretty solid and very well though. Above all, I love the memory mechanics as it provides a fast-paced and strategic way to manage the turn. Moreover, you do not need resource cards in your deck and you can fully focus on building your strategy. The digi-evolving process is also extremely versatile as any Digimon can evolve from any another as far as they are of the same colour. There are a few other minor aspects to consider of course, but overall I really like the idea that I do not need to add to my deck the same Monsters as everyone else and that I can build the deck I want or use the cards I have without necessarily the need to hunt all the evolution cards I need.
In summary, I think Digimon is much easier to embrace than other TGCs while still providing a good strategic challenge for more experienced players. Most important, it can for sure be enjoyed without investing right away in very competitive decks (see here for example). Cherry on top for me, the cards are extremely well designed and the art is really stunning adding to the pleasure of battling with this deck.
When it comes to Trading Card Games, Pokemon is the one that is the most well-known but often the most underestimated. First seen in 1996, a year after Pokemon: Red and Pokemon: Blue were released, Pokemon: TCG features the colourful Pokemon, trainers and stadiums of the Gameboy games and the anime cartoons. It became an immediate hit in primary schools across the world as kids would beg, borrow, steal and fight to own a Charizard, a Venusaur or a Blastoise. This fanatic behaviour led to school-wide blanket bans and the general derision of the serious gaming community, who perhaps considered this a fad.
But it was not, dear reader, a fad.
Because beneath the colourful exteriors of these child-friendly trading card games cards lay a devilishly simple yet complex game that could be picked up and played by a ten-year-old yet honed to brutal perfection by people much older. The game has changed over the last 27 years, evolving like its titular Pokemon into the multi-million-dollar industry which stands before you today, but remains, at its heart, the same game beloved of kids in the mid-nineties: Gather your Pokemon; charge them up; start a fight.
The idea of the game is to be the last Trainer (player) standing – to achieve this, you must claim all six of your prize cards by knocking out your opponent’s Pokemon (KO’ing different Pokemon can allow you to claim up to three prize cards) or by knocking out all your opponent’s Pokemon.
Each Trainer has a deck of sixty cards, made from a mix of Pokemon, Trainer cards and Energy - I’ve gone into more detail in these features here and here. If you are starting out, you can buy a ready-built Battle Deck which have everything you need to play (this one is nice) and if you are wanting something close to a competitive and have a bit more to spend, there are pre-built League Battle Decks which are based on decks used in tournaments, also known as ‘Meta-decks’ (this one that is due to be released is one of the most played competitive decks at the moment).
The real fun is making your own decks though, and for this you will need to buy individual cards, boosters and trainer's toolkits (great for taking the uncertainty out of getting specific Trainer cards).
Within the game and because of the nature of Pokemon weakness and strength (fire-types are weak to water and strong against grass, for instance), there is plenty of opportunity to make fun decks that highlight a particular pokemon’s ability or attack rather than just be ‘competitive’, and the text on each card is simple but specific enough to understand what each card or ability does without a reference library - personally love to make these rogue decks (decks that are outside the meta) as the synergy between the cards, when they work, produce a lovely feeling of flow (look up the Wailord deck on youtube for an amusing example). And this sums up what is great about Pokemon – it’s good for beginners, good for the MLGs and good for all the misfits in between like me. And did I mention that the cards look gorgeous?
The cards look gorgeous.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Collectible trading Card Game was first released in 1999 by Konami and it is one of the most popular card games in the world. It is also a greatest TCG franchises as it includes numerous video games, movies, and spin-off, all based on the original manga. Personally, I have been attracted to this game by the TV series when I was younger. After a lot of years I still think that everyone should be excited to summon any of the three Egyptian gods to the table.
The mechanics of this trading card game revolves around summoning monsters to protect yourself and to attack the life points of your opponent. Monster do not need resources to be summoned or to attack like in Magic the Gathering or in Pokemon, but stronger monster usually can be summoned only by using Spell cards or by sacrificing lower level monsters. Once a monster is on the field, a player will need to eliminate it first before they can attack their opponent directly.
In Yu-Gi-Oh! players can also use Spell cards that can either boost their strategy or mess with their opponent one. Unique to this game is also the possibility to play Trap cards. These cards require in general a turn to be ready but, when triggered, they can have a massive impact on the game. For example, you may think you are delivering the final blow to your opponent life points just to see all your monster disappear after they activate the trap “Drowning Mirror force”.
Yu-Gi-Oh is a fairly simple game at first and its starter decks are very good entry points to the game. At the same time, the game offers a lot of complexity with the need to account for a significant learning curve if you want to create a consistent and competitive deck. In fact, Yu-Gi-Oh offers so many cards with possible card interactions that the chance of creating diverse combos and structuring complex deck engines is almost infinite. To have a taste of the game, I recommend to pick one of the most recent Structure decks.
When played competitively, this game is also very fast-paced. In most cases, matches are won in just a few turns depending on how strategically solid is a player deck and which cards the opponent have pulled to break it. If you are looking to start playing Yu-Gi-Oh! competitively, you should account for the possible initial frustration that can result from losing just in a few turns. On the other hand, playing this game is all about dedicating all your efforts to find the perfect strategy to beat your opponent and it can be very rewarding when your cunning plan comes to fruition.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about some Trading Card Games and the reasons we love them so much. One aspect we have not mentioned in this review but on which we all agree is that TGC are a great experience if shared among friends.
In fact, even if some of these games have a digital version that can be used at the beginning, the easiest way to get into any TGC is to have a friend that shares this hobby or to find a local group. When I re-started playing Yu-Gi-Oh! after a long break, I found a nice very welcoming local community with a lot of players that were happy to bring me up to speed with the most recent changes in the game. I have also seen them many times gift some of the cards they were not using to younger players to help them boosting their decks and improving their gameplay.
In the end, Trading card games put two strategic minds against each other to see which one would prevail but, behind the efforts everyone spent to win the challenge, they are a great way to connect and spend time with other people.