How to get into living card games like Marvel Champions

Collectible card games don’t have to involve blind bags (pic: Fantasy Flight Games)

GameCentral offers a guide to the best living card games and traditional CCGs, including a Street Fighter x Magic: The Gathering crossover.

If you haven’t played a collectable or ‘living’ card game before, they’re one of the most popular types of tabletop game at the moment. There’s plenty of cheap and accessible ways to give them a try, with many of the games being based on popular movie and video game franchises. And if they’re not there’s currently a fashion for crossovers at the moment, including the new Magic: The Gathering and Street Fighter team-up.

Most expandable card games fall into one of two categories: traditional collectible card games (CCGs) and the newer living card games. It’s worth knowing the difference before you commit your life savings to buying boosters and expansions, as they both offer quite a difference experience. Collectible card games are designed around buying ‘blind’ booster packs, where you get a basic starter set and then add to it with booster packs that contain random cards.

Living card games are different, as there’s no chance of being surprised or disappointed, since the cards you get aren’t random. These games usually come in a box with a core set of cards and everything you need to get started. Usually, additional packs of cards are released each month and also contain the same thing for everyone, so you always know exactly what you’re getting.

The sheer number of card games available at your local tabletop gaming café (or, more boringly, Amazon or other online stores) can be overwhelming, especially as each has its own variation of booster packs and expansions, so it might make sense to start out playing a card game that has a familiar setting and characters.

Getting into collectable or living card games means you’ll always be welcome at your local game shop, which will be more than happy to feed your addiction and offer a great way to meet players to swap, compete against or adventure with.

Magic: The Gathering - Secret Lair x Street Fighter artwork

A new challenger approaches (pic: Wizards of the Coast)

Magic: The Gathering – Secret Lair x Street Fighter

The legendary World Warriors of Street Fighter are getting ready to battle in Magic: The Gathering. Hadoken the competition with 3 damage or give your best friend a Hundred Hand Slap with these cool looking cards. There’s one for each of the eight playable characters featured in the original version of Street Fighter 2 and the gameplay mechanics are designed to imitate their original abilities, although there’s also alternate versions of the cards in booster packs so you can experiment with different combos. If you thought Street Fighter was a weird crossover for Magic: The Gathering though, both Warhammer 40,000 and Godzilla are getting similar treatments later this year.

Wizards of the Coast – $39.99

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Core Set

You can’t keep an old classic down (pic: Fantasy Flight Games)

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

First released around 10 years ago, this veteran of the scene has just received a core set revamp. This co-operative card adventure game is simple, elegant, and similar to Magic: The Gathering in a lot of ways. The base game contains three scenarios, 12 famous characters from the works of J. R. R. Tolkien (including Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Denethor, and Eowyn), and four pre-constructed player decks.

To complete a scenario you have to use up to three heroes of your choice and a deck of allies, events, and attachments to support them. It’s important to decide on whether to progress the scenario or fight, as your enemies will be gathering strength while you’re singing round the campfire or having a third breakfast. There’s plenty of new adventure packs scheduled, such as the Dwarves of Durin, which contain new scenarios, new heroes, and new player cards to keep the battle for Middle-Earth exciting.

Fantasy Flight Publishing – £69.99 (Core Set)

Star Wars: Jabba's Palace - A Love Letter Game

A cheap and easy way to try out a living card game (pic: Z-Man Games)

Star Wars: Jabba’s Palace – A Love Letter Game

Based on the Love Letter game covered in our Valentine’s Day special, this is the same basic gameplay but transposed to the Star Wars galaxy. It’s a super simple, fun game that sees you taking on the role of characters from Return of the Jedi, such as Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett, Salacious Crumb, and Jabba the Hutt. You take turns drawing a card and then immediately play it, with effects ranging from Boba Fett allowing you to take a card from another player to Salacious Crumb letting you look at another player’s hand.

You can combine cards from the Rebel Alliance and Jabba’s crew to outwit and outlast your mates, as you look out for agenda cards which spice things up with new win conditions, such as sneaking into Jabba’s Palace on a rescue mission. The game’s great fun and very easy to pick up and play – it even comes in a nice textured bag to keep all the cards in.

Z-Man Games – £16.99

A Game of Thrones: The Card Game Second Edition

Create your own end to the saga (pic: Fantasy Flight Games)

A Game of Thrones: The Card Game Second Edition

Another recently updated living card game worth a look is the one for A Game of Thrones, where you have to gain influence in Westeros and make your bid for the Iron Throne. With beautiful artwork and easy to get to grips with rules, this allows you to play iconic characters such as Tywin Lannister, Robb Stark, Stannis Baratheon, and Daenerys Targaryen – but based on their appearance and personalities from the books, not the TV show.

Each player has two decks: a draw deck and a plot deck. Your draw deck contains the tactical elements of your struggle, including the characters, locations, attachments, and events that form your campaign. The plot deck is what allows actions to take place, as they are revealed during the game, such as reducing the cost of characters you want to play or shuffling useful cards back into your deck.

The Wolves of the North expansion is especially good and makes for a powerful military deck, plus there are also some nice looking playmats available featuring characters such as the Red Viper.

Fantasy Flight Games – £44.99

Marvel Champions: The Card Game

We can’t get enough of Marvel Champions and this spring sees the release of the stunning new Sinister Motives expansion box, which is bound to fly off the shelves at the end of the month. It comes with two web-slinging heroes – Ghost Spider and Spider-Man (Miles Morales) – as well as a plethora of classic Spider-Man villains such as Sandman, Mysterio, Doctor Octopus, and Venom.

You play against the game, which acts as the villains, and each human player picks a card, which has a hero on one side and their alter ego on the other, with a set amount of health in the form of hit points – if these fall to zero as the game progresses it’s all over. Players take turn taking the intuitive against the villains, using their alter egos to switch up abilities.

Cards at the heroes’ disposal include ally cards, which add more characters to their hand, and upgrade cards for using special abilities and weapons. The villains are surprising tough, so you really have to think about which side of the card to play and what tactic to use. The game is fast paced and exciting and given the depth and breadth of the Marvel universe you’ll soon be itching for the next expansion.

Fantasy Flight Games – £69.99

Pokémon Trading Card Game

More of a solid financial investment these days, than a throwaway afternoon of fun, Pokémon TCG has enough new content every year to keep any collector happy. Most recently the Sword & Shield Brilliant Stars expansion was a bling addition to this stalwart card game and the news of an upcoming Pokémon Go crossover in July has really got fans excited. This crossover will hopefully get those who’ve only played the mobile app into tabletop gaming and will presumably lead to booster packs with redeemable Pokémon Go codes.

For those still looking for an online Pokémon trading card experience, the Pokémon Trading Card Game Live app will be released later in the year. It’s expected to be closely based on the physical game, but where you get a selection of cards as soon as you join a battle and then earn booster packs as rewards. You’ll also be able to earn currency by taking part in daily battle pass quests. The promise at the moment is that it’ll be both free-to-play and feature no microtransactions, which almost seem too good to be true.

The Pokémon Company – £65 (Brilliant Stars Build & Battle Stadium)

By Lucy Orr

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