The Amazing Staying Power of the TCG: Part 1

Trading Card Games, or TCGs, have been around for donkeys’ years now, and are recently experiencing a massive comeback, thanks in no small part to digital alternatives such as Magic Online and Pokémon Go bringing them back to the forefront of the societal hive mind. After the slump of the mid 2000s, many thought that, other than the big three (Magic: the Gathering, Pokémon and Yu Gi Oh), TCGs were on the way out. Even those three TCG behemoths showed drops in physical sales!

But the current resurgence isn’t just about them; it’s about a whole bunch of smaller games that have appeared and made their mark. Cardfight Vanguard, Force of Will, Future Card Buddyfight and Weiss/Schwarz, for example, have all earned themselves secure places in the TCG section of any gaming store, with their strong rule sets and beautiful anime-style artwork (and in the case of Weiss/Schwarz, artwork and characters drawn straight from poular anime and manga series). And most recently, the Final Fantasy TCG emerged from Japan and broke new ground on Western shores, instantly becoming one of our biggest sellers and looking like a pretty safe bet for continuing to flourish!

So what is it that we like about TCGs so much that we just can’t let them go? Here’s a whole bunch of reasons why TCGs still rule the gaming market:

 

Constantly Evolving Gameplay

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You know the feeling you get when you complete your favourite computer game and realise there’s nothing left for you to do? Or when you play a great board game for the fiftieth time and discover that it holds no more surprises? TCGs avoid these problems by constantly updating themselves with new cards. With each new set, the players get new mechanics, new storylines, new possibilities for deck building, new characters, and new combinations of cards to explore.
With new cards constantly being introduced to the game, there’s no danger of a particular powerful deck type endlessly dominating the game scene; though you’ll often see similar types of decks at a tournament, those decks will undoubtedly fall beneath some other combination once a new set comes out. This is known as the ‘meta-game’, and the constant introduction of new cards stops the meta-game stagnating and isolating players who don’t have those cards or don’t get on with that particular combination.
In addition, most TCGs ‘cycle’ their sets so that the older ones fall out of tournament play as newer ones are introduced, again preventing stagnation of the meta-game. But the old cards don’t become useless; in fact, alternative play formats dedicated entirely to the older sets exist, and of course there’s always ‘kitchen table’ play, where you can use whichever cards you want!
This constant addition of new cards means that the game has ongoing support from its developers and from gaming stores and retailers. This means the players will continuously receive new material, new events, new promotions, and so on. It means that no matter how old the TCG gets, it’s still fresh – and because it’s still being supported, it’s going to keep getting sales and new players – which means it’ll keep getting supported, and the wonderful self-perpetuating cycle continues!

 

The Secondhand Market

The format of random booster packs opens up a wonderful secondhand market where players trade and sell their unwanted cards and hunt down the ones they want, but didn’t manage to get in a booster. Entire businesses have come into being based on single card trading as a starting point – including us! – and the trade market remains strong, even for the older sets.
Out-of-print cards, promotional cards, and particularly powerful in-print cards can fetch some pretty hefty prices in the secondhand market, encouraging collectors to hoard and take good care of their collections. A particularly rare Pokémon card recently sold for over £40,000! And certain Magic: the Gathering cards can go into six figure prices! The prices for cards tend to fluctuate depending on how rare they are, how powerful they are, and even upon how they’re being used in the meta-game at the time, so just collecting and trading the cards can be a full hobby, even without playing the games!

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Stories and Artwork

Each TCG will have its own plot, storyline and artwork style, bringing to it a sense of familiarity even as the cards continuously change. The extent and style of the stories varies; for example, the Pokémon storyline is loose, roughly following the events of the computer games, and the new Pokémon introduced in new sets reflect that. In contrast, the Magic: the Gathering storyline is much more in-depth, with short stories being posted on the website alongside each new set, and with the artwork and flavour text on the cards depicting key scenes from the stories. You can go online and find condensed versions of this story, explaining the characters, the worlds and the legends of the worlds in which the game exists, the Multiverse. By now the entire story is long and convoluted indeed, and jumps across numerous different worlds and lead characters, but it is still the same long, intertwined story. Players enjoy following the progress of their favourite characters or watching events unfold in their favourite worlds. As another example, Weiss/Schwarz chooses instead to take up the stories of established anime and manga series, retelling familiar stories to the fans.

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Treatment of artwork also varies; Pokémon and Magic: the Gathering both employ multiple artists, and fans enjoy collecting their favourite artist’s work or comparing different interpretations of their favourite characters. Weiss/Schwarz uses artwork from the anime and manga in question, so the fans get to appreciate that. Cardfight Vanguard and Force of Will both have incredibly detailed anime-style artwork that is amazing just to look at, before you even look at who the artist is or what is in the illustration.
And then there are the foil cards – not just especially pretty but extra rare, foil and holographic cards are hugely popular to collectors and are a feature of just about every single TCG.

Join us next week for part two, where we look at player communities, online play and the exciting new model of collectable card games!

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Posted in Cardfight!! Vanguard, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Magic the Gathering, Netrunner, Other Games, Pokemon, The Spoils, WH40k : Conquest, World of Warcraft, Yu-Gi-Oh!
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