Card Game Formats and their Place in the Library

Most everyone, especially those of us working with children and teens, have likely heard of the Magic: the Gathering (M:tG), Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh card games.  In the case of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, the intellectual property itself may be a draw to the game, or friends may play the card game and want to convince others to do the same.  These games can be a lot of fun, inspire creative strategies, and encourage competitive players to test their mettle against each other.


What a lot of people may not be aware of is that there is more than one type of card game.  There are Collectible Card Games (CCG), including those listed above, but they differ significantly from the Living Card Game (LCG) format that has been popularized by games such as Android: Netrunner and A Game of Thrones 1st and 2nd Edition.  I’ll explain what each format is and what their role could play in a library game collection.

The collectible card game (CCG), such as M:tG, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and others, can be an extremely expensive format to get into.  Cards are typically sold in ‘booster’ packs which often contain between 9 and 15 cards, depending on the game, and are priced between $4 and $10 depending on the game and store.  Each new set that gets released, which can happen every few months, adds new cards that can be utilized to construct a deck that you would play against another player.  These newly released sets don’t replace previous sets, but instead add to the pool of available cards and often introduce new strategies.


Individual cards have rarity, or how likely they are to be in a given booster pack, and rarer cards are worth more money.  In order to construct specific decks, someone may have to purchase cards online or from friends or be willing to trade other rare cards for them.  Having every card available to build a deck to play with is likely impossible without thousands of dollars to spend and is certainly unrealistic for a library collection.  Many tournament players will only purchase the cards they need for one or two decks and will often spend hundreds of dollars to construct just one deck.  If you do have some M:tG decks available for people to play, be aware that if there’s rare, expensive cards in the deck that they may go missing!  While the possibility of theft is always an issue in any library, M:tG cards can disappear fairly easily.

There are different tournament formats for some CCGs, including M:tG.  M:tG has a constructed format and a limited format for tournaments, with the constructed format requiring a pre-built deck from your own collection while the limited format has you build your deck from packs you open at the tournament.  Some cards may be restricted (can only play 1 copy of the card) or banned (can’t even be included in a deck), depending on the format.  These formats really only apply to sanctioned tournaments, however, so if you aren’t running an official tournament, you can host it however you like.  Keep in mind that if you do have card game tournaments at your library some cards have been banned or restricted for a reason – they may be too strong, break the game, or create a very negative player experience.


Due to the intimidating nature of a huge card pool inherent to a CCG that has been around for a while, many CCGs have created introductory card pools and sets for the new player.  These may be the best bet for an addition to a library game collection.  They often have simpler rules and cards, a limited card pool, and generally offer a friendlier play experience when compared to the daunting challenge of knowing hundreds or thousands of possible cards.  Pokemon has Pokemon Trainer Kits, Yu-Gi-Oh offers starter decks, and M:tG has Magic Duels, a free, online platform for its card game.  A library can always offer to host tournaments or card game programs, but if you want your own collection, these introductory decks and sets would be the best way to go.

Another type of card game, the Living Card Game (LCG), has a different distribution model from the CCG model.  Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) created the LCG format with games such as Android: Netrunner and A Game of Thrones.  This format introduces a card pool for a game through a core set and then new packs are released approximately once per month with a MSRP of around $15.  While a player may need to buy multiple core sets to have a full play set of each card as some cards are only included one or twice in a core set, no card is left out entirely.  Additionally, the monthly-ish packs have a full play set of the new cards rather than random cards in the CCG booster packs.  Once a player has purchased a new monthly pack they do not need to ever purchase it again, as every card available from that new pack is included in it.  No cards are considered rare.  Deluxe sets may be released occasionally, but these also include a full play set of each card and serve more as a larger expansion to the game when compared to monthly packs.


Over a period of time, the card pool for a LCG can become nearly as daunting as a CCG, and FFG has introduced rotations to its lineup of LCGs.  Over time, individual packs will rotate out of legal tournament play, while the core set and deluxe expansions will be legal for the life of the game.  This can make it difficult for a new player to know what cards are legal for a tournament, but the flip side is that they don’t need to know all of the cards from early packs to play in the tournament.  Additional barriers for tournament play can include restricted or banned lists, similar to M:tG, with cards that are considered too powerful or poorly designed being removed from tournament play.

The main benefit to a LCG is that after each month’s purchase of the new pack that comes out, you have every card available in the game – provided you’ve purchased the core sets and any deluxe expansions.  This format often ends up being cheaper in the long run than CCGs due to the lack of card rarity, provides for the possibility of multiple decks being created from one collection, and is more of a monthly upkeep cost for the collection rather than a gamble on what cards will be in the booster pack.


While the LCG model would likely fit better in a library collection, the monthly cost of upkeep for a game may be unrealistic.  Instead, core sets and deluxe expansions could be acquired to provide for a large card pool and players could explore the game from within that more limited setting.  Multiple decks could be constructed this way which would allow for multiple players as well as provide a good introduction to the game without providing too large of a card pool.

Card games are popular, whether it’s a collectible card game or a living card game, and we’re likely to continue seeing them played at our libraries.  It’s up to you whether or not they should have a space in your collection, but hopefully this sheds some light on two card game distribution models that exist and possible issues you could run into.  Other formats for these models exist, such as draft formats, that could provide for fun one-off card game programs, but that will be addressed in another post.

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