Collectible card game
A collectible card game (CCG), also called a trading card game (TCG) or customizable card game, is a card game that uses specially designed sets of playing cards. Terms such as "collectible" and "trading" are used interchangeably because of copyrights and patent holdings of game companies. The rudimentary definition requires the game to resemble trading cards in shape and function, be mass-produced for trading or collectibility, and it must have rules for strategic game play. The definition of CCGs is further refined as being a card game in which the player uses his own deck with cards primarily sold in random assortments. Acquiring these cards may be done by trading with other players or buying card packs. If every card in the game can be obtained by making a small number of purchases, or if the manufacturer does not market it as a CCG, then it is not a CCG.
Typically, a CCG is initially played using a starter deck, or intro deck, which has a basic complement of cards that can be used to play the game. This deck may be expanded or modified with cards from booster packs, which contain a random selection of cards of varying rarities, usually between 8 and 15 cards. One of these cards is a rare or unique card that is much harder to obtain than the remaining cards and often has a higher value than the rest, though these values change over time as distribution changes, cards are banned in formats, or the game is further changed by the introduction of more cards later on. Eventually, with enough cards, new decks can be created from scratch.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History
- 2.1 Pre-History closely associated with Wizards of the Coast
- 2.2 Magic: The Gathering
- 2.3 CCG craze of 1994 & 1995
- 2.4 Stabilization and consolidation
- 2.5 Wizards of the Coast dominates, Hasbro steps in
- 2.6 Transitions and refining of the market
- 2.7 Franchise trends continue
- 2.8 A second wave of new CCGs
- 2.9 The CCG renaissance continues
- 3 Gameplay
- 4 Distribution
- 5 Patent
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
The first collectible card game created was Magic: The Gathering, designed by Richard Garfield, and patented by Wizards of the Coast in 1993. It is still considered the most successful CCG and many other CCGs have tried to emulate it. Magic: The Gathering borrowed elements from the board game Cosmic Encounter which also used cards for game play. The Base Ball Card Game from 1904 is a noteworthy predecessor to CCGs because it had similar qualities but it never saw production to qualify it as a collectible card game. The rules of the game remain missing and it is not known if the game was intended to be a standalone product or something altogether different like Top Trumps. Other notable entries that resemble and predate the CCG are Strat-O-Matic, Nuclear War, BattleCards, and Illuminati.
Despite the dominance of Magic: The Gathering in the CCG market, a few have met with success and have built a niche for themselves including Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, and Legend of the Five Rings. Other notable CCGs have come and gone: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, Middle-earth, World of Warcraft and Netrunner among others. Many other CCGs were produced, but had little or no commercial success.
Kinds of CCGs and similar products
CCGs of the past and present are divided into two kinds: "dead games" and "live games". Dead Games are those CCGs which are no longer supported by their manufacturers and cease to release expansions. Live Games are those CCGs which continue to be supported by their manufacturers. Usually this means that new expansions are being created for the game and player tournaments are occurring in some fashion.
CCGs should not be mistaken for deck-building games, where the construction of the deck is a mechanism used during gameplay, or Living Card Games (LCGs), which is a registered trademark of Fantasy Flight Games. LCGs are card games that share many of the same characteristics as CCGs, but without the randomized booster packs characteristic of trading cards and CCGs.
Other similar card games have been marketed or referred to as CCGs. Collectible Common-Deck Card Games are those games where players do not have their own personal deck, and consequently, no customization of decks occur and no trading or metagame is developed. Non-Collectible Customizable Card Games are those games where each player has their own deck, but no randomness occurs when acquiring the cards. Many of these games are sold as complete sets. A few were intended to have booster packs, but those were never released.
Pre-History closely associated with Wizards of the Coast
Prior to the advent of the CCG, the market for alternative games was dominated by role-playing games (RPG), in particular Dungeons & Dragons by TSR. Wizards of the Coast (Wizards), a new company formed in Peter Adkison's basement in 1990, was looking to enter the RPG market with its series called The Primal Order which converted characters to other RPG series. After a suit from Palladium Books which could have financially ruined the company, Wizards acquired Talislanta another RPG. This was after Lisa Stevens joined the company in 1991 as vice president after having left White Wolf. Through their mutual friend Mike Davis, Adkison met Richard Garfield who at the time was a doctoral student. Garfield and Mike Davis had an idea for a game called RoboRally and pitched the idea to Wizards of the Coast in 1991, but Wizards did not have the resources to manufacture it and instead challenged Garfield to make a game that would pay for the creation of RoboRally. This game would require minimal resources to make and only 15 to 20 minutes to play.
Magic: The Gathering
In December 1991, Garfield had a prototype for a game called Mana Clash, and by 1993 he established Garfield Games to attract publishers and to get a larger share of the company should it become successful. Originally, Mana Clash was designed with Wizards in mind, but the suit between Palladium Books and Wizards was still not settled. Investment money was eventually secured from Wizards and the name Mana Clash was changed to Magic: The Gathering. The ads for it first appeared in Cryptych, a magazine that focused on RPGs. On the July 4 weekend in 1993, the game premiered at the Origins Game Fair in Fort Worth, Texas. In the following month of August, the game was released and sold out its initial print run of 2.6 million cards creating an immediate need for more cards. Wizards quickly released new iterations of the core set, called Beta (7.3 million card print run) and Unlimited (35 million card print run) in an attempt to satisfy orders as well as to fix small errors in the game. December also saw the release of the first expansion called Arabian Nights. With Magic: The Gathering still the only CCG on the market, it released another expansion called Antiquities which experienced collation problems. Another core set iteration named Revised was released shortly after that. Demand was still not satiated as the game grew by leaps and bounds. Legends was released in mid 1994 and no end was in sight for the excitement over the new CCG.
CCG craze of 1994 & 1995
What followed was the CCG craze. Magic was so popular that game stores could not keep it on their shelves. More and more orders came for the product, and as other game makers looked on they realized that they had to capitalize on this new fad. The first to do so was TSR who rushed their own game Spellfire into production and was released in June 1994. Through this period of time, Magic was hard to obtain because production never met the demand. Store owners placed large inflated orders in an attempt to circumvent allocations placed by distributors. This practice would eventually catch up to them when printing capacity met demand and the expansion of Fallen Empires was released in November 1994. Combined with the releases of 9 other CCGs, among them Galactic Empires, Decipher's Star Trek, On the Edge, and Super Deck!. Steve Jackson Games which was heavily involved in the alternative game market looked to tap into the new CCG market as well and figured the best way of doing it was to adapt their existing Illuminati. The result was Illuminati: New World Order which followed with two expansions in 1995 and 1998. Another entry by Wizards of the Coast was Jyhad. The game sold well, but not nearly as well as Magic, however it was considered a great competitive move by Wizard as Jyhad was based on one of the most popular intellectual properties in the alternative game market which kept White Wolf from aggressively competing with Magic. By this time however, it may have been a moot point as the CCG Market had hit its first obstacle: too much product. The overprinted expansion of Magic's Fallen Empires threatened to upset the relationship that Wizards had with its distributors as many complained of getting too much product, despite their original over-ordering practices.
In early 1995, the GAMA Trade Show previewed upcoming games for the year. One out of every three games announced at the show was a CCG. Publishers other than game makers were now entering the CCG market such as Donruss, Upper Deck, Fleer, Topps, Comic Images, and others. The CCG bubble appeared to be on everyone's mind. Too many CCGs were being released and not enough players existed to meet the demand. In 1995 alone, 38 CCGs entered the market, among them the most notable being Doomtrooper, Middle-earth, OverPower, Rage, Shadowfist, Legend of the Five Rings, and SimCity. Jyhad also saw a makeover and was renamed as Vampire: The Eternal Struggle to distance itself from the Islamic term jihad as well as to get closer to the source material. The Star Trek CCG from Decipher was almost terminated after disputes with Paramount announced that the series would end in 1997. But by the end of the year, the situation was resolved and Decipher regained the license to the Star Trek franchise along with Deep Space Nine, Voyager and the movie First Contact.
Despite the enthusiasm from manufacturers, by the time of Gen Con in the summer of 1995, retailers had noticed CCG sales were lagging. The Magic expansion Chronicles released in November and it was essentially a compilation of older sets. It was maligned by collectors and they claimed it devalued their collections. Besides this aspect, the market was still reeling from too much product as Fallen Empires still sat on shelves alongside newer Magic expansions like Ice Age. The one new CCG that retailers were hoping to save their sales, Star Wars, wasn't released until very late in December. By then, Wizards of the Coast, the lead seller in the CCG market had announced a downsizing in their company and it was followed by a layoff of over 30 jobs. The excess product and lag in sales also coincided with an 8 month long gap in between Magic: The Gathering's expansions, the longest in its history.
Stabilization and consolidation
In early 1996, the CCG market was still reeling from its recent failures and glut of product, including the release of Wizards' expansion Homelands which was rated as the worst Magic expansion to date. The next two years would mark a "cool off" period for the over-saturated CCG market. Additionally, manufacturers slowly came to understand that having a CCG was not enough to keep it alive. They also had to support organized players which in turn further evolved tournament play. Combined with a new dichotomy between collectors and players especially among Magic players, more emphasis was placed on the game rather than the collectibility of the cards.
Plenty more CCGs were introduced in 1996, chief among them were BattleTech, The X-Files, Mythos, and Wizard's very own Netrunner. Many established CCGs were in full swing releasing expansions every few months, but even by this time, many CCGs from only two years ago had already died. TSR had ceased production of Spellfire and attempted another collectible game called Dragon Dice which failed shortly after being released.
In the first half of 1997, Wizards of the Coast announced that it had acquired TSR and its Dungeons & Dragons property which also gave them control of Gen Con. Wizards now had its long sought role-playing game, and it quickly discontinued all plans to continue producing Dragon Dice as well as any hopes of resuming production of the Spellfire CCG. Decipher was now sanctioning tournaments for their Star Trek and Star Wars games. Star Wars was also enjoying strong success in part from the coinciding enthusiasm for the Star Wars Special Edition films. In fact, the CCG would remain the second best selling CCG until the introduction of Pokémon in 1999.
Wizards continued acquiring properties and bought Legend of the Five Rings CCG on June 26. Wizards also acquired Andon Unlimited which by association gave them control over the Origins Convention. By September, Wizards was awarded a patent for its "Trading Card Game." Later in October, Wizards announced that it would seek royalty payments from other CCG companies. Allegedly, only Harper Prism announced its intention to pay these royalties for its game Imajica. Other CCGs acknowledge the patent on their packaging.
1997 saw a slow down in the release of new CCG games. Only 7 new games came out, among them: Dune, Babylon 5, Shadowrun, Imajica and Aliens/Predator. Babylon 5 saw moderate success for a few years before its publisher Precedence succumbed to a nonrenewal of its license later on in 2001. Also in 1997, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle ceased production. However, Wizards of the Coast attempted to enter a more mainstream market with the release of a watered down version of Magic, called Portal. Its creation is considered a failure along with its follow up Portal Second Age released in 1998.
Wizards of the Coast dominates, Hasbro steps in
By February 1998, one out of every two CCGs sold was Magic: the Gathering. Only 6 new CCGs were introduced that year, all but one being a product of Wizards of the Coast. C-23, Doomtown, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Legend of the Burning Sands and Xena: Warrior Princess were those five, and only Doomtown met with better than average reviews before its run was terminated and the rights returned to Alderac. C-23, Hercules, and Xena were all a part of a new simplified CCG system Wizards had created for beginners. Called the ARC System, it had four distinct types of cards: Resource, Character, Combat, and Action. The system also utilized the popular "tapping" mechanic of Magic: The Gathering. This system was abandoned shortly afterwards.
Despite limited success or no success at all in the rest of the CCG market, Magic had recovered and Wizards learned from its lessons of 1995 and early 1996. Players still enjoyed the game and were gobbling up its latest expansions of Tempest, Stronghold, Exodus and by year's end, Urza's Saga which added new enthusiasm to Magic's fanbase in light of some of the cards being "too powerful."
In early 1999, Wizards released the Pokémon TCG to the mass market. The game benefited from the Pokémon fad also of that year. At first there wasn't enough product to meet demand. Some retailers perceived the shortage to be, in part, related to Wizards's recent purchase of the Game Keeper stores where it was assumed they received Pokémon shipments more often than non-affiliated stores. By the summer of 1999, the Pokémon TCG became the first CCG to outsell Magic: The Gathering. The success of Pokémon brought renewed interest to the CCG market and many new companies began pursuing this established customer base. Large retail stores such as Walmart and Target began carrying CCGs and by the end of September, Hasbro was convinced on its profitability and bought Wizards of the Coast for $325 million.
Transitions and refining of the market
By 2000, the ups and downs of the CCG market was old hat to its retailers. They foresaw Pokémon's inevitable fall from grace as the fad reached its peak in April of that year. The panic associated with the overflooding of the CCGs from 1995 and 1996 was absent and the retailers withstood the crash of Pokémon. Yet CCGs benefited from the popularity of Pokémon and they saw an uptick in the amount of CCGs released and an overall increased interest in the game genre. Pokémon's mainstream success in the CCG world also highlighted an increasing trend of CCGs being marketed with existing intellectual properties, especially those with an existing television show, such as a cartoon. New CCGs introduced in 2000 included notable entries in Sailor Moon, The Terminator, Digi-Battle, Dragon Ball Z, Magi-Nation and X-Men. Vampires: The Eternal Struggle resumed production in 2000 after White Wolf regained full rights and released the first new expansion in three years called Sabbat War. Wizards of the Coast introduced a new sports CCG called MLB Showdown as well.
Decipher released its final chronological expansion of the original Star Wars trilogy called Death Star II and would continue to see a loss in sales as interest waned in succeeding expansions, and their Star Wars license was not being renewed. Mage Knight was also released this year and would seek to challenge the CCG market by introducing miniatures into the mix. Though not technically a CCG, it would target the same player base for sales. The real shake up in the industry however, came when Hasbro laid off more than 100 workers at Wizards of the Coast and ended its attempts at an online version of the game when it sold off their interactive division. Coinciding with this turn of events was Peter Adkisson's decision to resign and Lisa Stevens whose job ended when The Duelist magazine (published by Wizards of the Coast) was cancelled by the parent company. With Adkisson went Wizards' acquirement of Gen Con and the Origins Convention went to GAMA. Hasbro also ceased production of Legends of the Five Rings in 2000 and it was eventually sold to Alderac in 2001.
Franchise trends continue
As seen in 2000, the years 2001 and 2002 continued on with the CCG market being less likely to take chances on new and original intellectual properties, but instead it would invest in CCGs that were based off existing franchises. Cartoons, movies, television, and books influenced the creation of such CCGs as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, A Game of Thrones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Yu-Gi-Oh! and not one, but two Star Wars CCGs: Jedi Knights and a rebooted Star Wars TCG, both by Wizards of the Coast. They followed the demise of the original Star Wars CCG by Decipher in December of 2001, but they would see very little interest and eventually the two games were cancelled. Other niche CCGs were also made, including Warlord and Warhammer 40,000.
Upper Deck had its first hit with Yu-Gi-Oh! The game was known to be popular in Japan but until 2002 had not been released in the United States. The game was mostly released to big retailers, and hobby stores were only added to their distribution after the fact. By the end of 2002, the game was the top CCG even though it was no where near the phenomenon that Pokémon was. The card publisher Precedence produced a new CCG in 2001 based on the Rifts RPG by Palladium. Rifts had top of the line artwork but the size of the starter deck was similar in size to the RPG books. Precedence's other main CCG Babylon 5 ended its decent run in 2001 after the company lost its licence. The game was terminated and the publisher later folded in 2002. The release of The Lord of the Rings CCG marked the release of the 100th new CCG since 1993, and 2002 also marked the release of the 500th CCG expansion for all CCGs. The Lord of the Rings CCG briefly beat out sales of Magic for a few months.
Magic continued a steady pace releasing successful expansion blocks with Odyssey and Onslaught. The Star Trek CCG by Decipher released The Motion Pictures expansion and it also announced that it would be the last expansion for the game. Decipher then released the Second Edition for the Star Trek CCG which refined the rules, rebooted the game, and introduced new card frames. Collectible miniature games made more splashes in 2002 with the releases of HeroClix and MechWarrior.
A second wave of new CCGs
The next few years saw a large increase in the amount of companies willing to start a new CCG. No small thanks to the previous successes of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, many new CCGs entered the market, many of which tried to continue the trend of tying them in with other franchises. Notable entries include The Simpsons, SpongeBob SquarePants, Neopets, G.I. Joe, Hecatomb, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and many others. Duel Masters was introduced to the United States after strong popularity in Japan the previous two years. Wizards of the Coast published it for a couple years before it was cancelled in the U.S. due to weak sales. Two Warhammer CCGs were released with Horus Heresy and WarCry. Horus Heresy lasted two years and was succeeded by Dark Millennium in 2005.
Also, two entries from Decipher were released, one that passed the torch from their Star Wars CCG to WARS. WARS kept most of the game play mechanics from their Star Wars game, but transferred them to a new and original setting. The game did not do particularly well, and after two expansions, the game was cancelled in 2005. The other new CCG was .hack//Enemy which won an Origins award. Unfortunately, this game was also cancelled in 2005.
Plenty of other CCGs were attempted by various publishers, many that were based on Japanese manga such as Beyblade, Gundam War, One Piece, InuYasha, Zatch Bell!, Case Closed, and Yu Yu Hakusho. Existing CCGs were reformatted or rebooted including Dragon Ball Z as Dragon Ball GT and Digimon D-Tector as the Digimon Collectible Card Game.
An interesting CCG released by Upper Deck was called the Vs. System. It incorporated the Marvel and DC Comics universes and pitted the heroes and villains from those universes against one another. Similarly, the game UFS: The Universal Fighting System used characters from Street Fighter, Soul Calibur, Tekken, Mega Man, Darkstalkers, etc. This CCG was obtained by Jasco Games in 2010 and is currently still being made. Another CCG titled Call of Cthulhu was the spiritual successor to Mythos by the publisher Chaosium. Chaosium licensed the game to Fantasy Flight Games who produced the CCG.
Probably one of the biggest developments in the CCG market was the release of Magic's 8th Edition core set. It introduced a redesigned card border and it would later mark the beginning of a new play format titled Modern that utilized cards from this set onward. Pokémon, which was originally published by Wizards, was sold to Nintendo in June 2003.
The CCG renaissance continues
The previous years influx of new CCGs continued on into 2006. Riding high on the success of the popular PC Game World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment licensed Upper Deck to publish a TCG based on the game. The World of Warcraft TCG was born and was carried by major retailers but saw limited success. Following previous trends, more Japanese influenced CCGs entered the market. These games were either based on cartoons or manga and included: Naruto, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Bleach, Rangers Strike and the classic series Robotech. Dragon Ball GT was rebooted once again in 2008 and renamed as just Dragon Ball.
Additional franchises were made into CCGs, some as reboots. Some of the more notable ones include: Conan, Battlestar Galactica, Pirates of the Caribbean, Power Rangers, 24 TCG, and another attempt at Doctor Who in the United Kingdom and Australia. Publisher Alderac released City of Heroes CCG based on the City of Heroes PC game. Another video game was turned into a CCG by Tomy and titled Kingdom Hearts and was based on the PS2 game Kingdom Hearts by Square Enix.
By the end of 2008, trouble was brewing between Konami, who owned the rights to Yu-Gi-Oh! and its licensee Upper Deck. Meanwhile, strong sales continued with the three top CCGs of Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Magic: the Gathering. Dark Millenium ended its run on the Warhammer series in 2007.
Each CCG system has a fundamental set of rules that describes the players' objectives, the categories of cards used in the game, and the basic rules by which the cards interact. Each card will have additional text explaining that specific card's effect on the game. They also generally represent some specific element derived from the game's genre, setting, or source material. The cards are illustrated and named for these source elements, and the card's game function may relate to the subject. For example, Magic: The Gathering is based on the fantasy genre, so many of the cards represent creatures and magical spells from that setting. In the game, a dragon is illustrated as a reptilian beast and typically has the flying ability and higher combat stats than smaller creatures.
The bulk of CCGs are designed around a resource system by which the pace of each game is controlled. Frequently, the cards which constitute a player's deck are considered a resource, with the frequency of cards moving from the deck to the play area or player's hand being tightly controlled. Relative card strength is often balanced by the number or type of basic resources needed in order to play the card, and pacing after that may be determined by the flow of cards moving in and out of play. Resources may be specific cards themselves, or represented by other means (e.g., tokens in various resource pools, symbols on cards, etc.).
Players select which cards will compose their deck from the available pool of cards, unlike traditional card games such as poker or crazy eights in which the deck's content is limited and pre-determined. This allows a CCG player to strategically customize their deck to take advantage of favorable card interactions, combinations and statistics. While a player's deck can theoretically be of any size, a deck of approximately sixty cards is considered the optimal size, for reasons of playability, and has been adopted by most CCGs as an arbitrary 'standard' deck size.
Some games, such as Magic: the Gathering, limit how many copies of a particular card can be included in a deck; such limits force players to think creatively when choosing cards and deciding on a playing strategy.
During a game, players usually take turns playing cards and performing game-related actions. The order and titles of these steps vary between different game systems, but the following are typical:
- Ready phase — A player's own in-play cards are readied for the upcoming turn.
- Draw phase — The player draws one or more cards from his or her own deck. This is necessary in order to circulate cards in players' hands.
- Main phase — The player uses the cards in hand and in play to interact with the game or to gain and expend resources. Some games allow for more than one of these phases.
- Combat phase — This typically involves some sort of attack against the other player, which that player defends against using their own cards. Such a phase is the primary method for victory in most games.
- End of turn — The player discards to the game's maximum hand size, if it has one, and end of turn effects occur.
In addition to actual physical card games, collectible card games have also been developed that are played over the Internet and LAN lines. Instead of receiving physical cards, a player establishes a virtual collection that exists only as a set of data stored on a server. Such cards can be purchased (using real money) or traded within this environment. Titles include online versions of games that originated as physical CCGs (e.g., Magic: The Gathering Online), as well as games that exist solely online (e.g., Draconian Wars: Hyperborea Edition, Solforge and Hearthstone). The first online CCGs were Sanctum and Chron X, both developed in 1997. Sanctum was taken offline in 2010, but has since returned due to fan intervention; Chron X still exists, producing new expansions over a decade later. Chron X was developed by Genetic Anomalies, Inc, which later developed other online collectible card-style games based on licensed content.
In some cases, new elements are added to the CCG — the online card games Sanctum and Star Chamber include game boards as well as animations and sound effects for some of their cards. The NOKs, on the other hand, offer talking figures and action-arcade game play. In a different case, The Eye of Judgement, a CCG that has been combined with a PlayStation 3 game, bringing innovation with the CyberCode matrix technology. It allows real cards bought in stores to be scanned with the PlayStation Eye and brought into the game with 3D creatures, animations, spell animations, etc. as representations. In a similar fashion, Chaotic, Bella Sara, and MapleStory allow online players to enter a unique alpha-numeric code found on each physical card. These codes allow access to online cards or other online features.
A related concept is that of software programs which allow players to play CCGs over the Internet, but without relying on a central server or database. When utilizing such software, players don't need to purchase any (real or virtual) cards, and are instead free to create any deck they like using the cards supported by the client software. Most of these programs have limited rule enforcement engines, instead relying on players to interpret the complex interactions between the cards. Some of these software packages support the play of more than one virtual card game; for example, Magic Workstation was originally designed to play Magic, but can technically support additional games as well.
In Japan, online card battle games are a common genre of free-to-play browser games or mobile games; such games with significant populations of players include The Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls, Kantai Collection and Million Arthur. Cinderella Girls earns over 1 billion yen in revenue monthly, whilst Kantai Collection has grown to more than 1 million players throughout Japan.
The systems for online play that support the greatest variety of games are LackeyCCG and Gccg. Offerings include many copyrighted games whose manufacturers are no longer publishing the game, most notably Decipher's Star Wars Customizable Card Game and Precedence’s Babylon 5 Collectible Card Game.
In addition, there are several small, online CCGs run completely free by the card game creators and volunteer staff. These games at their most basic include a number of decks created for members to collect and trade. These cards are earned through games and contests at the CCG, with additional prize cards earned by collecting all cards in a deck (mastering) or completing a certain number of trades. Members typically visit each other's websites where they house their card collections, and propose trades to each other through forums or e-mail.
Specific game cards are most often produced in various degrees of scarcity, generally denoted as common (C), uncommon (U), and rare (R). Some games use alternate or additional designations for the relative rarity levels, such as super-, ultra-, mythic- or exclusive rares. Special cards may also only be available through promotions, events, purchase of related material, or redemption programs. The idea of rarity borrows somewhat from other types of collectible cards, such as baseball cards, but in CCGs, the level of rarity also denotes the significance of a card's effect in the game, i.e., the more powerful a card is in terms of the game, the greater its rarity. A powerful card whose effects were underestimated by the game's designers may increase in rarity due to those effects; in later editions of the game, such a card's level of rarity might increase to reduce its availability to players. Such a card might even be removed entirely from the next edition, to further limit its availability and its effect on gameplay.
Most collectible card games are distributed as sealed packs containing a subset of the available cards, much like trading cards. Some of the most common distribution methods are:
- Starter set — This is an introductory product which contains enough cards for two players and includes instructional information on playing the game. In order to speed the learning process, the card content is typically fixed and designed around a theme, so that the new players can start playing right away.
- Tournament or starter deck - This contains enough game cards (usually 40 or more) for one player. It usually contains a random selection of cards, but with some basic elements so that it may be playable from the start.
- Theme deck — Most CCGs are designed with opposing factions, themes, or strategies. A theme deck is composed primarily of cards that work well together and is typically non-random.
- Booster packs — This method of distribution is most similar to trading cards. Depending on the game, booster packs for CCGs may contain from 4 to 15 cards.
A patent was granted to Wizards of the Coast in 1997 for "a novel method of game play and game components that in one embodiment are in the form of trading cards" that includes claims covering games whose rules include many of Magic's elements in combination, including concepts such as changing orientation of a game component to indicate use (referred to in the Magic and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle rules as "tapping") and constructing a deck by selecting cards from a larger pool. The patent has aroused criticism from some observers, who believe some of its claims to be invalid.
In 2003, the patent was an element of a larger legal dispute between Wizards of the Coast and Nintendo, regarding trade secrets related to Nintendo's Pokémon Trading Card Game. The legal action was settled out of court, and its terms were not disclosed.
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