Template for a DIY TCG

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I’ve wrote anything. Lately I’ve had this idea for a “DIY” sort of TCG, and this space is as good as any to lay out my ideas for it.

Card games are fun imo, but things that are not fun: the booster pack format, the unnecessary cost due to the booster pack format, the game’s self-trivialization due to the booster pack format (Magic: the Gathering barely escapes the TCG stigma), and the toxic communities that are produced in part by the booster pack format. I mentioned the booster pack format a lot, huh?

It might all come down to that, but solving the booster pack format alone isn’t what makes my idea. After all, Fantasy Flight has had their “Living Card Game” (LCG) brand for years now which solves that exact problem. Instead, these LCG’s are produced in a similar manner to board games: There’s a core set and then many, many, many smaller expansions that follow. Unlike boosters, these core sets always come with a playset of every card in the expansion. This format has been so praised that even MtG sells fixed sets of certain cards now alongside their booster packs. Regardless, in the end LCG’s still suffer (to a lesser extent) many of the issues plaguing card games.

In today’s gaming world, spending $300 vs. $150 to get into a card game makes little difference for many, because either way the answer is “uh fuck that”, and it’s not helped by the relative stigma card games have done little to act against, especially when compared to how much videogames and esports have worked to legitimize and open themselves up.

A lot of the great things about card games mirror what’s great about fighting games. They’re great for connecting with people near and far, and they’re equally approachable as a casual or serious interest. Fighting games, however, have the benefit of being much easier to access. Even if you don’t have a game console, your friend probably does, and no matter where or who you play it with the same characters are always there. This doesn’t work as much with a card game. Decks are inherently personal, they’re something you *need* to yourself, and in TCG communities there is very real pressure to invest very serious time and money into yours. This is a huge barrier to entry, and starter decks only help so much, because you have to spend money to get one of those anyway, and every single new player has to worry about which one to buy and whether that one will suit them or not.

Hearthstone does a lot to fix these problems. It’s online and uses a free to play model, so trying the game is very low-commitment. You can switch between trying any of the classes as you please, so you don’t have to worry about making a wrong investment. However, at its heart Hearthstone is still a TCG, so aside from its astounding work on barrier to entry it still carries the same issues.

Alright, after all that background we’ve finally made it. You can breathe a sigh of relief now! My “DIY” TCG is as follows:

  • No card sale model whatsoever
  • Players print whatever cards they like on their own to construct their decks
  • In this DIY nature, the game is very welcoming to players coming up with their own unique cards
  • Central regulatory group exists to sanction a core rule set, official competitive formats, hosts a wiki-like resource for all cards, gives general structure to the game, etc.
  • Players may submit their personal cards for approval in the official format
  • Money is made with merchandise, premium printing service and ticket costs to official events. At worst, you pay a very small amount (since you’re basically just licensing a card) to get a playset of that card which validates you using it at official events though an account system.

At its heart here is the spirit of folk games. Letting people own the games they play is very valuable, I think, and the monolithic centralization of TCGs is rather unnecessary and exploitative. This way, while certainly a challenge to make work as a business, at least in my mind solves all the issues of the conventional TCG while keeping what’s best about them. I don’t think being a videogames solves TCG’s in the way Hearthstone is sometimes given credit for, because videogames cost a lot to make and are made to let you do very specific things with them, and I don’t think that brings out the better parts of card games.

Cards are great because they’re just rectangles with things printed on them and then you arrange them in funny ways and do silly things with them and a game comes out! They’re very physical and tactile which scratches an itch videogames sometimes can’t. And TCG’s are great because they’re a card game you can get very intimate and personal with, and the competitive and social aspects of them at least have the potential to stand alongside what fighting games have accomplished. As always, the closest example here is MtG, but honestly I have a lot of trouble recommending MtG to people.

A game structured as I’ve imagined really sounds fantastic to me and I’d love to see it exist. Maybe I’ll work on this someday, or maybe you’ll be really inspired by this idea and set out on it yourself? Either way’s fine by me really. The way TCG’s are now is very limited in potential, even though cards themselves are the opposite, so I’d love to see card games evolve beyond that.

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