Ever since the explosion in popularity and availability of the early 90s, collectible card games have been a staple of tabletop gaming, and have been steadily extending their tendrils steadily into other media.
After the furor around the release of the original iteration of #MagicTheGathering in ‘93, a rush of imitators and innovators began competing to create the Magic killer that would push Wizards of the Coast’s titan out of its dominant market position and establish a new pecking order in the world of CCGs.
Well, it’s now 24 years on from Magic’s initial shockwaves rattling the trading card world, and it’s still king of the roost. But that’s not to imply that a number of worthy successors and very interesting, very competitive games haven’t risen in the interim.
Now more than ever, with the simultaneous rise of independent development in both the digital and physical spaces, alongside the ubiquity of crowdfunding, the landscape is full of challengers to the throne that Magic built. These are some of the most interesting independent contenders available right now (or that are promised for later in 2017), either in digital or physical form.
It should come as no surprise that #SolForge is an extremely competent CCG if you consider its lineage.
The digital trading card game that took Kickstarter and Steam Early Access by storm last year is the brainchild of some of the minds behind Magic itself, as well as some of the Magic tour champions that created the physical TCG sensation #AscensionDeckbuildingGame. The combination of expert design and practical play experience is evident in SolForge’s intuitive interface and slick mechanics.
The SolForge system is built around in-game progression, so that cards level up and become more powerful throughout the course of a match. The players also gain levels through play, allowing them to play increasingly more dangerous cards the longer a game continues.
With robust play options like online, tournament, and campaign modes, and some interesting wrinkles like card forging and a card draft option, SolForge has the depth to keep players hooked (and collecting) for the long haul.
#Dimension, another Kickstarter success, has a fascinating premise. For one, it’s completely free. Fully playable, tournament legal physical decks can be printed out and assembled by anyone with internet access, not through pseudo-legal piracy but with the full backing and blessing of the developers.
The idea is that if people get hooked on the game playing with printed cards, they’ll eventually crave the physical cards themselves and kick Dimension’s creators a couple bucks for the real thing.
But Dimension also has some interesting gameplay, ahem, dimensions, like the quantum uncertainty mechanic. Cards marked with quantum uncertainty might be more powerful depending on how much mana you invest when casting them, or they might cost variable amounts of mana depending on which type you use to cast them.
They may be cheaper with a specific kind of mana or more expensive with generic mana. And there are systems like On the Draw, which allow players who have fallen behind (or who are playing second) to catch up to their opponents with things like bursts of additional mana. It’s a very promising, balanced, and unique approach to the TCG format, and one we hope we see more developers emulating.
Traveller Customizable Card Game
#Traveller is based on the science fiction RPG of the same name, and puts players in the role of starship captains exploring the galaxy (and exploiting it for power and wealth).
It blends trading, combat, and exploration with RPG elements and puts aside traditional collectible card game mechanics, instead opting for complete products with no booster packs or rare cards or random allocations.
The core of the game revolves around icons on each card that indicate its capabilities and attributes. Players race each other to complete contracts and build their empire, all the while contending with a hostile universe, the constant and looming threat of insolvency, and, of course, harassment and piracy instigated by other players.
Traveller promises an interesting blend of genres and, refreshingly, a game that’s fully playable and complete right out of the box, with no further investment required.