My search for a new collectible card game

After the sudden demise of Android: Netrunner and the closure of Legend of the Five Rings, I was left with no customizable card game to play. For years, the genre has given me some of my best gaming experiences and, now, I have to look for a new one. From VTES to Flesh and Blood and Magic, I’m not out of options and yet the choice seems impossible.

TASTE

The reason I love customizable card games is how deep one can get into them. I can spend whole days thinking about the right way to build a deck and discussing my notes with others. I love how they are a great tool to meet people and I greatly enjoy competitive play and participating in tournaments.

With this in mind, my new game should have a strong community. Meeting in person is mandatory, as I would rather play video games if I’m home. It should also be deep enough to make competition fun. I want to be challenged, proven wrong and defeated. Being able to become a good player and test my abilities is important to me.

Lastly, price is a concern. Customizable card games tend not to have the best business models. Paying from 20 to 50€ for a single card is not unheard of and I’ve often felt priced out of contention. Being a passionate deck builder, expensive cards put a serious damper into my enjoyment of a game and I would like to avoid them whenever possible.

Let’s start looking at some games and why I’m considering them.

VAMPIRE: THE ETERNAL STRUGGLE

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle is a very old game. In fact, it’s the third oldest game in the genre. What sets it apart from the rest is its multiplayer focus. It’s normally played with five and features a strong negotiation component. These unique characteristics have kept it alive for almost 30 years and it’s now back in print, better than ever.

The current entry point to VTES is the 5th Edition Starter box. It’s the perfect introduction to the game, thanks to its five decks full of staples and fair price. Even if I don’t end up getting into the game competitively, it would make a good purchase for casual play. And I do get into it, cards are distributed in a player-friendly manner.

Most cards can be bought for 35 to 50 cents. Publisher Black Chantry has put them all for sale on DriveThruCards, meaning you can buy hundreds of them for cheap and then build any deck you desire. No matter how niche or strange your strategy, you can experiment with it without breaking your piggy bank.

However, despite the new edition, the game refuses to change. It has the same issues, the same overcomplex rules and mediocre balance. You can still sit and find yourself hard-countered by your rivals. The card design remains awful, with most of the physical space dedicated to useless borders and symbols. It’s slow and clunky.

Still, it’s a good game. It’s just so frustrating because it could be so much better. Chances are I’ll pick some cards for casual play, but digging deep into competition seems unlikely. I want something better.

FLESH AND BLOOD

In many ways, Flesh and Blood is the opposite of Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. It’s new, flashy and decidedly modern in design. It has a short history but in that short period of time it has cemented itself as the new dominated game in the genre. But it’s not cheap and its business model may prevent me from ever enjoying it.

Flesh and Blood reminds me of fighting video games. It’s focused on attacking and blocking with the hope of connecting a hit and chaining into a powerful combo. It would be an interesting change of pace from more traditional designs. Lastly, being able to play a card as an action, as a resource or as defense creates interesting decisions and depth.

However, it’s one of those games where cards come in random packs. It has six different rarities, including “Fabled” cards that only come in one out of 960 boosters. Cards that see regular tournament play may cost 70€ a piece or even a hundred and you need up to three copies of each. It’s downright abusive.

The high price turns all of Flesh and Blood‘s advantages moot. What good is a well-supported system of competitive play if I can’t afford a good deck? And while deckbuilding might be fun, if each change I make to a deck costs me as much as a whole new board game or an international trip, I would rather have the latter.

Ultimately, I play games to have fun. Having to filter my whole strategy through my wallet isn’t entertaining, it just fills me with dread. Flesh and Blood is just the latest example of how even the most worthwhile of games can be ruined by anti-consumer business practices.

NETRUNNER

Given my shortcomings about other games, why not go back to Android: Netrunner? While the game was officially cancelled in 2018, fan organization Nisei has kept it alive since then. They have released new cards, kept the online servers running and even attracted new players into the fold alongside the old ones.

The Nisei sets can also be bought on DriveThruCards, though this time we don’t buy them one by one. Rather, we buy a pack with the whole set included, like the old deluxe expansions by Fantasy Flight. Balance isn’t perfect but the new cards are fun and keep the game moving in the right direction.

Sadly, the game remains dead for in person play. The community that played it in Madrid, including myself, moved to other games when they were released and don’t organize tournaments nor weekly meet-ups. And if it’s just for casual play, I still have my cards and a couple nostalgic friends to play them with.

Hence, it’s unlikely I’ll go back to Netrunner. I’ll watch from the sidelines, reading the news shared on Whatsapp groups and increasingly lively online meetups. If they ever organize a big tournament, I’ll be there, trying to win my old titles back. But for now, I think it’s better for me to move on.

MINOR OPTIONS

There are other games, but they don’t seem great contenders. Ashes Reborn, Summoner Wars and Vampire The Masquerade Rivals would be worth a look, but their limited availability and lack of Spanish distributors makes the rise of a community unlikely. Any game that relies on imports and has no official play support is unlikely to grow roots.

I even considered going back to Magic for a few drafts, but the high level of randomness inherent to the game and the high price made me think twice. In the end, I scratched that itch by building a “Cube”, a personalized collection of cards you can draft any time you like. It has been a lot of fun and actually better than playing a retail set.

At the end of the day, I must realize how lucky I was to play both Android: Netrunner and Legend of the Five Rings. They were great games, with large communities and a fantastic consumer model. It’s unlikely I’ll ever find a game that fits so neatly into what I’m looking for. I should remain open-minded and evaluate each option thoroughly.

After all, I’m in for the long haul. Small issues or even a large initial investment can be overcome if the end result is worth it. Challenging new rivals, learning all about strategy and building decks for hours on an end is an incredible experience. I’ll do well, regardless of the game I choose.

2 Comments

  • Aww man, I was kinda hyped about Flesh & Blood after watching some gameplay videos for the new precon decks. I had a look at what the different rarities are after reading your post. Are they trying to make Magic’s mythic rares look reasonable? I still might get a pair of precon decks to play casually, but I don’t get two-player games to the table very often, so it’s probably not worth it.

    Cube is absolutely great! Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to find players. Seems like Commander is the only thing anyone wants to play outside of tournaments.

    • It is really a bummer and it is indeed inspired by Magic‘s mythic rares, box toppers and other lottery cards. So yeah, it’s a real shame. The precons are fun and actually quite affordable, but I don’t think I would play them enough to justify the purchase.

      Cube is fantastic and I’m lucky to know enough Magic or ex-Magic players at my club to take it there for a fun evening. It can be a challenge for less experienced players, but I’m really happy with how mine turned out.

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