The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Do CCGs have an inherent limit?

Shadowfist just had a near death experience. Z-Man games is expanding into board games (with some nice reprints and a ton of new games). A deal has just been announced to save Shadowfist (I hope).

One of the reasons given (for the near death) — it’s difficult to playtest. The company is (admirably) trying to keep older cards playable and not just making each expansion more and more powerful. Some powerful cards slip through the cracks, of course.

Interestingly, while this was happening I had an unrelated conversation asking if CCGs had a ‘natural limit’ of expansion? Is there a limit? If so, roughly how many cards?

I played Legend of the Five Rings, which had “None Banned, None Restricted” as it’s motto. For a while. Then came tournament restrictions (like Magic’s “Type 2”).

Magic (and other games) keep the business going by rotating cards into tournaments (and out). I haven’t payed attention to magic recently, but when I looked into it a few years ago I thought that the designers had done some interesting things.

But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that magic “No banned, no restricted” tournament would be boring. I suspect it would even be that way if you were allowed to remove some of the broken cards from the first set. [The rationale for that is that the testers never expected people to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars for decks]. If you get rid of Black Lotus, Moxes and a few others, but allowed everything else (limit 4) would Magic be interesting?

Legend of the Five Rings, with no limits beyond rules, already tended to be somewhat formulaic back when they ‘reset.’ (At 1,300 cards?).

I personally think that multiplayer shadowfist isn’t formulaic, but that’s due to the fact that deckbuilding isn’t as important (since players can balance each other). But I also tend to not play tournaments, outside of casual ones in my local group. And in duelling, it certainly is.

Now, assuming that you aren’t just printing worthless cards, how many cards could you print while expanding the strategy? In the real world, the danger is that a card slips through that grossly contracts the strategy space. We could call that “The Necropotence effect.” [I have no idea what that card does, but I’ve hung around game stores enough to know about it].

It’s tough to tell if there’s a theoretical limit, since all games have pragmatic effects. A practical limit seems to be 1,000 to 2,000 cards.

Written by taogaming

January 21, 2006 at 8:42 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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  1. I play quite a lot of Magic, and found the figure of 1000-2000 as the lower limit is very close to the size of Magic’s Standard format. They also have compoetative formats at about 2500 (extended) and at about 560 (Block) cards. Both of those normally have far more issues, the bigger one with a nessessity to ban cards and the smallerone with a lack of really viable decks.


    Richard Clyne

    January 22, 2006 at 5:29 am

  2. I think a viable cardpool is probably around 1000 cards. Both Magic and L5R had many cards printed that simply weren’t worth playing, so they could get away with having alarger cardpool. If you have a game with alot of combo potential, the number is probably even lower than 1000. I think Shadowfis really should do a reset of some sort. I know there’ll be lots of moaning a whining, but otherwise the game will become unsustainable, both financially and as a game.

    Michael Stadermann

    January 23, 2006 at 11:38 am

  3. Magic’s Standard format fluctuates between 1200 and 1500 cards. The number of viable tournament decks varies, but usually there are a least a half dozen or so, sometimes more. (Your local tournament scene will define how many there are, but the ubiquitous nature of decks pulled from the internet has pretty homogenized tournaments across the country.)

    Vintage (Magic’s most wide open format – a restricted list of about 20 cards and only the ridiculous ‘ante’ cards and the two cards that require physical dexterity are banned) sports roughly 8000 cards and is not as boring as Brian suspects. There’s also Legacy which bans most of the $100+ cards, but still allows play with 99% of all the cards printed.

    Is there an inherent limit? Probably. Magic, at least, has not reached its limit yet. The power level that a card has to have to be considered for a Vintage deck is extremely high, but Wizard’s still prints some that occasionally make the cut. The Vintage metagame if far from stagnant.

    A few sets back, I thought some of the bizarre cards that were being printed were signals that the think tank at WotC was drying up, but they’ve cranked out some very solid and creative cards/sets/mechanics since then, with no end in sight. It has to end eventually, though, doesn’t it?

    Jeff Wiles

    January 23, 2006 at 12:50 pm

  4. For head-to-head CCGs (aka everything except: V:TES and ‘Fist), the crucial part is having a changing pool of cards, either from new cards coming in or rotating cards and and out of the tournament formats (or both). What ends up happening is that for any given pool of cards, there will be a deck that rises to the top as the best deck. Once that deck becomes known, that format stops being interesting and you have to change up the card pool.

    I’m not 100% certain of this assertion, however. In Magic, one of the formats is called Extended, which is like Standard in that the number of allowable sets is limited – just not as limited as Standard. The 2005 Extended season was considered to be one of the best tournament formats ever, as there were a bunch (8-10?) of “top decks” for a long time. Right at the tail end of that season, one deck finally did emerge (and it wasn’t from the original 8-10), but this does raise the possibility that with the proper development of cards, a format of multiple “top decks” could happen.

    As far as I know, the only dedicated multiplayer CCGs are Shadowfist and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle (Jyhad). Magic has had unofficial multiplayer rules ever since the game came out, and last year the 2-Headed Giant format became a sanctionable format. The thing with multiplayer CCGs is that there’s a self-balancing factor. On an abstract level, a multiplayer CCG (and multiplayer games in general) are just artificial layers on top of the actual game of diplomacy/popularity contest. If one player/deck starts improving its position, the other players/decks react to that. As such, it’s much more possible to play weaker decks and still have a good shot at winning, and no one deck can really dominate. This results in a pretty vibrant game in terms of deck design and creativity, since many things are viable. Both V:TES and Shadowfist don’t restrict which sets are permissible, and for those games, I think that format works out great.

    Ben Peal

    January 23, 2006 at 2:42 pm

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