Thursday, April 24, 2014

Letting Go of the Unknown In "Collectible" Games

Marvel Dice Masters released just yesterday, and with it brings booster packs to supplement your starter set. It's apparently what everyone can't stop talking about, and it's nearly sold out from the start.

Before I continue, I must say...I've learned to not like collectible games.

It's not an absolute "I hate collectible games," because all games are prone to it in some form or another. But most CCGs (or "collectible card games") that I enjoyed from my youth have fallen from my radar for reasons of finance or life. And I was one that didn't mind these games. Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh were my main vices, and I've played enough to know that each have their own time sinks. But what particularly befuddled me were the collectible rarity of cards.

A Vicious Cycle

It's rare, and you want it...

When you play against someone with rarer cards than you, you're intrigued; you want what they have, and you decide to buy a few boosters to try your luck. No good. Maybe it's a poor draw, so you try just one more pack. No luck there. You're out of money, but you know you'll get paid by the end of the week. It's fine, you can skip out buying lunch for a couple of days, if it means you can get another chance at finding those rare cards.

This continues until you've gathered a hefty collection of common and uncommon cards, the bulk of which you'll proudly show as "your collection" to others in a sort of "mines is bigger than yours" way. Your luck starts changing after each progressive purchase, and you begin to amass what your "true" deck has become. You've reached the pinnacle of all the latest sets up-to-date, and fan finally rest on your chair with that least until the next set is released. Then the cycle begins anew as you fork over more money.

It's Not You, It's Me...

There's nothing wrong with this model. This has existed for a LONG time, and it will continue to exist. But I've outgrown it. Most of my friends have outgrown it. The people I've once played these games with have moved on. I'll save you the tale of "no spare time, work and family" jargon that gets thrown around here. It's not even trying to acquire the complete collection that gets me. It's just KNOWING that there's more that crawls under my skin.


Understand that there's really nothing you can do about this, apart from spending a lot of money to acquire what you seek, whether it's random or not. And truthfully, you won't ever realize you're missing something until you play with someone who HAS the rare item before you. Then the seeds of doubt are planted in your mind. As they grow, you ponder how your game would be better with that item, and you begin to fantasize the wins in your head with that particular item. At full bloom, you break and fall into a spiral full of financial debt and information obsession as you search for that one item.

And when you find it, are you then satisfied? You finally obtained the rarity, but at some price, whether monetary or time. Hopefully, not right before you see someone ELSE who owns something you don't.

This personal demon has plagued my past two collectible games, and one of them has even rotted the metagame so badly that it wasn't worth playing anymore. I've even "rebelled" in a way, paving my own path of victory without the help of rarer items. It made the hobby more enjoyable, if only temporarily. In the end, however, the pastime faded, and I've avoided others since.

What's Changed

While these games exist plentiful in the wild, another breed called LCGs (or "living card games") are surfacing, and they replace booster packs with monthly controlled expansions. How is this different? Well, the random factor is completely eliminated, making the "next leap" completely up to you. The sets are all KNOWN, and you can decide whether you want to buy one expansion or another, depending on how YOU want play. No more will you have to deal with several copies of simple cards that you could care less about; you can buy what you need, and build what you want, with no needless spending.

Android Netrunner is the top of this list for me, with its gradual monthly expansions. It's still reassuring to know I could still just buy the base set, and still get a lot of fun with it without absolutely needing to buy more cards. And even if I DO, I can get them at my own leisure!

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures is another game that uses timely figure releases for its business model. Based on the Wings of War mechanic and sales model, it takes the Star Wars theme of spacecraft to the table with a solid base set. The option to buy more models is always present, but there's no booster packs to worry (like Heroclix); everything is known, and you're still in control of your wallet.

Not Only Finding Balance, but KNOWING There Is Balance

After all that's said and done, I may buy Marvel Dice Masters. The answer's a complete surprise to me, too, after everything I said above. But through all that, I believe I've matured enough to decide for myself when to stop and just enjoy the game. It's one thing to constantly strive for completion in a game, but it's another to let it eclipse the fun of the game completely. When a gameplay-to-payment ratio is skewed more heavily on purchases, then it renders gameplay moot, much like the precarious free-to-play model employed in most video games nowadays.

Conversely, you want to give players enough good gameplay to say, "hey, maybe my game would improve slightly if I buy a couple of boosters," instead of "WHY DOES EVERYONE ELSE HAVE THESE DICE BUT ME???"


I'll admit, I wrote this article with the full intention of not purchasing Marvel Dice Masters. In no way is this a slight against the game; for all I know, it's a great game that will appeal to a LOT of people. But after airing out my past, I've come to a mutual understanding.

Plus, with the starter set at $15 and boosters at $1 a piece, it's an affordable collectible dice game without the extra monetary overhead.

Also, IT'S DICE!!!

It's sexy, and you know it.

Post a Comment