Living Card Games - What are they and where to start?

Many people who like playing games love how Trading Card Games evolve over time. On the other hand, the randomness of booster packs and money spending tied to it is a problematic aspect of the Trading Card Games. The board games deal with that problem well; once you buy the board game, you have everything you need to play it. However, board games don’t have the charm of evolving and changing over time. This is where Living Card Games come in. They have aspects of both board games and Trading Card Games while attempting to avoid the problems of the other two genres.

Living Card Games – Between a board game and a TCG

Living Card Games were born in the void between board games and TCGs. When you buy the core set of an LCG, it is playable right out of the box. Unlike traditional board games, new cards are printed in cycles. You can buy those additional cards to expand the core set. This way, Living Card Games try to appeal to TCG enthusiasts. However, there is a clear distinction between the two. LCGs attempt to resolve the problem of rarity system and randomness present in TCGs by printing predetermined packs. Let me explain how this works.

Both Trading Card Games and Living Card Games come in packs. Packs in Trading Card Games like Magic the Gathering consist of cards distributed by rarity. No matter how many card packs you buy, there is no guarantee that you will get the cards you want. Living Card Games print card packs with specific predetermined cards in them. This means that there is no rarity or randomness at play. Each card pack with the same name will have exactly the same cards inside. This way, you can buy only the card packs that have cards you are interested in.

This system not only resolves the money spending problem tied to TCGs, but also levels the playing field. Since there are no rare cards that cost hundreds of dollars more than the other cards, you will never face the frustration of losing to someone only because they spent thousands of dollars on their deck. It also makes it easier to get your friends in the game and start playing with them right away because the power level of your decks won’t be as dependent on the size of your collections.

If you are new to the concept of the Living Card Games, you will probably want to know which one you should start with. I will tell you the basics of 5 popular Living Card Games to help you with that decision. Three games I will talk about in this article are cooperative; Arkham Horror, The Lord of the Rings, and Marvel Champions. If you are looking for a competitive game, you should consider the other two; Android: Netrunner and Star Wars: The Card Game.


Arkham Horror: The Card Game - Why is it the most popular LCG

arkham horror lcg revised core set and mythos packs

H. Lovecraft’s work became public domain in 2008. Board Games, roleplaying games, tv-shows, and other media have been using his world as a foundation for telling stories ever since. The universe created by H.P. Lovecraft is eerie and full of unexplored mysteries. Such a wondrous world is inviting for storytellers to enrich it with new stories. It is no surprise that Fantasy Flight Games chose Lovecraft's setting as the home for one of their Living Card Games.

    Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a cooperative living card game for 1 - 4 players. The appeal of the game lies in the excellent balance between deckbuilding, game mechanics, and story elements. In similar games encounters written on cards often feel like random monsters that are there only to fill the role of game mechanic. Arkham Horror: Card Game is atmospheric and manages to tell consistent stories through encounters written on cards.  At the same time, the game is mechanically compelling and fun to play.

    Players construct decks that represent investigators. The cards in the deck represent the investigator’s personality and skills. Once the decks are constructed, players embark on a campaign exploring Arkham and investigating its horrors through three scenarios.

    Expansions let you embark on new campaigns or refresh old campaigns with new cards. So, which expansion should you buy after the core set? Arkham Horror: The Dunwich Legacy is widely regarded as a recommended expansion to start adding your Arkham Horror LCG collection. This expansion adds enough new game gameplay elements to improve the experience from the core set without complicating the game enough to overwhelm you. Another way to add replay value is by downloading and printing fan-made adventures available online for free.     

    Marvel Champions: The Card Game - Team up as your favorite superheroes 

    marvel champions core set and hero packs

    Marvel Champions: The Card Game is another cooperative game for 1 – 4 players. Instead of investigating Arkham city, in Marvel Champions, you and your friends represent a group of superheroes and fight a villain. 

    The core game comes with three villains and five superheroes. Before the game starts, you have to choose which villain will be your enemy. In the core version of the game, you get to choose between Rhino, Klaw, and Ultron. Each of the villains has his own deck of cards that do a variety of things. Some improve his abilities, while the others affect superheroes or bring in allies who help the villain. Villains also attempt to complete schemes that affect the gameplay. Players lose the game if the villain completes the final scheme or manages to defeat any of the superheroes.

    On the side of the superheroes, you can choose between Spiderman, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel. Each of the superheroes also has his deck of cards. At the beginning of the game, you mix the superhero deck with another deck of cards. The second deck represents the superhero's role. Role decks are leadership, protection, justice, and aggression. Players alternate between two forms. Their hero form is used for fighting the villain. Their alter-ego form printed on the other side of the card is used for avoiding the villain and healing. While players are in their alter ego forms, the villain works on the schemes. Players defeat the villain and win the game by reducing the villain’s hit points to zero.

    The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game - a fan favorite is back!

    lotr lord of the rings lcg card game

    After visiting more recent games we return to the beginning of the genre. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is the first cooperative Living Card Game designed. The core set was released in 2011, and new content is still published regularly.

    The game will take you on adventures through Middle-earth by using heroes from The Lord of the Rings lore. You start the game with three heroes in play and a deck of cards next to those heroes. Each hero belongs to one of the spheres of influence; leadership, lore, spirit, and tactics.

    The heroes are accompanied by a deck of cards. Each of the cards in the deck also belongs to one of the four spheres of influence. Every hero generates one resource each turn. The resources are used to pay for playing cards from your deck. Each hero can pay only for the cards that match their sphere of influence. It is up to you to decide whether you will choose heroes from the same sphere of influence, or match heroes from different ones when building your deck.

    On each of the turns, players send heroes on quests. Each player decides how many of their heroes will go on a quest. If heroes fail to complete the quest, the threat number tied to a player increases. When the threat number reaches 50, you lose the game. When players complete all the quests, they win the game.

    The game is straightforward and easy to learn. Easy to learn doesn’t mean easy to win. It is actually quite hard to beat the game. I believe that this combination of straightforward mechanics and demanding gameplay is what makes this game so appealing even after 11 years.

    In the 11 years since its release, this game has accumulated a lot of expansions. New players are often overwhelmed and confused when deciding what to buy after the core set. The game is released in cycles that consist of Deluxe Expansion and six Adventure Packs. Deluxe Expansions have 150-170 cards that contain 2 heroes and 3 new quests. Adventure Packs have about 50 cards with 1 hero and 1 new quest among those cards. It is crucial to know that you need a Deluxe Expansion to play Adventure Packs from the same cycle. Additional content also comes in the form of Saga Expansions. Those expansions are similar to Deluxe Expansions, but they cover the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books. 

    The cycle you will want to buy first will depend on your personal preferences. Things to consider are; themes you love, the level of challenge you prefer, and your favorite characters and races in Middle-earth. For example, if you want a challenging expansion, you will probably want to buy the Heirs of Numenor, while fans of dwarves will want to buy the Khazad-Dum expansion.

    Android: Netrunner – The road from Trading Card Game to Living Card Game

    netrunner lcg card game

    Android: Netrunner is a Living Card Game that evolved from a Trading Card Game Netrunner. Netrunner was designed in 1996 by the designer of Magic the Gathering, Richard Garfield. The original game had a decent player base but never reached the glory of Magic the Gathering. The TCG concept was abandoned, and in 2012 Fantasy Flight Games released Android: Netrunner under license from Wizards of the Coast.

    Android: Netrunner is set in the cyberpunk future of Android and Infiltration. One of the players in the game represents a runner. The runner is a hacker who invests resources to develop programs and hack into corporate servers. The other player takes the role of an evil corporation that attempts to score points by advancing agendas while investing resources in securing its servers.

    There are two ways to win the game for both sides. The first one is through agenda cards. The corporation wins the game by scoring agenda cards worth seven points, while the runner wins by stealing seven points worth of agenda cards from the corporation. The runner also wins when the corporation has no more cards in the deck when required to draw. If the runner has to discard more cards than they have in their hand, the corporation wins.

    Asymmetrical experience and using deckbuilding for exploring how runners and corporations operate in this crazy cyberpunk setting are the most appealing elements of this game. 

    The first thing you should buy to start playing this game is System Gateway. It is a box that contains one corporation and one runner deck. The decks are designed to play against each other and to be easily understood by beginners. If you like the game and want to continue exploring it, the next purchase should be the Deckbuilding Pack. 

    Star Wars: The Card Game

    star wars lcg limited card game

    Star Wars: The Card Game is a competitive Living Card Game that came out in 2012. The game pits two players in a battle between the dark side and the light side. Each side has three factions. The Jedi, The Rebel Alliance, and The Smugglers and Spies are on the light side, while the Sith, The Imperial Navy, and Scum and Villainy fight on the dark side.

    Star Wars: The Card Game has several innovative mechanics. Deckbuilding works by adding packs of cards instead of singles into your deck. You construct a deck by choosing ten objectives for the deck. Each of the objectives is accompanied by five cards that will go to your deck. This type of deckbuilding enriches the Star Wars theme because it forces you to add some inefficient cards to your deck if you want certain powerful cards.

    I know it sounds weird, but objectives have health in this game. The player representing the light side needs to destroy three dark side objectives to win the game. The goal of the dark side player is to get the Death Star counter to twelve. The dark side can also win by destroying three light side objectives, but that doesn’t happen often.

    Objectives generate resources used to deploy units. Units are used to attack the opponent’s objectives and defend your objectives. When defenders and attackers are decided, we move to another interesting aspect of the game; edge battle. In the edge battle each player places cards from their hand face down. Once all cards are placed, players turn them face up to see which side won the edge battle. The cards used in the edge battle are lost, so you will have to decide how important winning the edge battle is for you. Winning the edge battle makes your characters in the main battle more efficient.

    At the end of the round, players can use the force. Each player has three force cards that can be put on any unit belonging to that player. When a force card is placed on a unit, it demonstrates that the unit in question is committed to the force. Some characters are committed to the force from the onset of the game. At the beginning of the round, players count the number of units committed to the force. If the dark side has more units committed to the force, the Death Star counter moves two spaces instead of one. If the light side has more units committed to the force, they can deal one point of damage to any of the objectives in the game. This mechanic represents the force battle that happens in the background.

    Star Wars: The Card Game core set comes with four starting decks playable right out of the box. Like other Living Card Games, Star Wars expansions also come in cycles. Each cycle consists of six force packs consisting of 60 cards. Each cycle is released with a deluxe expansion that adds a larger number of cards and focuses on two different factions in the game. Similar to The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, the decision what to buy will depend on which factions you find interesting. 


    Frequently asked questions

    What is the oldest cooperative LCG?

    The oldest cooperative Living card game is The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. The core version of the game was released in 2011 by Fantasy Flight Games. New content is still added to the game on a regular basis.  

    What is the difference between Living Card Games and Trading Card Games?

    TCGs are based on a system of rarity where some cards are more common than the others. This system increases the price of certain cards and drives their sales. Each LCG card pack with the same name has exactly the same content, when you buy a card pack you know what cards are inside.   

    Are Netrunner and Android: Netrunner the same game?

    No, they are not. Netrunner was a Trading Card Game that was published in 1996 and has been discontinued. Android: Netrunner is a Living Card Game published in 2012 based on Netrunner. The games have a lot of things in common, but they are different games.

    What is the most popular cooperative LCG?

    Arkham Horror: The Card Game is the most popular Living Card Game. It places the players in the roles of investigators that explore the eerie city of Arkham. The game owes its popularity to adding roleplaying elements and a compelling story to the game.


    Author – Ante Radoš

    Board gamesCard games

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