Board Gaming

Vacationing on the Island of Misfit CCGs

“One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.” – Sir Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species

Sometimes it sucks to be right.

(Today’s installment on Pretty Sneaky, Sis comes to us from new team member William “Stu” Thomas. I’ve known this upstanding gentleman for years and I’ve always called him Bill. Which is okay as a short for William, but this makes me think he goes more by Stu? Well, whatever. Welcome to the team, Bill! Enjoy reading! ~joe)

We stand nearly at the midpoint of summer, which means the year is half over. Yes, already. A sad acknowledgment that time moves quicker than we would like. But, on the good news front, it means GenCon is almost upon us. While I do not get the opportunity to go every year, I have been a regular for the last several, just getting over to Indy for a couple days to see the sights. If you have never gotten a pass to the “Best Four Days of Gaming,” as Ferris Bueller suggests, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.” Any former attendee will tell you it is unlike any other gaming experience.

Right out of Jonathan Coulton’s nightmares.

One of my favorite things to do roaming the dealer room at the Con is lingering by the vendor I affectionately refer to as the “CCG Cryptkeeper.” (CCG is an acronym for “Collectible Card Game.”) It is truly a deep emotional experience. They haul out of the deepest recesses of their vaults, and sometimes dust off, their stock of old, out-of-print, discarded misfit CCGs cast off and shut down by their makers. It is a rogues gallery of seemingly irrelevant pop culture references at times, and at others a testament to the power of some pitch man somewhere who once convinced the powers-that-be that a card game based on Pez would move units. Yeah, Pez.

The crowds roaming the narrow aisles at the Con flow like the Mississippi River during flood stage, so get out of the way and pick your spot. If you are lucky, the Dead CCG Memorial has been erected in an off-the-strip location, thus allowing you to slow down and do the mental math on how much money you lost in the market. (“Lets see, I bought 10 boxes of Mythos at retail,” [clicka-cliaka-ching], “now, they are selling for $6.00 each,” [clicka-cliaka-cha-ching], “I just lost $10,000.00!!!”) I might need to reassess that whole “If you are lucky” statement.

For me, the hardest thing to do is to resist…the…urge…to keep my wallet in my pocket. I usually have to go by the table with a sponsor or someone more responsible, to check my feelings against. (“Look at that! They have boxes of Highlander for $6.00!! I need that! It would be totally awesome to get a bunch and play…” “Uh, no. No it wouldn’t.” [SMACK!] “Thanks, I needed that.”) But it also rejuvenates my interest in games that I actually did play, some not so long ago, allowing me to replenish my supply of booster packs and starter decks and feel the rush of serotonin and dopamine as I open pack after pack ogling the shiny new rares I amass; followed quickly by the crushing reality that no one else wants to play with me.

The only thing bringing visitors into the Gen Con 2003 Ophidian booth….Proof that sexy sells anything.

In nearly 20 years of the “CCG era,” the mainstream gaming industry spawned over 340 different, distinct and, in most cases, dead games. One thing is clear, natural selection eventually corrected an industry awash with product. There were games that should never have been printed, and others that were far too short lived. Only the strong survived, and in their current form are much more evolved and sophisticated. The king of the mountain and 800 lb. gorilla from day one, Magic: the Gathering, (M:tG) remains atop the leader board, as the number one selling, grossing and likely, played CCG ever. It may never be surpassed. Yu-gi-oh! and Pokémon persist in most top 10 sellers lists, along with other long-standing properties like Legend of the Five Rings. For some reason, (perhaps to be addressed in future missives), these games lasted the test of time as a “collectible” property.

Others did not fare so well.

A toast to all that might have been. Damn solo missions.

Take for example a personal letdown; Spycraft, a gem of a game which simply ceased to be. It had all the cool elements of a huge hit, spies, guns, ninjas, art, guns, a great bluffing mechanic. Yet, it did not have enough traction or players to maintain itself. Eventually it was cast aside and forgotten. Another personal favorite: Magi-nation Duel. Fun game, good art and terrific mechanic with a strict adherence to purpose and theme. But there were others out there, games attached to great properties that just did not have what it took: Dune, Vampire, ICE’s Middle Earth, Star Wars, Star Trek, the list goes on and on.

Then there were the games that fell into the “you have got to be kidding me” category. Absolute atrocities for one reason or another: Kult and Heresy: Kingdom Come (come on, gamers have a hard enough time as it is, but Satanists?)(…I bought some, BTW), Hecatomb (pentagonal cards that had you wondering, “What the heck is a Hecatomb?”), Spellfire (absolute mess, card art, mechanics, all of it miserable), and my all time favorite game to hold up as the ultimate pinnacle of questionable: Ophidian 2350. Space gladiators of the future, (the events took place in the year 2350, as noted in the catchy serpentine moniker), who keep “the Flow” fighting for “Cheer” to win. Sorry, I have a strict rule: Do not buy anything that takes place in the same century Duck Dodgers is keeping interstellar peace.

You’d have to be on ‘shrooms to understand this game. Or be able to enjoy it.

Some games, however, are either too interesting, or special, or heck, too convenient to die. Many game mechanics were “borrowed” and re-used in subsequent releases, or outright lifted (compare the rule set for Spycraft against Full Metal Alchemist, or most games to M:tG). 

Some properties with loyal, persistent fan bases continue to give life to their favorite games maintaining on-line resources, councils and fan created releases. Star Wars and Star Trek are prime examples of this level of commitment. Because of the power of the interwebs, players can keep in touch and get together at annual events like GenCon to play “World Championship” tournaments for no-longer active games.

7th Sea players still get together at GenCon to compete in the “Battle for Richebeau” event. Doomtown players will be hosting a 2012 “Doomtown “Harrowed” World Championship event with some pretty cool prize support for the winner. (Thursday night in the game hall – bring some generic tickets and your cards). Warlord will still see some action in the CCG hall. Who knows, maybe there will be some Legend of the Burning Sands or Star Wars games as well. Just walk through the card hall, and you will no doubt see all manner of old and new games alike getting played all day and night long. Bring some of your old favorite decks from your old favorite games, and I’ll bet you just might be able to jump into a tournament.

If I make it to GenCon this year, I will of course explore all the brand spanking new shiny games, bells and whistles the vendors will have to display. Better yet, I may just have Eager Young Space Cadet pick me up some of the “new” stuff at the CCG Memorial table in the twenty fourth and a half century!!!!!!! It’ll be cheaper then.

17 thoughts on “Vacationing on the Island of Misfit CCGs

  1. My favorite was the Babylon 5 CCG. It was a great multiplayer game, and it really captured the theme of the show…

    I really need to dig out my cards and build one deck for each faction, because I’m SURE I can get people to play with me. And I wonder if I could go on ebay and pick up a few more cards while I’m at it…

    1. Chris:

      Thanks for the note and the reminiscences. I personally never did play any of the “space” games, but they all looked cool.

      Sorry to say, the official B5 web presence has not been updated in nearly a year, and the message boards are down. ( I’ll bet, if for nothing else than a few fun games every now and again, you could plug B5 into the rotation, and from there who knows! Maybe you are hosting the 2013 Earth Alliance Championships in your living room!



  2. This is a post I could literally debate and reminisce for hours, but instead, I will only recant a short story of folly. A long time ago, a friend of mine and I were camping with my dad somewhere out in the black mountain hills of Dakota. Wait, that’s Rocky Raccoon. We were somewhere just as obscure though. Anyway, so this was the early to mid 90s, and at one point we stop by this little convenience store that couldn’t have been more inconveniently located if it were on the moon. Emily and I wandered around the store gawking at the oddities, including canned goods like “pork brains in milk gravy.” I pocketed that one because I had to have it, never ever open it but I sure as hell wasn’t paying for it. Anyway, so by the counter, they had two games. We decided to buy into one to help alleviate the boredom in traveling (we were young teens, we didn’t yet understand the magic of the road trip). The choices were this game “Spellfire” which looked pretty cool and some other no-name game called “Magic: The Gathering Unlimited Edition.” Naturally, we went with the one with Elminster on the box. Like idiots. I think about that from time to time and wonder if I would have cracked a Black Lotus or a Mox in that game with such non-descript packaging.

    1. Joe:

      The irony of those extra brains in your pocket is not lost on us, and how it apparently played no role in your cosmic-coin-flip choice between Spellfire and M:tG.

      But, as we all know, it is those choices in life that make us who we are today.

      So, I and your interweb reading public thank you for that fateful choice so many moons ago, and here’s to more decisions like that in the future! Or, er, never mind….


    1. Patrick:

      Have you met Chris? Chris, Patrick. He plays B5.

      I hope you were not an Ophidian fan…

      Glad you are still getting some return on investment. My 7th Sea cards are all serving as proxy backers in my L5R deck card sleeves.

      I am waiting for my son to be the right age to crack open the Spycraft cards and do a few mission runs.

      Any one in or near St Louis wanting to throw down Spycraft style, look me up.


      1. It’s funny, Joe Ploch and I were talking just yesterday about how we’d love to rock out some Spycraft…I might have to find my cards! That’s a game that has NOT gotten inexpensive in death.

      2. No kidding. I saw a box of Operation: Nightfall for over $100.00 somewhere…I will dig my cards up and we can throw down some time soon.

  3. I always have decks built and ready for just-for-fun games of Aliens vs Predator (great for nights when we only have three players) and Battletech. The latter even has a sealed-deck event on friday at GenCon!
    And I scour the CCG Memorial in the exhibit hall every year as well. Gotta keep an eye out for decks or boosters for the above. Or for really rare stuff like the Robotech CCG. 🙂

    1. The pickin’s have been getting slim these days. If I see any, I will hide a box of Robotech under the crates and crates of Buffy they still have left.


  4. I have a ton of spycraft cards somewhere, they were throwing them at Warlord players when the game was first released.

    1. Dale:

      It did seem like a lot of the other Spycraft players we would meet at Origins or Gen Con were also Warlord of L5R players, and as is often the case, people just cannot support two games, and so, the older running property won out. If my Christmas dreams and wishes comes true some day, some company out there will pick the game up again…


    1. I actually bumped into Pat Kapera who is one of the owners/creaters behind Crafty Games and one of the original creators of Spycraft, at Gen Con about two years ago. We had a chat about the Spycraft CCG, and I believe they either license the rights or outright own them, at least for the RPG. However, the CCG may be another issue. I will do some digging around and see what I can find out.

      The long and the short of our conversation involved the possibility of somehow reviving the Spycraft CCG. He told me their company (Crafty Games) was not necessarily taking submissions for ideas at the time, but that he would entertain one if one was submitted. That left me with the impression that, if the proposal was done well enough and the idea was good enough, it was a possibility of getting the game back off the ground with their blessing or support, but, possibly not “funding” from them.

      I went to a community of Spycraft players I had known from the old days, many of them involved in the game’s design or play test, however, we lost momentum and never did get any consensus on a proposal to submit.

      I am still interested in assisting with the possibility of a proposal to Patrick, but need some other volunteers. Any takers?


    1. Absolutely. A lot of the Warloard players were also bigshots in the Spycraft scene, so, maybe some of your other Warlord buddies have some cards.

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