I had recently acquired a box of Ultimate Combat! starters. I deprived myself of currency in such an effort. I would not do so for boosters, seeing as I have unopened booster boxes.
But, why starters?
Because they are playable. They have foundation (land). They are far more coherent than Magic starters that lack preconstructedness, as UC! only has four “colors”. In fact, I have never played a sealed deck event that didn’t use only a single starter. Admittedly, that’s less than a full handful of sealed deck events, but one gets the idea.
I don’t need them, right now. It’s entirely possible I’ll never need them as I lack the intention of producing a breed of nextgen UC!ers.
But, I got a feeling when looking at the box, a feeling of nostalgia.
It’s not so much that I remember actually playing the game. No, it was that feeling I have had with multiple VCGs (variable card games) when I got product.
It was the feeling of having something unknown to play with.
FCGs (fixed card games) don’t elicit that feeling from me, nor do I see quite how they would for others, but I do make some effort to not try to project my own beliefs upon the multitude of heathens who prefer the FCG model.
Once upon a time, it was the norm. You cracked a deck and you weren’t looking for more rares, you were looking for a play experience. More so than Magic or Jyhad, where a single starter was too random to be a deck I was interested in playing, whether it was B5, UC!, or some games I didn’t play a whole lot of, there was the allure of the potential.
Not that UC! starters and B5 starters are remotely comparable. B5 starters were quasi-preconstructed.
No, this feeling was connected to a time when I didn’t have every card, when I made an effort to play UC!, when CCGs were relatively new and far more new to me.
The feeling of possibilities.
CCGs (customizable card games) live off of variety. Yes, there are those always looking to not have to constantly engage with new cards and want to essentially play a different themed boardgame, but let’s venture into the realm of why CCGs have been printing money.
But, it’s not variety, exactly. It’s possibilities. I have ten more possibilities of taking an unknown quantity and handing an unknown quantity to someone who I can Mental Domination into playing a game that died around 1997 and that had hardly any playerbase between 1995 and 1997 and I can play a game. A game that isn’t Settlers of Catan, a game that isn’t shogi, a game that isn’t rummy, a game that isn’t Dragon Dice. A game that encompasses both the known and the unknown with a randomizing element that doesn’t come across as all that random even though it is (the shuffling of the deck).
A game that has something of a theme that can be made fun of. (A core piece of enjoyment for me in most CCGs, whether V:TES, WoT, B5, Buffy, Guardians, and various others, is finding humor in the transactions that occur during games within a thematic context. Others just find UC! laughable for its art and because it did embrace silliness to a degree.)
If I ever had a game of Rage that felt like an actual game, maybe I did once, even terrible games like Rage would have some element of this. Shadowrun, Hyborian Gates, Highlander(?), 7th Sea, and others where I had a starter in hand rather than had someone’s built Young Jedi, Blood Wars, L5R, or whatever deck had that feeling, that feeling of embarking upon a unique experience not provided by any other form of gaming that readily comes to mind.
I mention how I prefer CCGs and RPGs so much more than boardgames. Excitement. When do you get excited by a boardgame? Far more often than I, I presume. Now, sure, I get excited by mahjong because it’s part of the tapestry of my life, but I don’t look at “this is better than Puerto Rico, trust me” boardgames and feel anything. I may enjoy and often do playing all sorts of games, but there’s something elevating in a CCG.
And, more so in a VCG. Now, maybe if I were younger and lacked decades of experience playing CCGs and hadn’t playtested a bunch and hadn’t designed and hadn’t spent four hours deciding what three opening hand cards and starting Rand I would play in a WoT tournament, I would feel more excitement for FCGs.
But, while I have played Year of the Goat precons and mixed together YotG precons and played various other precons, there’s just something about “hand me a starter deck and let’s check out this game” that opens a portal to another dimension of gaming.
Even a terrible game, a Towers in Timey game, has this dimension when you go to crack open a starter to try something out.
Then, Ultimate Combat! one ups the ante by starter decks being entirely playable, which many a CCG lacked.
I find cracking boosters more interesting than opening Shadowfist Kickstarter rewards. I said not long ago Magic still holds some appeal to me – more for the nature of it being a highly aesthetically pleasing VCG, but, even more than opening some out of print Shadowfist booster or out of print V:TES booster or “yes, this really did see print” Tempest of the Gods booster, even more than cracking boosters for just published sets hoping to pull recruitable Forsaken or whatever, the starter deck that initiates someone into a game is something magical … er … something that kicks ass.
VCGs appear to be dying outside of certain, well known, industry leaders. So much of the community hates the model and wants FCGs. There may not be a lot of us, but some of us will miss the VCG experience. Some of us will be doddering old fools who show up at conventions and be “Hey, want to try this 30-year out of print card game, I have a half sealed box of starters in my bag? If you like it, I got a couple boxes of boosters back in the hotel room. We can … draft.”