Living Card Games and Collectible Card Games

Two formats for massive card games, usually involving two battling players with pre-built, personalised decks.

Collectible Card Games

The Collectible Card Game (usually abbreviated to CCG) is the older style of these two formats, usually associated with Magic: The GatheringPokemon, and so on. In these games, you buy a base deck and then buy randomised booster packs of additional cards. Because of the random nature of these games, players may have vastly different decks in play, often encountering unexpected or relatively rare cards. But to get the most unexpected and rare cards, you have to spend a lot of dough!

CCGs reward cash investment and subsequently:
1. Require a dedicated player base so that you can keep playing and don't feel ripped off
2. Require players to buy a lot of updates so that they can fully engage with this player base

Because they require a dedicated player base, most CCGs do not remain in existence very long - with a few notable exceptions. Now a lot of modern CCGs (particularly in Asia) tie in digital game aspects in order to give their games greater longevity and raunchy card art to keep teenage-boys engaged en-mass.

It's unfortunate that often times CCGs end with a pay-to-win model. This is because the winner of a CCG game is often the player with the rarest, most expensive, and powerful cards. Of course, this is a generalisation.
A selection of CCGs (from Wikipedia)

Living Card Games

Living Card Games (LCGs) are a more modern invention and an attempt to mitigate some of the negative aspects of CCGs, whilst still extracting your moolah. Most significantly, LCGs totally do away with aspects of chance and randomness when you buy booster packs. In an LCG, booster packs come in named, standardised decks, so players should have a fair idea of what one another potentially has in their deck, and subsequently, the game should take on a form that rewards skill in-game and during pre-game deck-building rather than rewarding cash investment.

LCGs are mainly the forte of Fantasy Flight Games, who produce titles such as The Game of Thrones LCG (which I don't play) and Android: Netrunner (which I play loads of and have a review of right here).

By doing away with randomised and rare cards, LCGs should be much cheaper than CCGs, but I'm not totally convinced of the validity of this claim. Granted, with CCGs, you may waste a lot of money on duplicates or weak cards, and may pay through the roof for a rare and powerful card, but with a LCG, playing in any kind of competitive environment does require that you keep relatively up to date on booster packs (often released monthly), or else face being disadvantaged in a game, by a player with a more flexible deck.

In the six months since I've owned Android: Netrunner, in order to remain competitive, I've dropped 140SGD (113USD) on the game and data packs (booster packs). Doing so has not been the wisest way to spend my money, but frequent small purchases meant that I hardly even noticed. Without these data packs, I would be a sitting duck at a tournament, with predictable cards and underpowered attacks and defenses. I would have a miserable time without those extra cards. 140SGD is nothing like what I could have spent on a game like Magic: The Gathering, but nor is it a reasonable amount.

Android: Netrunner (from the Fantasy Flight website)

In Summary

In both competitive and non-competitive environments, LCGs really win out, generally demanding smart card play over savvy purchasing. But if you take LCGs into a competitive environment - tournaments or regular boardgame store events - be prepared for the war of attrition on your wallet.

I don't want to close this post sounding like a Scrooge because there's a reason why so many gamers take these expensive LCG and CCG routes. Because of these games' personalisation structure, many CCGs and LCGs do become more than games. Building your decks before a planned match-up can become a labour of love. It might take me an hour to build the two Netrunner decks I need for any given event, but making these decks work requires a lot of attention and thought. Cards initially need to be categorised into function; I have to make broad strategic decisions (faction choice) and decide on a general deck direction or trick; I have to select the cards, cull any excess, and figure out combos. That's a lot of brain-work and in the end, when I bring it to a match-up, it's incredibly rewarding. There's a level of game (or meta-game) there that you don't get with a standard board or card game. If you're willing to commit the time and money to a CCG or LCG (and you can find opponents who do the same), they do give back in a wholly unique way.