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What No One Tells You About Collectible Gaming

collectiblegaming
Collectible gaming–buying plastic figures and/or cards to play in games with others–is a fun pastime for quite a lot of people, myself included. But there are a few things about the hobby that I didn’t quite understand before I got into it:

You will end up with “extras” that you can’t sell for any money, period.

No matter how seldom you buy stuff for the game, no matter how much you try to sell instead of trade, you will ALWAYS end up with extra figures or cards that nobody seems to want, not even on eBay or gaming-specific trading/selling sites. There are two ways to deal with un-sellable extras: set aside a box in your closet for them and forget about them, or give them away to new players who need to build up their collections. (I’d personally recommend the second way, given that nice veteran players gave me a lot of extras when I first started playing Magic and HeroClix, and I’ve kept some of those cards and figures to this day.)

Storing your collection so that it won’t get damaged will become somewhat of an obsession in itself.

Take it from me: once you’ve spent actual money on your collection and/or acquire something you REALLY want, you’ll be invested in taking care of it. This often means buying special padded miniatures boxes to keep your figures from getting damaged, card sleeves and/or toploaders for valuable cards, etc. Not only that, you have to be concerned with keeping your collection away from sunlight (fades everything), water, dust, and excessive heat (the latter especially with plastic/rubber figures, which can and will begin to soften in hot cars). (As OCD as all this might sound, it’s worth it if you ever want to sell or trade these items later–Near-Mint and Mint condition items sell or trade best!)

You will never be “done” collecting unless you cut yourself off cold turkey.

Admittedly, this is how collectible games stay alive–always creating new stuff for us to collect. There’s always one more figure to complete a set, one more card we don’t have. But this can be quite a strain on the wallet…and on the arms and back as you struggle to move your collection! Once you start collecting, if you’re deeply involved in it, you won’t ever be quite done fleshing out your selection of figures and/or cards, unless you set goals of routinely upgrading and cleaning out your collection to only keep the stuff you play and enjoy. Which leads me to my last point…

Your collection can reach ridiculous sizes in a very short time.

Without regular pruning (and heck, sometimes even WITH regular pruning), your gaming collection can swell to fill a room corner, a closet, a room, or even your whole house (I’ve seen it happen!). Even if you’re trying not to buy new stuff, purely trading out old for new, your collection can take over your living spaces quite easily. (See: my “gaming shelf” in my closet, which is so shamefully overflowing that I’m not even taking a picture of it, LOL) If you want your collections to be enjoyable yet contained, you have to be really proactive about containing them!

What Do You Think?

Have I accurately described a collectible gamer’s life? Let me know in the comments!

Glasses Off: 4 Useful Collectible Gaming Sites

If you play Magic: the Gathering, HeroClix, or any other type of tabletop game, the Internet has proven itself over and over again to be an awesome resource for gaming tips and news. Here are four of my favorites:

BoardGameGeek
Any and all board games…it’s AMAZING how many games this site has sections for!

HCRealms
One of the best HeroClix resources out there, not only for game news and figure information, but for Clix player community as well.

MTGSalvation
I used to try to keep up with all the M:TG set lists out there…then I found out that MTGSalvation already covers it all, in a wiki format. That and much more behind the click!

TabletopGamingNews
Keep up with news and announcements for all sorts of miniatures games!

(bonus: Roll20.net–a virtual tabletop where gamers can meet and play!)

How to Tell How Old Your M:TG Cards Are

Most of us Magic: the Gathering players began our collections with a fairly random assortment of cards, a mix of the most current booster packs plus some donated cards from other players’ collections. Because of this, sometimes it can be hard to know exactly what value your cards have, or even what set the cards are from in some cases.

So I compiled this handy little guide, with the help of my awesome boyfriend (who’s been playing Magic since Revised came out), to help all of us know what sets some of those unidentifiable “old cards” come from. Who knows, you might be sitting on a small fortune and not know it!

For these illustrations, I used the card “Healing Salve,” which was printed from Alpha all the way through 8th edition–it shows how the early sets changed and varied.

limitededitionalpha-2

Alpha

  • Heavily-rounded corners (compare to modern card and see the difference)
  • Black borders
  • Big rules text
  • No copyright date
  • No set symbol
limitededitionbeta-2

Beta

  • Normal rounded corners (same as modern-day cards)
  • Black borders
  • Big rules text
  • No copyright date
  • No set symbol
unlimited-2

Unlimited

  • White borders
  • Normal corners
  • Big rules text
  • No copyright date
  • No set symbol
revised-2

Revised

  • Card colors look lighter overall–light print run
  • Smaller rules text
  • White borders
  • No copyright date
  • No set symbol
4thed-2

4th Edition

  • Copyright 1995 on the bottom of the card
  • White borders
  • No set symbol
5thed-2

5th Edition

  • Copyright 1997 on the bottom of the card
  • White borders
  • No set symbol (except for the Chinese release which had a Roman numeral V)
classic6thed-2

6th Edition (aka “Classic 6th Edition)

  • Set symbol: VI (but see note about early set symbols and card rarity, below)
  • White borders

Chronicles Reprints

The set called Chronicles, which was released in July of 1995, was a set made up entirely of reprints from older sets–a mega Core Set, if you will. However, for each reprinted card, Chronicles used the card’s original set symbol instead of the Chronicles official set symbol.

The only difference between an original printing and a Chronicles reprint? The border color. The original sets all used black borders; Chronicles used white. See the example below:

legends
Original Legends printing
chronicles
Chronicles reprint

The Chronicles reprints are worth less, usually, than their original-print counterparts. Be wary if someone claims to be selling original prints of these cards–check the border color before you buy it at top price!

Set Symbols and Rarity

Unlike modern sets, many older sets either did not have set symbols at all, or only had a black set symbol for all cards, no matter what their rarity. In June 1998, Wizards of the Coast released the set called Exodus, which introduced the color-coded rarity system: black for common, silver for uncommon, and gold for rare, as seen below:

exodus_symbols

Be sure to look up the real value of older cards with no color-coded set symbols–what everyone else thinks is a “common” card (because of its black symbol) may in fact be a rare!

Useful Resources/Credits for Card Information

Gatherer (card images)
EssentialMagic.com’s Card Sets List (some set information)
CrystalKeep.com’s Symbols List (Exodus symbols)

Never Ask “What’s That M:TG Set Symbol?” Again!

Over the last few years, Magic: the Gathering has released many official sets–but those are not their only products. In fact, there have also been quite a few special collections, such as the Duel Decks, the From The Vault collections, and the Premium Deck series. Plus, there have been new formats introduced, such as Commander and Archenemy.

All of these mentioned products have their own set symbols, and that leads to quite a bit of confusion for both M:TG newbies and veterans. I’ve heard quite a few M:TG players trying to figure out these rarer symbols, and I’ve been a little bewildered by it all as well. Finally I decided to compile a reference article about it, to help us all learn these special symbols. (I’ve covered only the last three years in Magic, to cover as many “new cards” and “new sets” as possible in a short article.)

Special Collections for New Formats

Set Symbol Set Name Release Date
archenemy Archenemy June 2010
commander Commander June 2011
commandersarsenal Commander’s Arsenal November 2012

Duel Decks

Set Symbol Set Name Release Date
phyrexiavscoalition Phyrexia vs. The Coalition March 2010
elspethvstezzeret Elspeth vs. Tezzeret September 2010
knightsvsdragons Knights vs. Dragons April 2011
ajanivsnicolbolas Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas September 2011
venservskoth Venser vs. Koth March 2012
izzetvsgolgari Izzet vs. Golgari September 2012
sorinvstibalt Sorin vs. Tibalt March 2013
heroesvsmonsters Heroes vs. Monsters September 2013

Premium Deck Series

Set Symbol Set Name Release Date
fireandlightning Fire & Lightning November 2010
premiumdeck_graveborn Graveborn November 2011

From the Vault Collections

Set Symbol Set Name Release Date
ftv_relics From the Vault: Relics August 2010
ftv_legends From the Vault: Legends August 2011
ftv_realms From the Vault: Realms August 2012
ftv_twenty From the Vault: Twenty August 2013

Expansion Sets

Set Symbol Set Name Release Date
scarsofmirrodin Scars of Mirrodin October 2010
mirrodinbesieged Mirrodin Besieged February 2011
newphyrexia New Phyrexia May 2011
innistrad Innistrad September 2011
darkascension Dark Ascension February 2012
avacynrestored Avacyn Restored May 2012
returntoravnica Return to Ravnica October 2012
gatecrash Gatecrash February 2013
dragonsmaze Dragon’s Maze May 2013

(All the preceding symbols were retrieved from the MTG Salvation Wiki, an excellent resource for set symbols and tons more M:TG information.)

Cards from Middle-earth: The Lord of the Rings Card Game

lotr_cardgame
This beautiful image, used here only for illustration purposes, was made by BoardGameGeek user Legynd, and was originally posted on the Lord of the Rings BoardGameGeek page.

Part roleplaying game, part card game–that’s the best way to describe the LOTR card game in a nutshell. If you like the Lord of the Rings books and you love fantasy, you’re going to have a blast with this game, a self-described “Living Card Game” that bridges the gap between booster-pack-driven card games and static dungeon crawls.

Basic Gameplay

This cooperative card game is for 1-2 players using one 226-card Core Set; you can also have up to 4 people playing if you have two Core Sets. All players, using constructed decks, work together to defeat the challenges on each of several epic “Quests” included in the game (thus, why I said it’s sort of like a roleplaying game such as Dungeons and Dragons). Yet part of the game is also the luck of the draw every turn, which makes it a card game quite like Magic: the Gathering.

Players don’t directly play through the events of the LOTR trilogy in order, but there are plenty of Middle-earth and Mordor-themed challenges and stories to see. Plus, you’ll see a lot of familiar heroes and enemies as you play through each quest, so the flavor of the trilogy is not lacking in any regard!

There are four different starter decks to choose from, or you can create your own as well. (For first-timers, it’s easier to use one of the prefabs to get the hang of the game.) Each prefab uses different characters from the Lord of the Rings books, combined together to help the deck achieve its specific goal to help the group. But if you want to build your own deck, you certainly can using the Core Set’s selection!

Different Types of Strength

Remember, all players work together, so not every player’s deck is meant to kick as much butt as possible in a short time–a good team of players requires various strengths to survive. In the LOTR card game, there are four basic strengths, called “Spheres:”

Leadership

Charisma
Inspiration
Command

Lore

Knowledge
Wisdom
Experience

Spirit

Willpower
Courage
Loyalty

Tactics

Strategy
Skill
Cunning

You will more than likely find that one of these spheres is easiest for you to play. For me, I played the Lore sphere really well, especially the prefab deck which served as the group’s “healer.” The other players I played with did better at the Leadership and Spirit spheres, respectively–the Leadership sphere has a lot more ranged attacks, and the Spirit sphere is more about taking damage and keeping on truckin’. Together we made a pretty sweet team! It just takes a little experimentation to figure out which sphere is right for you.

Adventure Packs: The New and Improved Booster Packs

You can play a full game with just the Core Set, but Fantasy Flight Games is also going to be releasing expansions called Adventure Packs every month, which will have new Quests, characters, items, etc. to add to your Core Set over time. Unlike booster packs, the cards will be known ahead of time, as far as I know, so you can pick and choose which Adventure Packs you want to add to your LOTR card game collection.

For More Information

Official LOTR Card Game Site
LOTR Card Game @ BoardGameGeek.com
Lord of the Rings Card Game Review with Tom Vasel (Youtube)
Lord of the Rings Card Game Playthrough, Part 1 (Youtube)

The Best Offense is a Good Defense–Wait, What?

bestoffensegooddefense
[/shameless paraphrase of cliche]

A quick, efficient win is usually prized among gamers, especially when playing competitively. But let me bend your thoughts a minute. What if, instead of looking to win quickly, you wanted a SATISFYING game? A game that took a little while but afforded a win you could actually savor?

This second approach is my philosophy on gaming. I don’t want just a quick, easy win–it feels like cheating, or like eating cotton candy for dinner. I’d rather have a game which makes me think and allows me to socialize a little, too. I favor long games–which means that I play defensively.

Thinking Defensively Rather Than Aggressively

aggressivedefensive
If you want to play defensively, you’ve got to think long-term, because aggressive players will burn themselves out quickly. “Aggro” Magic: the Gathering players, for instance, soon run out of cards in hand and have less options to defend themselves. Aggressive Clix players usually wear out their first-string attackers by mid-game, leaving themselves only their second-string attackers and their support crew (if that).

So, a defensive strategy that wins has to have 3 basic prongs:

  • High defenses/support to stay alive long-term
  • Strategies that punish the other player for attacking
  • Good resource management/game control

Defensive Strategy Examples

Magic: the Gathering

  • Life-gain to offset opponent’s direct damage
  • Graveyard recursion to foil any milling or discard
  • High-toughness creatures to both block combat damage and deal a little combat damage of my own
  • Mill, board wipes, discard, targeted destruction, and other minor control elements to stay alive

HeroClix

  • A couple of Medics to heal wounded figures
  • Several sources of Probability Control and Outwit, to reroll dice and get rid of particularly damaging powers and abilities
  • A Mystic or two and some Wildcards, to punish the opponent for attacking me
  • Figures with high defenses (18+), or figures with Energy Shield/Deflection or Combat Reflexes

The Reason I Include Control With High-Defense Strategies

As I have learned from experience, if you focus on nothing but defense, you will get controlled and manipulated into destruction. Black and Blue Magic decks with a lot of control elements will keep a high-defense White deck from doing anything, for instance, while 6 or 7 damage from Vet Icons Superman holding an object will KO any support piece before you can use it.

As a defense player, you have to have a modicum of control included in your strategy, but you don’t have to make it irritating–just a strategically-placed and protected Windborn Muse can be enough to stop aggro, and a Story Circle can prevent even the fastest of Burn decks from hurting you once it’s out. Likewise, using Outwitters and long-range pieces can help your defensive HeroClix team win the day.

Summary

Defense is often discounted in most collectible card and miniatures games, but it’s a key strategy in a long-term game. Sure, if you want a 5-minute win, aggression is still your best way, but if you like longer games with more chances to socialize and more chances to laugh, playing “de” might be your best way to do that.

Magic: the Gathering

mtg
Magic: the Gathering is a collectible, fantasy-based card game, involving decks of at least 60 cards that you construct yourself. The basic premise is that you and your opponent are each given 20 life points to start. In a two-player game, the one who runs out of those 20 life points first loses. The game is about finding ways to protect your own life points while devising ways to take down the other player’s life points.

To Start: Find Your Preferred Way to Win

There are five basic “colors” of cards you can use to build your deck: White, Red, Green, Blue, and Black. Each color has a different philosophy of how to win:

There are also Artifact cards (which can be used with any color) and Hybrid/Multicolor (blends of two or more colors). Some philosophies of winning work well together (Blue and Black, for instance, or White and Green), and some philosophies have a harder time working together (like Red and Blue, or White and Black).

Literally endless strategies are available to be explored–there’s something for every personality. If you like to win by simply blocking anything your opponent tries to do, there’s a strategy for you (Blue and sometimes White). If you like to steamroll your opponent with huge creatures that trample across the field, there’s a strategy for you, too (Green all the way). And if you just like to blow your opponent’s stuff up, there’s a strategy for you, too (Red and sometimes Black).

Modes of Play: It’s Not Just a Two-Player Duel!

Magic: the Gathering does involve one-on-one games, but that’s not the only way you can play. Multiplayer (three or more players) games are allowed–in these situations, the last player left standing wins. Also, there’s alternative forms of the game as well, generally meant for casual play:

  • Two-Headed Giant (teams of two playing off against each other)
  • Archenemy (one player is the “villain” while a team of three players are the “heroes”)
  • Vanguard (special large-size cards with various characters from Magic lore are used to change up the rules of the game slightly)
  • Elder Dragon Highlander/Commander (choose a Legendary creature as your “general” and build a deck around him/her)
  • Mental Magic (pick up a card off a stack of random cards. You cannot play the card as itself–rather, you must play it as another card with the exact same cost. Requires lots of knowledge of various cards!)

For More Information

Visit MagicTheGathering.com for official product updates and informative articles; MTGSalvation.com also has lots of information on the history and lore of the game. I also have a website called The Gamer’s Repose, which has a fairly large Magic: the Gathering section featuring tips for beginners, and gameplay advice.