I didn’t want to write about Magic again. I’m a complex guy, and I have many non-Magic interests!
Well...not many, but some.
Over the past two decades, I’ve played a few non-Magic games, and I’ve seen quite a few come and go. Games, especially those involving a constantly-evolving predetermined pool of cardboard rectangles, have a hard time staying in the market, and sometimes they go away for strange reasons.
6 AWESOME CARD GAMES THAT DIED
(FOR REASONS THAT I THOUGHT THEY DIED KEEPING IN MIND THAT I HAVE ALMOST ZERO FRIENDS IN THE INDUSTRY AND I HAVE DONE MINIMAL RESEARCH FOR THIS ARTICLE SO A LOT OF IT IS CONJECTURE AND BY A LOT OF IT I MEAN ALL OF IT)
I mean it. I’ve played all of these games, and liked them to varying degrees, but I have no inside knowledge from the industry that can shine a light on why they died. If you have information that invalidates something that I’ve written here, keep it to yourself, nerd!
Since Magic, WotC has really really wanted a second flagship card game. The first effort, Jyhad/Vampire TES was pretty good flavour-wise, but it felt like Magic only worse. It was also better as a multiplayer game, so the hardcore tournament people avoided it.
Netrunner, on the other hand, was amazing. Admittedly there was some weirdness in that players had to build two different decks, but it worked. A hacker trying to get information from a nefarious corporation, the game was fast-paced, innovative, challenging, and strategic.
So why did it die?
A game lives or dies by its art design, and Netrunner was just horrible. If your game is set in a dystopian Cyberpunk future, the world has to look like it wasn’t done by somebody that got fired from the Lawnmower Man.
The upshot was that the game didn’t have the “holy cow!” factor for passers-by, and Netrunner ended up with a very rabid fanbase, but the numbers just weren’t there.
This is the premise: Alternate reality Old West. There’s this stuff everybody wants called Ghost Rock. Also Magic is real, and the undead walk the Earth.
It’s a ZOMBIE COWBOY GAME where you have gunfights that are resolved by PLAYING POKER! Seriously, how is this not the end of card games? The artwork was incredible, the flavour was spot-on, deep, and immersive, and the gameplay had some solid depth.
So why did it die?
The game was shit.
Well...the game was okay. The win condition sucked though. In order to win the game, you had to control the town of Gomorra. You did this by playing and occupying buildings.
Here’s a short play I wrote to illustrate:
EXT: TOWN SQUARE - DAY
I got you this time, Black Bart! Your stranglehold over the people of Gomorra ends today.
How you reckonin’ that, Silver?
Look yonder, you low rat. See that there Dentist office? We complete building by sundown, and yer’ finished!
Not so fast there, Mr Silver. You didn’t even notice my gang here?
What about ‘em?
See them brand new hats? Yeah I reckon your fancy new Dentist office won’t amount to nothin’ ‘cause o’ these black felt babies! See ya tomorrow, Deputy!”
BLACK BART! You low-down varmint!
Deadlands: Doomtown ends in a way that no western does in the history of history. Yes, while many games did end with a gunfight in the town square (thus causing loss of control points), the amazing flavour couldn’t save the game in the long run.
Deadlands: Doomtown rode into the sunset many times, and has staged several comebacks over the years. It’s respectable, but as of today it’s currently dead. (Spoiler: It won’t stay dead)
STAR WARS CCG
Decipher was the major competitor to Wizards of the Coast between 1995-2005 or so. After drawing people in with their decent Star Trek CCG, they managed to up the ante with the Star Wars CCG. I personally prefer the Trek license over Wars, but Star Wars lends itself to gaming more than just about any other license in the history of whimsy and organised fun.
Star Wars CCG was an incredible looking game. From the layout of the cards, to the design of the mechanics, to the amazing prop photos, to the deep and loving flavour text, this game was made by people that loved the property on which it was based, and it was loved by gamers that either wanted a break from the much-uglier Magic, or just preferred this elegant love-letter to cheesy science fiction.
So why did it die?
Holy crap this game was complicated!
Decipher has always made great games, but those games were tough to learn. In the industry, there’s this thing called a Rules Bump. Once a player gets over that rules bump, they understand what you’re doing with the game, and could probably figure out the rest of the rules without someone telling them.
I’m a smart guy, and I write rules for a living, and I couldn’t figure out this game.
I’ve played several Decipher games, and Star Wars (later Wars) managed to befuddle me. The game was fairly popular in the store I used to manage. Time and time again I saw players come and go. They gave it a shot, but Star Wars made you feel like you were learning how to fly the Space Shuttle. Nobody likes to feel stupid, and this game made people feel like blathering idiots.
Unpopular Opinion Time: WotC got the Star Wars license away from Decipher and they made what I think was a pretty good game (lots of dice. I like dice), but the old-school Star Wars players wouldn’t touch it, and without their support the WotC version took a nosedive. So this entry counts for two games.
WWE RAW DEAL
This one is close to me, since I actually worked on this game for five years, and I head-judged three World Championships. I was not with the company for the end though, so this is all still conjecture.
WWE Raw Deal has a storied history in the industry. Lots of lawsuits, accusations of theft of game mechanics, and other forms of ugliness that most of the public are shielded from.
The game, however, was great. Players build decks around their favourite WWE Superstars, and then kicked, elbowed, and pummeled opponents until someone was dead. (Pinned) The game managed to capture a back-and-forth fight, as well as the weird circus-like atmosphere that surrounds the pro-wrestling industry. I’m still fascinated by wrestling. I love to see how the sausage party is made.
WWE Raw Deal stuck around for many years, ending with over 20 expansions.
So why did it die?
Like many wrestlers, it clung to the past for too long.
When a card game has been out for more than three years (say, 6-8 expansions), companies have to make a choice. Placate the players that bought your game from the beginning, or try and pander to new players?
Like most card games, Raw Deal had chase cards that were in the first few sets. Unlike most card games, licensing issues prevented reprints. If a wrestler wasn’t under contract any more, WWE wouldn’t let them reprint their signature maneuvers or reversals. This created a cutthroat secondary market, and it prevented new players from having access to the best cards without shelling out $200+ for a single deck.
Add to that some weird policies. Raw Deal had no banned cards, even when banning a card was clearly the correct thing to do. Rather they printed what are known as Magic Bullets (cards designed to correct an imbalance or counter an overpowered card). Magic bullets weren’t usually seen for a few months, resulting in a play environment that just wasn’t fun.
Raw Deal also wouldn’t create a Standard-style tournament format (where players can only use cards printed in the last 2-3 years). They ended up doing this near the very end, but it was far too late.
Power creep, inaccessible old cards, and a rules engine that couldn’t sustain the sheer number of new mechanics thrown at it put the final nails in the coffin of WWE Raw Deal.
I’m a fan of pirates, and I was really impressed with the depth of this world. I found out later that it was based on a roleplaying game (also called 7th Sea) but by then I was hooked.
7th Sea reminded me of Deadlands: Doomtown with its bizarre play environment and fully-fleshed lore. It captured a good chunk of the swashbuckling feeling of old Douglas Fairbanks films, but it also showed a competitive flair to bring in the pro players. Games like Legend of the Five Rings took a few sets to get competitive play right, but 7th Sea got it in there almost immediately.
So why did it die?
I’m hard-pressed to find a good answer here. I do recall buying a box of an expansion, opening it, and then declaring that this was the last box. I was bored, and done. AEG announced the game’s cancellation soon after.
So maybe they really needed my money.
The game had a few missteps. Some old cards were severely underpowered, and the solution was to issue errata to make them better. It would be like WotC deciding that Web wasn’t very good, so adding “Draw a card” as a piece of erratum. While it was an ok solution, it was weird to explain to new players.
I think the game really died because of the current gaming environment. L5R was in full swing (again), as was Magic, and 7th Sea was caught between two juggernauts. 7th Sea would often be people’s third card game, and they would see a handful of packs at best.
I think Warlord was Decipher’s last real attempt to punch the card game industry in the nuts, and it was a great game. Armies lined up against each other, and armed with a D20, they attempted to wreck the other side’s formation.
Siege Engines, Spells, Weapons, and solid tactics. Warlord had it all. The game played well as both limited and constructed, and it had some great artwork and nicely-done factions.
So why did it die?
Many players didn’t give it a chance because of the die-rolling. However I think that there was a definite elitist creep in the game. Chase cards could only be won in certain ways (some of them by beating one of the game’s designers at a large convention, often after braving a three-hour line). Regular joes like you and me didn’t have access to a lot of the overpowered stuff since we couldn’t travel, or we didn’t buy boxes and boxes in order to redeem points.
I don’t recall why I stopped playing. I heard of things like power creep in the cards but I never experienced that kind of thing. I also never saw a local tournament, which is something I had experienced for every other game on this list.
I don't have much else to say about these old, dead games. With the exception of Star Wars, I played and loved them all (and I'll stipulate to the quality of the Star Wars CCG). If you ever get the chance to take a look at one of these, or even pick up a cheap eBay collection, you won't be horrified.
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