Playing with a Full Deck?
Shuffling the CCG sites Shuffling the CCG sites
Tap, tap, tap ... no, that's not the sound of some raven gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. 'Tis a Magic player, only that and nothing more!

Over the past four years, collectible card games (CCGs) like Magic: The Gathering have become some of the most popular gaming products on the planet. Magic, from Wizards of the Coast, got the mana ball rolling in 1994. Inspired by role-playing games (RPGs) like TSR's Dungeons & Dragons, not to mention the fantasy novels of J.R.R. Tolkien and others, Magic revolutionized the gaming industry by combining strategy, role-playing, and the luck of the draw.

Magic players construct decks with cards that represent fighters, sorcerers, creatures, spells, and magical items in the land of Dominia. When the player "taps" a card, he's putting that card into action to attack his opponent or complete a task. As with any deck of cards, though, you don't know which card in your pile will come up next. Even the most brilliant plan can fizzle if your Helm of Obedience or Chaos Orb ends up at the bottom of the deck.

The game's appeal quickly spread to thousands of people who liked the concept of role-playing but didn't want to spend oodles of bucks on RPG sourcebooks and modules. After all, to play Magic you only need a single pack of cards, right? Ha! That's where the game's insidious nature reveals itself! So far, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has released five editions of Magic as well as a dozen expansion sets like Ice Age, Alliances, and Exodus. (The list of cards is so mammoth that WotC also created Portal, a starter pack designed specifically for newcomers.)

Each set has unique cards, so whether you want to create the best deck for a tournament or you simply seek to collect the cards, you want them all, right? However, some cards are incredibly rare; if you're looking for the legendary Black Lotus, for example, you might have to pay at least $300.

The huge success of Magic unleashed a Psychic Vortex of competing CCGs. They've conspired to grab shelf space that was once reserved for RPGs, leading to Internet skirmishes between standard role-players and "card weenies." (The crushing blow came in 1997, when the once-tiny WotC bought the collapsing TSR and its Dungeons & Dragons empire.)

One of the most popular of the newer CCGs is Legend of the Five Rings. "L5R" is set in the Emerald Empire of Rokugan, and you control samurai, ninja, and spellcasting shugenja in an exciting battle for power in feudal Japan. Visit the majestic Mountain Keep of the Dragon for more details about this great game.

Of course, the smart people like me prefer Shadowrun: The Card Game. Based on FASA's role-playing game, Shadowrun takes place in a wild 21st-century mix of cyberpunk and fantasy. For instance, I'm tired of my opponent's Ice Queen using the Decker Coffeehouse to easily grab Matrix

gear, so I'm telling Cherry Bomb to blow up the Coffeehouse. Then I'll send my two shamans, Grandfather Bones and Skag, on a run to the Haunted High Rise with firearms support from Red Widow and Shellshock, who's packing the Vindicator Minigun just in case. Ready, team? Look out for that Toxic Spirit!

Other CCGs are based on movies or TV series, like Decipher's Star Wars and WotC's Xena, and many fans have come to loathe Magic with its confusing supplements and myriad rule changes. Still, Wizards of the Coast has had the last laugh: A court ruled that WotC holds the patent on many CCG concepts, like "tapping." The fiends! Boy, if I only had a Fungus Elemental handy...

If you want to gorge yourself on card gaming goodies, check out the collection of sites on the next page. Happy gaming!

--Ken Hart, who likes his Mafia/Shaman deck in Shadowrun

Copyright 1999 OneZero Media, Inc.