Collectible card games are fun to play and collect, but if there’s no tournament scene nearby, it can be hard to find a game. Here are five ways to play that will get your friends involved and won’t cost a fortune.
Competitive tournaments are really cool, but what if there aren’t any nearby? Or what if you want to play a game that’s long out of print and no longer supported by the publisher? Not a problem. Just gather a few friends and play for fun.
1. Booster Drafts. Some of you are saying, “Duh.” Yes, this is pretty obvious, but the popularity of competitive booster drafts in limited tournament formats causes many players to overlook them for casual play. Get eight or four friends together, chip in enough cash for three booster packs each, and draft away. Guaranteed to kill an afternoon for roughly the price of a movie ticket.
While booster drafts are a lot of fun when a new set of your favorite game just came out, don’t forget about those ancient, dusty boxes of boosters rotting away in your local game store’s display case. I’ll bet you could get a good deal on some Chronicles or Fallen Empires packs. Better yet, see if you can track down a box of Netrunner or Doomtown.
2. Rochester Draft. Can’t get four or more friends together for a booster draft? If it’s just you and a buddy, you can still draft, but you’ll be doing it Rochester style. I live about an hour from Rochester, and it’s where my wife is from, but I have no idea why this form of drafting is named after the city.
Anyway, Rochester drafting is also used for eight-person tournament drafts, but it just happens to be ideally suited for two-person drafts. It works like this: open all the packs and shuffle all the cards together thoroughly. Put the pile in the middle. Whoever drafts first draws the top four cards, chooses one, then passes the rest. The other player then chooses two and passes the remaining card back. Alternate who goes first with each turn.
My favorite thing about Rochester drafts is that you don’t have to buy boosters. Dig through your old card binders and boxes and make up a random mix. Make sure to grab all those goofy cards you’d never put in a tournament deck, and a bunch of weird stuff you wouldn’t usually give a second look. You’ll be surprised at the unexpected combos that come up.
3. Deck Evolution. This is a format my brother and I came up with. It solves the problem of a casual play group getting thrown out of balance by one player who buys way more cards than anyone else. The basic idea is that everyone starts with roughly equal decks of mediocre quality. You could build them via drafting, just buy starters, or use preconstructed theme decks.
After any best-of-three match, players can swap out up to three cards in their deck for any other cards in their collection. Just make sure everyone plays roughly the same number of games against each other (not a problem if you only have two players). Someone who buys a ton of cards will have a slight advantage by having a larger card pool to draw from, but can still only change her deck a finite amount per game. This also allows the metagame to shift smoothly – as one deck becomes dominant, other players will shift their deck designs gradually to overcome it.
4. The League. This format can be incredibly fun if you have a small group that plays together regularly. All the players chip in for a bunch of packs. Open them all and spread the cards out on a big table. Randomly determine draft order, then take turns drafting cards onto your “team” (each player should come up with a team name, preferably something thematically linked to whatever game you’re playing). At the end of the draft, build decks, then start playing. Keep track of win-loss records, and after some predetermined number of games or length of time, you’ll have a league champion.
You can make this as simple or elaborate as you want. You could actually make a full schedule to determine who plays who, or just play a series of round-robin matches so everyone plays everyone else. To extend the fun, try franchise mode. At the end of your “season,” keep the original decks, and buy some more packs. Hold an entry draft for the new cards, this time with the draft order based on league standings. The new cards will juice up everyone’s decks – you could start a new season, or have playoffs…whatever you want.
5. Exemplar Decks. If you’re anything like me, you have at least a few binders full of cards for games you almost never get to play. The biggest problem: no one else plays them, so there’s no one else to build decks for you to compete against. Face it, you’re going to have to build them yourself. If you want someone to play against you, you’ll never be able to teach them to build their own deck, so the key is having a few already built. Then you just have to explain the rules.
I call these “Exemplar Decks” because you’ll tend to build decks that exemplify a certain aspect of the game. Last night, I went through my Vs. cards and made an Avengers deck, a Masters of Evil deck, a Thunderbolts deck and a Marvel Knights/Gotham Knights crossover deck I think will be a lot of fun. If you’re playing Magic, you might build a deck for a few of your favorite color combos. Don’t worry about building killer decks – a little synergy and a sweet combo or two adds some interest, but the point is fun and balance. Give yourself some arbitrary deck building rules, like “only five rares per deck,” or “only one copy of each card” to keep things even.
Is there anything better than a rainy afternoon, a couple of friends and a pile of new cards? I think not.