What's the difference?

For some reason it's easy to make assumptions based on little or no information. For example, when most non-gamers hear about table top games they tend to think "You mean like Monopoly?" But when they hear about video games those same people are not likely to think "You mean like Pong?" Most people realize video games have progressed by leaps and bounds since the old days. The fact is, the same has happened with table top games. There are some excellent games available today which are nothing like the classic roll and move games of the 20th Century. Games for little kids can fit into that category, which contributes to a stereotype that board games have to be simple enough for kids to play. That just isn't so.

The trading card game (TCG) concept still seems foreign to many board gamers and casual gamers. That's a bit surprising, especially considering how the first major TCG success on the market is still going strong. Why would you choose a trading card game over a different type of game? Ultimately I think it's a matter of control, but some other differences also seem to make their mark on the experience.

In all honesty, shifting baselines have a lot to do with it. Over the past several decades many different types of games have been released on the market. We earth creatures like new stuff, so new ideas in gaming are often more entertaining and exciting than re-hashed old ideas. That's one reason video games are so popular. But over time our expectations for entertainment change and companies who provide us with games have to exceed those expectations, or at least meet them. It takes a lot of work and money to produce a "good" game. It doesn't help matters when this idea of "good" is inherently subjective.

When Richard Garfield's Magic the Gathering trading card game was released in the 1990s it gave the market something new. This game had strategy, easy set up, and something more satisfying for gamers tiring of artificial game constructs so readily available. MTG had a high customization factor. There were miniatures games on the market as well, and these also typically involved a high degree of customization. And they almost always took a LONG time to play. This was another part of MTG's appeal; it is a quick game in comparison. This makes for high re-playability.

Then of course there's the money issue. The customizable table top game recreates some of the expansion opportunities video games offer. With this customizable construct a game continues to build on itself offering more options over time (which also means more stuff to buy). This is common in the video game industry, such as console-specific versions of games, and later bigger/badder/better versions from time to time. This expansion idea has become more common in the board game industry in recent years. While many people prefer an "out of the box" type of experience with a table top game, the serious strategy gamers/war gamers typically like a customizable experience. This kind of game either involves very little chance-based play, or the chance element is more realistic and therefore more acceptable. The war gamer prefers to be in control of the game, not the other way around. You decide which pieces you bring to the game; you set up your style of play. Ideally in strategy games, you win because you earned it not because you were lucky or because you memorized a bunch of otherwise useless information.

As far as table top games go, there seem to be two major classes of games: casual and hard core. It seems most people prefer the casual game, typically a board game of some kind. These players will often spend thousands of dollars on acquiring new games. Hard core gamers tend to prefer to devote their time to a smaller number of games which have a long term customizing fun factor. TCGs offer this dynamic and they are often cheaper to buy, easier to learn and set up, and quicker to play than miniatures games. Role playing games (RPGs) are also a less expensive and highly customizable type of game.

But in the card game genre, how is a trading card game different from other types of customizable card games? Collectible card games, from what I've seen, differ from trading card games in name only. Though the mechanics of particular games may change, the game model remains the same - decks, booster packs, personalized deck building. The business model is also the same: booster packs provide new and widely varying possibilities over time.

There is a bit of confusion in the market about collectible games. In fact, if you can own a physical copy of it, technically it's "collectible" by the common sense use of the term. But in card games, the term "collectible" has gained a reputation for its business model: random booster packs designed to make the players spend more money. Thankfully, newer games are avoiding this money pit model.

The "Living Card Game" that Fantasy Flight Games offers is different from the traditional CCG/TCG in one significant detail: static booster packs. The static booster pack is self-descriptive -- you know what you are going to get from the pack, no guessing, no hoping, no blind purchase after blind purchase. For those who like the customizable aspect of trading card games but don't enjoy the money pit, the Living Card Game concept will probably appeal. Though more cards are released later, you can get what you want from current cards without having to purchase numerous booster packs in the hope of randomly finding something in particular.

That's one reason Dog Fight: Starship Edition was created; it's an experiment in game design. The initial idea was to make a game with as few artificial limitations as possible. It is also designed to minimize technical frustrations that often occur within the TCG construct. This creates vastly more freedom for you, the player. As a customer, you'll notice Dog Fight is released in static sets instead of the fiscal black hole of the random booster pack, which is the major difference between the traditional trading card games and living card games. Dog Fight offers a 2-player Core Set, static single player Extension Sets, a Map Expansion, and other Expansion Sets providing new cards, new maps, and campaign missions. Each set has an unchanging list of contents.

In addition to static sets, Dog Fight: Starship Edition also avoids the planned obsolescence of other games on the market. The big companies can force you to upgrade your product by designing cards that make earlier cards essentially useless. Yeah, we hate that too. There will be numerous variations on the card ideas, but in Dog Fight: Starship Edition you will find your own balance between options and costs. We will not drive older cards into obsolescence.

Does Dog Fight: Starship Edition bring anything new? Yes, indeed. Dog Fight is a hybrid customizable card game and tactical board game. In Dog Fight, players get the feel of combat tactics on a board, while also getting all the customizable aspects of a trading card game. I don't know of any other game on the market combining these two distinct species of game. (I don't intend to suggest I know every in-and-out of the market, so please tell me if you know of any).

There is also a card mechanic in the game differing from others on the market. It's simple to set up, quick to play (in most cases), and expandable. There are 3 versions of game play, ranging from the simplistic to the complex. Level 1 is single ship-to-ship combat, Level 2 adds support craft (such as Fighters and Drones), and Level 3 adds space stations, ship-to-ship boarding, and anything else that could fit in this setting. Plus, the game is not limited to two players, you can pit your ship against any number of opponents, as many as you can fit around the table; just add more maps and you can add more players!