The first collectible card game was The Base Ball Card Game produced by The Allegheny Card Co. and registered on April 5 1904. The modern concept of CCG games was first presented in Magic: The Gathering, designed by Richard Garfield and published by Wizards of the Coast in 1993.
Each CCG system has a fundamental set of rules that describes the players' objectives, the categories of cards used in the game, and the basic rules by which the cards interact. Each card will have additional text explaining that specific card's effect on the game. They also generally represent some specific element derived from the game's genre, setting, or source material. The cards are illustrated and named for these source elements, and the card's game function may relate to the subject. For example, Magic is based on the fantasy genre, so many of the cards represent creatures and magical spells from that setting. In the game, a dragon is illustrated as a reptilian beast, may have the flying ability, and have formidable game statistics compared to smaller creatures.
Most CCGs are designed around a resource system by which the pace of each game is controlled. Frequently, the cards which comprise a player's deck are considered a resource, with the frequency of cards moving from the deck to the play area or player's hand being tightly-controlled. Relative card strength is often balanced by the number or type of basic resources needed in order to play the card, and pacing after that may be determined by the flow of cards moving in and out of play. Resources may be specific cards themselves, or represented by other means (e.g., tokens in various resource pools, symbols on cards, etc.).
Players select which cards will compose their deck from the available pool of cards; unlike traditional card games such as poker or UNO where the deck's content is limited and pre-determined. This allows a CCG player to strategically customize their deck to take advantage of favorable card interactions, combinations and statistics.
During a game, players usually take turns playing cards and performing game-related actions. The order and titles of these steps vary between different game systems, but the following are typical:
In some cases, new elements are added to the CCG - the online card game Sanctum includes a game board as well as animations for each of its spells. The NOKs, on the other hand, offer talking figures and action-arcade game play. In a different case, The Eye of Judgement, a CCG that has been combined with a PlayStation 3 game, bringing innovation with the CyberCode matrix technology. It allows real cards bought in stores to be scanned with the PlayStation Eye and brought into the game with 3D creatures, animations, spell animations, etc. as representations. In a similar fashion, Chaotic and Bella Sara allow online players to enter a unique alpha-numeric code found on each physical card. These codes allow access to online cards or other online features.
A related concept is that of software programs which allow players to play CCGs over the Internet, but without relying on a central server or database. When utilizing such software, players don't need to purchase any (real or virtual) cards, and are instead free to create any deck they like using the cards supported by the client software. In some cases, these programs have limited rule enforcement engines, while others rely completely on players to interpret the complex interactions between the cards. Some of these software packages actually support the play of more than one virtual card game; for example, Magic Workstation was originally designed to play Magic, but can technically support additional games as well.
The systems for online play that support the greatest variety of games are LackeyCCG and CCG Workshop. Offerings include many copyrighted games whose manufacturers are no longer publishing the game, most notably Decipher's Star Wars Customizable Card Game and Precedence’s Babylon 5 Collectible Card Game.
Most collectible card games are distributed as sealed packs containing a subset of the available cards, much like trading cards. Some of the most common distribution methods are:
An upcoming CCG from Decipher, Fight Klub, sells cards only by the "kilo," which is halfway between a booster pack and a box of boosters (traditionally 36). It contains 121 cards, roughly equivalent to 10 booster packs. It does not have starter sets, tournament packs, or theme decks as they are known today.
As a holder of the patent, Wizards of the Coast has requested that all trading card game publishers license the mechanics described in the patent, usually for a royalty fee based on total sales.
In October 2003, Wizards of the Coast filed suit against Nintendo and related companies in U.S. District Court in Seattle shortly after its distribution agreement expired. The suit alleged, along with other claims, that the Pokémon Trading Card Game infringed on the company's patent. In December of that year, the parties settled the case on undisclosed terms.
The advantages of a licensed collectible card game include the following:
The disadvantages include:
An example of a licensed game is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Collectible Card Game from Score Entertainment, based on the television series. While this title may have been financially successful, Score lost the Buffy license in January 2004, prematurely ending game production. This also prevented Score from releasing the game in the United Kingdom, as with the Dragonball Z Trading Card Game, although this does not prevent resourceful individuals from importing foreign versions and selling them as well. The Kingdom Hearts Collectible Card game also suffers from the same issues and goes as far as the English language publishers, Fantasy Flight Games, canceling all orders that are attempted by non American/Canadian/Mexican individuals on their own online store