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What Is a Living Card Game?

image of arkham horror card game on a table in a fantasy flight youtube video
Fantasy Flight Games
Simply put, a living card game consists of a single base game and a whole bunch of expansions with extra content. The additional content for these games can come in the form of new playable characters, missions, rules, and more.

Trying to dive into the world of games is tricky, whether you’re interested in video games or tabletop games. You have to look at cooperative versus competitive games, solo versus group games, and so on. Throw niche terms into the mix, like “Living Card Game,” and it’s easy to get lost.

This isn’t a general beginner’s guide to games, but rather an in depth look at everything you need to know about living card games. There’s a lot of value and fun to be had in living card games. At the same time, there’s a lot of content for some of these games, and that by itself can make a living card game seem too intimidating to start. But after this short introduction to living card games, hopefully you’ll feel brave enough to try one out!

“Living Card Game” Is Actually a Trademarked Term

current living card games from fantasy flight games with the company's logo in the background
Fantasy Flight Games

The term “Living Card Game” was created and trademarked by Fantasy Flight Games, so if you ever see a product marketed as a Living Card Game (LCG), it’s produced by Fantasy Flight. There are a ton of different trademarked LCGs from the company, along with expansion packs and other add-ons to enhance the overall game experience. While other companies can’t market products specifically as Living Card Games, there are other card games out there that function the same way as Fantasy Flight’s trademarked LCGs do.

How Does a Living Card Game Work?

A living card game (LCG) is like the child of a traditional board game and a trading card game (TCG), also sometimes referred to as a collectible card game (CCG). This is an incredibly broad description, but if you’re not a beginner to the world of tabletop games, it’s the best, quickest description possible.

With trading card games, like Pokémon, the “game” never ends because there are always more packs to buy and keep expanding. There are also expansion packs for living card games, but unlike trading card games, the extra card packs you buy for a living card game aren’t randomized—you know exactly what you’re getting with every purchase.

When you play a traditional board game, the path to victory is typically the same, and separate playthroughs only vary because of a player’s strategy or random chance. A living card game lets you constantly buy new expansions to keep things fresh, by adding new missions, characters, or other elements to the game.

dominion board game with its contents laid out under the box
Rio Grande Games

If you’ve decided you want to try out a living card game, the first step is the same, no matter which game you’re interested in: buy the base game. All expandable card games have a box that is released before everything else and typically labeled with something like “base game” or “core set,” either in the product’s title or description. Any expansions for an LCG are labeled as such and should warn customers somewhere in its description that it’s an expansion that cannot be played on its own and requires the base game.

When you get your hands on a living card game’s core set, there are a lot of cards to look at and quite a few rules to read through. While there are certainly expandable card games that are much easier to learn, like Exploding Kittens, a lot of the LCGs out there are intricately designed and have a mild learning curve. LCGs aren’t necessarily difficult to learn, but there are often many moving pieces and small details to remember.

Once you’ve mastered the nuances of a base game, it’s time to explore all the expansions available for that LCG. As the title implies, all expansions will “expand” the base game in some way, but that might look different depending on which company you’re buying from. An expansion may offer new characters to play, new missions to complete, or something that could shake up the rules of the base game.

scythe tabletop game set up and ready for a new playthrough
Stonemaier Games

Living Card Games from Fantasy Flight Games that are still currently in production have a schedule for expansion releases. Not all of the games follow this specific system, but many games from Fantasy Flight have expansion release cycles, where unique card packs will be released once per month for six months in a row. This way, players can anticipate the expansion and keep their love for the game renewed every month.

Expansions from other companies aren’t always as regular as those from Fantasy Flight. For example, with Exploding Kittens, there’s a high likelihood that more expansions will be released in the future because the game is so popular, but players don’t have the luxury of knowing when the next expansion will come out or even a guarantee that there is a new expansion on the way.

That said, even a trademarked Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games doesn’t receive expansion support forever. Like all living things, these card games eventually “die.”

What Happens When a Living Card Game Dies?

Saying that a living card game can die may seem a bit dramatic, but it’s the best way to describe it. When an LCG dies, it simply means that the company in charge of creating the original game and all its expansions is no longer releasing new expansions or producing any more copies. In short, a dead card game is one that’s receiving no support.

If you’ve ever played a video game like Destiny 2 or The Sims, you’re probably no stranger to spending money on extra content for the game. Because these games can be owned digitally, you could likely still buy the base game and any downloadable content available for it if the company were to ever stop making new expansions. The same can’t be said for living card games, which need to physically be produced for people to buy them.

This means that when a living card game dies and goes out of production, your only option is to find copies of the base game or expansions that are already in circulation and owned by someone else who’s looking to sell. You could end up paying close to retail price, but many times, the demand is greater than the supply, and you’ll end up paying quite a bit for old classics like Android Netrunner: The Card Game.

Expandable Card Games Work the Same Way as LCGs

image of arkham horror card game in a fantasy flight youtube video
Fantasy Flight Games

This may seem like a redundant point, but it’s worth mentioning nevertheless. Because the term “Living Card Game” is trademarked by Fantasy Flight Games, other companies can’t use that lingo to describe its games, even if it’s the same general concept. However, many tabletop players have come to associate the term “Living Card Game” with any game that fits into the category and has regular expansions to add to the core set.

So what’s a company to do when it can’t market its games as “Living Card Games”? Call them expandable card games instead. In short, if you see a product marketed as a Living Card Game, you know it’s from Fantasy Flight Games; and if something’s marketed as an expandable card game, just know that there’s a base game and a bunch of expansion content for more fun.

The Best Living Card Games

Okay, you’re convinced—you need a living card game in your life. But where in the world do you start? Well, if you want the trademarked “Living Card Game” experience, check out what Fantasy Flight Games has to offer, like Arkham Horror: The Card Game or The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Or, you could go for something less time-intensive, like Exploding Kittens or Dominion. Whatever strikes your fancy, every expandable card game provides continuous fun and shakes up game night.

The Best Living Card Style Games

Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Beginners, Start Here
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Crystal Clan Master Set
Perfect For Two Players
Crystal Clan Master Set
Employ Your Strategy Skills
For Deckbuilding Fun
Android Netrunner
All Possible Expansions Are Out
Android Netrunner
Exploding Kittens
An Easy Icebreaker For Parties
Exploding Kittens
One Deck Dungeon
Get In on the Ground Floor
One Deck Dungeon
Sarah Chaney Sarah Chaney
Sarah Chaney is a professional freelance writer for Review Geek, Android Authority, MakeUseOf, and other great websites. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Creative Writing concentration. Her degree, paired with her almost two years of professionally writing for websites, helps her write content that is engaging, yet informative. She enjoys covering anything Android, video game, or tech related. Read Full Bio »