The more I get into the board game hobby, the more I see the disparity of socioeconomic status (SES) represented. While many of us complain about cheap looking or feeling game components and seek out “high quality” productions, I imagine there is a good portion of people who simply cannot afford the price point “high quality” demands. The difference from a $30-40 game and a $70+ might be cardboard standups over plastic miniatures, the artwork, the dice production, the card quality and finish, or the box size and quality. Rarely, does the price point fluctuate because of the game mechanics. To be fair, I will say bigger games with many different and complex mechanics may need more components in order to be functional – this will cause the price point to rise. I will be posting a series about SES and board games through the following weeks focused on a different topic. Since Age of Ultron releases today, I will be talking about the collectable card (and dice) game (CCG) Dice Masters.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Dice Masters is a 2-player collectable card and dice game from WizKids Games designed by Eric Lang and Mike Elliot. WizKids acquired a good amount of intellectual properties (IP) and have themed the game with X-Men, Avengers, the Justice League, Yu-Gi-Oh, Dungeons and Dragons and the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The purpose of the game is to create a team of eight different characters and defeat your opponent. With the many different themes and the seamless compatibility of the different sets, Dice Masters has a broad appeal to board game hobbyists.
Let’s talk about price point and quality. You can pick up a base set of Dice Masters for $15-$20 online or at a friendly local game store (FLGS), which includes all you need to play a full game with many different variations in teams. To supplement each set, WizKids released booster packs for 99 cents each. These booster packs contains two character cards with their corresponding dice and these cards are not found in any of the base sets. The cards in the booster packs have a range of rarity from common to super rare – there is about 1 super rare card per every 70 or so booster packs. But at 99 cents a pack… that seems cheap right? A pack a day seems doable… But when you add it up, that’s over $300 per year and many of the booster packs will be duplicate cards after a while! You could save your money instead of buying a booster pack for a month and buy a medium box game – two months for a big box game.
I could talk about the addictive nature of CCGs, but I want to focus on the culture of CCGs when it comes to collectability and the pressure (conscious or subconscious) put on folks interested in playing the game. Although a player could play the game with one base set, there is an inherent pressure in the CCG culture that presses players to buy more and more cards and search for rare cards. Rare and super rare cards act like a badge of dedication and proof that those cardholders are better and more passionate about the game. What it really means is that player dumped more money into buying booster packs than other players. Nonetheless, the pressure is present to match them.
I have personally felt this struggle with Dice Masters. I walk into my FLGS for game night or for other reasons and I see the booster packs sitting at the check out counter. How easy is it to add 1, 2, 5, 10 packs to my purchase? I could get new cards! I could get a super rare card! I could get the card my buddy has and beat me badly with! Whatever the thought that goes through my head, whenever I see the booster packs, I feel a compulsive push to get a couple. But then I am reminded that the couple dollars a day/week/month are critical to my current finances AND that I have plenty of Dice Masters content to last me forever. In short, WizKids could stop printing all Dice Masters and I would still have a robust and re-playable game. Where does that leave me with Age of Ultron? We will see… Something tells me I will invest a little into the new set but overall resist the urge of the CCG.
I have gone back and forth on whether I think the CCG model is a good one. Obviously, CCGs make lots of money and brings in many players – see Magic the Gathering. However, I have seen a more inclusive model that can be applied in these instances – the living card game (LCG). LCGs have similar characteristics as CCGs. The main difference is how new content is released. Unlike CCGs with booster packs, the LCG model releases new content in the form of small expansions. You know exactly what comes in each expansion and can make decisions based on the content whereas booster packs contain random content. When I first think about SES and CCGs, I think about all those folks who might want to jump in but can’t due to the culture of purchasing. I do not think CCGs and Dice Masters are inherently bad – in fact I very much enjoy the game. What I do want to raise is the question, are we segregating our CCG game community? The collectability aspect is a system of oppression itself and I see three distinct outcomes in terms of SES. The first is a player from upper class and the player buys as much content as he wants until he has a complete set, including all super rare cards. The second is a player from lower class and the player buys a lot of content and falls deeper into financial turmoil. The third is a player from lower class that wants to play the game, but cannot jump in because of the collectability culture. In any of these situations, the player in power maintains their power and the player without power is continually oppressed. This is a narrative we see constantly on a larger scale of SES in our country.
We do not like to talk about money or finances or wealth or anything that intersects with SES (for example, race). There are a lot of myths that go along with socioeconomic status. What we first need to do is realize these myths are false. Then we need to realize the board game hobby is about bringing people together to have fun and grow a community. What do you think? Does the CCG model inherently oppress those from a lower class? How can board gaming be more inclusive?