Several years ago, Fantasy Flight Games introduced a new method for distributing card games. They acquired the licenses for the Call of Cthulhu and Game of Thrones collectible card games and rebranded them as Living Card Games. The idea was simple - produce high quality, competitive card games using unique licenses and mechanics without the need for random booster packs. This is accomplished by releasing smaller, monthly expansions with a fixed variety of cards - every player who buys a chapter/battle/data/asylum pack knows that they're getting the exact same cards as everyone else who bought the same pack. With a fixed and card pool, deckbuilding and competitive play becomes less about who can afford the rarest, most powerful cards and more about who can use the card pool to create the most powerful deck.
For the most part, the system works incredibly well. Monthly releases of fixed cards end up being cheaper than their collectible counterparts. Players can swing by their local game store to get the latest cards and tweak existing decks or use their new options to try something completely new. Game stores can profit from consistent monthly purchases and new players can start playing any of the LCGs knowing that there is a fixed card pool with little to no secondary market for purchasing single, powerful rare cards at outrageous prices. With new games like Android: Netrunner and the Star Wars Card Game, players can easily get every card in the set on a regular basis without resorting to buying boxes (or cases) of booster packs
The system isn't perfect, though. For long running games like Game of Thrones or Call of Cthulhu, the monthly releases over the years have created massive card pools. New players looking to start these older games have to sift through dozens of packs and expansions to put a deck together. Without guidance from sites such as Card Game DB, this can be very daunting. Competitive play is also a challenge. While there is a vibrant tournament community for LCGs, my own personal experience trying to get regular play days for Game of Thrones at my local game store has been a rocky road. With games like Magic: the Gathering offering programs like Friday Night Magic, the Organized Play kits that retailers can order from Fantasy Flight pale in comparison.
For my money (in this case, literally), the benefits of the LCG system far outweigh the drawbacks. I like knowing exactly how much I'm going to be spending on a game and having something that is regularly expanded upon helps satisfy the itch of playing a game that grows and changes as time goes on. Despite needing players and organizers to put a little more effort into it, the Organized Play system from FFG has some great rewards and is growing more and more each year. The LCG system is definitely working and I look forward to seeing more releases both from FFG and from other companies that might look to imitate the format.