Many schools have chess clubs… and many more have students who enjoy playing Collectible Card Games (CCG). School chess clubs have enjoyed a long and  prosperous life because of the skills they teach and the build towards mastery that can be so rewarding. At my old school, we had a chess club that the students initiated and I gladly volunteered to oversee. They created levels for ascension as players grew in experience and modeled tournaments after another passion of theirs, Magic the Gathering.

If you are unfamiliar with Magic the Gathering, it is another game that has been enjoying a long a prosperous life for the same reasons, though not as LONG of a life as Chess of course. I played Magic when I was in high school, now in my mid-thirties and it is still thriving. If you are unfamiliar with Magic the Gathering, it is a CCG in which players build or draft their own personal deck of cards that they use to play against another player. There are land cards that are used to generate “mana” that is the currency used to summon creatures, cast spells and create powerful artifacts. Creatures and spells serve as both the offensive tools to chisel their opponents life down to zero as well as a defense against the actions of the other player.

While chess requires you to think ahead within the confines of the game, Magic has you thinking and planning without knowing what your opponent is bringing to the table. Ideally, what you are doing in Magic is building an “engine” that quickly comes together and allows you to claim victory. The beauty in magic is crafting a deck that is balanced and effective. Having the correct proportion of cards that work together and trigger “combos” is very rewarding.

The downside with CCGs in schools is the collectible aspect of the game. Cards come in varying degrees of rarity, with some being exceptionally rare and valuable. This can cause issues with theft, damage and liability. A viable alternative are games that utilize similar mechanics but have closed sets of cards. Here there is no collectible aspect to the game which removes many of the potential problems with CCG’s. There are generally two categories of games that fall into this category, the standalone and the living card games (LCG). LCGs usually come with a base set of cards which are then updated somewhat frequently with small updates or “boosters”. The major difference between CCG’s and these types of games is that with LCGs the boosters are the same set of cards rather than a random assortment of cards so the rarity element is removed. When you buy a particular booster pack you will be getting the same exact cards as everyone else who buys one. Loose a card? Buy a new booster pack. Examples of these living card games include: Call of Cthulhu LCG and A Game of Thrones LCG.

Standalone game comes also come with everything you need to play and enjoy the game but are updated infrequently compared to their LCG counterparts. Rather than several small incremental updates they are usually updated by larger expansions that include many additions and modifications to game play. Some examples include: Race for the Galaxy, Thunderstone and Dominion.

Either style is a welcome addition to game clubs who are focused on providing opportunities for critical thinking, agile inquiry, and the development of a flexible strategy for problem solving. Choosing a game really depends on the finding a theme that works with your students and a buying model that matches your style (bi-annual vs every year or two).