When I was young, my parents used baseball and football cards as rewards for finishing chores or doing well in school. I would collect cans from family just to trade them in at the store to buy Pokémon card packs. My friends and I made up rules for the Pokémon card game because we did not want to learn the actual rules (the energy cards were not as exciting to collect anyways). However, outside of a year in high school where almost all the guys in my year took up competitive Yu-Gi-Oh!, card games have never been much more than a collection hobby for me.
At the start of 2020, I had a sudden interest to learn card games. First, after over a decade of not knowing, I learned how to properly play the Pokemon TCG. I also picked up Legends of Runeterra. I began playing Runeterra more lately with the Targon expansion as an Aurelion Sol main in League of Legends. However, neither game captured my full interest quite like the Final Fantasy TCG did when quarantine began.
It is no secret that I am a big Final Fantasy fan. Outside of playing the games, I main Noctis and Cloud in TEKKEN 7 and Smash Bros. respectively. On top of being able to use characters I love in card format; it introduced some new features and playstyles that hooked me instantly compared to previous card games. I went to work building decks and finding the best ways to compete online until it is safe for in-person events to return. Almost immediately, I got a sense of déjà vu from when I first began playing fighting games.
The similarities began to pile up the more I got involved. It is worth noting that this is based on my experience competing in the Final Fantasy TCG only but am making some assumptions from seeing other card game events at my fighting game local venue. I was surprised to find myself even competing in weeklies like fighting game weeklies. Just like fighting games, I got my butt kicked for weeks as I learned the games and discovered my play style. Brining starter decks into weeklies that have been running for years is not the best idea if you want to pick up wins early on. Though I was basically going 0-2, I enjoyed learning to play and seeing other play close matches.
I remember watching Sajam discuss similarities between card games and fighting games through the Timmy, Johnny, and Spike theory when I first started competing a few months ago. He talks about how players have similar motivations for competing in fighting games or card games. Personally, I am a mix of Timmy and Johnny in both fighting games and card games. I want to execute exciting, game-winning combos but while using the cards and characters I find exciting. The most blatant similarity between the two types of games is the one versus one format. In both games, there is no team or sub to save you in tournament. You must rely on your own skill and game knowledge to win games.
While tier lists are far more popular in fighting games, it became clear early on to me which decks and cards dominated the field in each card game I played. For example, in the Final Fantasy TCG, two popular options are Braska’s Final Aeon wipe the enemy board and an unblockable combo using Marche and Ritz. Immediately, I began theory-crafting ideas and decks that would allow me to counter those setups. The idea of being prepared for strong characters is something that is experienced in fighting games as well. I am far more likely to spend lab time preparing for a game against Fahkumram compared to Nina to use Tekken 7 as an example.
The idea of theory and execution translates well between the two games. I can spend all day creating decks or in the lab to prepare for certain matchups, but at the end of the day, you must be able to execute in an actual match. This is a lot easier said than done in both cases. Fighting games are fast-paced with a lot of information coming in that can make it difficult to remember a specific punish. In card games, you are limited by the cards you draw and what is available to you to react to your opponent’s actions. While execution differs, the ability to invent creative solutions in each game type is very entertaining as a spectator. Of course, the effectiveness and optimization are determined by the type of player you are as well.
Of course, there are glaring differences as well. The speed of play is clearly different as fighting games are action-packed while card games can progress slowly. Though to be successful at either, players need to be able to read the situation, predict their opponent’s next move and try to react with the best option. In fighting games, you are presented with every move in a fighter’s arsenal throughout the match as long as you have the resources. Card games limit your options with randomness through drawing and hand limits. Once again, the two types are united by resource management which is vital to success in high-level play.
My favorite similarity between the two games however must be the communities. In both my introduction to fighting games and beginnings with the Final Fantasy TCG, I was greeted by positive and welcoming communities. People that I had never met before were willing to play casual games to teach me how to play. They were not condescending or rude about my lack of knowledge on how each game or system works and was happy to add a new member to the ranks.
I have avoided some of the larger card games like Magic and Hearthstone, but I hope the communities are like those I have encountered. While card games and fighting games may look very different at surface level, the similarities are honestly astounding. From learning to competition and everything in between, I have found each game type has helped me improve at the other. Card games have improved my analytical abilities in fighting games to judge how my opponent might act next. Experience in fighting games trained me to study matchups and interactions to find the best possible reaction. I recommend trying both game types if you haven’t yet, it might add new skills to your play you didn’t know existed.