From: Satak, Steve MM1 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: The Facts of Poke-Life
I submitted an article some time back that
discussed my experiences in San Diego’s Wizards of the Coast game shop.
I am gratified to see that it is still a part of your “Featured
Articles”, and hope it still means something to the other gamers out
there. I log in about every two or three weeks and download every
bit of information into a file. This I print out later, and read
over a cup of coffee and a good cigar. My last visit yielded
something like fifty pages of text.
Most of the stuff I see concerns the state of the
game; things like the metagame, the relative values of various cards and
speculation on new sets.
Other articles describe playing ability,
tournaments and the impact of the new cards on the local game scene.
I think most of the writing is pretty good. And unless you
PoJo folks are doing a heck of a lot of last-minute editing, it would seem
most of the writers are educated and articulate.
But many are young. This is especially apparent in the Rants
section, which deals with the dissatisfying side of the game. There
are quite a few comments which fit in with a perception of injustice, but
other attitudes just seem....well, wrong. Or at least, misinformed.
I think it is these misconceptions, which cause a lot of discontent among
the players and collectors, so here are a few of my thoughts on each
I will group them under three headings because they
fall under general ideas
-=* WOTC DOESN’T CARE*=-
Banning - the game in Japan started out small and
grew over a period of years. The reason Pocket Monsters appealed to
kids was because it was easy to learn, difficult to master and had cute
animals. That is what the game was designed for - to sell to kids,
so the kids could have fun. Along the way, it became apparent that
certain cards in the game were ruining this fun by (1) creating “killer
decks” and (2) rendering most of the cards “obsolete” (and thus,
worthless in game terms). This is bad for business because the kids
aren’t having fun and the cards they are buying are worth little outside
of a collector’s binder. SO - Item Finder, Computer Search and
Super Energy Removal were banned. And the game was good. Since
most of the players were kids, or at least kids at heart, this did not
seriously affect play one way or another - in fact, it stimulated decks
which used Pokemon to duplicate the effects of the missing trainers.
In America, WOTC
bought the license to produce the game for one reason - it was popular and
they wanted to get in on the action. There were billions of dollars
at stake. For this kind of money, no one cares whether or not the
kids have fun, or if the game is balanced. They rapidly cranked out
cards, and draped the Pokemon League and attendant company-sponsored
tournaments on the already-overworked DCI structure. But they see it
as a fad. There will be no banning, because there will be no
“serious” attempt to train Gym Leaders or Judges, organize regular
Tournaments or invest any more money in infrastructure beyond that
required to maintain the fad as long as possible. They don’t care
if most of the cards are substandard performers in a tournament, because
they don’t play in tournaments. Even if they WERE aware of the
shortcomings and they DID play, we’re talking about investing millions
of dollars in changes to the game. Imagine the cost of educating
everyone who comes into contact with the game on what Errata are and why
the game needs them. Sure, most of the kids attending tournaments
can understand the concept of banned cards. But you are talking
about a company that will not even invest the time and effort to ensure a
big tournament’s organizers know and follow their own rules! In
short, errata for Pokemon are a waste of corporate time.
“Professional” players who come to the PoJo
assume that, like Magic, this game is focused on them, the “serious”
player. They are wrong. We hard-core players are a very small
part of the market, almost vanishingly small. The rules are not made
to suit us, nor the cards created to satisfy our need for power plays.
The rules are streamlined so they are easy to understand. And I
think it is completely reasonable for WOTC to want to avoid the black hole
of Errata that Magic fell into. Who would want to create a
“Portals” version of Pokemon? Who would want to play it?
So you may as well simmer down and face reality.
Adjust your play and your selection of cards to the fact that there will
be no banning. Your complaints about the game, as a game, have
nothing to do with the bottom line. They never will. We, as a
consumer group, have nowhere near the power required. And we never
will. For each player who hones his Haymaker, there are at least a
thousand kids who want Pokemon packs simply so they can trade and “try
to catch ‘em all”. And whether you agree with it or not, this is
the way it should be.
The Conspicuous Lack of Organization - . The
lack of planning for events, poor organization of the ones which DO take
place, and the truly lackluster performance of the so-called “Judges”
is, by now, legendary. There has been no serious attempt to organize
the Leagues beyond sending prizes and literature. There is, at
present, no training of Gym Leaders. A Gym Leader is not required to
actually play the game, or even understand it. If he or she does,
and they are good at it, great. But the fact is, we’re talking
about an employee who got volunteered by the local game shop or toy store
to watch over the kids playing there, record play results, answer
questions about Pokemon merchandise, and hand out prizes. The only
qualification required is that they be breathing. I have even seen
this in WOTC stores, where one or two people at most are familiar with the
game. The rest of the employees make it clear that they not only
don’t play, but have no interest in the game whatsoever. This,
despite the fact that they are game store employees! But it gets
At the Toys R” Us near the Pearl Ridge Mall (in
Hawaii), I called in from my ship to see if they were having League.
It was Tuesday, 30 May 2000. I was assured they did, from 5pm to 7pm
every Wednesday. The following day, I got permission to get off work
early and made the pilgrimage with a heavy case of cards. Tired and
perspiring, I arrived at 2:30 and asked the girl at the Toys R Us desk
where the tables were to be set up. She said “I think they
cancelled the League today. I don’t know why”.
Understandably upset, I got hold of the manager, who told me that the end
of the previous season had come, so they were taking a two-week break.
None of the other employees in the store knew this. Worse,
none seemed to care. I went to chat with the Gym Leader, who was
working the register, and discovered to my horror that he did not even
play the game! He had no interest in it whatever! When I asked
who judged rules disputes, he said “Oh, some fellow from Jelly’s
always turns up, and we ask him”. He honestly did not seem to
think it was his responsibility to teach or even learn the game himself.
As bad as this sounds, it doesn’t appear to
affect sales very much. Sloppy,
nonexistent - call it what you will, it sucks. But the almighty
dollar is not affected - or at least, not enough. And so, WOTC puts
out t he minimum. More work, more organizers, more training = more
expense. More expense, less profit. And even the suggestion of
this is intolerable to a major player in an industry where profits are
sketchy to begin with. Small
wonder that they do only what’s needed to keep sales moving.
Whether things on the sales end are really so desperate is anyone’s
guess. It is my distinct impression that “Corporate” WOTC rarely
ventures down to the shops unless there’s a problem (or they feel like
slumming). Their business decisions are based on sales figures, and
have little to do with ethics or a love of the games they sell.
Unbalanced Cards, Poor Distribution, “Junk
Cards” - I’ve read about the unbalanced cards, like Movie Promo Mewtwo.
I play with these cards, and while they are powerful, they are by no means
broken. They do not offer “something for nothing” the way a true
broken card does. I heard folks crank about Ditto when he came out,
Hitmonchan when he became the focus of the early Haymakers, Mr. Mime when
he began his reign of terror, and Blastoise when Raindance was the
fastest, most dangerous deck in existence (mid-‘99). No one
complains (yet) about Dark Vileplume, Dark Blastoise or Team Rocket Sneak
Attack. But they will, and the word “broken” will be hauled out
yet again. And this, too, shall pass.
Distribution is not as much a problem as it was in
1999. Every Mom and Pop can now carry Team Rocket, if they so
desire. First Edition still makes kids foam at the mouth, but
outside of a binder, there isn’t a functional difference. Folks
complaining about Base Set 2 refer mostly to the selection of cards.
You don’t like Base Haunter? Too bad. Other versions are
easily available, and this is only one uncommon with less than stellar
play quality - they culled the REAL junk out when they removed the
Clefairy Dolls, Devolution Spray and the other rare “winners” which
could make getting an original Base Set pack such a tragedy.
I nearly busted a gut when I read in Pojo about the
poor fellow with too many Pokemon cards. Aside from the impression
that this fellow lives a life far different than mine, I read how he
considered paper mache, wallpaper, costumes and other solutions to his
problem. Cards nobody wants.......Magic used to have the same
problem, only with lands. The really funny part of this whole, long
article was that the owner of all
This cardboard never considered just giving the cards
away! This solution is simple - if you can stop thinking like a
greedy cardflopper. You have cards which are worthless to you?
Give your extra Caterpies, Weedles and Pokeflutes to the only people in
the world who WILL treasure them and play with them. The kids!
Rather than complain about the weight of the cards I haul around, I give
the blessed things away by the handsfull, to kids who have none and are
deliriously happy to get anything at all! How can you possibly bear
to part with all those cards you paid good money for? It’s easy.
Take the long view. He who has the most cards at the end of the fad
The Dominance of Archetypes and Loss of
“Friendly” play - I don’t honestly know how irritating the Haymaker
can be, since I play probably about twenty times a month, mostly in
friendly games. The time I spent in actual tournaments can be
measured in hours. But the last tournament I was at, was dominated
by Haymakers. They rolled over everyone, though (due to the way the
tournament was constructed) they never seemed to encounter each other - or
me. I was playing a Sponge variant - the one hot deck I did play
against, lost rather quickly. I think the Haymaker-types were
somewhat intimidated by my age (I’m 40) and preferred picking on the
younger, less experienced players. The majority of the decks I
played against were Stall, which takes time to get around. There was
a time limit on the tournament, and I had the poor luck of running into
three stall decks in a row (and playing one of them twice). Talking
about wading through molasses! But whatever we think of them,
archetypes (pronounced “ar-keh-types”, in case you care) are here to
stay. Don’t consider archetypes a flaw of the game mechanics,
something to repair. They aren’t. If anything, they are a
comment on the flawed players, who value winning over all. These
folks will cheerfully drive a wedge into any loophole in the rules of
Pokemon. They squeeze the last ounce of advantage out of some poor
designer’s oversight. Don’t
wait for WOTC to step in and correct this or any other perceived inequity
of the game. They won’t.
You must try to remember that you don’t come to a
war armed for a duel. You know archetypes are here to stay.
They are an unpleasant, but unavoidable, fact of life. If the
predictable play really bores you, change your crowd - or at least
stop playing so darned much! Otherwise, play your best - no whining!
If you are in a no-holds-barred tournament, pick the archetype you like
best and go kick some boo-tay! Stomp on quivering Pokemon until you
hear bones pop! That’s what these gigs are for. But!
Remember! This is not the reason the game was created.
It was made for FUN. And tournaments are only a modest part of this.
After you sweep up all the poor knocked-out Pokemon, set the table with a
theme deck. Make a deck up on the spot; see if Psyduck really
CAN hold his own in a battle. This
is where you work your playing skills and, hopefully, improve. You
get to test out ideas that might otherwise cost you a fistful of boosters
or a prize in a lost tournament. Or you can really break with your
friends and .....teach.
Create a deck with one Oak, a couple Bills and some
other average trainers - throw in some good pokes and energy. Then
teach someone the game, or help them tune their deck. Your deck will
make you sweat to win, and it’s easy to lose with in a demo. Which
is what you want, of course. A
believable victory always sends the new player away hungry for more.
But whatever you do with the cards you bought, keep in mind that you are
on your own. The folks at WOTC sold you a pack of cards for $$$.
These cards are part of a game. There is absolutely nothing in that
transaction that states that you will be satisfied with the cards you get,
the game itself, the tournaments that are held or the attitude of the
fellows up at “Corporate”.
And for good reason. Take all of this
onboard, and consider carefully before you spend your money and time.
If, after looking them squarely in the face, you find you can live with
the flaws in Pokemon TCG, then go out and have a blast. But leave
WOTC out of it.
-=* PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE*=-
Rude Parents -here is something that I honestly
haven’t run into. I am sure they are out there, and positive they
treat other kids like crap. Lord knows they have the opportunity.
But they don’t do it TO me (imagine that!) and they don’t do it AROUND
me. In fact, the only fellow I ever found in a WOTC store who was
unpleasant was there because he’d gotten a flawed First Edition Clefairy
from a booster pack. He’d foolishly called the folks at the
Corporate Headquarters, who didn’t have a clue what he was talking
about. He was ticked, and wanted an unflawed Clefairy (not another
pack or his money). I ended the abuse with a First Edition Clefairy
from my own collection. It was worth it to see the guy’s back and
the look of relief on the poor clerk’s face.
Rude people are another unpleasant fact of life.
Reflect on the rude or ungracious players you’ve put up with, and ask
yourself where they learned to act like that. Bingo! Rude
parents. How do you deal with them?
Well, just like you would anyone else.....if they
get on your nerves, tell ‘em. “Excuse me, sir, but you’re
distracting me. Could you save that for after the game?” It
works with parents who coach or make rude remarks, kids who interrupt a
game to trade with the players, and anyone who snaps their gum during
play. And just because you’re a kid doesn’t mean you have to
take any crap. Don’t get me wrong.....never disrespect an adult.
You always end up losing credibility. It’s a high price to pay for
indulging your ego. Instead, give us old folks the benefit of the
doubt. Trust me, most Dads wouldn’t dream of accusing another
adult of cheating or lying without very good cause. They won’t do
it to you, either. Normally. But if little Johnny is in tears
over Charizard’s untimely knockout, it’s NOT normal. My son is a
good little boy, but he is just that - a little boy.
And if he comes to me in tears, you’d best believe the shields go
up and ALL phaser banks are on line.
Don’t be that Romulan. Think first.
Here is an oldster. He or she doesn’t know the game, the rules or
the situation, but now they’re called in by Johnny to save the day.
Now they are on the spot in front of their child amidst a group of strange
kids, probably a bunch of punks. What’s more, they must be able to
understand and judge a possible violation of rules in a game they know
exactly zippo about. Parents are always supposed to know what to do.
So the adult bluffs and roars, trying desperately to save face as an
authority figure. Have some pity on Mom. As has been
suggested, after a crushing victory, offer to look at the losing deck and
offer some tuneup tips. I’ve lost plenty of playing time doing
this, but it teaches the kid AND the parent. The best way to take
the edge off an irritable adult? Add some free cards to the tuneup
advice. Does the deck need Bill and Oak? Energy Removal?
A Charmeleon? Give the kid what he needs, dry Johnny’s tears and
make him smile, and parents will be ready to bronze your shoes. A
few cards and voila! you’re no longer a punk - you’re a TEACHER. They understand THAT.
Rude Players and the Sport Ethic - yeah, we’ve
been through the rotten parents and I’ve apologized for them even though
they should KNOW better. But
the kids are the main problem. What can be said? You deal with
the sore losers the same way you deal with rude parents. But I am
really in no position to lecture.
I lost to the third straight stall deck in a row at
the last tournament, and I, the Old Guy, Mr. 40 years, lost it. I
nearly cursed. I just
couldn’t believe the rotten luck of getting stuck playing against an
Alakazam/Chansey Damage Swap. I lost by a couple of coin flips, so I
knew I could whip this deck next time out. But that was the point -
there would BE no next time out. The tournament was over.
I’d spent something like 35 minutes on just this one game, desperately
trying to win or lose or SOMETHING to get the darned thing over with.
Talk about your Pyrrhic victory. And the poor woman playing the
Stall deck was astounded. I was supposed to shake her hand and say
“Great game!”. But you know, all I could do was apologize for
griping - then gripe some more. Being a good sport is tough. I
don’t have a lot of advice other than it helps if you get a lot of
practice channeling that anger into improving your deck or analyzing your
play style. Whatever you do, don’t let the anger past your lips.
Oh! What to do about the arrogant winners?
Good question. You can meet them on their own ground and try to beat
the deck. Or you can wait until they lose, heckle them and become a
twit yourself. Beating the deck is okay, but not very satisfying.
It helps if you remember that talk is cheap, and most of these kids have
deep pockets. The ones who brag in advance are generally poor
players. Easy to remedy - just beat the stuffing out of their
Pokemon. The ones who boast after a win must be occasionally be
reminded that winning is not a license to act like a jacka*s. Of
course, you will find this somewhat difficult, since the entire American
culture is oriented (some say twisted) towards the winner taking the
spoils. Money - or power - excuses everything. Best to do what
I refused to play the braggarts. I tell them
this to their face, in front of their friends. When the inevitable
“What, are you afraid to play me? Afraid you’re gonna lose?”
comes back, I stare them straight in the eye and say “Yes.
That’s it. I’m afraid to play you. Whatever. But
mostly, it’s because I don’t play jerks.” And then you WALK
AWAY. If you have the option of playing this guy, or not playing
until someone else comes along, ignore him and go without. Yeah,
that takes some spine. But you have one - or were planning to grow
one. And this move pays off. No one in his right mind is going
to admit in front of a group of people that he’s afraid (especially if
he’s a teenager), so the jerk player is left with one of two choices.
Either you’re nuts.....or you really don’t want to play him, for
whatever reason. He can play until the sun goes out, but he won’t
ever face you. A lot of these guys see this as a red flag.
They can’t resist the temptation to try and get you to play them.
Whatever they do, you’ve gained control of the situation. How many
other people will refuse to play them?
Rather than find out, they generally pipe down. At the very
least, you’ve embarrassed the guy into shutting his trap. And that
can’t be bad.
Apprentice - this nifty program is the answer to
the question “where can I find someone who is (1) available for play and
(2) better than my friends? Sure,
it’s cumbersome. And prone to mis-translation. It crashes
whenever it feels like it. Hackers have a field day with it.
You have a tough time keeping track of conversation via the little window,
your cards are hiding over in the corner like terrified gerbils, and you
just accidentally revealed the contents of your deck to your opponent.
But these are newbie mistakes. I know, because I make them, and
still I think this is the best place to test a new deck design.
Baptism by fire. The guys who use Apprentice at Pojo often spend
hours online playing - and winning - in tournaments. These folks are
not only adept with Apprentice, they are outstanding Pokemon:TCG players.
Getting your butt handed to you by one of these dudes is a genuine
learning experience. Regardless of how clumsy the interface is, it
works and it is FREE. Trust me, it’ll be a while before someone
comes up with something better. Until then, practice, practice,
Ripping the people who rip the game - again, the
most I hear about this sort of thing is someone saying “Pokemon?
It’s not my bag, baby”. But the big question is this: what are
you going to do about someone who spends their time writing posts about
how terrible Pokemon is, with snide remarks about the folks who play it?
What COULD you do? What could you possibly tell such a person?
It’s his or her life to waste typing such crap, right? So save
your breath. Say nothing. Let them babble, while you continue
playing. Actions speak louder than words. Eventually, they
will lose interest and get a life.
-=* WHY ARE YOU PLAYING?*=-
Lame Magazine Articles and Decks - okay, let’s
get something straight. Tournament-level
play occupies a very narrow portion of the Pokemon spectrum. Most
players are grateful to own a single deck that works as well as the
pre-constructed decks. Seventy percent of all players are not
high-powered. Most have only that one deck. For them, a
magazine article, even by a guy who learned the game just last week, is
better than what they have, which is a bunch of friends who know
even less. The InQuest Venomoth deck works well - it’s a
medium-strength deck. It goes without saying that this deck is
intended for medium-strength environments. InQuest never said it was
tournament-level and they should know.
Just the same, I must agree that some of the
articles are rather simplistic for the target audience. And some are
written by people who don’t quite have a grasp on the game. They
don’t have time to read the cards, or something. Whatever the
reason, I have seen the articles improve considerably since mid-1999.
Still....how much can you say to the general audience before you start
talking about things like “energy management” and “archetypes”.
Your average youngster’s eyes glaze over and you’ve lost your audience
for next month.....
3) Ripping younger players and their preferences -
would someone please get OFF Charizard? In fact, ALL of you get off
Charizard. Wake up and smell the toast. It’s a card.
The kids who like it are just kids. The picture is pretty.
They don’t care if it’s a “good” Pokemon in game terms.
Maybe they never will. And if they like it and are happy, where do
you get off telling them it’s a terrible Pokemon? Admit it -
you’re REALLY upset because that little kid won’t trade it to you for
anything. Well, fine. When you finally do get it, use the card for trade bait if
you want. Put it in a binder and admire the pretty picture.
Play the game anyway you like, but please, no more of this “I just hate
those stupid kids and their stupid lizard. It’s not even a good
Pokemon!”. Grow up. The game was made for them, not you.
Remember your place and be thankful there isn’t some sort of age limit.
11) Ripping the price guides and the singles
retailers. We “serious” players may think we drive the singles
market; in fact, it is the children who clamor for Clefairy who inflate
the prices. And so it should be.
When it comes to putting a smile on the face of that sweet little
boy or girl, Mom and Dad’s pockets are very deep (at least, mine are!).
The shop keeper knows this, and prices his Pokemon accordingly.
There seem to be two kinds of player out there ticked off at shopowners.
The first kind wants the cards for play and cannot understand why the
cards cost so much. They’re just....cards. To him, I say
“Wait”, because when the fad is a memory, the game will still be
around. You will be able to get cards from the shops for pennies on
the dollar. I assume you can’t wait that long, however.
Trade for your cards, buy new packs, do whatever, but don’t give the
shopowner a hard time.
The other side of the coin is the fellow who just
can’t seem to get book value from the shopowner. Of course, to him
we say “what were you thinking?”. The shopowner has to make a
living. This means he buys low and sells high - or not so high, if
sales are slow. The Beckett says your First Edition Charizard is
worth $350. Okay, what that means is that the average shop sells a
FE Charizard for that much. Now, if they have to PAY $350, then
there won’t be much profit. If they decide to move it quickly and
sell it for “only” $250, then they can’t pay much at all.
Typically, you will find shops give 50% book value in store credit, or 10%
in cash. Yes, that means that you will only get $35 from the
shopowner for Charizard. Maybe $70, if he really likes you.
But if you were looking to liquidate your “investments”, you will find
out real quick that your hoard of cardboard isn’t worth what you thought
- or what the books said.
That goes double for the average gamer out there.
You don’t like paying the shop owner $20 for a Clefairy. What
makes you think the average player is going to want to pay it to you?
So - what good IS a price guide?
Well, with it, you can get an idea for which cards
are in demand. But more important, you can get a handle on the
relative values of the cards. That way, you won’t get ripped off.
Typical trades are the most likely to benefit. Two Professor Oaks
for your Hitmonchan? Well, the book says ‘Chan goes for $10 and
Oak goes for $2. So maybe that guy ought to throw in something to
increase the value of his offer. And that is REALLY the only value
these books have. I’ve got a First Edition Blastoise. Book
says it’s worth $65. Right. I’ve never thought for a
minute that I could get anything for it at, say, the local McDonalds.
It’s not money. And if it isn’t in a collection or in a deck,
it’s being wasted.
Thanks. If this is too long, I understand.
But the rants all looked as if they were yearning for someone to give some
sort of explanation......this might go in the Featured Articles section,
if you like it enough.