July 16th, 2014 by dad

Dorje started playing Pokemon in about September last year thanks to a friend at school and has since then been, putting it mildly, Pokemon crazy.

I’d never played Pokemon before. The closest I came was when some servers at a place I worked at were named “Wartortle” and “Bulbasaur” after Pokemon characters. Pokemon is a franchise owned by Nintendo, and consists of video games, movies, books, and much else, but it’s the trading card game that has captured Dorje’s attention. He goes to a local club once a week and plays in all the tournaments he can. I happened to be in Jhb around the time of the Pokemon nationals (yes, Pokemon has nationals, and even a world championship), so took Dorje with me to play in this year’s event.

Dorje at the 2014 Pokemon nationals in Jhb

In the game, players build a deck of 60 cards (from the thousands available) and battle against an opponent, the winner being the first to gain six prize cards, earned by knocking out opponent’s Pokemon.

The game is far more interesting than I’d imagined, with lots of complexity. There are three elements to playing well:

* Building a good deck. This is the most important element, as, even the best player wouldn’t be able to overcome playing with a weak deck. You can buy a starter deck (new ones are released regularly), but this would be a very weak deck in tournament play, and to make the deck competitive, you need to obtain other cards. This is where Nintendo make their money, as with so many cards, booster packs, new releases, the game can be as expensive as you want it to be, and many players get the cards they need to build a good deck by spending lots of money. Dorje spends all his pocket money on Pokemon, but you can also borrow and trade cards. The club he plays at is very beginner-friendly, loaning competitive decks to new players, especially juniors. Dorje enjoys collecting the cards too, so some of his trades haven’t been very good for his gameplay, with him swayed by the full-art version of a card he already has.

Building a good deck takes real skill. With new cards being released all the time, and old cards being retired, the definition of a good deck is never static. It’s also relative to your opponent’s decks, since cards have weaknesses and strengths against each other. Fire pokemon are strong against nature pokemon, but weak against water pokemon, for example, so stacking a deck with fire pokemon may be great against an opponent with mostly nature pokemon, or in a tournament where most players are playing nature pokemon, but could backfire against a heavily water-stacked deck. And there’re many more matchups than just fire-water-nature.

* Next, is the actual gameplay. It’s possible to have a great deck, but not play it very well. This is where most of the complexity comes in, as to play well, you need to know your own deck backwards, as well have knowledge of other cards you could come up against.

I used to think it was mostly down to the deck, and I play with Dorje by printing cards to give him some opposition. At one point, he was beating me continuously with his strong fairy deck. Convinced it was the deck, we swopped decks, but Dorje continued to beat me convincingly. There’s a high degree of skill in the game, and it’s a prerequisite to know all the cards well.

* The final element is luck. The sixty cards are drawn in random order, so it’s possible for a great deck to struggle simply because the right cards aren’t coming up at the right time. There’s far less luck than it seems at first glance, as good deckbuilding should take this into account, and in tournaments matches are usually best of three, which mitigates a one-off result due to bad luck.

The junior section (up to ten years old) is very small, with most tournaments having less than ten entrants. To date, all the tournaments have either been by Kade, who’s also the national champion, and wins most events, or by Dorje, who’s won one or two as well, including the latest Cities.

Dorje vs Kade, the junior national champion

I wish they’d had Pokemon when I was ten. Tempting as it is, I’m resisting getting more involved for now!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

3 Responses

  1. Lindsey Gittins Says:

    Thanks for the ed-u-macation. What you miss when you don’t have children!

  2. Dorje Gilfillan » Blog Archive » Pokemon birthday Says:

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