Posts Tagged ‘Magic the Gathering’

In my other life, I’m a support staffer in public schools, and I often work with children who are somewhere in the Autism/Asperger’s Spectrum. I was thinking about creating a board game that would help the kids learn social skills, but decided to search first and see if such a think already existed. Am I glad that I did!

Ryuu is a card game that combines collectible cards with features of role-playing games to teach social skills. Players choose a dragon that they identify with based on their own situations. Through role-playing, they recognize Dark Forces that illustrate problematic behaviors, and try to rally Light Forces that embody coping strategies. They begin as eggs and can “evolve” their dragon by practicing social skills. Feel free to check it out here.

A few of the dragon characters include Remota, who feels like a stranger among her fellow dragons, and Oratar, who talks a lot but has a hard time listening. The Dark Forces include Rigidity and Indifference. These are countered by Light Forces of Flexibility and Empathy. Like all card games, there are many details and abilities for players to track, but they still can mix up the deck with different cards and try new things even if they usually play with a small group such as in a school Resource Room.

There are four versions of the Ryuu game, starting with Concentration-style matching of Light and Dark Forces and progressing to full-fledged role playing that demands a lot of preparation by Game Masters and cooperation from players. Thus the game is accessible for all ages, and players don’t have to be diagnosed with Autism/Asperger’s. For instance, an Oppositional/Defiant kid might identify with Xplotar, whose temper runs amok. Play is based on the kid’s behaviors rather than their diagnosis.

Price-wise, the cost is fairly reasonable. The starter set of two decks, rules, and a support CD comes in at $55.00, right in line with a starter Magic set. Booster packs are $20.00, with the actual quantity of cards not specified. However, because this is such a specialty product, you’re not likely to have the issues with price spikes on rare cards that you get with Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, or Pokemon.

So if you have a young family member with social-skill issues, or you work with such kids, Ryuu sounds like it could be a big winner.

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Another longtime illustrator who’s been a big influence on our collective image of the dragon is Larry Elmore. I’ve been familiar with Elmore’s work since the early 1980s, when he provided art for TSR’s seminal role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. He went on to paint covers for books in the Dragonlance series, also for TSR, and did many illustrations for Magic the Gathering cards, as well.

You can always tell one of Larry Elmore’s dragons from the crowd. (Or perhaps I should say from the flock. From the flight? Anyhow!) They have distinctive horns, angled back from the skull but with a certain twist. Just take a look and you’ll know. His web site is right here.

These days, Elmore is semi-retired. Yet he’s made the short list for a Hugo in 2016, so perhaps the best is yet to come.

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I hope you’re still with me as I continue my trip back in time, following some of the connections that have made contemporary fandom what it is. We’ve walked backward from Yu-Gi-Oh! to Magic: the Gathering to Dungeons and Dragons, and how each of these would not have been created without the one before it. There’s just one more stop on our journey.

Lord of the Rings was written as a single massive epic, but printed as three volumes between 1954 and 1955. Author J.R.R. Tolkein is sometimes dismissed as a bookish Oxford scholar, but his work was visionary. It won an International Fantasy Award in 1957. That hardly begins to describe its impact.

With paperback publication in the 1960s, the series became much more affordable. It swept college campuses all over the world. The humble Hobbits were seen as counter-culture protesters against forces of industrialization. (This was also the era of Rachel Carson and the first modern action against air and water pollution.)

When I first read them, in the early 1970s, the books were like the Harry Potter series. Smart kids read them, because you had to be smart to understand Tolkein’s vocabulary and follow the multi-threaded plot.

All of us had grown up reading fairy tales and legends such as the Norse mythology Tolkein loved. What electrified aspiring writers was the idea that we didn’t have to be content with the dusty tales of dead cultures. We could write our own! Not only that, Lord of the Rings introduced us to an incredible world with several cultures and a complicated history between them. This is world-building, a bedrock of fantasy today. It’s Tolkein’s great gift to the genre.

Previously, fantasy had been just a niche genre published in a few SF and men’s adventure magazines. Even those were withering. With Tolkein’s success, the genre exploded. First with a score of imitators, some better executed than others, but since about 1980 with more and more work that stands on its own merits.

Tolkein’s ground-breaking innovation led to a host of other ground-breaking innovations. Without Tolkein, we wouldn’t have D&D. We wouldn’t have video games like Skyrim or Assassin’s Creed. We wouldn’t have Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Bakugan. Game of Thrones wouldn’t be on TV. Lots of us wouldn’t even have a genre to write in.

All these things we take for granted. We forget there was a time when they didn’t exist. What would our lives be, as writers, as fans, without Lord of the Rings? This is what I tell people who don’t get the problem with film-makers massively changing Tolkein’s story in The Hobbit.

We owe Tolkein, big time.

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I mentioned last week how the card game, Yu-Gi-Oh!, would not have existed without the previous card game, Magic: the Gathering. Well, Magic: the Gathering also grew out of an earlier game. You might have heard of it. Dungeons and Dragons, affectionately known as D&D.

D&D swept college and high school campuses in the mid-1970s. The earliest editions, printed in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, were based on a miniature wargame called Chainmail, but players controlled individual characters rather than military units. The action took place in a fantasy world, like Middle Earth. Lord of the Rings was already wildly popular around the world. D&D took the epic scope of Tolkein’s masterpiece and made it interactive.

I was 16 years old when a friend gave me a copy of the primitive early rules, printed on the old green-and-white computer paper, with faded dot-matrix print. (I know at least a few of you out there will remember the kind of paper and printers I’m talking about.) This must have been in 1974 or ’75, right after the first release. It just shows how fast the game was spreading.

Well, this was made for me! I’d always been a reader, and I’d always loved fantasy. Now, here was a game all about fantasy, but I got to act it out and decide what happened next. I adored everything about it! Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t until I got to college that I found a regular group of players who weren’t thrown off by having a girl at the table. (I solved this problem by finding a whole bunch of girlfriends to play with. Eat your hearts out, you lonely men gamers. We had FOUR girls in our group!)

One of the many great things about early D&D was the inclusion of classic monsters from legend and myth, like Hydra and the Indian Naga. And were there dragons? Duh… The title is Dungeons and DRAGONS! For me, and countless others, this was our first chance to play with the concept of dragons and use them in interesting new ways.

In D&D, there was a basic division between Colored dragons and Metallic dragons. The colored dragons (red, green, black, blue and white) were uniformly evil. Metallic dragons (brass, copper, silver, gold and bronze) were good monsters who might actually help the players. Dragons were also ranked from the youngest, Hatchlings, to the largest, Ancient. Some dragons could cast spells, and they all had different breath weapons. There were even rules about how to train a dragon as your steed, if you should happen across a nest with eggs.

Although the dragons in D&D were monsters, they were also potentially characters in their own right, if the DM chose to play them as such. This was, for me, another huge step into the larger world of fantasy.

Like Magic: the Gathering, D&D was a huge success. The gaming world, which previously had consisted of board games and card games, made room for a sprawling, idiosyncratic new form — and really didn’t know what to do with it.

But us young ‘uns, we knew!!

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I talked last week about Yu-Gi-Oh!, the collectible card came and video conglomeration of the early 21st Century, but I’m well aware that the entire phenomenon would never have happened without a prior innovation — the collectible card game itself. The first of these, of course, was Magic: the Gathering.

If you didn’t live through it, you have no idea what an enormous event Magic: the Gathering was. Prior to this, gaming in SF conventions was all about role-playing: D&D, Champions, GURPS, etc., and a little bit of war-gaming with miniatures. At the time, I was involved with a small local SF convention called InCon. I was also involved in a Dragonriders of Pern fan club, Telgar Weyr. One of the other members, who became a good friend, was Cathleen Adkison. I learned that Cathleen was co-owner, along with her husband Peter, of a small gaming company, Wizards of the Coast. I suggested to the InCon board that we should invite the Adkisons to be gaming guests of honor, which we did.

Little did we know, a few weeks before our convention in October 1993, Wizards of the Coast would release something new. That’s right, it was Magic: the Gathering! The Adkisons kindly donated booster packs to put in our member bags. I can clearly recall on Friday afternoon and evening, people standing around the hotel foyer, looking at these cards and scratching their heads.

“What is this?” “A collectible card game.” “Collecta-what?” “Like baseball cards, but you can play a game with them.” A few enterprising individuals were going around saying, “I’ll take that if you don’t want it.” Because Magic: the Gathering was such a brilliant idea. Like baseball cards, but you can play a game with them! Better yet, the games are short, so you can play a few hands while waiting for your next program to start.

It totally changed so many things. Wizards of the Coast went from a basement operation to a star factory. The game won more than a dozen awards. The Adkisons became millionaires. But more to the point of this post, Magic: the Gathering changed the industry. Nowadays, you can’t run an SF convention without a Magic tournament. Most game stores have weekend tournaments. This game became part of everyone’s lives.

Now, like Yu-Gi-Oh! you can’t really point to a great dragon character in Magic: the Gathering. There are lots of dragon cards, and they tend to be powerful, but at the end of the day, these are cards and you use them to play a game. That said, here’s a great wiki on dragons in Magic: The Gathering, if you’re interested.

It’s interesting, how I can look back over my life in fandom and see how things grew out of other things. Next week, I’ll be looking even farther back, at some more influential paper dragons.

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