Magazine article Insight on the News

Trump and Checkmate

Magazine article Insight on the News

Trump and Checkmate

Article excerpt

Move over Dungeons and Dragons. A new game called Magic is all the rage. Fans say it's more complex and challenging than bridge and chess. In fact, they call it an `intellectual sport.'

From a certain standpoint, the game seems similar to other upstart sports, snowboarding and jet-skiing, for example. Dozens of professionals make good money at it, and children dream of one day joining the pro tour. The championship finals air on a national network. The equipment can cost thousands. But there's one big difference: This sport is a card game.

Introduced in 1993, Magic: The Gathering was the first of a now booming market for collectible card games, or CCGs. Participants take on the parts of potent conjurers, using cards to cast spells on one another. Each of the 3,000 or so cards cards represents a different set of powers, although players operate with a tiny subset of the cards during a given game.

According to Wizards of the Coast, Magic's manufacturer, roughly 5 million people play the game, and thousands become hooked every week. Most, about 85 percent, are males between the ages of 12 and 30 with an interest in science fiction and comic books. "It's a nerd thing, but it's fun," says Duffy Carter, a student in Denver.

Devoted players now describe the game as "intellectual sport": a mainstream pastime like bridge or chess, with celebrated players and camp followers and, of course, media coverage. "In a lot of ways, card games are like football or basketball," says the game's inventor, Richard Garfield. "People play them socially; they teach you how to deal with winning and losing. They sharpen the mind. The only difference is that you don't get exercise."

Among younger generations, Magic already may have equal status to bridge and chess. At Cornell University, for example, a campus chess club barely attracts a dozen players to its weekly meetings. The gaming society, almost wholly given over to CCGs, attracts about 100.

Nevertheless, Garfield and Wizards of the Coast face obstacles in their efforts to mainstream the game. Unlike bridge and chess, Magic is a proprietary product with a patent on its collectible cards. Some feel the profit motive may dilute Magic's spell.

Under tournament rules in force since last year, for example, cards more than 2 years old are ruled invalid for play. Garfield maintains that such rules apply only to "pro" tournaments, not casual players. Others disagree. "It makes it difficult for players who don't have a lot of money to keep up, and it doesn't improve the game in any measurable way," says John Fletcher, from Cicero, Ill. …

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