Friday, September 25, 2009

Wizards of Marketing

So I "took possession" of my nephews yestereve (their parents are in Spain for the next ten days), which means I was up making breakfast before school this morning at 7am after being up till 1am or so organizing Magic Cards and watching Project Runway.

[yet another side note: I watch three reality shows with startling regularity: Top Chef, Project Runway, and The Amazing Race. The first two are simply an exercise in bottled creativity, and results are judged by experts of the field rather than BS call-in proletariat...something I love. The latter show is about a group of competing cooperative couples ("parties") traveling around the world ("adventuring") exploring crazy locales and overcoming obstacles ("tricks/traps" and sometimes "monsters") in order to win a million dollars ("acquire treasure")...YOU do the math]

Ten days of watching the (teenage) kids means ten days of entertainment for yours truly, though it also means a dearth of my own side projects I'm afraid. Sorry...I unfortunately continue to belong to the non-gaming rat race (unlike some lucky Old Schoolers) and consequently need to put in 50 hours or so (including commute/lunch time) per week doing things other than writing and gaming in order to maintain my wife, beagles, and mortgage in the manner to which they've become accustomed (my wife works even more, so I thank my lucky stars...of course, she gets to travel).

However, the little extra stress of caring for two kids with football practice and high school dances (not to mention fixing real meals and getting 'em to school/bed on time) is small potatoes compared to the fun factor. My wife is already telling them (the kids) that they should take the opportunity to start "a series" with me (her word for a D&D Campaign). They (the kids) are very fact, the 15.5 year old may forgo hanging out with his hoodlum friends after school in order to get home early and play with Uncle JB.

Of course, D&D won't be the only game we play. For one thing, the kids brought their Wii over to the house. Normally, I would work covertly to ensure the game system never got turned on (distraction and attention is an amazing way to keep kids off the vids, I've found) but this time it appears we'll be playing it as they brought over Rock Band which my wife loves and has been jonesing to play ever since our XBx 360 burned out.


Another thing is the kids' personal vices. For S, this is Warhammer 40K which he ALWAYS wants to play when he comes over (I've put that off for over a year, but the minis might be coming out this week). For Z., this is Magic: the Gathering and THAT's already out (as I said). He made sure to bring his shoebox of cards and is anxious to test his "kick-ass black & white" deck against me. Poor (6' tall) kid...I've got FOUR shoeboxes full of cards. I should probably just put together a deck of Swamp-walk and Plains-walk banding critters to shut him up.
>: )

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I'm from Seattle which is fairly near the birth place of Wizards of the Coast (I'm not sure exactly where it started, but their headquarters were located in Renton for a looong time and they had several flagship stores in the greater Seattle area for years). Strangely enough, I came pretty late the the Magic Card craze. I wouldn't buy my first deck until 1999 or so, more than six years after the initial release of the game.

I had been aware of Magic Cards, of course. The first time I saw them was my third year of college, which would have been...well, 1994 come to think of it. The guy who ran the Call o Cthulhu game at one of the dorms was the roommate of my (non-gamer) buddy, Matt. O, jeez...I can't remember that guy's name! Paul? Maybe...he was from Kelso, Washington which is pretty much saying "from the sticks." I had to ask Matt "what the hell are those?" To which he told me, "some sort of card game, I don't know, he plays ALL the time." I never saw Paul play. He did end up joining a very short-lived Vampire game (mmm...that one's a LONG story...), but he never "showed me the Magic."

Actually, come to think of it, my buddy Joel also had some Magic cards, but when I asked him about them he showed complete disdain for his own collection (Big Joel was always big on disdain regarding a LOT of things besides peace and justice and throwing down "the man"). Of course, most of the time I was with Joel was spent drinking and"other pastimes." He WAS rather passionate about Ars Magica, come to think of it, and he introduced me to that game back then....

So I managed to get through all of college with never buying or playing Magic at all.

It wasn't until I was unemployed and living in a house with two WSU non-alums circa 1999 that I picked up my first deck and laid land to laminate. Steve and Salter were non-gamers (though Steve had played some Rifts with me back in high school), but all of us were heavy drinkers and two of us were between jobs, so we had to find something to do.

Salt worked as a part-time caterer while going to cooking school, and he was the guy with Magic cards. He pulled them out one night after we'd been drinking a lot (I don't know what it is about Seattle-types being so nervous about being judged by others...maybe because we're so judgmental ourselves? Probably) and wanted something to do besides watching Strangers With Candy and smoking cigarettes. I think we probably ended up playing till dawn.

Of course, after that we were sold. Steve and I used Salt's spare cards to construct decks that we would play against each other and Salt, then we'd tweak 'em between games to better take on our opponent(s), then we'd rinse and repeat. My wife (at the time "girlfriend") got into it as well, and Steve, M. and I would show up at Baranoff's in Greenwood, eat a hearty (if greasy) breakfast and play Magic for two-three hours. We'd buy used cards from the local game shop (20 for a dollar? Something like that) and never actually gave WotC so much as a red cent all while enjoying the hell out of ourselves.

This went on for a couple months till we'd all found jobs. But it was definitely fun while it lasted!

It was also much MORE fun than playing computer games on-line, IMO. There's nothing like throwing down some big-ass monster with "trample" and seeing the crushed look on your opponent's face, or making bird "skraw" noises every time one of us summoned up a flying creature. We all had personal nicknames for our best cards. M. loved her blue deck specifically for this flying djinn card she somehow always managed to pull; she referred to him as "Superman" and still does (as she did last night...and she hasn't touched a Magic deck in close to ten years!). Good times.

Here's the interesting thing...the actual initial point of this post before I got a little side-tracked: Magic the Gathering has an incredibly low buy-in for its amount of fun/addiction. Kind of like Tom Moldvay's Basic set. Meanwhile, D&D in other formats also has a high fun/addiction factor but a terribly high buy-in. Most people just don't want to spend the money or the time necessary to learn the game themselves.

Case in point: my nephews. They LOVE D&D. If I had to ask, I think it would be one of their top two or three games of all time after only having played TWICE (by the way: they have BOTH cancelled their World o Warcraft subscriptions and sworn off the game). But even though I bought them their very own Labyrinth Lord (AND dice), they haven't yet read the rules or tried running games themselves.

Now, I haven't questioned 'em too closely about this (as I said, we just got 'em last night and they only had time for dinner, homework, and a some Must See TV before bedtime). But the impression I got is they simply don't have the patience to learn the game from a book. And this is Labyrinth Lord we're talking about...not even AD&D or Pathfinder! That's a pretty short book!

It reminds me of my brother and his console games...he enjoys video games but he never bothers to read the instructions. And these are SHORT instruction books. I read 'em and operate his console games better than him right out of the gate; he doesn't have the patience to learn the many intricacies until (maybe!) several hours of gameplay have elapsed. Are we just that impatient as a culture? That would probably explain my questions regarding WoW the other day (people just don't have the time and energy to play table-top RPGs or "create imaginary worlds"). Still and all, I find that pretty sad if it's the case.

Ah, well...enough whining. I'm heading for home to build some Magic decks.
: )


  1. My nephews really enjoyed their one LL session, but they're still a little young. I've got spare copies of both LL and S&W, and been trying to decide if S&W is really that much simpler that it would make a difference in them picking it up and reading it. The older one is 11. Thoughts? Seems like I was only about 10 when I first started playing the Moldvay box.

  2. Ah, a captive audience.

    Speaking of captive audiences, I wonder if it would be possible to get a gaming group going at a your friendly neighborhood penitentiary? The DM could just go in as a community volunteer. Church groups do it all the time. Getting dice in might be a problem.

  3. I like S&W and LL. I played LL over the summer, but am using S&W currently.

    I intend to buy the new LL hardcopy, but I like being able to customize S%W

  4. @ZB: My gut reaction is to go with LL. Older folks (adults) are much more into "customization" than kids (and BX/LL is easy enough to customize, IMO).

    I got my Moldvay book (the same one I still use) for my 8th birthday. LL works just fine. What I have discovered is that MENTORING is the most important thing; I'll post on that sometime soon!
    : )