posts tagged with 'pokemon'

headed to Washington!

When we first dipped our toes into competitive Pokemon about nine months ago we figured it would just be a practice year—getting used to the game and the scene. The goal of serious players is qualifying for the World Championship in August, but I thought that was out of reach for both of us. But then Harvey won that first event, and then he won a couple more. Pretty soon it was clear that, while I was a still no-hoper, he had a pretty fair shot for some success. And today, with about a month left in the season, he crossed the finish line and earned his Worlds Invitation!

This year's Worlds in in Washington DC on August 16. We already have our hotel room booked, and we've started psyching ourselves up for the long drive down. Harvey is super excited, and he's also looking forward to a couple months of more relaxed summer Pokemon play. And after late June he—and I—will start collecting the points for next season.

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weekends are for Pokemon

Harvey and I got back into competitive Pokemon over the last two weekends. We kicked things off back on the 16th with a League Challenge at MIT. The afternoon got off to a shaky start when Harvey left his wallet (and the Charlie Ticket) on the bus on the way there, but things just got better from there. In a small event Harvey and I both finished first—and we both got to beat top-25 players in our age division in the process. It was the first weekend that the Team Up set was legal, and I think Harvey surprised some competitors with the Pikachu-Zekrom deck he brought. (I totally wanted to play it myself, but he gets first pick because he's more competitive than I am, and plus, he pulled the cards.) On the bus ride home we huddled over my phone watching the Juniors finals at the big international event in Australia—where both competitors were playing PikaRom.

The next day saw us in Lexington for a tournament at Omar's. No championship points at stake, but Omar's is now our local shop and we want to show our support! We brought the same decks, and did almost as well: Harvey won again, and I was second in Masters. It was a tiny tournament and my two wins were against Juniors playing not-really-competitive decks—which meant those games weren't as fun as my round one loss against a very good player. I almost pulled it out! The event finished early enough that we contemplated driving to one more tournament, out in Worcester. We could have made it... but in the end we decided to accept an invitation from friends for dinner and a movie at their house. Probably a good call.

This past Sunday saw us in Saugus for another Challenge. This one was much larger: something like eighteen Masters and six Juniors. Harvey had a tough loss in his first game and, even though he won the next two, finished up third. There five rounds in Masters; I started off with two wins then lost my next three in frustrating fashion I'd be happy to recount if you care to listen. It was still super fun, though. My second loss was to Darin O'Meara, fresh off a fine performance in Australia the previous weekend, and he didn't entirely blow me out.

It's nice for Harvey and I to get out together, and win or lose we both really enjoy being part of the scene; all the more so now as we get to know more and more people playing. Plus it's fun going all these places we'd never visit otherwise: imagine, Saugus! We'll be doing it again in Londonderry, New Hampshire this weekend.. wish us luck!

Harvey on a swing at MIT, the setting sun reflecting on the glass wall beyond him

getting some swinging in after playing at MIT

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meanwhile, in Pokemon...

It's an exciting week in the world of Pokemon: the release of a new set and the prerelease tournaments that go with it. That's something that happens four times a year, so this is the fourth one we've seen since we started playing with any seriousness at the beginning of 2018. Each time we've been a little more confident, a little more fully involved with what's going on, and this go-round was no exception. Harvey played his second prerelease event of the week this past Sunday—the first time he's ever done two for one set. I would have played too but I couldn't, since I was judging. It was fun.

Pokemon players at the tables at Omar's

playing with the new cards

I've become a volunteer "League Leader" at Omar's, a store in Lexington with a relatively new Pokemon League. This was the first prerelease they've done, and coming into it I was a little nervous about turnout: on the one hand that nobody would show up and we wouldn't be able to run the event, on the other that it would fill up and all my children and their friends wouldn't be able to play. As it turned out it was perfect, with plenty of eager players and room for everyone who wanted to play (Zion decided to just watch; he still isn't confident enough about his reading to want to play with brand-new cards).

I was happy enough with my judging—nothing went egregiously wrong—but Harvey wasn't happy at all with his play. It just wasn't happening for him: he had a chance to come back in his first game but didn't quite make it, then he conceded his next two when he just couldn't draw the cards he wanted. He got a win in the final round but still felt pretty discouraged. I told him never mind: the real purpose of the afternoon was to get a first crack at the new cards, and in that regard Harvey finished near the top of the tables.

Harvey holding up his three best pulls

the good stuff

This new set also marks the first time I've felt good about building decks with the new cards right away, and two of those cards Harvey pulled were just what we wanted to get started. Of course, that means I had to drop a little too much money this week to order the rest of the cards we need, but that's OK... Harvey'll make it all back in prize money when he gets famous. Or we'll just have fun with our hobby; that'll make it worth it too!

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adventures in Pokemon and beyond

It's hard to believe that it was only a year ago now that I made my first forays into buying Pokemon singles online, in an effort to surprise Harvey and Zion with some good cards for Christmas. Looking back, I realize that the cards I picked out weren't really that good: I had no idea at all what I was doing. From that humble beginning we've seen the game of Pokemon insinuate its way ever-deeper into our lives, to the extent that the whole family spent this past Saturday on an outing to a comic store an hour and a half away in order to play cards for four hours. At least we also took a side trip to the ocean.

Harvey and Zion walking along a lawn towards the rocks at the water's edge

winter water

The purpose of our jaunt up north to Rochester, NH, was to let Harvey—and me and Zion too—play in a League Cup. League Cups are the second rank of tournaments in the world of competitive Pokemon, and Harvey was looking for some points to continue along his road towards the World Championship in August. He got em: his second-place finish was good for 40, giving him 122 so far for the season, out of the 350 he needs to qualify for Worlds. I dropped out of the Masters division competition after the Juniors finished up so we could do something else, so I didn't get any more points (and Zion finished fourth to catch up with me in the points table!) but never mind, I've also secured my first gig as a judge, at an event coming up at the end of the month. And also doing other things is sometimes good.

Since Rochester is kind of near the ocean—it's in the "Inland Coast" region of New Hampshire, though I'm not totally sure how that's a thing—we figured we could probably go find some water. Without any real plan in mind my memory for long-ago adventures and my unerring instinct for interesting places led us to the tip of New Castle Island in Portsmouth, where there's a beach, some rocks, and an old fort to explore. What could be finer?

the  boys checking out an observation tower in the fort

why didn't they leave any guns?

The part of the fort we were allowed to explore was mostly an early-19th century structure, with thick walls, mysterious passageways, and cannon-ports looking out to sea. We could easily have imagined ourselves defending the approaches to Portsmouth Harbor from the British, except that it was exceedingly, all-consumingly cold. So mostly we ran around from one fascinating corner of the fort to another or climbed around on the walls. As long as we were moving we weren't freezing to death. Unfortunately some of the most interesting-looking passageways were blocked off, which was disappointing; at least the stairway to the more modern tower pictured above was only half blocked off, the caution tape having blown away a little bit. It was cold up there too. The only place where we were comfortable enough to pretend was the dungeon.

Lijah behind a rusty iron jail door

prisoner!

Had I been there in the fort in 1812 or whatever I wouldn't have minded a stay in that lock-up; much better than freezing up on the walls! In 2018 our car was pretty warm too, and we were happy after a little while to retreat there for our long drive home (almost long enough to finish our latest audiobook). Adventure successful.

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getting serious about the card game

Yesterday Harvey and I went to our first competitive Pokemon tournament. He's been thinking about Pokemon for a while—I have too!—but only recently have we felt ready to take on serious players in anything more than a prerelease tournament. With traffic and parking troubles it was a stressful trip to downtown Salem, but eventually we managed to find somewhere to leave the car and made our way to the comic store where the event was being held. Once there we were directed to the basement dungeon, where we were welcomed into the company of all the other people who chose to spend a beautiful late summer Sunday afternoon playing a card game on folding tables under florescent lights.

For our first tournament we came in with goals. I actually achieved mine as soon as the event started, since all I wanted was to play! Harvey, a more ambitious soul, hoped to win a game and maybe even come in first. His goal didn't take him much longer; in a field of only two Juniors, he was guaranteed to place, and when he beat the only other Junior in the first game he was pretty much guaranteed first in his division. Maybe it was the lack of nerves that let him go undefeated for the rest of the event, finishing by taking two games from Seniors. He came away with four booster packs, a 1st-place promo card plus a couple other promos, and his first championship points. Those 15 points are enough to put him into a tie for 233rd in the US and Canada!

Embarrassingly, I also got some prizes and points, without winning a game. I brought a deck I just put together Saturday, and without much time to practice—and, unlike Harvey, dealing with lots of nerves!—I stumbled in both matches I played. But I did have a bye one round, which gave me an auto-win... leaving me in fourth place, ahead of the folks who apparently only tied or lost? I don't know. The fact that my 4th-place promo card is mistakenly in Spanish—and so not legal to play in US events—is a fair reflection of my actual performance.

Emerging blinking into the sunlight after everything wrapped up, we figured since we'd come so far we might as well take in the sights. According to the map (before my phone died) we were just a couple blocks from the ocean, plus Salem is kind of a tourist destination for all the witch business. But we didn't know which direction the ocean was, and the witchy atmosphere was actually a little weird. Plus we were hungry. So we went home. We're looking forward to the next tournament... and hoping it's somewhere with a parking lot.

Harvey: 15/???
Dada: 10/???

Harvey looking at the Bewitched statue in Salem

Pokemon tourism in Salem

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Harvey's Pokemon party

Harvey's birthday party was Saturday. Because it's all we think about he chose a Pokemon theme; unlike the other kid he was happy with buttercream frosting on his chocolate cake so I was able to have a little more creative freedom in the decorating. I was pretty happy with the result.

Harvey's Pikachu cake

another Pikacake

The rest of the party was almost as good. With his birthday falling right at the end of the school year some of his friends weren't available. Just as well, since it was a cool drizzly day, and the folks we did have quite filled our house! While I did manage to get a fire lit it didn't look hot enough to cook anything safely; never mind, hot dogs and hamburgers on the stovetop were almost as good. And the kids, tougher than grownups, got plenty of outdoor play. Then when they were tired of that they came in to play Pokemon.

Only problem with that was half of them had never played before, so it was more of a learning experience than a full-on tournament battle. Oh well, we get plenty of battles, and it's always fun to introduce people to the joys of Pokemon. We also introduced them by giving away some cards: I bought a retail box of packs to give out, with the stipulation that if anyone pulled one particular valuable card they would need to trade it to me for something equally shiny but less essentially playable. Sadly it didn't come up, but everybody got some pretty cards to take home. And from his guests Harvey got some Lego sets to build, because you can't play Pokemon all the time.

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weekend Pokemon

On Saturday, Harvey played in his first official Pokemon tournament. It was a prerelease event—that means everyone there got a box of random cards from the upcoming release, and then had half an hour to put a deck together with the best of those cards before facing off in three 20-minute matches. Needless to say, Harvey took it seriously.

Harvey looking through his deck

first deck search in his first official tournament

The bad news is that, out of the seven boosters and one 23-card prerelease pack, Harvey didn't pull a single ultra-rare card. The good new is he went undefeated and probably would have won the whole thing had there been a final round (since there were six juniors they didn't all get to play each other, so two of them made it to three wins; of course I know Harvey's deck was better so I have no problem thinking of him as the winner). And it was a fun scene—more a party than a cut-throat competitive event. I enjoyed chatting with the other old people, and the juniors played tag outside between rounds. Besides all his cards—and his glory—Harvey came home with a lovely orange Pokemon t-shirt; his brothers, who endured two and a half hours of relative boredom in a hot, crowded store, got bouncy balls, candy, and McDonalds for lunch.

It was totally worth the $30 dollar entry fee—and the $2.25 for chips. We're looking forward to the next one in a few months, and now Harvey is ready to enter his first standard tournament too. I'm so proud to be a Poképarent!

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Pokemon school

Harvey's work these days is focused intensely on Pokemon cards (mine too, to be honest). Mostly the game, but also a little bit of the collection aspect. Since we do school at home, what we do at home is all we do at school; when people ask what our curriculum is looking like I have to tell them it's pretty much all Pokemon. Sometimes there's followup questions about just how we're integrating in into the curriculum—or even integrating the curriculum into our Pokemon play. If we wanted there are definitely options in that direction, including some pretty good ones. But the more active educational interventions, either content- or skills-based, don't really align with how I'm feeling about learning these days.

Content-wise, people question how much time and effort kids put into learning about things like Pokemon cards. I've felt the same way in the past, at least about myself: why is my head filled up with useless information about makes and models of cars—information I never even tried to learn!—rather than, say, plant identification?! I'd much rather be able to pick out an American Elm than a Suburu Baja. I imagine that's the kind of thinking that led to the creation of The Phylo(mon) Project, a crowdsourced trading card game that aims to build on enthusiasm for TCGs to help kids learn real-world facts about things like ecosystems and women in science. Which is totally cool! I just wonder about two things: how necessary is that knowledge, and how fun is the game?

Because you have to imagine that at least some of the fun of Pokemon is intrinsic—it can't all be fad or peer pressure. Most likely the reason why kids are into it is because they like it, and it's fun to be able to master something you like. So if, as an adult, I was to try and trade on that to trick kids into doing Pokemon-themed spelling worksheets, wouldn't I just be telling the boys that their interests don't matter, and that I'm the one who needs to direct them towards the real work?

To be honest, playing Pokemon builds skills without any intervention from instructors required. On the simplest level, it requires reading (to understand attacks and abilities) and math (to calculate damage). And then to get good at both playing and deck-building takes some good brain work in systematic planning, probabilities, and psychology. The specifics of those skills might not be particularly transferable—and the content area learning certainly is not—but I don't think that matters. Developing elasticity of mind and practicing learning are totally valuable on their own; any person who knows how to learn will in time be able to pick up any knowledge, or even skills, required of them.

That said, the teacher part of me is glad to see Harvey's enthusiasm around making a Pokemon Trainer's Notebook (making from card stock, sheets of paper, and embroidery floss) and then starting to write down deck lists and other notes. Especially when he told me he'd have to work to make his handwriting smaller to fit everything in. That's about as schooly as we're going to get around here these days, and that seems fine.

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pokemon cards

Since Christmas, Pokemon cards have entered our lives in a big way. I know, right? Here's the story. For some reason, this school year saw a resurgence of card collecting among the elementary-school set. I pushed back at first, but with Pokemon excitement sweeping the neighborhood it was inevitable that some cards would come our way before long. Looking back at the photos, I can see that as early as the summer there were already impromptu poke-battles happening in our house.

boys and friends playing with pokemon cards

the latest craze

Nobody actually knew how to play, which was a little frustrating to me, but I managed to let it go. Then in the fall Grandma Beth, a keen observer of children's interest, bought a learner deck for the boys. It ran them through all the steps of the game, the right way. I couldn't help but listen in as they played. Soon afterwards Harvey bought a deck of his own... but then sadly traded its best cards away for flashier cards that he couldn't actually play.

By Christmas we had accumulated a couple hundred cards (mostly for free... thanks, Kelsey!) and Harvey had bought a second deck to replace the first one—which he had by then lost anyway. By then he knew all the ins and outs of the rules, and was really hoping to find some opponents worthy of his developing skills. So I bought Zion a deck as a Christmas present... and added one for myself, too. Why not?! They're only $15 a piece.

Only, not really. When I first figured out the rules I was underwhelmed by the game: I declared that it was a deck-building game where the interesting parts of the experience came while you were spending money. At first, the actual head-to-head game play felt pretty flat. That's still true. But it turns out that the more money you spend, the more interesting the games get! And let's just say that, by this point, I'm pretty interested.

I do have moments of sanity—if not to say disillusionment. Why do I need to pay seventy-nine cents for a card with some particular words on it, so my deck can do what I want it to? Can't I just take some other random card and write on it with a permanent marker?! I could, actually; and that line of thought has us thinking about designing our own trading card game. One day. But for now we're enjoying the complete Pokemon experience: building our decks, researching old cards and new releases, and watching championship matches on youtube. And playing against each other and a few friends!

the boys playing pokemon at church

have cards, will travel

It's probably just a phase, but it looks like one that's not likely to run its course anytime soon. We need more opponents... any interest in learning to play?

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