Yu-Gi-Oh was a massive part of my childhood. All of my school friends played, and I would force my family to play with me (and I would always win). It was more than just a card game; it was an entire interest that had a fan culture behind it with a children’s television show that added depth to the characters and cards that you could obtain and use. With a television show and storylines, this means more merchandise, more products and more toys. It means that it is no longer just a card game, it is a fandom that happens to have a game built around it.
I remember after school, begging my mother to buy a pack of cards, that I would open and discover new cards to add to my deck and use against my friends. Yu-Gi-Oh’s card system works in a way of chance. These cards are rolled out in themed collections, with certain cards with different abilities, which have a certain theme. These themes will also allow certain abilities to work within each other. Example being Earth, which had cards that will usually be animal-based, and these cards if used together can have special abilities and disadvantages depending on what your opponent has. These packs of cards came in smaller packets, or in decks, which contained an entire playing deck that could be used in a duel straight away.
I remember seeing the first episode of Yu-Gi-Oh, which soon after is when I first obtained a pack of cards. The first episode introduces us to Yugi, a young boy who has a grandfather who owns a game store. He happens to sell and collect cards himself, which immediately introduces us to some ‘monsters’ and how these cards interact.
Here’s a quick summary of how these cards work:
- Each player has life points.
- Monsters have attack and defence points.
- If you have a monster with higher points than your opponents, you can attack them and destroy their monster. These are sent to a graveyard.
- The point difference between your card is deducted from their life points.
- Other cards such as spell cards and trap cards can change game mechanics and make a simple attack and defence tricky.
- There are turns and certain phases for each turn, these are the main two:
- Phase 1 – placing as many spell or trap cards on the field as you wish, and one monster – this monster can be in attack or defence, and can be either faced up for your opponent to observe, or faced down to add risk to your opponent if they attack it.
- Battle phase – this is when the attack of monsters takes place.
- The battle keeps going until one player has no life points, or no cards left.
This is immediately outlined in the show from a simple school battle, all the way to a massive overdramatic duel over the grandpa’s life. Seriously, if you haven’t watched it, it’s insane and happens so fast, but six-year-old me loved it.
This led me to buying my first pack, which is named after one of the ‘monsters’ in the show –
“Legend of Blue Eyes White Dragon”. Such simpler times. I very quickly was able to build a deck and play against my school friends. I have great friends to this day who we still make jokes about these monsters and characters in the game.
The core mechanics are very simple and quite easy to understand after a few games. I had actually forgotten for a while until I played the iOS game “Yu-Gi-Oh: Duel Links”, which took me right back. However, the cards themselves overtime have taken on new mechanics. This is something that has changed not just from the game standpoint, but as the television show has progressed.
I remember a change around the age of nine when ‘Yu-Gi-Oh GX’ was introduced. Within this was a new world and new characters, but the same core mechanics. However, the cards were completely different, and new links between certain cards and abilities made the older cards less useable in game. I discovered this mostly around three years ago. I went to a hairdresser who had a son who competed in tournaments. This was something I always wanted to do when I was younger, and I said to my hairdresser, “I have all my old cards, does he want them?”. The reply back to me from him was – “I’ll duel him for them.”
So, we did. I got my cards, did a few google searches and went in thinking, you know what, I’ve got this. I had all the classics – Blue Eyes White Dragon, Dark Magician; I had this in the bag. I soon discovered that I didn’t have it. The kid flogged me and had these cards that caused chain reactions of summons and all sorts of (mind my language) shit that I just couldn’t comprehend. It was after that he went through my cards and took two. Only two! I thought my deck was awesome, and he only picked two. It made me realise that this game has gone beyond wanting the cards on television of a Sunday morning, and rather became a game of having the most powerful cards to force wins. The game feels in my honest opinion, broken.
This is also evident in the “Duel Links” game, where the players you are up against have certain cards that make any form of competition impossible and makes the game almost impossible to have fun. Competitions have created ban lists for certain cards due to the high power they have over the gameplay. The core mechanics are always the same, and for years have remained unchanged – it’s the card abilities and the competition of having the most power, rather than the most honest fun and enjoyment of having the cards that look cool.
Lots of money was spent by my parents to fulfil my love for this game and the franchise behind it. There is a massive culture behind it, and in doing research into this, the television show is actually really enjoyable. It is a show with morals like friendship, never leaving people behind, self-belief – all wrapped up with a game with monsters in some strange Japanese version of Egyptian folklore. It seems that the interest in Yu-Gi-Oh has faded over time, with fans being nostalgic over cinema releases with favourite characters, and the occasional throwback release of older cards. What remains is the competitions, which even then is not at the level that e-sports is. It’s the regional and the independent gaming stores that hold competitions that these people find pleasure in (more lack of better words) flogging their opponents with broken cards that destroy the gameplay.
I will never forget Yu-Gi-Oh and the memories that it gave me, and I will always be fond of the duels I had and the hours I spent in my room saying catchphrases with my friends – “It’s time to du-du-du-duel!”. I wonder where this game can really go next. It seems to me that maybe going backwards would be the best start.