Kids are Sorcerers, Dad an Apprentice


Just a few days ago, I ventured to the mythical kingdom of Dominia, where I was transformed into a sorcerer and was made to fight strange creatures while collecting mana and earning counters.


Then you must be among the remaining few among us who have not encountered the latest craze in kids' games, better known as "Magic: The Gathering."

As much as I would like to be able to put the whole concept of Magic into a nutshell, there is simply no shell large enough to hold it.

Nor, apparently, a nut who can play it.

I am so baffled by the intricacies of this new game, the seemingly endless attempts to confuse and confound, that I'm still reeling days later.

My 12-year-old son, who was eager to introduce me to Magic, finally let me off the hook by proclaiming that I was simply too old to grasp the concept.

I thanked him and took out the pinochle cards.

After considerable research, I did find out more about Magic, and I'm here to put it into perspective.

It is simply the latest in insidious commercial exploitations designed to mesmerize kids and take advantage of their considerable buying power before parents can figure out what's really going on.

Of course, I'm writing from a very narrow perspective, having never completely grasped the idea of Pogs, which I understand now are positively passe.

For the uninitiated, Magic is a fantasy game involving collectible playing cards that bear elaborate illustrations and strange commands.

Players are considered sorcerers, and the object is to drive each other out of the kingdom by summoning weird creatures, casting spells or employing artifacts.

Magic is the brainchild of Richard Garfield, a 30-something former math professor and avid game player. He introduced the game two years ago at a toy convention in Milwaukee.

In the past year, it has gotten hot. Some of the cards -- and there are at least a thousand variations -- are so hard to come by that they are said to sell for as much as $1,000 a pop.

Players use and trade them much the way kids have traded baseball cards, but without the gum.

Magic is made by a company called Wizards of the Coast. Based in a Seattle suburb, the company claims its product has enthusiasts as young as 10 and as old as 70.

Somehow I find it hard to believe there is a retirement home somewhere where the residents are fighting over whether to break out the mah-jongg tiles or play a round of Magic.

Let's face it: This is a game for the computer generation.

BTC The cards are inscribed with instructions such as, "If target creature you control attacks and is not blocked, it deals no damage to opponent. Instead, put a cube counter on Delf's Cube." This game takes a more nimble mind than I possess.

Magic, of course, has raised considerable concern in some locales, where parents have gotten their hackles up over what they perceive as the game's satanic influences.

The same kind of criticism was leveled against the game Dungeons and Dragons, and there are similarities between the two.

Some schools -- including a few in Howard -- have gone so far as to ban the cards on school property, while others have established after-school clubs for the truly rabid.

I suspect that Magic is like any fad that takes over: The problem is only as great as the child's tendency to become obsessive. Much of that needs to be controlled by the parent.

That's not to dismiss Magic as the Pet Rock of the '90s.

It has already spawned several imitators, magazines that

specialize in keeping aficionados abreast of the latest developments, and whole conventions that cater to the devout.

It's a lively, complex game that seems to require a facility for math as well as an ability to form strategies.

Since such skills use a side of my brain that long ago fell into disuse, I will probably never master Magic.

But that's probably just as well.

By the time I figure it out, something new and more mind-boggling will have taken its place.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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