The kids and I returned from a 24-day tour of America this week, and my original plan was to publish this post sometime during that trip. However, because I was driving a lot and doing a lot in places with little or no Internet connection, I just never got the opportunity to put it all together, until now. But, you know, it’s a good thing, because my knowledge of Pokemon increased about 200% during the trip.
The size of my car severely limited what each of us could bring on the trip. Just a couple changes of clothes, a tent and sleeping bags, a few books, and one – ONE – toy per child. So Bree and Cal decided to bring their Pokemon cards. Every night, wherever we were camping, I insisted that we all be in the tent before dark, and since we weren’t always ready to sleep at that time, we stayed up playing Pokemon. And I joined in, too.
Before the trip, if I had tried to write about the game, it would have sounded very much like this post about roller derby, when I didn’t understand a dang thing that was happening. All I knew about Pokemon just a few short weeks ago was that cards are dealt, characters battle each other, points are deducted, and players speak in some weird Star Trek language, saying things like “charizard” and “kyogre,” “gengar” and “voltorbe.” Now I understand, and I owe my new-found knowledge not just to our trip, but to the group that started it all for my family: the Harrisonburg Pokemon League.
The League was created nine years ago by a Harrisonburg couple, William and Juanita. They have six sons, the oldest of which is now 21. In essence, they created the club for him, and they have generously continued it for any kid who’s interested. When their first son was little and became interested in Pokemon, William and Juanita looked for a place where he could practice and play with other Pokemon fans. Along the way there were some groups; one group met, for a short time, at the library. Then a few groups formed at stores like Books-A-Million and Toys ‘R Us. William and Juanita learned the game, they took their boys to the club, and it sort of became a family hobby. But eventually, all the local clubs closed. At that point, with a growing family of Pokemon fans, the couple took it upon themselves to start their own league.
The League currently meets on Sundays from 1 – 3pm at 8Bit Oasis, a gaming store owned by Lauren Davis in the Cloverleaf Shopping Center. Anyone who wants to play Pokemon is welcome. It’s completely free and open to all people of all ages. Even if you’re not ready to sit down and play with the others, a visit to the store to check out the scene is a must. Walking into 8bit Oasis gave me an overload of sense memories. They’ve got a huge inventory of vintage gaming systems, equipment, accessories, and games. I was an Atari girl, myself. My childhood friend Kathy and I would play Missile Command and Frogger and Yars Revenge for like twelve hours straight, eating nothing but Dr. Pepper and pixie sticks. We’d have thumb cramps and bloodshot eyes and all. So seeing that wall of Atari cartridges – wow! It made me swoon. Other vintage items include Gameboys, Gamecubes, joysticks, and old games like Top Gear Rally. They also carry new and used games for current systems – Wii, Xbox, Playstation, and the like. At the back of the store is small gaming lounge. You can borrow a game to try out on their system, or you can play one of their arcade games, like Donkey Kong Jr., Mario, Galaga, or PacMan.
The League is very organized. On our first visit, William sat down with all our kids and led them through a battle, explaining all the official rules in detail (believe me, Bree and Cal had improvised at home A LOT before learning the proper way to play). Even though there were several other players there, William took the time to patiently coach each child. One of William and Juanita’s sons also helped answer questions and strategize with the kids. All the kids picked up really quickly and have been able to play independently ever since. A battle starts with the dealing of cards. Each player gets seven cards for his hand and six for his “prize cards.” The rest of the 60-card deck remains face down. The deck is composed of a variety of Pokemon (characters), energy cards (you need those to make your Pokemon be able to attack), and trainer cards, which usually grant a player some special advantage for a single turn or for the remainder of the battle. Next, each player chooses which Pokemon will battle. Then it’s a series of picking cards and discarding, attaching energy cards to the Pokemon, attacking (things like “peck,” “stomp,” “continuous headbutt,” “hopeless scream”), and deducting points for each attack. Once a Pokemon’s “health” score is decimated, it’s been defeated, and the winner gets to pick up one of his prize cards. The player who gets through all six prize cards first wins the battle.
While William walks around to facilitate the battles and serve as referee as needed, Juanita keeps track of everyone’s wins. After you’ve accumulated a certain number of wins, you get a prize. And once every three or four months, they hold what’s called a Booster Pack Tournament. They purchase newly released cards in packs of ten. Each kid pays $20 and gets six packs of cards. They sit at tables, open one pack at a time, take their favorite card from that pack and pass the rest to the left. The cards keep moving around the table until they’ve all been distributed. Then they all open pack #2, and repeat the process. By the end, each kid has more than 50 new cards, which they use to create a 40-card deck and play two battles right then. It was really fun for everyone, and a cool way to add excitement and anticipation to an already challenging and complex game.
Brandy and I have been so impressed with William and Juanita that we felt compelled to share this with you. They are just the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. Their patience and friendliness to all the kids… their willingness to create and maintain this league for nine years with no compensation… their relaxed demeanor and acceptance of anyone who wants to play is exactly what should come to mind when one thinks of The Friendly City. Thank you, William and Juanita (and their sons!), and 8bit Oasis, for providing a fun, educational, and wholesome activity for kids of all ages.
If you haven’t been to 8bit Oasis or the Harrisonburg Pokemon League, you should come Sunday and check it out!
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