Bye-bye Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! is here

Craze: The latest Japanese trading-card fantasy game is attracting a growing number of devotees, mostly boys ages 8 to 15.

February 23, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

If you know the term Yu-Gi-Oh!, it probably means one of three things: You have children, you are very hip or you were at Towson Town Center yesterday.

The mall was swarmed by fanatics of Yu-Gi-Oh! - the latest Japanese trading-card game craze - which makes Pokemon seem as passe as Cabbage Patch Kids and Space Invaders.

Baltimore is seventh on a 12-city tour marketing the game and its accessories.

"I'm crazed and freaked out about it," said Zak Deickman, 13, of Bel Air, who has covered the walls of his bedroom with game posters. "It's like Pokemon, but it's strategic, really strategic."

About 1,900 people visited 12 stations around the mall to learn game strategy, trade cards and duel other players.

The daring dueled the Yu-Gi-Oh! masters who travel with the tour.

"It takes a lot of brain power," said Luke Bengal, 7, of Perry Hall, who handily beat a master yesterday afternoon. "I drew a couple of my good cards."

The tour has attracted more than 30,000 kids since it began last month.

The concept of the game Yu-Gi-Oh! (pronounced yoo-gee-oh) revolves around a spiky-haired boy, Yugi, and his friends, who spend their time playing an ancient Egyptian card-fighting game called "duel monsters."

In the television cartoon show based on the game, they play so well that Yugi and his friends suddenly have magical powers to fight monsters.

It is the apparent successor to Pokemon, the ubiquitous trading card game and cartoon that nearly made children swoon with excitement a few years ago.

Unlike Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! has monsters, spell cards and mystical creatures that give it a fantasylike quality reminiscent of the game Dungeons and Dragons.

"The characters are really cool," said Nancy Uber, a Yu-Gi-Oh! promoter. "Pokemon is for babies with their cute, cuddly monsters. This is the Japanese anime that is really hot now."

Players are generally between ages 8 and 15, and 80 percent of them are boys, said Nathan Lamonde, assistant manager of the Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card tour.

The craze began in Japan in 1996 as a comic book and quickly became all the rage.

The cards began filtering to the United States a few years later, but were not distributed regularly until March last year. The Yu-Gi-Oh! television show has become a hit here since its debut the next month.

More than 3.5 billion Yu-Gi-Oh! cards have been issued in Japan, and more than $2 billion in related merchandise has been sold there.

In the United States, about 100,000 kids are registered players of the game. It has become such a popular distraction that many Baltimore-area schools have banned the cards.

"People get in trouble for sneaking cards into school," Zak Deickman said. "But I carry my cards with me wherever I go. I like the violence and the artwork."

He said players who are into Yu-Gi-Oh! generally are not casual about the game. He estimates that he spends $100 to $200 a month on cards.

Zak and two friends, Jon Esser and Ed Fields, came to Towson Town Center for a new challenge.

"To duel people we have not dueled before," Zak said.

The game is based on points. Players collect cards to build decks, and "duel" other players.

Each card has an assigned value, and the objective is to get your opponent's score to zero.

Chris and Darlene Jones brought their son Tyler, 4, to the mall yesterday because he is a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan.

"The cards are made for 8-year-olds and up, but he watches the show on TV and learns from it," Darlene Jones said.

Tyler said his favorite card is Blue Eyes White Dragon, a fierce, rare dragon-type monster. "It has the most power," he said.

The tour continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at Towson. Registration begins at 10 a.m.

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