Pokemon. You remember Pokemon, right? Those little creatures that kids fictionally enslave and make fight for their own pleasure. Look how adorable they are.
This one is called famously called Weepinbell. Like a weeping bell. Yep.
This questionable one is called Jynx.
This one is literally made of garbage. I don’t know its name as it’s not one of the original 151. I’m more of a Grimer and Muk kind of guy.
Like many kids of the ‘90s I was a big time Poke-fan and one of my main vices was to piss about with the cards. They looked like this.
Look at the GFX (erm, graphics) on that Diglett and the fat Pikachu. Perfection.
I remember being so excited about opening my shiny Charizard (the best one) that I ran all the way from the shop to my house to shout at my mother “MUMOMGMUMOMGIGOTASHINEEEECHARIZARD”.
Understandably, she was thrilled to bits about her boy’s biggest achievement in life so far (she didn’t care).
Most kids played swaps on the playground, trying to complete their collection of abused monsters. So did I.
Joel tells me he got fed up of the cards after about a year, so ended up trading every card he had to get hold of all the Magikarp’s in the school. Magikarp is the easily worst card in the world, but he managed to accumulate every one of them in a bid to create a pointless monopoly. Just one big fat deck of Magikarps.
Anyway, there were many, many ways to get hold of dem cards.
What many kids didn’t know, however …
*reader leans in closer*
… is that these cards could actually be played as a game.
Most kids didn’t know the rules, or even care about them.
But I did. And I was good at it.
ONE OF THE BEST IN THE COUNTRY OMG TOUCH ME.
This wasn’t my first flirtation with success over a game though. The previous year I was joint third best chess player in the school. Touch me again.
I know, right? Now you’re thinking: who the fuck is this prodigy? Whatever happened to him? Is he running his own successful pokegym somewhere, carefully guarding a badge from would-be challengers?
I’ll get to that. First, let me tell you a bit more about how I did it. Someone signed me up to the chess tournament (neeerrrrrrrd) and my tutor told me I had round one that day at lunch.
I turned up right on time. My opponent didn’t. I won by default.
The next day one of my friends at lunch told me the chess thing was still happening and I was into round two. So I turned up on time as usual. Guess what happened next? They didn’t show. Undisputed winner, undefeated champion. Into the quarters.
Quarters were the same. Bosh, into the semis.
Sadly, the other guy showed up this time. I lost. Heavily. He knew what he was doing. He did a move involving swapping his king and his castle.
It’s some made up bullshit move like that free parking monopoly money, I dunno. Chess.
I had a taste for success and I was hungry for more. Maybe I could enter a Pokemon tournament and maybe people wouldn’t show up again?
The first thing you need to know about the Pokemon Trading Card Game was that it was (seemingly) not designed for high level competitive play. Essentially, it was broken. Really fucking broken. I don’t know how much you know about playing these kind of card games (nothing, presumably) but let me tell you a couple of basic things that are worth knowing.
A general thing about these kind of games is that the more cards you have in your hand the more options you have. That helps.
The more efficiently you use your cards, the better. If you use one card and it gets rid of two or more of your opponent’s cards, then you are more likely to win. It’s called “Card Advantage”.
I’m not going to explain the rules of this Pokemon game. You don’t care and I don’t really remember. What is helpful to know though, is that these two cards were stupid. Really stupid. In a good way. Because they gave you a lot of card advantage and a lot of cards in your hand.
What sort of a game has a card that is just called “Bill”?
That’s why you can play all the best cards together in one deck and not worry about having the wrong ones at the wrong time in your hand.
I put all the best cards into a deck (like the internet told me to) and won a lot of games against my friends. It was easy really, there was little skill involved. I found it boring. So I made my own deck which still had those stupid cards, but had sillier ones like these guys
Much more fun right? Egg-puns and a giant marshmallow that can “Do the wave”. It also involved flicking a lot of coins which is fun when you’re 12. Flipping coins = more skill obviously.
I somehow found out that the first ever UK National Pokemon Championships was happening at London Zoo. I’m not sure if that was a cruel or clever joke. Holding an event about made up creature being trapped in spaces too small at a place that puts real life creatures into tiny spaces.
First round. My opponent shows up. Shit! The strategy I perfected the year before at my chess tournament isn’t going to work now. Several minutes and coin flips later though… I lost. I don’t think I cried, but I might have.
Fortunately as this was an event for kids we could play as many games as we could until some arbitrary point when the judges then started a real round 2.
My eggs and marshmallow deck was destroying all comers. It’s at this point I should say. Most kids at this tournament were just that, kids…so was I, but I was one of the older ones. At 12 though it’s hard to understand what those difference means. So I gleefully destroyed a 9 year old and his Bulbasaur deck, he certainly did cry. I revelled in his tears.
I was now into the quarter finals. “The Top 8” as it’s known. The kid I was against had a Blastoise deck. Pronounced Blast-wah like it’s French (it isn’t).
He thrashed me.
Playing this big monster involved playing the previous 2 he evolves from first. That means you needed to have drawn them and played them in previous turns which makes the odds of you doing that in your first 3 turns quite low.
But Glenn you told us the Oak and Bill trick to get all the cards you wanted. Well this kids wasn’t played that, he had another strategy.
He got perfect draws both games. Identical draws in fact. I was too sad to notice.
“He cheated” said my Dad.
“He fixed his deck”.
I don’t know why my Dad didn’t do anything about it at the time. Tournament etiquette (I have learned since) is you should shuffle or cut your opponent’s deck. It’s as much a greeting at the start of a game as well as stopping anyone having suspicions of anything dodgy.
That fucking shit.
So that was me out of the tournament, but in the top 8 Pokemon players in the country.
The Blastoise kid was knocked out next round when someone shuffled his deck.
What did I win? Loads of cards. A shit ton, well it felt like it. It was a few boxes of boosters. Which as a child is basically like winning the lottery.
What did the winner get? A trip to Hawaii to play in the world championship, an uncut printed roll of all the cards, and a special unique card now worth 5 figures. I should have played that better fucking deck.
After that we stopped playing Pokemon. There were other cooler things to get into like…Magic The Gathering (NERRRRRDDDD). I also went to the UK championships for that. I wasn’t that good.
The next year though a letter came through the door
As one of the top Pokemon players in the country they wanted me to come and play in that years UK Championships at the Millennium Dome (oooOOOo you don’t cry). I got my old decks out of the drawer and off I went.
On arrival I took my deck to the judges for inspection. Turned out a few things had changed…they had realised there game was very broken. I load of my cards were now banned and the ones that weren’t I could only play one of a turn.
There were also lots of new cards, so my Dad bought me some boosters and I bodged whatever cards looked half decent in instead.
My first round I lost to a 9 year old girl with Pikachu ears on. There were no retries this year. I was out.
We went round the dome FOR FREE. That was our prize, walking around a giant human body. The escalators were broken that day so we couldn’t see the heart (not sure why I remember that).
I’m moving house at the moment and I found my old deck. It’s still in it’s shitty sleeves. I will pass it on to my children. So they can take up my mantle of temporarily being an above average Pokemon card game player who can beat kids by copying half a deck from the internet.
Still not many people can say that in 1999 they were one of the top 8 Pokemon card game players in the country. Well I guess only 7 others can.
So remember kids, always shuffle the decks of little cheating shits with a Blastoise.
It’s actually very hard to find out much about this online as it was in those years of shitty dial up. If anyone played Pokemon around this time and went to the London Zoo or Millennium Dome tournaments I would love to hear from you.