Watts, 16, right, checks his hand during a recent Yu-Gi-Oh! card
game tournament at HR Sportscards and Collectibles in midtown Sacramento.
Watts eventually won the tournament.
Sacramento Bee/Jay Mather
off, Pokémon. There's a new game in town.
By Will Evans -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Sunday, October 20, 2002
Males came to a Yu-Gi-Oh! card tournament one recent Saturday, but when
he saw the competition, he turned back.
"I can't beat anybody," says the 12-year-old. "I've seen their decks."
He wasn't scared, but he wasn't kidding.
The young card sharks inside HR Sportscards and Collectibles on 10th
Street in Sacramento are serious about their game. Some have hundreds
of dollars' worth of cards. They keep them in plastic sleeves and memorize
Like kids around the country, they're riding the Yu-Gi-Oh! craze.
Many say it's the next Pokémon. Whatever the distinction, it's sure
off to a monstrous start.
Yu-Gi-Oh!, originally a Japanese comics series, landed in the United
States as an animated television show in September 2001.
The show centers around Yugi, a boy who unlocks the ancient Egyptian
"Millennium Puzzle" and gains magical powers. He battles bad guys by
playing "Duel Monsters," a card game based on mystical creatures that
fight one other. "Yu-Gi-Oh!" means "King of Games."
The show, dubbed from the Japanese version, is on at 4:30p.m. weekdays
and 7 and 10a.m. Saturdays on Channel 58, and is the top-rated TV program
for boys of all ages.
When kids watch their TV hero play cards every day, they want to play
cards, too. Marketing folks know that.
Thus, the Upper Deck Co. launched cards based on the show in March,
and now Yu-Gi-Oh! outsells the company's baseball, basketball, football
and hockey cards -- combined.
And just in time for the holidays, Upper Deck has sent out collectors
tins ($20), and Mattel is stocking stores with action figures ($8),
a board game ($15) and a jigsaw puzzle ($8). Yu-Gi-Oh! Halloween costumes
are selling fast, while an album of Yu-Gi-Oh! music is coming out Oct.
29. And don't forget the video games by Konami.
"The show was basically building awareness," says Rosalynd Nowicki,
marketing vice president of 4 Kids Entertainment, which brought the
show to the United States. "All the products that are hitting the market
really allow the kids to submerge themselves in the world of Yu-Gi-Oh!"
Dozens of boys swarmed HR Sportscards and Collectibles for the recent
weekly tournament. They paid $6 just to get in. Most couldn't wait for
the official rounds of one-on-one play and began "dueling" immediately.
"They get addicted to the cards," says Jean White, who brought her 13-year-old
son, Timothy, to the tournament. "They're like little junkies for them."
The game is made up of monster, magic and trap cards. Players buy a
starter deck ($10) and booster packs ($3 to $9 each) -- which add cards
that can help develop a powerful deck.
Each player starts with 8,000 "life points" -- keeping track in their
heads, scribbling on paper or poking calculators -- and whoever loses
them and hits zero first is defeated.
Best of three duels wins the match. The player then advances to the
Retailers themselves are battling to keep cards in stock. Sometimes
new shipments are sold within hours.
One man bought $700 to $800 worth of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards in one day at Adventures
in Comics & Games in Carmichael, says owner Avrom Oliver.
Individual cards, if they are very rare, can run as high as $125 at
some stores. Some players will pay top dollar to get the best cards.
But in Yu-Gi-Oh!, strategy -- on-the-spot manipulation of the cards
-- can sometimes overpower a good hand.
Upper Deck sanctions official tournaments at card shops, ranking players
by awarding points for winning duels. The top competitors will be flown
to Japan next year for an international tournament.
By last month, Upper Deck had registered 40,000 kids around the country,
and the company estimates that 2,000 to 3,000 players sign up every
Timothy Watts, ranked No. 140, is the "King of Games" at HR Sportscards,
one of several local tournament locations. When he arrived on a recent
Saturday, traveling from Vacaville, the 16-year-old already had won
five of seven tournaments.
With allowance and Christmas money, he has spent $300 on the game. He
has all the cards he wants; it's all strategy now.
Studying his cards, he attacks.
"Evil," he says jokingly. "I love being evil."
"How could you be so mean to a kid who's five years younger?" asks his
competitor, John Cooper, 11, resigned to lose this one.
"We're all the same age in Yu-Gi-Oh," says Watts, who went on to win
Matthew LaTour is proof. The 32-year-old came to play even though his
children couldn't make it. He'll have to lose to some very young people.
Jordan Yee, 11, is one young Yu-Gi-Oh! master. He knows the hundreds
of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards by heart.
Charles Southward, 20, tests him. He picks "Musician King," a seldom-used
To use it, fuse "Witch of the Black Forest" and "Lady of Faith," Yee
says quickly. Attack points? Around 1,700.
Not everyone has a Yu-Gi-Oh-graphic memory, but many parents say the
game stimulates the mind, bringing math and strategy back into child's
But child psychologist Stevanne Auerbach says, "Go buy a yo-yo."
Known as Dr. Toy, Auerbach evaluates the educational value of playthings.
She says Yu-Gi-Oh! is a very expensive way to generate violence in children.
"What are we teaching our kids from this kind of play?" she asks.
To some, how to clean their rooms. Parents use the cards as allowance
and incentives for doing chores. One brought his child into HR Sportscards
as a reward after a soccer game.
Yu-Gi-Oh! now makes up 70 percent of the store's business.
The kids have forgotten their Pokémon cards at home. "Nobody plays Pokémon
now," they say.
Yu-Gi-Oh! is not as big as the cutesy Pokémon monsters were at their
peak in 1999, but a greater percentage of children are playing the more
sophisticated game, says Joyce Greenholdt, editor of Scrye, a guide
to collectible-card games.
"Even when it's no longer the cool thing at school, there's probably
a lot more kids that will stay playing Yu-Gi-Oh!" she says.
Meanwhile, as Upper Deck releases more booster sets, the kids -- or
their parents -- keep buying.
Jeremy Males may not have wanted to challenge seasoned duelers one week,
but he'll be back with a better deck.
"I'm going to save up money and get more cards," he says.
happened to ... ?
question for many parents -- after "What's Yu-Gi-Oh!?" -- may be "What
happened to Pokémon?"
Many gobbled up Pokémon cards in high quantities at high prices -- some
cards selling for $400 -- during the 1999 craze.
Now, they are left with thin pieces of cardboard worth 25 percent of
their hyperinflated value. And there's a new card that everyone wants.
"I refer to it as the lemming syndrome," says Avrom Oliver, owner of
Adventures in Comics & Games in Carmichael and an adviser for collectible-card
price guides. "Once it starts, everybody just jumps in line. And if
you're going to do that, you're going to suffer if you don't keep your
To Oliver, it's all economics.
During the Pokémon craze, speculators started day-trading with the lucrative
monster cards, he says. They created an artificial demand, driving prices
up. When the bubble burst, they dumped the cards on the market and everything
"I think it's going to be a faster rise and quicker fall" for Yu-Gi-Oh!,
Oliver says. "The pattern is going to end up repeating itself. ... It
has to make it through the initial crash."
But those who make the game are resigned. Upper Deck spokeswoman Mary
Mancera says she knows that trends end.
"Our attention span really isn't that long."
action figure of Yugi, one of the game's main characters,
rests atop a display of Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards.
Michael A. Jones
gather to play in a Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament at HR Sportscards
and Collectibles in downtown Sacramento. Eight players from
the United States will win a trip to Japan for the world