There's a new game in town
By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
Almost every day at 4:30 p.m., Frank Violand sits in front of the television, marveling at the latest Japanese cartoon called Yu-Gi-Oh!
But it is the cartoon-inspired game cards of the same name, the ones with snazzy graphics of mystical creatures, that really hold his attention.
"It's probably one of my favorite things," said the Farnell Middle School sixth-grader. "If I'm bored, I'll play it a lot."
Move over Pokemon.
Yu-Gi-Oh! has become the latest game card phenomenon among schoolkids like Frank.
"The game hasn't reached the Pokemon peak, but it looks like it's on its way," said Doug Kale, editorial director with Beckett Publications in Dallas, publisher of a bimonthly Yu-Gi-Oh! magazine.
Like Pokemon, which is long past its prime as the most popular plaything on the playground, Yu-Gi-Oh! (pronounced You-Ghi-Oh) originated in Japan.
It is in the midst of a marketing blitz complete with electronic games and action figures. Two home videos are being released today, and a music CD will be out soon.
But the cards capture the fancy of children, mainly boys ages 8 to 14.
For Diane Seckler's two sons, it started with the cartoon two months ago.
"Then the little neighborhood guy said they have cards for that," recalled the Largo mother. "I was like, "Oh no. We have thousands of Pokemon cards.' "
Joyce Greenholdt, editor of the card collector magazine Scrye, said Yu-Gi-Oh! is second in card sales behind the all-time bestseller, Magic the Gathering.
It's popular enough that some stores have doubled the $10 price of starter desks. Counterfeit cards are also circulating.
Local comic book stores that sell the cards say they have trouble keeping them in stock mainly because of high demand and slow distribution.
"They sell as soon as we get them on the shelves," said Jonathan Weld, clerk at Merlin's Books on Fowler Avenue in Tampa.
Still, Neil Johnson of Emerald City Comics in Seminole said the cards have not attracted the crazed interest of Pokemon.
He doubts they ever will.
Last week when he received the latest card series, Magic Ruler, there was no line out the door as in the days when Pokemon ruled supreme.
"Don't get me wrong, Yu-Gi-Oh! sells well," Johnson said. "But it's nothing like Pokemon."
The kids who play Yu-Gi-Oh! are the same ones who became frenzied traders of Pokemon cards two years ago and caused schools to ban them.
Schools reserve the right to confiscate the cards if children play with them during class time, but so far several school principals said they have seen only glimpses of the newest cards.
They haven't become a distraction at Alafia Elementary School, but principal Sylvia McMillan said she will "keep my ears and eyes open."
Unlike with Pokemon, children are more interested in playing the card game than they are collecting and trading the cards.
Gage Davidson, 11, has been playing the game with his neighborhood friends for the past month and describes it as "kind of complicated."
Yu-Gi-Oh!, which means King of Games in English, began as a comic series created by artist Kazuki Takahashi in 1996. The cartoon debuted four years later, creating a mania in Japan that has boosted total sales to $2-billion.
The animated television show premiered on the WB at No. 1 one year ago and now airs six days a week. Upper Deck Co. of Carlsbad, Calif., began issuing the American version of the cards in March with little broad-based consumer advertising.
"What has happened, because of the popularity of the game, gaming enthusiasts have fueled the word of mouth," said Mary Mancera, spokeswoman for Upper Deck, a hobby and sports card company.
The game features two players who face off with their decks of monster, magic or trap cards in duels. Each player starts with 8,000 life points and tries to reduce his opponent's points to zero.
The goal is to win three duels.
Children can learn card tips by watching the cartoon, whose characters frequently play the game.
For Halloween, 6-year-old Sean Dingle, Mrs. Seckler's youngest son, plans to dress as Yugi, the schoolboy and main character of the cartoon.
She appreciates the mathematical skills needed to play the game, but she is crossing her fingers that it doesn't reach the popularity of Pokemon.
The family spent hundreds buying about 4,000 Pokemon cards for the two boys -- including two Charizard cards that cost $40 and $45 each -- that now sit in binders.
"I told them when they started playing, "You're not collecting them,' " Mrs. Seckler said. "For Christmas they've already asked for the structure deck. I'm not even sure what that is."
-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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