The Path to Making a Youtube Gaming Channel


The Path to Making a Youtube Gaming Channel

So you’ve probably noticed over the last 10 years or so there’s been a considerable rise in gaming related videos on the internet, most of them orbiting the Google megamachine ‘Youtube’. As we approach 2020 more ‘tubers’ are also reaching out to Twitch and console-ready streaming, but there’s still an avid fanbase that always comes back for more bitesize videogame goodness.

But why might you be drawn to this hobby? The potential promise of money and fame? A passionate love for a certain game you can’t put down? Or maybe, like me, you just have old favourites you wish to share. Well if you’re considering taking that vital first step- namely putting a video on the web and letting fate decide- there are a few important things you should know… !

Welcome to the hard path to making a Youtube gaming channel!

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Geek Economy – The Board Game Cafe Experience: Draughts & Board-in-the-City

Hello and welcome to one of them updates where we discuss how being a geek affects our domestic economy. Today I am going to discuss with you guys my personal experience from two board-game cafes that have opened in the last couple of years in the UK and that I have now frequented enough times to have a formed opinion on the subject. These are Draughts (London), and Board-in-the-City (Southampton). First of all though, let me give you the background to what have been the parameters I have used to make up my opinion. As a board-gamer I have been brought up and developed in a space that was friendly and cosy: home. Mum and Dad always happy to give you a run for your money at any game we own. So, for me, cracking some board games and having fun is not just about being sociable with my friends, but also about being comfortable whilst having a good time. Some of you may relate to this: having being bullied for years for being “weird” and liking games, comfortable is important. What other things have influenced my thoughts? Well, the games, of course. This is again something I have inherited with my genes I suppose: back at home, my parents have cartloads of games. From the classical Cathedral which I fondly remember playing as a child in the 90s with my dad, to the most recent releases in the market – I would say it is thousands but that is an exaggeration. You get the just nonetheless. With such an extensive collection, you cannot help but develop the following characteristics: you care for your games (particularly when you have friends coming over), and a healthy diversity of length, themes, number of players, dynamics and formats. And now, on to the practical stuff. Gamers of the world, you sure must agree with me, when you are playing you require the following: space and food. Why? Because board games take up space, and you may be playing something as sweet and simple as Story Cubes, then the next thing you know, you are halfway through an X-Wing party. Therefore, you need a decent sized surface to be able to get around and spread yourselves. But also, you need food – snacks and a drink mostly, and these take up space too. When we have games nights, we usually order lunch/dinner as well, and for sure you cannot have always space for the game and your meal at the same time – plus what kind of heathen wants pizza grease on their tiles?! Sure you stop for a sec, right…?. I am more concerned about the snacking factor in any case. You know: we want crisps, little nibbles to share, that sort of stuff you can yell at your best friend with your mouth full for closing your own train track whilst in the middle of a Ticket to Ride; that sorta thing. These are, in my opinion, indispensable. So, let’s see how this battle comes across.

Continue reading “Geek Economy – The Board Game Cafe Experience: Draughts & Board-in-the-City”

Badaptations – Why Anime and Videogame movies don’t work

If you’ve been a geek as long as I have you’ve seen your fair share of Badaptations. Hell if you’ve been a geek this past year alone you’re probably sick of them!

It’s no secret that as much as we love series, films and videogames that fit outside the norm of mainstream cinema the transition to the silver screen has always been a rough one. Some of the lauded worst-ever films have been attempts of shoving a popular franchise into a two hour box and calling it a Hollywood release. But is it really so hard to get it right? Are there really so many hurdles between source and screen? Well I welcome you to a brief tour of the absolute chaotic maelstrom of getting ANYTHING right in big screen adaptations. Grab your favourite comic and clutch your Nintendo DS because this is going to hurt.

Let’s start big: Why culture isn’t as cultured as we’d like to think.
The impact of cultural difference may not seem to be a challenging adaptation hurdle outside of the obvious points (like language, locations, common phrases) however there are many possibly alienating differences in your common anime and videogames. Consider for a moment that almost all anime (and most videogames) share a cultural fingerprint with Japan- a country where academic intelligence is lionised, eating at a noodle tent is like stopping by Starbucks and every entertainment label worth their salt is churning out teenage starlets by the dozen. It may not stand out in every moment of action but there are plenty of quirks in the daily life of the Land of the rising sun that outside audiences would find unconventional, and are often removed during the adaptation process… or replaced, as was the case with Pokémon swapping the term Rice Ball with ‘Jelly Donuts’.

After all, compared to major American cinema how many films do you see each year that take place entirely in a high school?

Then there are Theological differences- a lot of ideas tend to stem from the subtle cultural touches that come from a society’s deep routed religious history. We tend to be blind to it, about how even the simplest parts of how we see the world are moulded by it; what should and shouldn’t be illegal, the dividing line between sentient and non-sentient objects, our value against the greater universe. Even issues that evolve over time like the justification of prejudice against others. In entertainment these usually come across in the major themes, like someone’s personal struggle or the formation of the world around them. Movies like AKIRA, Spirited Away, Ghost in the Shell and countless more deeply reflect the theological differences that are more prominent in the east, thus making them much more difficult to translate to an audience that doesn’t relate to them. While the transhumanist philosophies in Ghost in the Shell could still be followed by anyone willing to put thought into their movie experience the more niche messages of reincarnation and the organic spirit may be lost. Cultural and theological differences form the greatest obstacle when it comes to making an adaptation of any property from a foreign country- and unfortunately the Hollywood studio system has a putrid record of translating these ideas.

To address the real elephant in the room I would like to call into question the ‘unspoken problem’ with the movie making mentality of Hollywood and the greater system, however that would be untrue. Audiences and critics around the world have been chastising the Hollywood studios for years now about their inherently flawed means of putting stories and adaptations to the silver screen however it has yet to see any results. It would be more accurate to call it a ‘frequently spoken problem’.
That problem being the curse of studio intervention and attempting to fit all properties through what I can only describe as the Hollywood Bottleneck. With dozens, if not hundreds, of critical eyes on a production from its inception and storyboarding right the way through to post-editing it’s no surprise that the amount of meddling can sink a project before its even reached completion. While we’ve seen countless instances of this in our chosen sample group, such as the more recent Assassins Creed movie being heavily cut for ‘simplicity’ and the Ghost in the Shell movie being entirely re-written from its source, adaptations from foreign sources are not the only victims. The most recent attempt at bringing the Fantastic Four superhero troupe to the big screen fell victim to so much studio dissection that its director Josh Trank released a statement about the film being a failure and not “his story” even before the movie premiered.
An unfortunate truth of seeing well-established stories from other mediums pushed through the ringer of Hollywood is that every step of production will see cuts and changes made for localisation, meeting the standards of the general audience, marketability, hitting the broadest possible age demographic, appeasing interests groups etc.
And while I would love to round off the point here and lay the entirety of the blame on the studio system I sadly cannot, though I will place MOST of it on them.

Let’s not forget the hand of the creator is a powerful thing. The person who forges a story or product will do so through their own lens and much of that creator will be seen in the work- this is an art philosophy that has existed for thousands of years. As such we can understand why there are dangers in passing the work of one individual into the care of another for adaptation, but this is not inherently a bad thing. A new set of hands can make changes that put new perspective on the work or allow a different generation to appreciate its message. An example being the translation of book to theatre; such as Gaston Leroux’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ being passed to Andrew Lloyd Webber for the stage play. However one must be very careful that the artist the work is passed to be appropriate and understands the source material- not something we can say has often happened in nerdy adaptations. In fact some have been downright disasters.

As a case study let’s look at M. Night Shyamalan and his Avatar-less ‘Last Airbender’ movie. While there is no small task in crafting a three-season long show into a few clean cut movies it was not the inclusion of content, or even the changing of details, that destroyed this franchise and left them dead at just one movie out of the proposed three. It was that Shyamalan did not respect the style and voice of the original material and attempted to impose a style on top of it. Anyone familiar with the director’s works can immediately spot the tropes he employs: the colourless environment, the long sequences of slow, heavy sounding dialogue, a reliance on exposition instead of establishing shots or character action. These devices- frequently employed in his other works- starkly contrast the story he’s attempting to adapt and it shows in every single scene. This is a true example of the artist’s voice conflicting with the voice of the original work, something we’ve seen often in similar projects… Rocky Morton and the Super Mario Brothers, James Wong and Dragonball… And anything Uwe Boll touches. Ugh.

This leaves us with the double-edged sword. The curse of production that many would perceive as a great strength and is often used to berate the movie making culture for being unable to turn simple, low-cost source material into a ‘big budget’ worldwide release. The fact of the matter is that movies are a substantial investment of money as well as talent, but that financing is not simply for prettying up the existing material they work with. Everything in film carries a substantial cost, from the crew and actors to the visual and sound design to the intensive editing and promotional side. As a result we often see tens if not hundreds of millions spent on otherwise unimpressive products.

For example the applauded anime movie Dragonball Z Resurrection F cost a respectable 5 million dollars to produce and making ten times that in profit. By comparison the American production Dragonball Evolution film cost a whopping (though cheap by Hollywood standard) 45 million to create. That’s a considerable distance between the two and the simple fact that one is animated and the other live-action has a lot to do with that. We must remember that animation and digital animation are inherently cheaper than all the components that go into a live-action remake, not to mention the gross disregard for spending that goes into a production of this size.
Similarly the Ghost in the Shell (2017) movie cost 110 million but turned only 20 million in sales domestically, barely 50 more than that worldwide. Proof that with such elevated production costs the inevitable drop when a product fails is much, much more devastating. This also applies in the world of video games, which in their native medium are already more expensive to create that animated films or series. Assassin Creed (2007) cost 26 million to create on console and the movie adaptation a decade later cost more than 100 million above even that!

Is this weight of absurd money-spewing something we simply have to live with in film-making? Actually no, one of the highest grossing films of the last few decades was Paranormal Activity which had a price tag of approximately… 11,000. Barely even breaking five digits. But turned a mind blowing 200 million in profits around the world after audiences everywhere requested their movie theatres begin showings all across America and then in Europe.
The moral lesson to learn here is that the greatest profits come from good movies, regardless of how much they are budgeted. The same will be true of the best adaptations from geek culture once it begins to sink in that multi-million dollar botched projects are not the only way to bring an idea to a western audience. Though there is much speculation at this time the Netflix ‘Death Note’ movie is set to air soon and may be able to set a precedent that lower cost endeavours are actually the more profitable means of ‘westernising’ anime, but only time will tell.

Videogames and anime to this day suffer a taboo in the movie-centric western world. This sceptical eye of the public has thankfully been loosening over the past two decades, with videogames now becoming hot property in the world of media sales (though the actual products themselves are still shown very little regard) and despite anime never finding a mainstream hook it has achieved a loyal fanbase in the western audience- enough so to generate large scale conventions of its own.
While these mediums are not universally beloved in the east, with Japan and Korea being major players, they are not stigmatised for their medium or inherent design- with locations such as Akihabra Tokyo even celebrating them as a major source of tourism.
This same dismissal was only recently shared by the comic book industry here in the west, but with the rise of Marvel and the oversaturation of comicbook movies we’ve seen how vastly this has changed. But why are comic books the exception to this terrible curse while anime and games retain their stigma?

The simple answer is; they aren’t. Comics are not an exception; they have simply been present in the popular consciousness long enough and with enough exposure that we have adopted it into the mainstream. This is partly why the explosive success seems so universal in geek culture here, because it’s one of the few elements of nerd-centric entertainment that has appealed to such a wide fanbase and with constant new content from major studios. That isn’t to say it was an overnight success story- many people applaud comic movies as a running success but this simply isn’t true, there were dozens of missteps and failures leading to this point, with films like Batman and Robin (1997), The Fantastic Four (2005), The Hulk (2003) and Captain America (1990) to name just a few!

One argument often overlooked is the success of the loosely inspired adaptations. These are movies which take the original material as a jumping off point but create something new from them, like the surprisingly great 2014 film Edge of Tomorrow which was based on the light manga ‘All you need is Kill’. Similarly the original Matrix film pledges its inspiration to anime movies like AKIRA and Ghost in the Shell while still forming its own story and narrative, just with similar themes and tropes.
While this method is difficult to pull off and does require a talented writer familiar with the sources it may prove the most effective means of bridging the cultural gap.
But what happens when these kind of changes are made on a property that’s attempting, at least by appearances, to emulate its source material? This is a frequent cause of controversy in adaptations that make alterations to elements people believe to be crucial to the source. Often seen in cases of relocating a story to a different country or entire time period, or the dreaded ‘white-washing’ effect.

We’re in an unfortunate time where controversy can be called on even when the adaptation doesn’t overstep itself- simply because a rough history has conditioned us to be especially critical.
Even though the 2017 movie was terrible it should be recognised that Major Mokoto from Ghost in the Shell (the lead heroine) is SUPPOSED to be modelled after an American woman, and a model no less. So all the claims of whitewashing here are actually more knee-jerk reaction than actual outrage. Many sites have reported this ‘race-bending’ (as appears to be the new term) is a major contributor to the movies downfall, but is it really? Granted many examples of re-casting inappropriate actors has wounded similar attempts, like the appalling ethnicity twisting in Last Airbender which saw the Inuit main cast becoming white and the notably pale Japanese antagonists becoming dark skinned Indian and Arabic… even stranger to note Shyamalan as the director is an Indian man himself.

Before I’m bombarded with pitchforks and flaming love-pillows allow me to draw attention to an important factor; even in their native countries adaptations of games and anime are often BAD. Anyone seeking proof need look no further than the 2015 Attack on Titan movie, which flopped with audiences and critics despite the show being at the height of popularity. Similar issues can be seen with the upcoming Full Metal Alchemist movie which many predict will slump into a similar trap as previous pop-anime films. On the other hand there has also been a history of successes with highly-praised movies like Oldboy and Battle Royale seeing large renown internationally despite being based on a manga, with most people completely unaware of their origins. Also the incredibly popular Death Note live-action movies spawning multiple sequels and spin offs that have reached a worldwide audience.

With our collective minds aching from all these different problems its clear to see why we’ve hit so many stumbling points in our pursuit of perfect adaptations. The source material is rarely fitting of a cinematic runtime, we’re stacking writers and directors on works they have no connection to, the Hollywood studio system is poisonous even at the best of times and most importantly we’re attempting to adapt material that has a fundamentally different philosophy than most of the audiences its being re-directed to. Does this swarm of flies in the ointment mean we’ll never see a golden age of nerd cinema?

If comic books are anything to go by what we’re actually seeing is the growing pains of new genres. The failures that will eventually be recognised for what they did wrong not only as a means of critique but also a means of learning. It may take some time before we see our first breakthrough- our Batman Begins or our Ironman- but once that success comes we’ll see every studio holding rights to major anime and videogame properties doing everything in their power to imitate it. We have to remember that, even though our beloved franchises are outside the norm, if something makes money then everyone wants a piece of it. If cinema is a corrupt game of follow-the-money then we’ll leave a trail of silver dollars.

Also; If they dare mess up AKIRA with a badaptation we will riot.

Dragonball after Toriyama | The Strangest Fan Phenomena in All of Anime

“For all the long running jokes and internet hoaxes, Dragonball AF may have decided the entire future of the franchise!”

A lot has changed as we approach the 20’s once again. We have Dragonball, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman…
Okay so very little seems to have changed. Popular culture has cherry picked its favourite media and chiselled it in stone to live alongside us to old age. But that’s not to say these beloved books, movies and shows haven’t had to adapt to serious changes. Many have lost their original creators or undergone overhauls to stay relevant in our fast-paced entertainment world. Many others are on the brink of such considerable change, even if it is approaching so quietly we don’t notice it.

One such show is the long-standing anime saga ‘Dragonball’. From humble comic book beginnings this action series have branched into multiple anime television ventures including original DB, Dragonball Z and Dragonball GT- with its newest venture Dragonball Super being so jaw-droppingly popular it’s topped the anime listings across Japan. Even after a decade without new content the anticipation of Super was so great it’s sent Dragonball into a new golden age of popularity- enough that Son Goku has been announced the cultural mascot for Japans 2020 Olympic games!

But with the continued popularity explosion of Dragonball Super and all its related spin-offs we have to ask ourselves- what happens when Toriyama calls it quits?

Continue reading “Dragonball after Toriyama | The Strangest Fan Phenomena in All of Anime”

MMOs are Social Experiments? – When the game gets too real

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear MMO? Of course it would have to be economic debt, disease epidemics and good old fashion tribal killings.

Wait… those aren’t the first things you think of?

After doing some research into the bizarre places online games have taken us in the past those are certainly topping my list. If it sparks your curiosity too then let me share with you a few golden moments in virtual history that were entirely accidental! Yet still painted a frightening parallel to the real world. Be warned some of these examples go to unsettling places.

Let’s begin with something a bit closer to home for online multiplayer fans; Warcraft.
Now let me preface by saying I never got into WoW myself. As much as I love oversized weapons, elemental dragons and big green dudes carrying all manner of axes… it just never scratched the RPG itch I felt growing up. But it certainly did for millions of others (12 million at its peak) and as such there is no end to the social weirdness that can be found there. But we’re not looking at Blizzards fantasy juggernaut for its gold farmers and questionable roleplay guilds…

We’re talking extinction level disease epidemics. Continue reading “MMOs are Social Experiments? – When the game gets too real”

Geek Economy – BoardGame Wisely

So far we have covered many aspects of geek economy, but we had not discussed the elephant in the room which: board games. They are a double edge sword. They take space, time, lots of money, and usually they require other people to play with. You do not want to go wasting any of your resources on any kind of board game to end up with a bad outcome. I know lots of people who are put off-board games because the invested wrongly their time/money/space into them and they got so annoyed with the subject they just left it all together. We obviously do not want this to happen to you, so here are some things you can do to ensure you are building your games collection in a wise way. And the first point to begin with is being up to date and in tune with the current times. Technology, sociocultural changes and economy are actually making gaming life easier, and this is having a positive effect for those wanting to hoard cardboard boxes full of fun and joy.

As usual I would say the golden rule of board games is do some research: there is literally a game for everyone, about anything. The possibilities are truly endless. Diversity of player number, genre, game purpose and dynamic, game time, etc. Even if you think board games aren’t for you, I assure you there is one with your name out there. But you need to give them a chance. The best way to approach the subject is thinking what do you want from the game, do some little research, read about the game, find some reviews, and then you will be in a much better position to decide whether it is for you or not. Do NOT make the mistake of just looking at the box and thinking “this looks cool”. I mean, you can, and I am sure everyone has done that once in a while, but boxing is just another aspect of marketing, and I have played some pretty terrible and dull games that had some awesome packaging. Now, if you have decided you want a game, you may encounter the problem many of us have: games can cost a lot of money! And if you want to have a few for a games evening, you could easily spend a minimum of 20-50 pounds (I know, that can be A LOT of comics…and MTG boosters, and…). So here are some tips as to how to game wisely, and spend your money in the games you want with a bit of logic:

-Print and play: in this day and age, every game that has made big bucks is available through print and play. All you need is an account, a printer, paper, perhaps glue or cellotape, but most importantly a lot of time and patience. It does not require a terrible amount of skill to just make the basic components of a game as they usually come designed for you, but you will have to either print them, build them, or both, and that can be an arduous task. But it could save you a lot of money if you are up for the challenge. This also gives you the perfect opportunity to try games you are not sure if you wanna buy or not. Then you can see if you like them, or if they are worth the monetary investment. One of my friends is very good with this p&p business, and that is how I have played Puerto Rico (which is an awesome game, btw), as well as a few expansions for other games such as Seven Wonders or Colt Express.

-Tabletop Simulator: we live in the age of technology. Not only wonderful companies such as Days of Wonder have online versions of their tabletop games that you can play for free, but there are video games that have been designed to enable you to play tabletop games. Tabletop simulator is truly handy for this: not only you have access to several thousands of mods that allow you to play the same game you would on a table but on your computer, they also allow you to play with friends how may be far away. This way you can run proper and thorough game tests, and then this will allow you to decide if you want to buy the actual game because, let’s face it, as lovely as it is to not spend money, it’s not the same placing cards on a table or physically moving meeples than clicking on things. And some games are just great because of how tactile they are.

-Board game cafes: these are becoming more and more popular, so it is likely there is one near you. Their collections are usually varied, so for the price of a drink or maybe some food, you could try few games in a social environment. It is also a great way of finding people to play with if you feel stuck or your group of friends do not share your interest in board games. I have been to  few, particularly Draughts (London) and Board In the City (Southampton) and found them nice places where to spend a good evening. The staff is always friendly – they have to be gamers too in order to show you how to play! Just don’t be shy.

-Buy & Sell groups: got a game you didn’t like? or you got a game you didn’t get to use or you do not play any more and need to make some space? Why not sell it as a second-hand game? By getting the same game, but used and a better price you will be making another gamer happy, the game will be recycled, and you will get part of your investment back and some space to fill in with, obviously, more games. Many independent local stores will have their own buy & sell events, so go ask. Otherwise, there is plenty of forums and Facebook groups as well as places such as eBay and Gumtree where you can sort out these kind of transaction.

-Group game wisely by performing team effort: if you have a group of friends with whom you game frequently, you could all pitch in for games to make the expenditure affordable. Or you can take turns: there’s no point 4 people having the same game if they play it together all the time (unless you all really like it I guess). Perhaps friend#1 can buy one game, and friend #2 another, etc, and when you all get together you have a plethora of games to choose from without you all spending a fortune on them or having to carry thousands of boxes to your gaming den all at the same time. The gamers that stick and stay together, play forever. Keep this in mind.

Hopefully this has given you a few ideas as to how to make your board and card game collection more manageable without wasting many resources, and making sure you do things with precision and through calculated decision-making for the sake of your wallet and your gaming experience.

What Is The Best Trading Card Game (Ever) ?


Being a geek implies many things. You still like cartoons even though you pay taxes, video games are a qualified form of art, and lords have mercy if you try and discuss your hobbies at the water cooler. You’re also required by law to think Star Wars is cool or they come and take your badge away.

Being a geek from the 80’s or 90’s also has one more commandment. When you were growing up you played trading card games! These things were everywhere, you couldn’t visit the supermarket without being awed by the colourful shiny wrappers for things your parents KNEW were a waste of money but you couldn’t be talked out of it. My younger days, like so many, were surrounded in the most addictive drug sold to children… cardboard.
But man did we love it. I played anything I could get my hands on and (tried) to be a collector. Of course having no disposable income at the time did make that a damn sight harder.

Why did I get so hooked? Well a part of me blames that on my fascination with toys and board games. Another part of me thinks back to that first pack of cards I ever opened, and just so happened to pull out a Shiny Charizard card. Which I still have to this day packed away somewhere.

So the real question for today; Which IS the best collectable trading card game?

For this debate I will be excluding any of the ‘boxed set’ games that are becoming more and more frequent today. Games like Netrunner, the Game of Thrones card game, Dominion and so many more. These are entire sets of cards which don’t come in booster packs but are bought in expansions including every usable card in the set. If I might be so daring; this is a MUCH better system for players and means you’ll never be without the cards you need to have fun, and almost every game features interesting deck building mechanics and variation. If you’ve never played a boxed set game, I highly recommend going out and grabbing one today.

But now, let’s talk boosters.

As you’ve already guessed my first fixation was the Pokemon trading card game back when it launched around 1998. Like many kids I was more focused on the cards than the actual game and never played a proper match until I picked up the Pokemon TCG Gameboy colour game!
So what did I like about it at the time? Well the artwork was always really cool. Unique drawings or 3D renderings of monsters made exclusively for the card game. Sometimes they look more like street art than official pieces, and let’s not forget the famous Ancient Mew card which was drawn as a hieroglyph… including all its text! You literally couldn’t read the damn thing, but that’s what made it cool.
Not to mention the thing everyone wanted as a kid, Shiny cards! It didn’t matter if they were actually rare or not, that holofoil was everything when you were nine years old. This is a trend we’ve seen carry through to most card games since, with shiny cards upgrading the value of paper in thousands of sets around the world- but we’ll get to that.

So what do I think of the Pokemon card game now?
As child-friendly as it is and based on a nostalgic cartoon property most serious players wouldn’t give this the time of day. However it features some of the best core mechanics of any card game I’ve seen, solid deck building options and a very neat and tidy method of play. Added features like coin flips, card lotteries and tokens give it a very ‘board game’ feel which is perfect for the simple ruleset.
Power creep is not so much the issue as a Power Revolution. Cards of a decade ago are not nearly as viable as newer cards, mostly because the game has evolved and become something quite different since then; with new card types, energy colours and even entire rulesets coming in. New sets released today in the 2010’s keep power creep manageable, just with some cards notably better than others (isn’t that always the case?)
They’ve kept true to the old system of shiny and rare balance- for the most part- with some interesting exceptions. Anyone who knows the Pokemon games is aware that ‘shiny’ Pokemon actually exist outside of the cards, as uniquely coloured monsters. These have been brought in as super-rare cards, but with a cool gameplay twist. All shinies are actually re-prints of the older versions of some monsters. So the Shiny Pikachu from a 2016 set might have the text and rules of the 2009 set Pikachu. I think that’s pretty neat.

So what did I play after Pokemon cards got banned in all schools (everywhere) and the cost of new sets turned me away? Actually I hopped between systems for a while, and I dare say none of them quite matched up. So for the sake of today’s article I will present to you my three honourable mentions before the next ‘big thing’ took my attention!

The Digimon TCG. If there was one card game I wish more of my friends played as a kid it would probably be this one. Not just because I enjoyed the cartoon when I was a tyke, but because this became the most affordable card game of them all. As an attempt at competing with Pokemon cards these didn’t pick up as a fad and quickly became sales products- I still remember picking up a booster box for less than five pounds!
Sadly this meant the game collapsed quickly and didn’t get much of a follow up, which is amusing since the simple colour-matching gameplay of it strikes me as very familiar in the modern world of facebook and mobile app games. The artwork also lacked the varied and stylised touch of its popular counterpart, but the drawings were still nicely done (and no doubt used on a variety of other promotional material as well). Ultimately the Digimon cards were an imitator that didn’t have the star power of its competition, nor the star power of its publisher. But that’s not something I learned until later…

My second mention goes to the Dragonball Z Trading Card game. Yes, this was a thing. Yes, pulling a shiny Super Saiyan out of a booster pack is still the coolest thing I can imagine. No, I am not ashamed.

There’s not an awful lot to say for this one- mostly because its arrival in the UK was a short lived experiment around the time of the Android Saga (in the west). The cards were very simple and featured a rather clunky method of using separate cards for attacks, often with a quote from the series plastered on them. This was also the first example of ‘screengrab syndrome’ I noticed in a TCG, where all of the art is just ripped off the TV series, a trend that I’d see time and again among a lot of the lower-budget collectables.
It was crude and silly, but I still get the feeling a lot of love went into designing it. Even though it didn’t catch a strong international release, research tells me the game lasted a solid six years on market with no less than 18 expansions! It was eventually discontinued in 2006 and replaced a couple years later by the Bandai version in 2008 with completely different rules … and is still being played today! Good on you, Dragonball.

The last and possibly least of my three mentions goes to Monster Racher. A game and television series most people probably forgot existed and just got a jolt of nostalgia at the mention.
While the video games still continue to this day my introduction to ‘Rancher was through delicious booster packs. Nowadays finding information on the card game is difficult but I can express a nostalgic joy remembering all the weird variety it offered. Sadly a poorly designed system and insistence on screengrabs for artwork led to a quick decline that stole them off my Toys R Us shelves. Younger me mourned their loss, but perhaps it was for the best.

So what emerged after this long drought to quench my need to throw cardboard at my friends and yell ridiculous phrases? Well if that wasn’t clue enough, it was the shelf invasion that was the Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters game. A name so embarrassing to say at a book store checkout I still can’t believe it sold as well as it did.

Still the most popular trading card game worldwide YGO pioneered the marketing goldmine that was launching cards based on a TV show… which was also about trading cards! A devilish strategy made all the more tragic when you know Yu-GI-Oh’s original run had nothing to do with Duel Monster cards, and was actually much darker and adult in tone. But money talks and the fandom walks, so today there are literally HUNDREDS of expansion sets for this game.
Personally I had the biggest involvement in the first five years or so, coming back later on to play in the tournament scene around 2011. To say the game underwent changes is an understatement; YGO is probably the most mutating card game in the world. Why? It’s not just because the television show has to create new important cards and strategies to remain interesting… though that is a part of it…
The card game never had rules to begin with! As in, when the show began and the basics of the game were demonstrated (and then adapted to real world cards) there was no official rulebook. It was made up to fit the needs of each episode, with some examples being frankly ridiculous.
Because of this so many old concepts were scrapped and the first dozen sets of cards are truly unusable! That hasn’t stopped them from cherry picking the few good (see; broken) cards with the help of the most complicated ban system in any competitive TCG. Why just have banned cards when you can have semi-banned, restricted and limited cards for each standard?

Its popularity can be justified though- more than just saying we were all teenagers once.

They have managed to squeeze a healthy amount of game out of the original concept, with various spell types that don’t just imitate the popular systems that came before. They also have free range to create weird and epic art for each card, probably the best stylised since the original Pokemon card run!  If I had to speak honestly though, it stands out more for its negatives than positives.
Because it began life as a pretend card game it had to retrofit long and complicated rules into most of its cards. Because it needed to build a brand in an oversaturated market it relied on speculators and collectors, issuing FAR too many ‘rare’ editions of its products; Shinies, holo shinies, star shinies and so many more… the apex of which are GHOST shinies- artwork printed entirely in silver to the point you almost can’t see the image! And ultimately, it’s greatest issue, power creep.

Yu-Gi-Oh! has suffered more from power-creep between editions than World of Warcraft. If you’re playing casually this won’t bring you down, but for anyone who prides in collecting or showing off at tournaments this means every new release will be a reset from zero.
Though it is the most popular of card games in stores today, for these reasons and more, I cannot award Yu-Gi-Oh! the crown for TCG’s.

As a side note, one of the few games I was introduced to but never indulged was Cardfight Vanguard- which exploded in Japan and the US but bombed in Europe. In find myself in group B, as it didn’t take long before I wrote off the game as ‘Not for me’.
On the surface there is a lot to like in Vanguard; It’s method of play is one of the strangest you’ll find among card titles,  there are several stylised factions to indulge in (including an evil circus) and because the card game and TV show were made in tandem neither restricted the creativity of the other. However there is one word that comes to mind when speaking of Vanguard- Overload.
The game takes the tropes of cartoon based TCGs and pushes them all to eleven. Too many rules, overdesigned cards, a rarity system requiring a flowchart and so much text on one piece of cardboard people without 20/20 vision will have trouble playing it- which is a problem when marketing toys to nerds. Ultimately the same drawbacks that apply to Yu-Gi-Oh! also darken the waters here.
I can’t say that I dislike this game- but it’s a true testament to “acquired taste”.

With that we hit the tipping point. The time-tested monster that is Magic: The Gathering.

So what’s my exposure with this one? Could it really compete for the title of ‘Best TCG?’
My first attempt at Magic was when I was about fourteen years old and still casually collecting Yu-Gi-Oh!. I picked up a starter deck along with a friend from school and he showed me the ropes.
Not being able to direct attacks, having to manage mana resources, only having twenty life when all the cool monsters had 10 or more in attack. I thought it was stupid.

That was young me, though. Back when wrestling still looked real and Sonic the Hedgehog released good games. So how has my opinion aged with maturity?

As it happens the elements that turned me off the game have returned as some of my favourite parts now that I’ve learned to appreciate design. Handling in-game resources to control the flow of the game is a graceful mechanic, and appreciating that bigger numbers on cards do not equate to your strongest tools is something that took time and patience.
The art style also has improved with new releases, moving away from the dull colour pallets of old and taking advantage of the digital age of artwork (and all the artists who can’t get work elsewhere). In fact I was shocked to discover this game launched in 1993! It’s so ingrained in geek culture I think of it being a game our parents could have played growing up. Or maybe it just reminds me of Dungeons & Dragons since they’re both by Wizards of the Coast- the Kling of Dorito fuelled Friday evenings.

This game does step into the traps of other collectables- with some cards notably better than others, and a reliance on a rarity system for better decks. In fact these can be considered the biggest downfalls of Magic and the reason many move away from the game. But if you’re willing to accept that playing in the pros is considerably more expensive than playing for fun there isn’t much else to complain about. Even shiny cards- the bane of some marketing ploys- are very reserved. With the occasional pack having a completely random card in foil. You’re just as likely to get a shiny swamp as you are a mythical creature!

MTG also has famous stories of ‘lost’ cards emerging and selling for tens of thousands. This isn’t the case any longer, since the hobby is now haunted by the boogeyman called ‘speculation’ which turned comic books from a collector’s goldmine to only so much paperback ink. (But I’ll discuss that another time). For some people Magic is all about the money value on the card. For most of us, it’s about the weird and wonderful things you can do with thousands of toys at your disposal and all the lego-like ways you can put them together!
Unless you have cards from 1993. Then we’re talking real money.

You’ll notice these are all TCG’s I first discovered before my 20’s. So, as an old and grouchy man, what was the last card game I picked up?

A little spectacle called Romance of the Nine Empires. Never heard of it? That’s because it’s not real. Not entirely. The only playable edition was the special promo release that distributed alongside the 2013 independent film ‘Gamers 3: Hands of Fate’, which followed the adventure of a jerk named Cass who gets roped into playing a TCG tournament at Gencon in order to win a date from a fiery redhead. The game they play is none other than R9E, a surprisingly fleshed out game featuring multiple factions, food and resource management, quest systems and unique heroes. The movie is great and you can watch the whole thing on their Youtube channel, and the card game is fun- if clearly an alpha model for something they hoped would take off. As far as I’m aware it never got much further than the promo sets, but it’s a delightful relic all the same.

As we get deeper into the early 2000’s people are moving away from the physical cardgames that were so rampant in the 90’s. A part of that may be because new alternatives are hitting the scene. I already mentioned ‘boxed set’ games that make buying boosters a thing of the past, but what for those who enjoy the thrill of random cards? Is there a modern interpretation for them?

In many ways, yes. A lot of digital games have stepped in to fill that gap, both as their own exclusive title and even as add-ons to existing products. While ‘The Witcher 3’s Gwent cardgame could be its own title it’s delightful to see nerdy TCG’s work their way into different worlds and settings, much like Triple Triad did way back in Final Fantasy 8!
The most proliferous game of this type being Blizzard’s famous ‘Hearthstone’, a mobile and tablet card game that uses very simple rules to create a smaller edition of the kind of games we used to see sold in booster packs. Of course they still have those too, they’re just digital (and sold for game currency as well as real cash). I spent a good amount of time with Hearthstone and found it to be enjoyable as a casual game; however it lacks the depth and deck variety to catch a hook in more seasoned TCG players.

It does however open the door for new games going forward- will they find a happy medium between the bloated table games and the minimalist virtual counterparts? I for one would love to see how the best of both worlds could change the landscape of games nights everywhere.
But that is the future! This is now! Which leaves us with the important question…

Who makes the best cardboard in the land? Or at least, which do I think are the cream of the crop when it comes to trading cards.

Speaking from the heart I believe there are two options- if you’re looking to play casually and have tonnes of fun, while also enjoying the glee of shiny rare things, the game you want is the Pokemon TCG. Its design is simple and beautiful, with mechanics that make it fun to master even if you aren’t a fan of the overall franchise.
If you’re looking to dig your teeth in deeper, get into some serious Nerding, then I call Magic: The Gathering the time tested winner. It has some of the flaws that ape all large-scale competitive TCG’s but the core of the game is still as solid now as it was in the nineties. Thanks to decades of industry knowledge they’ve managed to keep the game consistent and every new set interesting. With the strongest professional pedigree out there you’ll never be short on help with the tournament scene. The more expensive older-brother to the Pokemon TCG, but also the more in-depth, this is your pick if you’ll accept no substitutes in your card gaming.

I guess what I’m saying is- you can’t beat Wizards of the Coast. Much as we try.

So those WOULD be my choices for best trading cards… but there is another. Without doubt the most prestigious and long running trading card collection out there. A trading card game so beloved around the world it managed to pull off an international release in the 1800’s!

I am of course, speaking of Baseball cards. Now wait- put down your lightsabers and foam He-Man swords. I’m not turning in my geek membership badge just yet. Here is why the phenomena of Baseball cards is probably the coolest set of collectables ever, even if there isn’t much of a table game to go along with them.

We all remember stories from our grandparents about cards being sold in old bubblegum packets back in the day. Those were the forties when stuff like that wasn’t weird. But did you know baseball cards were a TCG as early as 1868? You read that right, eighteen sixty-eight! Originally they were given away alongside products that had nothing to do with baseball due to the sports increasing popularity and the cards being an easy way to promote their goods. Just imagine that- your new windshield wipers coming with a pack of Pokemon cards!

But no, not even official cards. These were cards made by the businesses that gave them away! Imagine something like that happening now, lawyers would have a field day.

Sports equipment outlet Peck and Snyder gained enough popularity with their cards to largely be considered the ‘first’ recognised set! Making their way into cigarette boxes and related tobacco products across America before seeing a Japanese release in 1898!
So yes, the first TCG had to be imported TO Japan, not from them. How bizarre is that with today’s market?

So what slice of brilliance has survived to this day? Baseball cards are still sold now, just over the counter instead of inside cigar boxes, and I dare say my favourite element is still alive now.
For a long time, much longer than we’ve been alive, baseball cards have included signed copies in rare packs by the players themselves. You might ask why this is important- but consider this.
You open a pack and find a Joe DiMaggio card (trust me, that’s a big deal) but not only that, it’s a special card signed by the man himself! Now you’ve got a collector’s item on your hand that no amount of holofoil can compete with.
The same is still true today, with the added bonus of ‘rookie cards’. Baseball cards printed with newcomers to the playing field who haven’t made a name for themselves yet. Meaning if you snag a rookie card with a signature on it, you’ve got yourself a lottery ticket. Will that player fade into obscurity, or be the next Daryl Strawberry? It’s a level of engagement with your collection no other card games today can boast.

And if you thought Jace the Mind Sculptor was expensive … Honus Wagner’s baseball card sold in 2007 for $2.8 Million.

Now that’s a card I would trade my Charizard for.