They don’t have the high stakes of a top-dollar poker table in Las
Vegas or the same intensity as a grand master chess match, but to the
young card players who meet at local comic-book stores every week,
their games are serious business.
Behind the rows of comic books, science-fiction posters and
shelves of figurines at many area comic-book stores are separate
rooms designated for competitive card-playing tournaments. The rooms
are getting more and more crowded at stores in Burbank and Glendale.
Gambling isn’t involved, but to the kids and adults who come to
play, these tournaments are their Vegas, their championship chess
match, and in many cases, their link to close friendships.
“I buy some comics, too, but I come to play because I like
winning,” said Brandon Ignacio, 12, a seventh-grader at Toll Middle
School in Glendale. “I play every weekend, and I really like it. I
come to see my friends and win, for sure. My folks don’t care, as
long as I do my homework.”
Actually, his folks do care. Brandon’s mother, Leilani Ignacio,
has had to limit the amount of days and hours her son is allowed to
spend playing cards at Legacy Comic Books & Sports Cards in Glendale.
She will take Brandon to the store from about noon to 5 p.m. on
weekends, but he’s allowed to play only on certain weekdays after
“He’s addicted to it. Every day he wants to come here, for hours,
and every weekend,” Leilani Ignacio said during a recent visit to the
store. “He has to stay home and do homework sometimes, but I think he
has something in common with the other kids here. It’s a safe place
to be, although I do monitor.
“I see this as a way for him to bond with other kids. I wouldn’t
take him here if it was negative.”
WHY THEY MEET
Comic-book store regulars have been playing a science
fiction-fantasy card game called “Magic: The Gathering” for about 10
years, but a Japanese game called “Yu-Gi-Oh!” has, for the past year,
carved its own niche as a competitive, strategy-based card game for a
new generation, said Henry Mardiroussian, manager of Legacy Comic
Books & Sports Cards.
The card game is based on the animated television show of the same
name. The popularity of the television show and card game has become
“a really big deal” that has caused stores like Legacy to set aside
play space and allot times for card playing, Mardiroussian said.
Two players sit facing each other, with a draw pile, cards at
play, discard pile, calculator, pencil and paper. Each player starts
with 8,000 points and races to get the other player down to zero
first. Players lose points by fighting “battles” between different
cards. Cards represent a variety of characters, objects and powers,
like dragons, goblin attack forces, fairies, dark holes, dust
tornados, man-eating bugs and mirror walls.
Legacy sees at least 20 kids a session Saturdays and Sundays, and
sessions last three to four hours. Players range in age from 8 to 20.
“I have to be on top of things,” said Mardiroussian, 29, “because
they get excited about the game and occasionally they start cursing
and stuff. But they’re good kids, just having fun. They come here as
soon as school is over. By 4 p.m., we’re full every day. It’s
definitely competitive. I mean, they come and play for fun, and do a
lot of card trading, but it’s always a competition.”
A growing friendship and camaraderie has developed among players
at the store in recent months.
“It’s the main thing they come here for, just to play and hang
out,” Mardiroussian said. “It’s like a family that comes here every
week. Sales are great right now, but who knows how long it will
“I saw my friends playing [Yu-Gi-Oh!] one day and thought the
[television] show was cool,” said Chris Wesdy, 14, a ninth-grader at
Glendale High School. “I play at school all the time and usually come
here every Saturday and Sunday. It’s fun competition. My parents
don’t care as long as I’m out of their hair.”
ACCESSORIES, AND THEN SOME
Most players describe the card games as “really fun” and “cool,”
but it seems playing the game is only half of the fun. Players who
win become even more “cool” when they have the latest carrying cases,
“Ultra-Pro” card boxes and plastic cardholders that are available for
purchase at most stores. T-shirts and DVDs from the television show
also are available.
Rarely will a player play a card game without first putting all of
his decks into colored, plastic sleeves that prevent the cards from
getting bent. Maintaining the newness of cards is important because
of their price. Basic cards can be purchased for a few dollars, but
the cooler the card, the higher the cost.
“I saw a guy with a $250 card once,” said Tyler Tanner, a
sixth-grader at Jordan Middle School in Burbank. “I’ve got a lot of
cards, but you have to if you want to win. I love to play. It gives
me something to do on Saturdays and gives my parents a break. My dad
helps me buy new cards if I keep up my grades.”
Competitions cost roughly $7 to enter, but at Legacy, everybody
gets a prize for playing. Winners can get up to 16 packs of new
“Yu-Gi-Oh!” playing cards. And when a player gets a new pack of
cards, it’s a big deal. Players crowd around to see what the other
player just got, and the trading of cards commences immediately.
Game cards and accessories amount to about 25% of the profits at
Legacy, Mardiroussian said.
CREATING A SCENE
Players take different approaches to playing matches. Some go
about defeating their opponent quietly and with precision, while
others resort to “trash talking” their opponent with phrases like
“You got lucky,” “Ooh, you like that one,” “You just got smoked” and
“I own this game,” but usually end with words like “Come on, let’s go
again. Best two out of three.”
Kings Comics and Cards of Burbank has taken the energy of the
games and their players and turned it into a weekly event. The store
has set up flashing overhead lights, track lighting, disco balls and
cages around play areas. The store is geared more toward competitive
card playing than comic-book displays.
About 60 players squeeze into Kings Comics every Saturday and
Sunday for “Yu-Gi-Oh!” days, and the store makes a huge deal out of
it. Players are paired up, as in a boxing match, and each is given a
“World Wrestling Entertainment” type of introduction before
competing, complete with flashing lights and music, store owner
Phillip Rodriguez said. Comedians typically come and do 15-minute
routines between rounds.
“I think family values are coming back because of things like
this,” said Rodriguez, 34. “It’s important to realize the fact that
kids and young adults have a place to gather safely. It’s a really
nice, small-town kind of thing, where everyone can meet and enjoy a
fun game. A lot of parents come and play, too.
“Kids can interact and be themselves. People think it’s just a
game, but there is a lot of spelling and math. It’s like school, but
Billie Green Jr. drove up from Lakewood on Sunday to Kings Comics
with his 16-year-old son, Billie III, so he could watch his son play
cards and just hang out.
“I like to be involved in what he does,” the elder Green said. “It
keeps the father-son connection, and I like that.”