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Vs. System

Duel Masters:
RIP, Life Support, or Going Strong

April 1, 2005
By JMatthew

In the summer of 1994 I was a hardcore pen and paper role player. I looked down upon live action players (I believed they carried things to far and gave gamers a bad name), tabletop war gamers (to little imagination – or, once again, so I believed), and worst of all were those people who would later be known as card-floppers. They took up unnecessarily space with their stupid little pieces of paper and many of my role playing friends seemed as if they were being lured into a cult as they began to desire less and less time spent amongst more wholesome activities such as role playing with me. 

Being a lover of telling stories, I was the one who ran all the games for my little group at the time. We had recently gone through a very intense Hunters (from the Vampire: The Masquerade fame) campaign and the Star Wars campaign I was running had just finished hitting a climax. That night as we pulled out our dice, books to prepare to play, I looked out at my fellow role players – each of which happened to possess at least one of those decks of mysterious cards granted the name “Magic: The Gathering.” I was pretty well burnt out and knew that I wouldn’t be able to perform very well that night. So, I took the leap. “Jeff, get out your cards,” I said rather nonchalantly. My group just sat there - stunned.

“Uh…why?” asked a confused Jeff. “You don’t want to play Magic, do you, Jason? I thought you said you would never touch the stuff.”

Rolling my eyes I retorted, “Just pull them out before I change my mind.”

It’s been eleven years now. Since that night I can count the amount of days I have spent role-playing between my fingers and toes. The amount of time I have spent playing collectable cards games in eleven years I couldn’t begin to even attempt to add up. At least not with out giving myself an exploding headache the size of the big bang.

Magic: The Gathering was an amazing phenomenon. Being the first collectable card game grants it a little bit of prestige, however a product can’t last off of prestige alone. The product must also be good. So many collectable cards games have come and quickly gone over the years thanks to the poor quality or rules and strategy. For example, the Marvel Overpower game proved to be little more than a cool looking version of the game War! Sure, in later sets the makers of the game attempted to force more complexity into the game (to the extent of adding an additional attribute to the later cards and making the original cards obsolete!!), but to much time had simply past. As they say, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Marvel Overpower proved that while dressed in a plaid flannel suit and a big pink velvet pimp hat.

Of course, not all collectable cards collectable card games have died simply because of their rules system sucked. The original Star Wars collectable card game put out by Decipher was a strong and stable game with a powerful following. A friend of mine, who possessed an impressive Magic: The Gathering collection auctioned off all his cards one night and every time he had enough for a box of Star Wars cards he turned around and gave the money to the store manager. By the end of the night he walked out with 2 cases of Star Wars! He went on to become the 4th highest ranked player in the world for the game. Star Wars was a strong game, however it suffered from one problem. This problem is the same for all licensed products out there. Once the maker of these card games run out of movies, episodes, or whatever to base their cards off the game comes to a screeching halt. New versions of the Star Wars game have since been created – still, the game has never been the same since then.

Yet another difficulty for the likes of collectable card games has been insufficient support from the makers of the game. There is a laundry list of games that have met their fate due to this tragic mistake. Let’s just say, I don’t have the time to begin to list them.

None of these is the problem facing Duel Masters, though. Duel Masters has a strong rules system, fantastic support (look at all the promos, prizes, caps, binders, etc!) and since the show is based off the cards and not vice versa we don’t have to worry about the makers of the game running out of material. Since none of these are a  problem, then it would appear we shouldn’t have any worries about Duel Masters dieing. Unfortunately, this isn’t true – it could still be curtains for Duel Masters.

Years ago Wizards of the Coast created a game called Netrunner. Other companies had tried to pump out their own collectable card games and try to follow in Magic: The Gathering’s footsteps before this and most had failed before their game even came out. Netrunner had all the elements of what should have been a successful game. The rules system was awesome, intricate, and yet easy to learn and work with. While the game was loosely based on a licensed property, it was not directly based on one so they were not limit to where the game could go. Still – Netrunner failed. So why did it fail? Frankly, most of us had already been burned by the failures of so many other collectable card games thus few of us wished to invest any money in another one at that time. I was definitely one of those people. I had more Rage, Jihad (later known as Vampire: The Eternal Struggle), Spellfire, Illuminati, etc cards than I knew what to do with. Because of this it wasn’t a deficient concept that killed this game rather the constant talk amongst players saying that the game could not succeed. Because of this type of talk, Netrunner was doomed before the game even had the chance to get started.

I’ve heard a lot of similar talk about Duel Masters. “Is Duel Masters dead?” “Is Duel Masters dieing?” On the Wizards of the Coast message board there is an entire thread dedicated to this question. Ouch – such talk was bad enough amongst the individuals of little game stores, but Duel Masters is being forced to face this scrutiny on world-wide level thanks to the internet (the internet wasn’t as big back then). That’s quite a bit for our struggling little game to take. I’ve notice a great deal of increase on our trade messages boards here at Pojo.com of this sort of title.

“Have Duel Masters – Want YGO”
“Getting rid of all my Duel Masters”

The joke is, when you open these messages to read what the player who is rapidly retreating from Duel Master has to say, within the first three lines he says, “Don’t try to rip me off – I know what these cards are worth.” Funny you say that – you apparently think they are about to be worth trash…why should I give you anything more than trash for them???

The power of positive thinking can go a long way. Rather than quitting Duel Masters, if you have any desire at all to continue to play we need to place our focus on that. I propose every time you feel as if you want to complain about the game and drop it because everybody else is playing Yugi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering, readjust your focus to introducing a new player or two.

“JMatthew, I’ve been trying – nobody wants to even TRY!!”

 I know many of us may not have to many extra commons and uncommons, but use those that you do have to pass along to a new player who is just learning. If you already play another popular game and he does also, perhaps you can trade them one or two really hot Duel Masters cards for some cards from that other game. Yeah – that Valdios is great, but if you aren’t using it you maybe able to get a new player in the game by trading it to him. Inform him that it’s worth $12 to $15 you’ll take $6 or $7 worth of cards from the other game so if they don’t like it after all, they won’t loose out on much. A few really cool cards in their deck will make it more likely that they will want to continue the game.

So, let’s get out there guys! Duel Masters is only dead if you make it dead! You are the consumer – YOU have all the power over the success or demise of Duel Masters. Which will it be? Life or death? Do you have the guts to choose life?




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