Fighting with beasts on cards 

Pokémon is alive and well

Contrary to popular belief, the Pokémon craze that swept the country in the late nineties is far from over. Although it may have faded from the forefront of the pop culture radar, it is still with us, and more prevalent than many would believe.

Originally created by software designer Satoshi Tajiri in 1996 for Nintendo Game Boy in Japan, the Pokémon empire has grown to include TV shows, movies, comic books, toys and trading cards. It was imported to the U.S. in 1998, first as a dubbed television show, then as a game and merchandising phenomenon. The Trading Card Game (TCG) has legions of followers, and players take their game seriously. Currently, Pokémon USA is holding qualifying rounds to select contestants for the Pokémon TCG World Championships in San Diego this August. Tournaments are being held throughout the month of June: The Boise tournament took place on June 18 at Magic Dragon Games on State Street.

The movies and TV shows are based on the trading card game itself. In the game, players-known as "trainers"-pit their deck of 60 cards against other trainers for a chance to capture their opponent's Pokémon. The task is not so simple as it seems, as each Pokémon possesses its own special powers based on its connection with a type of energy: fire, water, electric, grass, fighting and psychic. The game is constantly evolving, and trainers must commit to memory an ever-growing catalog of knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of all the Pokémon. At last count, there were 386 different species of Pokémon, with more being created all the time.

To outsiders, the Pokémon themselves may seem creepy in their none-too-subtle resemblance to real creatures with distinctive twists. Many of these creatures speak by saying only their name in different inflections, as with the most recognizable of the Pokémon, the bright-eyed yellow critter Pikachu. There are unicorns with flaming manes and tails, snakes made out of rocks, and, perhaps most disturbingly, Spoink, a Pokémon that keeps a pearl on top of its head (enough said).

The competition was tough at the Boise Gym Challenge, with over 30 players from Idaho, Washington, Utah and Oregon playing from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. At the end, three first place winners won paid travel and lodging to the World Championships. In the 10 and under division, Bo Anderson took first-place and Desi Kamm took second. In the 11 to 14 age group, Tyler Ninomura barely beat out Zane Nelson, who just jumped up in age categories by turning 11 in April. In the 15 and older category, Paul Johnston, who turned 15 less than one month ago, took top honors, while Paul Ninomuro (father of Tyler) took second.

Pokémon TCG is a surprisingly family oriented game: There were husbands playing wives and a father-and-son duo in the final round. Every player gets prizes and good sportsmanship abounds. As Zane Nelson, who was ranked first in the nation in 10 and under last year, explains it, "I watched the TV show and saw the commercial for the cards. On my sixth birthday, I walked up to my mom and said, 'Mom, I want Pokémon cards.' Then my dad started playing because he had to take me to Pokémon league and sit there for three hours being bored. Now my mom plays, too, but sometimes she just judges."

While the winning trainers will focus on developing their decks and strategies for the next challenge, local play will continue with leagues in Nampa at Dugout Sports and at Magic Dragon Games in Boise. Let the training begin.

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