Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Into the Game 001

When I first met Skywyrm, she was a tiny metal statue of snake, smaller than my thumb.

I didn't think much of it at the time. My son, Thomas Black III -- or Tom3, as both of us preferred -- was playing a new game with his friend, Daniel. Daniel had just placed Skywyrm on a card, and the boys were comparing notes and doing math to see whether or not Daniel's Skywyrm could best Tom3's Bladefang in battle. Since this was a far better incentive than homework, I was prepared to encourage his interest... though honestly, the game looked overcomplicated and nearly nonsensical: precisely the sort of thing to attract an eleven-year-old boy's interest. I wondered, vaguely, what his mother thought; she might object, if she knew he felt free to play at my house. I wondered if I should care.

Daniel said, "No, look, tackle doesn't work in the Sky Realm, so it's just Bladefang's base attack." Daniel was a quiet kid; I was glad Tom3 had made friends with him. For one thing, he was never any trouble to have around; he dropped by the house when Tom3 was here, was politely unobtrusive, and kept Tom3 happy and busy. Okay, sometimes he was another mouth to feed -- and eleven-year-old boys can put away plenty of food -- but since the visitation agreement only covered one weekend a month, I was more than happy that my son had found a friend in the neighborhood. And Daniel was small, thin, and blond; I suspected he'd get picked on a lot, if he didn't have friends. So I really didn't mind including him in my weekends with my son.

Tom3 looked unhappy. "But I already played my poison card."

Daniel shook his head. "That doesn't matter, because Bladefang has to tackle before he can poison. If we were battling on Forest or Desert, Skywyrm wouldn't stand a chance, but in the Sky Realm she's got a serious advantage. Right, Skywyrm?"

The upstairs playroom was surprisingly neat. Both boys had brought their cards and game pieces in dedicated cases, and neither had bothered to pull out the other toys... which, admittedly, were mostly left-overs from when Tom3 was younger. I needed to sort them and pass them along, I just hadn't gotten around to it. Maybe I was hoping to recover some of the time I didn't get to spend with Tom3, too.

But Tom3 and Daniel were sitting at the central table, the cards forming a sort of landscape between them. They placed their figurines at strategic points, and calculated the results of the battle according to obscure and enigmatic rules. I stood and watched, and tried to figure out the basis for their conclusions. There was probably some sort of rulebook online, if I knew the name of this game - but since I didn't, I didn't worry about it. It wasn't like I'd ever need to know how to play, after all.

Tom3 scanned his cards, then glanced at the other figures resting in his case. "You win," he said finally.

"...This time," Daniel said, and Tom3 smiled. "Pull a different Realm, or learn Flying Tackle, and Bladefang could do it."

Tom3 said, "Just wait. We'll have you."

I said, "It's time for dinner, guys. Pizza all right with you?"

Daniel was looking at Tom3; Tom3 was looking at Daniel. "Pizza," said Daniel. "Pizza," said Tom3.

"Let's eat," said Daniel, glancing at me almost bashfully.

Tom3 nodded enthusiastically. But before they stood up, they carefully put away their figurines and gathered their cards back into their decks. I remember thinking that this game must be important to my son, because at that age I'd have left everything sitting in a huge mess on the table while I went to get pizza. But once everything was put away, the two boys followed me down the stairs and into the kitchen, where the pizza was waiting.

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