The Puddlefish of Eriador

(Warning: more gamer content ahead. I promise that this is not an all-gamer, all-the-time blog; the calendar of coincidence is only conspiring to make it seem that way.)

This weekend, I will be competing in a North American Championship Tournament.

Believe me, it’s not as impressive as it sounds. See, this is the North American Championship for the Middle Earth Collectible Card Game.

And believe me, it’s still not as impressive as it sounds.

Back in the late 90’s, MECCG was my game of choice. I played with local folks, I played online, and I played in all the big tournaments that I could. Jim�s brag notwithstanding, I was never the top-ranked player in the U.S. I did take third place in the National Championship one year, which qualified me to go to the World Championship in Barcelona, which was a blast even though I didn’t come anywhere close to winning. For a couple years after that I stayed active in the game, still won lots of tournaments, and remained in the circle of better players, though I never traveled anywhere exotic again. If Google is an accurate measure, my enduring claim to fame in the MECCG world is that I co-authored the rules for Middle Earth: The Drinking Game, and while I haven’t played it since the drunken evening it was invented, apparently plenty of others have.

Anyway, I.C.E., the company behind the game, went bankrupt. They lost the license for Tolkien-related gaming products, and the Middle Earth Collectible Card Game was officially defunct. This was too bad. The game was lovingly designed by people who knew and loved The Lord of the Rings, and did a great job of modeling Tolkien’s themes while retaining a lot of complexity and strategic depth. The complexity worked against the game, in the end — each new expansion brought new cards and new rules, and while we hard-core players loved it, the entry barrier for new blood grew higher and higher. I.C.E. went down for other reasons entirely, but MECCG was already reaching the end of the ~5 year lifespan every CCG except Magic seems to be allotted by fate.

I took apart my killer decks and sorted all my cards into binders, but not everyone did. Dedicated fans and players have kept the game surprisingly active, even though no more cards are being printed. A volunteer organization still coordinates events and maintains rankings. Up in Baltimore, a chap named Antonio Cardenas has run a couple of tournaments with great prizes that I came out of retirement to compete in. And this year the North American Championship is being held right here in northern Virginia, so I really have no excuse not to go. MECCG may be out of print, but it’s a long way from being dead.

Even at the game’s height, a top-ranked MECCG player was a classic example of a big fish in a very small pond. Tomorrow I’ll be a big fish in a puddle, or maybe only a medium-sized puddlefish — I’m out of practice, unlike a lot of the people who will be there. But it will be great to see some old familiar faces. (One of the game’s biggest draws was the people who were drawn to it — friendlier and more mature than your average CCG crowd.) If I can squeeze into the top 4 and thus snag a spot in the Finals round on Sunday, I’ll be happy. Look for tales of tournament drama on the flip side.