Black Friday in the Arnhem Game Store

Typically, I dont enter commercial establishments on Black Friday. For perhaps a decade now “Buy Nothing Day” has been on what is the largest shopping day in the US – the day after Thanksgiving.

Escape Captivity – Buy Nothing Day – graphics credit Adbusters

But I am not in the US today, and Willow’s half brother Fabian wants to play in the Magic tournament and I want to see this exported cultural phenomenon close up. So we spent most of the day in the game store playing friendly games in the afternoon and the tournament in the evening. Actually Willow and Fabian played in the tournament, I just hung out and observed what was happening – especially the cultural similarities and differences between the US and the Netherlands.

The best card in the current tournament play

Femke came from several towns over to play in game store. She has a Frisian name which means “girl”, she is studying chemistry and hopes to work in a lab. With magenta colored hair, she is playing a vampire deck, has a pagan star necklace and is into other games more than Magic, but this is where the group play is happening, so this is where she comes. When I asked if she if identified as pagan, she said “no, but I like the symbol. I do believe in reincarnation, though”.

While we are playing a friendly game she had her creature attack me, I blocked it and destroyed it until she pulled out an instant and destroyed my creature, her having fooled me into blocking her. She smiled at me and said in perfect English “i am not stupid.” What she did not say, but was clearly implied was “don’t underestimate me.” I played more cautiously the rest of the game, but she and Fabian together still beat the team of Willow and I.

Femke circa 2012

And as is my experience in the US, she is one of the very few women who plays these types of games. Of the 25 players who came to this evenings match she is one of only three women. I might be the only person over 30 in the room. For a fairly complex game, much of the play is in silence. And the room is not quiet. There is laughing, swearing and animated discussion of the rules. While Magic cards are printed in many languages, these dutch players are mostly using cards printed in English.

One of the nicer aspects of this evenings tournament play was how helpful other players are.  After Willow got completely run over by another more experienced player in the first round, another player named Joost asked if he could look at Willows deck and make suggestions.  He explained that while he was not a great player, he had studied the great players decks and had learned a number of things.  He pulled cards otu of Willow’s deck and helped him improve it.  Willow won the next round 2-1, in part because of Joost’s improvements.  This was something of a breakthru for me with Willow, who likes to design decks intuitively and because i can’t consistently beat Willow anymore, he has been unwilling to step away from his intuitive approach for a more analytical one.  Joost helped shift this.

what it looks like playing Magic

One of the interesting cultural differences between the cultures is that in the little Magic subculture that we play in at Twin Oaks and Acorn, the signal for “my turn is over” is to rap on the table (it is often unclear when someones turn is over in Magic). Here in the Netherlands, many players use a open palm up hand gesture at the end of their turn, which I find both less aggressive and more inviting.

In a way this basement game room could be anywhere in the affluent parts of the world, with players matching wits in this complicated, dynamic and evolving fantasy card game.