Tuesday, 29 January 2013


2013 is upon us, January has sped by already, but fret not - for it was not an uneventful month.

This was the first scene of 2013, Star Wars: The Card Game. I attempted to ween myself off Pokemon cards by picking a new card game that wouldn't eat through my bank balance like the former had. I haven't played it since.

New Year's morning. Myself. An Adventure Time Jake hat. A Tokidoki calendar.

Explore, the company I work for, unleashed their turn of year marketing campaign on the world, which featured my face. I think I am supposed to personify 'fun'. Am I doing it right?

North Camp charity shops prove to be a treasure trove of old Star Wars books.

Holy pork balls, Nintendo announced a new Pokemon game. I got a bit teary-eyed as it was revealed the franchise is finally moving to a third-person view, rather than the traditional top-down JRPG gameplay we have enjoyed for the last 15-odd years.

Harajuku Queen and J-Pop idol Kyary Pamyu Pamyu released a new single, 'furisodeshon'. In the video she flirts with a big blue hairy bloke and drinks until she passes out - classic Japanese coming of age tradition, then. Kyary turned 20 in January and this is kind of a big deal in Japan. 

Surprise LEGO package from Tim Hornby. A thank you/late Christmas present. Amazing.

More card game geekery as I spent an entire evening playing the A Game of Thrones Card Game at Oliver Knight's flat. We drank, ate pizza and figured out how to play this game of intrigue, betrayal and epic battles.

Grandad Potter turned 76, so the family got together and we ate Chinese food and I took this photo which I rather like.

In a moment of madness I tried to buy an iPad Mini. Good job the finance application didn't go through as that led me to the next expensive gadget on my list: a new DSLR. I am gladly waving my old 400D goodbye as I make room for the flashy new 650D - which means I can now make nice videos and stuff.

View from the Explore office, first floor kitchen to be precise.

Speaking of my old camera, Sir Oliver Knight (pictured above), is borrowing it as a potential buyer. We braved the harsh white outdoors to take some photos of Lego. We looked like right weirdos.


I'm very fond of my new TOPMAN jacket and LAZY OAF Batman shirt.

The start of a new year means it's travel show season, so I was called on to work the Explore stand at the Adventure Travel Show at the Olympia in London. I stood talking to people about adventure travel all day, which was pretty fun actually but I nearly lost my voice.

Finally, dry January? Not when the Barnett Twins are about. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Pokémon Cards: Breaking The Habit

Collecting and playing the Pokémon Trading Card Game seems fun and frivolous, and it is, but after a year of playing the game competitively I have come to liken the hobby to a gambling addiction.

"Just ten more packs... I might finally get a Darkrai EX"

Pokémon is a massive and hugely influential part of my childhood, a time that most look back on fondly and get a warm fuzzy feeling in their bellies called nostalgia. I used to spend hours hammering the 'A' button on my Game Boy Color trying to catch animated pocket monsters in red and white balls, the motto 'Gotta catch 'em all' permanently branded onto my brain by the long hot iron of Nintendo. It was and still is, bloody brilliant.

One of the most satisfying pursuits of adulthood I have discovered so far is revisiting my childhood hobbies and being able to afford the things I couldn't, back when I got £2.50 a week pocket money and I spent most of it on sweets. I'm not saying I had a deprived childhood or anything, in fact I was very lucky and I'm grateful for it, but there's something strangely indulging about holding ten Pokémon booster packs in your hand at once, when as a child you might get one pack every week or two if you were lucky.

I suppose it's this that started me off. I was wandering around the Kingsmead Shopping Centre in Farnborough one lunch hour back in late 2010 and I spotted a pack of the latest Pokémon cards in a shop window. I hadn't bought a pack in nearly 10 years, so out of pure curiosity I handed over £4 and picked one up. The cards inside were mostly from the era of Pokémon that I knew and loved; including Machop, Dragonite and a Pidgeotto... needless to say I was immediately hooked again.

The contents of my first pack of cards from the HS Triumphant set.

Some Googles later and it turns out people make YouTube videos of themselves opening packs of cards for other people to watch. They rack up thousands of views, too. I suppose they must be popular with kids who can't afford to buy many packs of cards and get a slight fix from watching somebody else unwrap the unknown contents of a booster pack. Well I was hopelessly transfixed too. Convinced by internet videos that cards from Japan with pictures of cute monsters on them was the easiest path to happiness and armed with a recent Christmas bonus, that month I spent £150 on Pokémon cards. This was just the beginning.

Pokémon cards are released in sets every 2-3 months. Each set contains around 100-120 new cards, some rarer and more sparkly than others. Initially I started out as a collector, just aiming to complete each set. The artwork on the cards is actually really well done, dozens of Japanese artists are commissioned to bring each character, item and location to life - to me it was like collecting miniature paintings, but instead of hanging them on my wall I would slip them into archival acid-free plastic sleeves and safely store them in a binder on my bookshelf.

Something The Pokémon Company deserves a lot of credit for is keeping up their organised play events, and at a high standard too. All over the world you can find weekly leagues full of kids, young adults and not-so-young-anymore adults who all share a passion for Pokémon. It's not just something you collect, it's also a game and a very competitive one. Based on the current rotation of 'legal' cards, players construct a 60-card deck that is used in one-on-one battles with other players. The most common way to win follows the principals of the Pokémon video games - defeat six of your opponent's monsters, but there are endless strategies in how you can achieve this and then there are other ways you can outsmart and beat your opponent on top of this. Just as Pokémon Red and Blue on the Game Boy brilliantly introduced us to complex Japanese RPGs without us realising it, the Pokémon TCG introduced western children to a strategic card game based on wit and statistics.

Naturally I took my new-found hobby to the next level and started taking part in weekly league games and seasonal tournaments. This is where things get really expensive. To put together even a slightly competitive deck I had to start buying individual cards from eBay. Most cards in a set are useless in gameplay except for a handful, which typically are the hardest cards to find. You're looking at roughly £100 minimum for a competitive deck of 60 cards. I mentioned new sets are released every couple of months, this means that the metagame is constantly changing, players are pressured to keep up and collect all the good cards. Sometimes these cards will go on ebay for £50 a copy and you will need 3 or 4 in your deck. Herein lies the problem. I pay rent, I pay utility bills, I pay taxes and then I have to feed myself too. If I want to stay competitive in the Pokémon card game I need to be spending a couple of hundred pounds a month on cards.

One of the recent popular cards that was popping up in most successful competitive decks was 'Darkrai EX' from the 'Dark Explorers' expansion, a set of 111 cards. I bought 105 Dark Explorers booster packs over the course of a couple of months, that's one thousand and fifty cards. How many copies of Darkrai EX did I pull? Not one. Not one sodding copy. At an average cost of £3.25 per pack, I spent the best part of £350 and I didn't get one copy of this highly sought-after card. Soon after this string of disappointment, I made a 200 mile round trip to the National Championships  in Kettering where I suffered bitter defeat by people playing decks with 3 to 4 copies of this elusive card.

The highly desirable Darkrai EX card.
I appreciate that I am not the target audience for this game, but that's just worse because the target audience is 10 year olds and most players are students so I am amazed that this gameplay model is still working after so many years. Yes, the top players who win the World Championships are great players regardless of how much money they have, but unfortunately I feel a lot of what this game comes down to is who can afford the best cards and how quickly they can get hold of them. A problem I found myself having was that by the time I caught up and managed to get enough of a certain card to start putting in practice with a deck, the cards had moved on and there were more cards that I needed in order to carry on playing. It's an endless, very expensive cycle that personally I feel I need to put a stop to before I end up living off baked beans and working three jobs just to sustain the hobby.

So is that it? Do I quit? For now, I have turned my attention towards Fantasy Flight Games and their 'Living Card Game' model, which I think is the way forward for card games. This is based on the same idea that the card game expands and stays fresh with new sets of cards, but rather than blindly buying endless packs of cards or shelling out top coin on eBay, packs are predetermined so you know exactly what you are getting. Sure, it may lack those joyous moments when you pull a sparkly super-rare card from a booster pack, but like the cards, those moments are few and far between - greatly overshadowed by the more common disappointment of not getting the cards you want. I am taking up the Star Wars Living Card Game and I'm also going to dabble in the A Game of Thrones  and Lord of the Rings Living Card Games, all highly acclaimed products from Fantasy Flight Games and licenses that I'm a huge fan of also.

I couldn't possibly end on a downer for the Pokémon TCG, though. Despite my issues, it still is a really great game, I have met some brilliant people and have had a lot of fun along the way - it just isn't working for me right now and I hope any PTCG player out there reading this can understand that. I will probably pick up the odd booster pack here and there, I'm just stepping out of the hardcore realm of collecting and competitive play. I am and I always will be a huge Pokémon fan - you just need to step into my living room to see the posters, toys and postcards that decorate my shelves and walls to know this. A long time ago Pokémon helped me realise that pretty much everything I was interested in originated from Japan, where I later travelled to and have come to know and love for so many reasons, not just their wacky cartoon characters. For this, I thank you Nintendo, Game Freak and The Pokémon Company.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Obsessions...Korean Pop Music

...it's actually very good.

SHINee - Lucifer

GD&TOP - Knockout

Girls' Generation - Gee

Monday, 14 June 2010

Rise of the Satellite Man

On Saturday, I visited James Barnett of East London. The brain behind the makemeaoffer blog. James has finished his degree in Performance: Design and Practise and has created the most absurd and pointy of costumes ever to be seen on a London rooftop. This is only natural seeing as James is the most outrageous homosexual I know and I was honoured when he asked me to photograph him. I will wait until James has fully unveiled the costume on his blog before I spoil it here.

Friday, 5 March 2010

I Miss Japan #001

I really miss Japan. I'm looking back through photos I took in and around Tokyo last year and uploading a few of those that didn't make it first time round.

#001 - Super Potato (スーパーポテト), Akihabara, Tokyo
Akihabara is known as the Electric Town (it even says that on the underground signs). Super Potato is a multi-storey retro video games store that sells stacks and stacks of old games. A treasure trove for any video game fan. See the little speakers in the open window? They were blasting out awesome retro chiptunes for all the passing Otaku below to hear.