"His house was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Evil things did not come into that valley."
By Amy Fendley
It’s called Middle Earth and it is the setting for a collectable card game based on the Lord of The Rings.
Brian Wong, 26, works for Wild Willies by day, but at night and during his spare time, he travels far and wide throughout Middle Earth challenging mortals and superiors at his craft. He is Canada’s national champion at the game and is this year planning a trip to Paris to compete in an international championship.
Last year at the national tournament in Tampa, Florida, Canada and the United States were stuck together as one unit in the finals. Wong came out on top and was invited to the worlds in Barcelona. This year, he has just come back from the nationals in Toledo, Ohio and is looking for a sponsor to help him get to Paris to represent Canada.
Wong has been playing at a very competitive level for four years. He started playing games like Dungeons and Dragons with his brother in elementary school. But when his brother proposed playing a game that would normally take two or three hours in 20 minutes, Wong quickly got on board and began competitive game playing, beginning with Magic The Gathering.
"Pro-tours are offered every couple of months and offer the champion $15,000 U.S," says Wong. "Middle Earth is a fantasy-based game, not to be confused with devil-worship. You play for cards and an actual gold ring, but more for fun.
"Sometimes you forget that it’s game. In Middle Earth players run around as hobbits and you get stepped on and then if you miss a play someone says ‘too late, I’m playing for $15,000’," Wong says.
The game is played in English, French, Japanese, Italian, German, Finish, and Spanish. It is played at various levels and among different age groups. It is especially popular with pre-teens.
The object of the game is to represent an icon which is either good or evil and you have to marshal resources for your side in preparation for the "big battle." The game is played either good guy vs. bad guy, or bad guy vs. bad guy. Whatever the company, the goal is to obtain the ring. Along the way characters are encountered, including Smaug the dragon, the Nazgul, orks and trolls.
"There are similar collectable card games to Middle Earth, like Star Wars that have a really good story-telling element," says Wong. "They provide a mental workout and are kind of an escape because the games are strategy-based and involve a big creative process."
Wong says the games help him focus on the relationship between combinations, and the relative importance of reading the fine print.
"People say I’m eclectic," says Wong, who runs a games night at Whistler Secondary School every Tuesday night. "Kids want to play the games, but need someone to play it with. I don’t discourage, but I try to stay away from computer and electronic games. They’re addictive, costly and I don’t want to lose my eyesight."
But Middle Earth isn’t cheap, either. A base set of 450 collectable cards will run a hole, $1,300 deep through your pocket.
For almost a year the games night at the high school has provided a forum for interested people to practise their card game strategies and play board games, such as Risk. Wong emphasises that when getting into games competitively, it’s important to remember they are just games.
"Once you laugh and smile, you remember where you are," says Wong.
"Seriously, I read The Hobbit in Grade 3, 10 times and one of those times I sped read it in three hours."