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Worlds Anthology 2013

by Danny Nuttall, Staff Writer

14th November 2013

This article is part of a forthcoming collection of short essays that will be compiled and enhanced into a study titled The Anthropology of Star Trek. A wider audience has been taken into account, therefore. Because of this, the author welcomes your feedback and suggestions.

Thursday October the 17th.  Manchester Airport, UK.

Hotel Elevator

 

After a quick serving of cholesterol and bread, courtesy of Burger King, and a much more time consuming engagement with passport control and airport security, Paddy and I were ready to board flight LH943 to Frankfurt. Awaiting us over in Germany was a weekend of solid fun and, potentially, debauchery. For the first time we would be able to put faces to some very familiar names; doughty opponents from the online scene, or just well known, high level players from over the years. Joining Deutschland’s finest would be Trek fans from Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Holland, Russia, Scotland and the United States – a significant number of people travelling at significant expense, to engage in something that most would see as completely insignificant.

Indeed, you may well ask yourself that key question; why? The answer can be presented both factually and via a more subjective slant on the whole thing. To address the former, this disparate group of Star Trek fans were descending on an obscure hotel, located in the industrial outskirts of one of Germany’s financial hubs, to compete in the World Championships of Star Trek: The Customizable Card Game (ST:CCG). This long-standing strategy game is bested by only Magic: The Gathering in terms of longevity and will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2014. Initially based on The Next Generation series alone, ST:CCG expanded to include characters, starships and storylines from the full range of films and TV franchises. Produced and designed by Decipher, an American gaming company, the game gained a strong following – albeit nothing like that attained by Magic, Yu-gi-oh and Pokemon.

Yet in 2007, after a period of financial difficulty, Decipher announced that the end of the road had been reached as far as their involvement with the game was concerned. They were not renewing the license with Paramount Pictures and thus players were left with the stark realisation that there would be no more expansions, no more rule updates, no more tournaments and organized play. It shouldn’t be a surprise, however, that the game overcame such damning obstacles. After all, with precious little new material to inspire them, Star Trek fans refused to give up on the series as a whole and continued to express their devotion to the cause long after Enterprise was curtailed just four seasons in. Coupled together, the end of Star Trek on the small screen and the demise of Decipher brought ST:CCG fans to an all-time low. Many were left to ponder, was it now dead, Jim?

Cometh the hour, cometh the Continuing Committee. Such was the long standing importance of the game to so many people’s lives, a player’s committee was formed in order to act as a hub for the remaining players to gather; to organise tournaments and other events, to discuss decks and strategies and, in time, for the committee members to design and release new cards to play with. It is this community of players who have triumphed in adversity, not only in ensuring that the game has persisted but in overseeing an increase in the number of people actively playing the game overall. It is also the Continuing Committee that has selected Indianapolis in 2011, Sydney in 2012 and now Frankfurt as the locations for the marquee event each year – the World Championships.

 

Still Thursday October the 17th.  Carat Hotel, Frankfurt, Germany.

The hotel lobby was a flurry of activity as players checked into their rooms and greeted one another, some for the very first time. It wasn’t long before many were in the throes of in-depth discussions about their decks and expectations for the weekend as a whole. These were, of course, slightly guarded discussions of strategy; players might want to talk about the game they love all night long, but they certainly don’t want to give too much away on the eve of the main event!

It wasn’t long before games were struck up and cards were filling every corner of the hotel bar. What better way to enjoy the game in a relaxed manner than a traditional Biermeister event; here, the emphasis on skill and competition were replaced by alcohol-consumption and joviality. There was no need for finely-tuned decks and cunningly devised strategies tonight, as we would play with previously unopened packs of cards in a much more luck-based format. Stamina, if anything, was to be the key thing here.

Death Yell

 

After four rounds of play, someone won. I don’t recall who, nor do I care. What lingers in the memory is the number of observable constants which characterised our prolonged stint at the hotel bar; wherever you looked, there were constant smiles and laughter all around. Whether you were part of ‘that nerdy bunch of card players’ or not, you couldn’t escape the constant and incessant noise generated by us, no matter which region of bar space you occupied. And this was, of course, aided by a constant flow of German ale, delivered directly to us by the ever obliging and patient bar staff who, no doubt, wore grooves into the floor - such was the frequency of their cargo runs.

Smiles, laughter, beers and Star Trek. The World Championships were off to a great start. Some of us had, perhaps, undermined a lot of the preparation we’d put into the main event by staying up a little too long, and by having one too many beers.

 

The convention room occupied on the following morning had a comparatively sedate atmosphere. There was a noticeable level of nervous anticipation as the beginning of round one fast approached. Not long into the opening matches, the air of anxiety was abruptly punctured;

“RRRrrrrrraaaaaaaAAARRR!”

Most players turned, surprised, in order to face the offender themselves. Not Paddy, nor I. This was the all too familiar sound of Niall, another of the British contingent at worlds, who was obviously playing his Klingon Death Yell deck. He might not have successfully warned the dead about the forthcoming arrival of yet another fallen Klingon warrior, but he certainly put the willies up our largely German player base.

The smiles soon returned and it was a sharp reminder to us all about why we were gathered here. In truth, probably only a small number of hopefuls would have a genuine chance of lifting the trophy at the end of the tournament, but they could just as easily acknowledge the central purpose of the event. We were there to have a great time with Star Trek. The two entwined are what makes ST:CCG so intoxicating to us all and, perhaps, helps us to explain the game’s lengthy history. After all, there are a number of card games which are also fun to play. Some, like poker, offer potentially lucrative rewards for spending so much time working on your game. Many are certainly less time-consuming and complex in comparison. Yet a shared love of science-fiction, Star Trek specifically, and the time we get to spend with like-minded, intelligent folk keeps bringing us back tournament after tournament, year after year. And even today, at the World Championships no less, the competitive environment is never tainted by the youthful arrogance and cliques that often plague more popular CCG events.

Whilst the top four battled it out in the finals, the bar staff had been coerced into bring tray after tray of ales into the convention room itself. A cursory glance across the room reveals a familiar scene; competitive games have once again given way to casual, beer-fuelled encounters (oh my!) and constant smiles, laughter and noise have returned once more.

Someone won. This time, however, I do care, as Stefan Slaby of Austria defeated me in the final and was crowned champion of (our very small and nerdy) world. Well done, sir!

Raise the Stakes

 

Thursday the 7th of November. Huddersfield, UK.

The plush setting of the Carat Hotel convention room is a distant memory now. One of our regular venues is host to an event which is a far cry from the experience had at the World Championships. An hour long drive, after a gruelling day at work, leads me to a run-down former factory, which has definitely seen better days. Inside this aged and unforgiving interior, a single electric heater tries, in vain I might add, to fight off the bitter cold of a winter’s night in Yorkshire.

Tonight we have just four players, the bare minimum required to run a sanctioned tournament. Everyone will face one another over three rounds in total. Of the limited pool of players drawn tonight, three have only just started playing ST:CCG in the last couple of months and, to them, it is one of a number of card/board games that they enjoy on a regular basis. The chosen format for tonight is kind to beginners and whilst the level of play might not be as advanced as that on show in Frankfurt, these hardy souls are enjoying themselves just as much. Who knows, as long as they keep finding it fun to play, in time these may well be competitors at future World Championship events and find themselves as intoxicated as those who began their voyage way back in 1994.

 


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