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Playing Their Cards Right

Group Gathers at Shop for Weekly Pokémon Games

  • Above, Joshua Maynard, of Enfield, 16, center, concentrates on re-organizing his Pokémon deck while meeting with friends to play Pokémon at Triple Play in West Lebanon last week. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Above, Joshua Maynard, of Enfield, 16, center, concentrates on re-organizing his Pokémon deck while meeting with friends to play Pokémon at Triple Play in West Lebanon last week. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dylan Thompson, of Canaan, plays a practice game while meeting with friends to play Pokémon. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Dylan Thompson, of Canaan, plays a practice game while meeting with friends to play Pokémon. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joshua Maynard of Enfield, 16, shuffles his Pokemon deck while meeting with friends to play Pokemon at Triple Play in Lebanon last Wednesday. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Joshua Maynard of Enfield, 16, shuffles his Pokemon deck while meeting with friends to play Pokemon at Triple Play in Lebanon last Wednesday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Above, Joshua Maynard, of Enfield, 16, center, concentrates on re-organizing his Pokémon deck while meeting with friends to play Pokémon at Triple Play in West Lebanon last week. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Dylan Thompson, of Canaan, plays a practice game while meeting with friends to play Pokémon. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Joshua Maynard of Enfield, 16, shuffles his Pokemon deck while meeting with friends to play Pokemon at Triple Play in Lebanon last Wednesday. (Valley News - Libby March)

West Lebanon — His sisters first gave him the cards eight years ago. They were hand-me-downs, second- and third copies of common, low-powered Pokémon, “giveaways.”

But Joshua Maynard accepted them.

He learned the creatures’ strengths, he analyzed their weaknesses. He sat alone in his room, a circle of cards ringed around him, building a punishing deck of his own.

Now 16, Maynard sits in the basement of Triple Play, a card collectibles store in West Lebanon, staring at his hand like he’s playing chess.

“How will this card affect my odds of winning?” he will ask himself. “How will my opponent respond? Could I save this move for later and inflict more damage?”

He’s silent . His eyes don’t stray from his cards.

If they did, he would see the crates of old comic books lining the back wall, the Marvel superheroes poster tacked up by the stairs, and his moustached opponent, John Hueg, 31, smirking in the chair across from him.

“I’ve got just the move,” Maynard said, slapping a black-sleeved card onto the table with a grin.

Hueg frowns and checks his hand, but he’s unable to combat Maynard’s attack. Two minutes later, the match is over, with Maynard rising victoriously.

“Good game,” Hueg said. “I’m going to have to work on my deck.”

They return to their cards and chit-chat fills the room. Cheril Maynard, Joshua’s mom, sits in the corner and watches.

Outside the store is Glen Road, a vista of strip malls and convenience stores — but that’s the world of fiction now for these kids, Cheril Maynard said.

From 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday, her son and a handful of card-playing enthusiasts of all ages from around the Upper Valley gather at Triple Play to rearrange their decks, battle each other and obsess over the world of Pokémon.

Started as a media franchise in Japan in 1996, Pokémon is based in a fictional universe where trainers search the world for powerful and diverse creatures called Pokémon.

In the trading card game, players build 60-card decks and use their creatures to battle. There are three ways to win: Collecting all of your opponents’ prize cards, knocking out all of your opponents Pokémon on the field, or running out your opponent’s deck until they have no more cards left to draw during their turn.

In nearly two decades of existence, the game has been turned into an animated series and a video game, attracting a worldwide following.

Cheril Maynard said her son, who is home-schooled, started playing Pokémon with other people in the community about six years ago. She was looking for an activity to preoccupy his time over spring break — then she noticed a flyer for a Pokémon league.

Maynard got hooked. He started buying box sets for $100 and creating his own decks. He discovered powerful card combinations. He played as often as he could.

The league, which passed under different leadership as parents became too busy with work, isn’t accredited with the Pokémon organization in Japan anymore, said Cheril Maynard, who’s currently in charge.

Recently, she put out an advertisement for the league, in hopes of attracting more players, and she’s currently working to get in touch with the company to become official again.

“Right now, we only have about six to eight people who come weekly,” Cheril Maynard said.

In the meantime, building decks and battling Pokémon remains a serious hobby for Maynard and other Upper Valley players — one that they spend the majority of their time and money on.

Last Wednesday, Maynard bounded into the Triple Play and unloaded a bag filled with Pokémon supplies: A blue binder the size of a computer screen where he stores triples of cards; three smaller binders, each the shape of a box of Triscuits; a black bag of glittering dice; two tins of back-up cards; a playing mat.

“This doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Maynard said. “I keep my rare collectibles at home.”

In total, he has at least 2,000 cards, he claimed.

Across the room, Dylan Thompson, 18, sits alone, flipping cards onto a black mat and talking to himself.

“This is a practice battle,” he said. The idea is to play as if someone is sitting across from you, which is a great way to learn your cards’ strengths and weaknesses, he said.

He started playing Pokémon four years ago when a classmate taught him the game rules. In a couple weeks, Thompson will graduate from Mascoma High and start working at a pizza house in Enfield, but he predicts that he’ll play the game for the rest of his life.

Two relatively new players to the league also showed up: Carey Smith, 24, and Emily Wilmott, 22, two Vermont Law School students who trek down to West Lebanon on Wednesdays with a grocery list and a hankering for Pokémon.

Wilmott slid into a chair across from Thompson and started a match.

“This is a new endeavour for me,” she said. “I used to collect the cards, but this is only my second week of playing. We’ll see how this goes.”

Smith, who persuaded Wilmott to play Pokémon, said he’s been a fan of the card game since it erupted with popularity in the ‘90s. He recently started playing the online version again and felt inspired to find a group to play with.

“The battle tactics brings a lot of strategy to the game,” he said. “Plus, I like collecting and organizing.”

Near the front of stairs, Joshua Maynard has spread his deck into a pyramid-shaped mess on a table. He’s tinkering again.

“Constructing a good deck takes a lot of trial and error,” he said, “but Pokémon is my hobby. This is what I do.”

Zack Peterson can be reached at zpeterson@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.