I was a small child of only 12 years old when my father informed me that he had acquired some cards for a brand new trading card game based on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Iron Crown Enterprises is a gaming company most famous in the early nineties for producing the Rolemaster roleplaying system and the Middle Earth Roleplaying (MERP) sourcebooks, and they had recently made the foray into TCGs in order to hopefully capitalize on the newly popular category.
I had started playing Magic at this point, but the game of Magic in its infancy was not as compelling to me as it would become a decade later. I had an itch for card games though, and this one was based on source material with which I was (somewhat) familiar, and would also offer an opportunity to play games with my father, with whom I was desperate to develop a relationship based on more than just punishment. Seemed like a no brainer to me.
My dad made a deal with me; I would be allowed to play the game with him as long as I had read the source material on which it is based. I read most of it, but I'll be honest here... I never finished it. I know that Aragorn is the King of Gondor and Arnor... I know the ring winds up in the volcano... and I know that Saruman got his just desserts. That was enough, in my opinion, and I told my dad that I wanted to play the game now. I'm sure he knew I hadn't finished it (and still have not, to this day), but he relented and we sat down to learn the game.
I learned how to play the game relatively quickly, the actual mechanics of the game were fairly simple, despite all of the extra gobbledygook they insisted on including related to the movement of characters across the realms of Men and Elves. I built a deck and started playing wiht my dad and his good friend, Dan. The game started to develop a following relatively quickly, and my father got contacted by ICE to ask if he would run events in the region.
I had played in tournaments before, but I had never been particularly competitive up until this point in my life; but Middle Earth was the game that changed that for me. Tournament play before Middle Earth: The Wizards (METW) was generally just more opportunity to play games rather than being focused on winning or accumulating prizes; but as the scene in the Maritimes began to grow, I began to notice that despite being 13 years old I was among the standouts in the metagame. I began building more and more complicated decks which would lead me down a rabbit hole of deckbuilding that would continue well into my adult years.
I won my fair share of games, and pretty soon dad asked me to join him as a volunteer for the company. I joined him as a playtester for the upcoming sets, which resulted in my collection growing exponentially as the company sent us cases of product as a form of payment for our work. It was during this time that I was invited (as a gesture of goodwill toward dad, I'm sure) to the METW World Championships in New Orleans. Up until my last move I still had that invitation in my possession - growing up I treasured that letter more than any other gaming prize.
My time with METW was unfortunately cut short by ICE losing the gaming license for Lord of the Rings in 1999, which would result in both METW and MERP being cut short long before their time had come. Eventually, METW would be replaced in the market place by a much worse game by Decipher (the same company that brought us the Star Wars CCG in the 90s), but I never gave it a second look. Nothing would ever manage to capture lighting in a bottle the way METW did until my long-time friend Tyler would reintroduce me to Magic in 2003.
The torrid love affair our region had with METW is of particular note because our tiny community of under a million people actually impacted sales and registration figures for the company. Our tournament community was among the largest and most dedicated in the world, dad was in constant communication with the executives in the company in orde rto report back on how the game is doing (and presumably how to replicate the success in other regions).
I'll tell you, though... it wasn't necessarily the game. My father is an excellent ambassador for gaming, and he has managed to bring multiple games to the forefront in our small community; an accomplishment in which that I feel fortunate to have shared.
There aren't a lot of extra things to say about METW; it introduced me to high level competitive gaming, and it was the first CCG that really gave me the drive to explore more of these games. Following my introduction to METW, I would play Overpower, L5R, WWF Raw Deal (a personal favourite), Netrunner, Battletech, Warlord, Aliens vs Predator (strange for me, since I had not to that point seen any of the films), and the Wheel of Time.
But those are a lot of other stories...
Until next time, always be gaming!