Kenny Thomas eyed the massive spread of Thunderfall gaming cards strewn on the floor before him. Sitting cross-legged on the coarse, blue rug, he leaned back against the unmade bed behind him. Beaming with pride over his extensive collection, Kenny began to sort the cards into carefully designed decks.
He soon had six healthy piles of orcs, potions, ogres, trolls, mages, and sirens – to name a few. Wrapping each deck with a thick rubber band, he placed them into a wooden box, which he then stuffed carefully into a small backpack. Kenny stood up, tossing the backpack over one shoulder, and left the room. The Thunderfall Tournament was in a few hours; he’d won his local tourney last week and was moving on to the regionals. As he shuffled through the living room, his father, Martin, looked up from the newspaper he held. Seeing the backpack Kenny was carrying, he frowned and resumed his reading.
“Can I take the truck?” Kenny’s voice wavered. He knew his father didn’t approve of him playing Thunderfall so much.
“You get a job or somethin’?” Martin asked, his eyes never leaving the paper. He knew very well where Kenny was heading.
“No, Dad. I told you, I have an interview on Thursday.”
The silence between them was deafening. When Martin refused to look up from his paper, Kenny grabbed the keys from the coffee table, asking again, “So, it’s cool if I take the truck, then?”
His brown eyes turned stone-cold, “Be back by ten.”
“Yes, sir.” Kenny rolled his eyes behind his father’s back, opened the front door, and hopped into the faded black Chevy pickup. Rolling the windows down to let in some air, he tuned the radio to his favorite rock station and cranked the volume. The Regional Thunderfall Tournament was being held at the football stadium in the next city. The drive would only take about an hour, but it was enough time to put his father’s disappointment out of his mind and focus on his goal – winning.
With the music bolstering his confidence, Kenny pulled up to the stadium, parking in a spot reserved for [participants]. For those who hadn’t witnessed his win at the local competition, Kenny made quite the first impression. The silvery chains on his goth-style black pants clinked together as he swaggered into the auditorium. Making his way to the round gaming table assigned to him, his shaggy brown hair swayed to his sauntering rhythm. He exuded confidence; here, he was in his element.
Waving to a few people he recognized from the local tourney, Kenny took his seat, unzipped his bag, and removed his Thunderfall decks. He was the first to arrive at his table, so he laid out his first three decks – two of his most powerful, and one heavily centered on elven spellcasting. As he meticulously straightened the cards, he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up at a denim jacket-clad fellow sporting a Thunderfall hat.
“Hey, Kenny. Nice win last week, man!”
“Thanks,” Kenny smiled at the middle-aged man, “Are you competing today?”
“Me? Oh, no. I’m just here to watch the champs, man.” Extending his hands, the man gestured around the expansive room. “History is being made here.”
With raised brows, Kenny nodded, “Yep. Only one player will advance to the Nationals.”
“You bet, kid. My money’s on you.” The man winked and walked away, rejoining the throng of people quickly filling the auditorium.
Kenny shrugged. There were all sorts of weirdos showing up to events like this. He put the man out of his mind and concentrated on forming strategies. Much of his method depended on reading his opponent, though, so he soon found himself perusing the crowd, instead. There were many colorful characters present, a few of whom he recognized. There was Jasper Kinkaid, an old school acquaintance seated a few tables to his left. Darcy McBrian was here, too; she’d placed second in the local tournament, after Kenny had barely managed to knock out her last defensive card.
He continued scanning the crowd, barely noticing when a slip of a girl took the seat opposite him at the table. Only when she placed an ornate wooden chest on the table and clicked the lock open, did he even realize she was there.
“Erm – hello,” Kenny awkwardly introduced himself, “I’m Kenny from Moilton.”
The girl nodded, and pointed to her nametag, ‘Laura’. She continued to open her box, pulling out decks of cards looking like they were still in mint condition.
“Hi, Laura… I like your box. You must take really good care of your cards. They look brand new.”
Laura raised a hand. For a moment, Kenny thought she was going to flip him off. Instead, she brought the hand to her chin and swiped outward from beneath it. Sign language. She was saying ‘Thank you’. Kenny gulped. He’d never faced anyone who couldn’t hear before. He wondered how he’d be able to ‘read’ Laura’s tactics if she didn’t communicate like the other players.
Giving her a weak smile, Kenny refocused his attention on his decks. He flicked through each of them in turn, reassuring himself he’d crafted them all properly. A chair scraping the floor altered him to another player joining their table.
“Hiya, guys!” With a name tag reading, ‘Barry’, the guy sat down with a thud, sending wafts of cologne in Kenny’s direction.
‘Too much, man,’ thought Kenny. “Hi, Barry. I’m Kenny,” after a pause, he offered, “and that’s Laura.”
Laura looked up from her decks, gave a small smile, and buried herself in the cards again.
“You all ready to go home?” Barry joked with a smirk, “I’m undefeated, you know.”
Kenny chuckled, “We’re all undefeated, Barry. That’s why we’re at the regionals.”
Barry’s cheeks reddened, “Oh, yeah. Yeah, I knew that.” It was obvious he hadn’t had a clue.
“Well, best of luck to everyone,” Kenny offered, “Looks like they’re getting ready to start.”
Sure enough, a man dressed in a purple pinstripe suit approached the podium. He tapped the microphone, sending an ear-piercing screech throughout the large room.
“Woah, sorry about that, folks,” said the announcer as the echo died down, “but, now that I have your attention, would all players please head to your assigned tables. Spectators, please take your seats. The tournament is about to begin!”
As the crowd dispersed and players took their seats, Kenny felt a tap on his shoulder.
Dressed in dark green overalls covered with Thunderfall flair buttons, Darcy leaned over and whispered so only he could hear, “Good luck, Kenny. You deserved the win last week. Using a Glitch Mage as a finisher – genius.”
Kenny smiled, “Thanks, Darcy. You were great, too. I’d never thought a dwarf deck would make it so far.”
“We all have our little secrets, don’t we?” Darcy winked, “Also, watch out for Laura Michaels. She’s a legend up north.”
“Oh, yeah?” Kenny glanced over at his opponent curiously, “I’ll be on my guard. Thanks for the tip.”
“Of course. We Moiltonians need to stick together. Now, you get ready to represent our little town. We’re all rooting for you.”
“Thanks,” Kenny said again, glancing at the stands behind her. There sat about a hundred or so familiar faces, all cheering for their local Thunderfall champ – him. Smiling to himself, Kenny was eager to begin the first match. He’d never had this many fans – or any, for that matter. He was already in his element, but having the crowd chant his name was a huge boost to his wavering confidence.
The host reappeared at the podium. “Welcome, one and all, to the thirty-third regional Thunderfall competition! We have before us today the best of the best – our reigning champs from 42 local competitions, and they’re ready to face off! Whoever wins tonight is headed to Nationals! A quick recap of the rules – If your deck has been depleted, the deck slot will remain empty. There will be no mulligan decks at this event.” Kenny let out a sigh of relief. Mulligan decks were a weak man’s method, in his opinion. If the three decks you start with aren’t good enough, allowing a new deck into play nearly undermines the integrity of the game.
The host continued, “Once you’ve been eliminated, please promptly join the crowd in the stands so the game may continue at a steady pace. After five eliminations in the groups, whoever is left at each table will join us at the Pearl Table for the Ultimate Knockout Round!” The crowd roared and stomped, ready and excited for the heated rounds to come. The host held up his hands to quiet the din, “Now, let us begin!” He held up a silver triangle and matching rod which he struck together. The loud, ‘Ting!’ announced the beginning of the first round.
Kenny’s heart was in his chest. He glanced around at the opponents facing him. Laura was straightening her decks on the black felt-lined table; Barry was busy showing off his dimples to the girls in the stands. Kenny rolled his eyes. With any luck, Prince Charming would be too distracted to play well. Kenny ensured his decks were in their proper places and surveyed his remaining table-mates. Two were around his age; their name tags read ‘Amber’ and ‘Jet’, which he found ironically appropriate as their names matched the colors of their respective outfits. The final opponent, a man in his mid-thirties or so, looked around the room with a nervous optimism, his uncertainty, palpable.
“Hey,” prodded Barry, “Chet? That your name? Your move, my dude.”
The nervous man let out an overzealous chuckle, “Oh, well, so it is! Sorry, folks! I’m a newbie.” Chet’s cheeks reddened as he drew six cards from his first deck. Shuffling through them, he cleared his throat and wiped the sweat from his brow before making his selection.
A Centaur. Kenny almost laughed out loud. From the expressions on the other’s faces, he could tell they felt the same. ‘Ol’ Chet must be the only Thunderfall player in his town to have made it here!’ Kenny smiled and shook his head, trying to concentrate on the game. It was Laura’s turn. Kenny expected her to take it easy on Chet and allow him to at least enjoy being in the game for a bit before taking him down. She laid down her card without hesitation, and Kenny nearly gasped. A Jade Mage?! It seemed like overkill. The powerful mage’s abilities would have been much more beneficial against a Nemo Warlock or an Arachnid Hobgoblin – but against a Centaur? There were many other, less dramatic ways of taking out a Centaur. It seemed Laura had no mercy.
The Jade Mage set the scene for the next takedown. Amber chose a Venomous Vixen and poisoned Laura’s mage, bringing the card’s 20HP down by 3 each turn. In return, the Jade Mage performed her special move – Whiplash – and wiped the vixen from the board. Now, with 17HP, Laura’s mage was the sole card on the table.
“Think you’re slick, little lady?” Jet teased, “Watch this.” He proceeded to lay down the Arachnid Hobgoblin along with its three Arachnids – the Hobgoblin’s special. Their combined HP was 26, and, with the Arachnid’s simultaneous attack moves, the Jade Mage’s HP was brought down to a mere 11. Amber’s poison effect kicked in, and the mage was left with only 8HP. She was looking weak, indeed. Now, it was Kenny’s turn. He scanned the cards in his hands, though he already knew which he was going to play. Trying to keep a poker face, he laid down a Simple Siren card.
While most of the table looked slightly confused, Kenny noticed a small smile play on Laura’s face. She knew why he’d chosen that card. The Simple Siren was always best-used when played as early in the game as possible. She was a permanent card, meaning she would remain on the table into the subsequent rounds, unless her HP reached zero. With a starting HP of only 10, it was a risk. But, Kenny thought it was worth the gamble. The Simple Siren’s special would double any effects of one card per round. After surviving two rounds, she’s able to unleash the Siren Song, a regenerating ability rendering all enemy attacks useless for three turns.
With the Simple Siren next to the Jade Mage, it was almost as if two long-lost sisters were meeting, only to be yanked apart. The enhancing effects of the siren made Amber’s Venomous Vixen poison attack double itself, knocking the mage down from 8 to only 5HP. The turn change came, and Amber’s vixen took its last blow, leaving Laura’s mage with only 2HP. She was definitely vulnerable now. Now, it was on to Barry who wasted no time in proudly slamming down a Smog Dragon; its Smother attack was able to target multiple cards at once, bringing the Jade Mage’s, Arachnid Hobgoblin’s, and Simple Siren’s HPs down by 7. He’d effectively eliminated four cards from the game. Now the mage was finally off the table, the crowd cheered, “Barry! Barry! Barry!”
‘Seriously?!’ Kenny thought, ‘Did you not see my siren?! He was only able to take out the mage because I brought her HP down so low.’ With a frown, he looked to Chet who was just placing a trap card. Played face-down, trap cards could hide any number of attacks; activated after either one, three, or five turns, these traps could easily be lethal should they catch an opponent off guard. Laura was ready for him.
She played a Field Technician, another verification of her merciless method. Had she played the technician against Chet’s Centaur, she could have easily defeated him, though the card was only worth its HP after the initial attack. The only other advantage the technician had was dismantling traps. Trap-laying is widely regarded as a ‘newbie move’, so it was rather surprising to see Laura so ready to defend against one. She was definitely one to keep his eye on.
With Chet’s trap and dignity dismantled, the turn passed back to Amber, and the rest of the round played out much less dramatically than it had begun. Amber and Barry took turns trying to dominate Laura’s clever card-play, while Jet produced a seemingly never-ending supply of Erratic Jinn cards. They played for face-value only, but their counter-attacks made them virtually untouchable, turning any strike into a harmless flutter of butterflies or a showering of glitter. Kenny decided to keep a low profile, playing weak, yet effective cards. Chet made one newbie blunder after another and was the first to be eliminated from their table.
The next round took a bit longer, but eventually saw Amber knocked out by Barry’s Ominous Ogre. Barry, coming down off the high of his victory, overestimated his Ogre’s attack buff. Laura’s Spinster card wiped him out, and he became the third person to be eliminated. When his confident smile fell into a shocked frown, Kenny tried not to show his glee. Now, it was just him, Jet, and Laura.
Will Kenny win the round? Can he take home the Thunderfall Tournament trophy and finally prove his worth to his dad? There’s more to come, so stay tuned!