Take a moment to stand outside, and Beanie Games looks like an unassuming place. Pokémon plush toys playfully look out the window, a shopfront that is otherwise littered with board games, banners for tabletop miniature wargames, and other merchandise vying for your attention. But step inside, though, and it soon becomes a whole other story.
I arrived bleary-eyed on a Saturday morning, the plan being to take some time to check out the venue before participating in the Pokémon TCG: Sun and Moon – Crimson Invasion prerelease tournament that was set to start early in the afternoon.
After meeting the ever so friendly Stephen Carter, we were taken on a whistlestop tour around Beanie Games, which, as I soon came to learn, is a largely family-run business. It started out as a shop, which continues to open seven days a week and sells trading card games, board games, Games Workshop products, and everything in between, but, as neighbouring businesses started to move on from their premises, they expanded.
It’s quickly grown to become a particularly impressive space, that they proudly call “the North’s biggest and best board game venue and hobby game store.” But, it’s also far more than that, in being a safe environment in which the local community has been able to flourish. The Beanie Games Board Game Club opens its doors every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday evening, as well as near enough all day on Saturdays and Sundays. There are plenty of regulars, too, each with a shared enthusiasm for the games they play.
It really is quite a special place. Upstairs there were plenty of people playing Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: The Gathering, near to where the shop area was where I saw those taking each other on in tabletop games, and then there’s the dungeon, a quieter area that is saved for those wanting to play Dungeons and Dragons.
And, back on topic, there is a Pokémon League that Beanie Games host every Wednesday and Saturday. 173 players have signed up to this, if I remember correctly, with the average age at around 12 years old. There are those that compete at the Pokémon International Championships, with some having even qualified to participate in the Pokémon World Championships, as Stephen proudly tells me.
But, back to the prerelease tournament. These take place up to two weeks before each major expansion is released for Pokémon TCG, and, for those that are interested in participating, let players receive and play with cards from the expansion before its official release date.
Player ID handed over, once the prerelease tournament started, everyone that had entered is given a prerelease box. This has a 22-card evolution pack, four 10-card booster packs, and an exclusive foil promo card, which, for me, was an Alolan Raichu.
Given that no one has any idea what their box contains, these prerelease tournaments are an even playing field. After opening them, every player is given enough time to look at the cards that they have and work out which 40-card deck they want to build from it – with energy cards provided by the tournament organiser.
The excitement that has surrounded the Pokémon TCG: Sun and Moon – Crimson Invasion expansion has largely been that it has introduced Ultra Beasts for the first time, extradimensional pocket monsters that appeared in Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon. These are now available in Pokémon TCG as Pokémon-GX, powerful cards with high HP and stronger attacks but come at the risk that, if they are knocked out, your opponent takes two prize cards rather than one.
So, you can imagine my reaction when I opened and flipped through a booster pack to find a Buzzwole-GX card. And, a rainbow rare at that. After dashing off to buy some card sleeves to protect it, it seemed silly not to build a deck around the Fighting-type Swollen Pokémon. That came at a risk, of course, in that, as it is only one card, it was left to luck as to whether it would appear in my hand early enough in the game.
Going all in on Fighting-type Pokémon, I assembled my deck with Regirock, Stufful (to evolve into Bewear, hopefully), and Shellos (to evolve into Gastrodon), throwing in Pikachu, Alolan Raichu, and Miltank for support, as all of them could use Fighting energy, too, without any problems. I had some confidence in my deck, even if I wasn’t sure what I would be up against.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that there were 86 players competing on the day. That doesn’t beat the 103 players that took part in the Pokémon TCG: Sun and Moon – Guardians Rising prerelease tournament back in April, but Stephen is still pleased with how many have attended, reasoning that the slight drop in numbers can be accounted to families that are away for the school holidays. Whatever the reason, it’s hard not to be impressed – especially seeing that, for comparison’s sake, there were only eight players at Crimson Invasion prerelease tournament that my friend had competed in.
Deck created, everyone was assigned a table number as they wandered around the room to spot where they were supposed to sit. Matched up with an opponent, the games began. The prerelease tournaments are run using the Limited Format with Age-Modified Swiss pairings, which, in less official terms, means that everyone can only use the cards that they received at the event and that in each round we are matched against someone with a similar win/loss record.
I had three enjoyable matches against people that were as excited to be there as I was. Buzzwole-GX, and its particularly useful Jet Punch attack that could damage Benched Pokémon, meant that I was able to plough through a few opposing Pokémon. But, in the end, I won one game and lost two – the result of some bad luck, and a menacing assault from an unforgiving Gengar. Friendly but with a competitive spirit, these matches were as much a learning curve as they were a thrill. And, I was taken aback at how supportive my newfound rivals were in helping to explain a particular rule when I misunderstood something.
Feeling beaten but not broken, Beanie Games wants to make sure that everyone leaves with a smile on their face, and, after handing out more booster packs to everyone that had participated, the room was once again filled with audible gasps and excited screams. And, it was in that moment, that I realised that I sure do wish that I had somewhere like this to go to when I was growing up.