For the most part, all of us started playing Star Wars CCG as kids. Playing the game today brings back wonderful memories of friends, the local hobby shop, opening new packs, etc. Now we’re all old…and Star Wars CCG is entering its third decade of existence…and it can be hard to find others to play with. Except in Minnesota, where guest Mark Walseth runs a school program introducing his students to the game.
“Paying it forward” and introducing others to the game is a great way to support the Star Wars CCG community. With the continued release of Star Wars movies everyone is aware of the franchise, whether or not people have ever heard of Decipher. We’re going to get to know more about Walseth today and in the future will come back with some of the tools and strategies he used to introduce others to the game and grow the community.
- Walseth is currently involved with the Bespin tournament – check out information here.
Clone1: Walseth, it’s great to be able to chat with you. Before we chat about your program let’s start with you. When did you first start playing Star Wars CCG and what brought you to the game?
Walseth: I started playing the game right after the release back in 1995. Four of us made a big day of it – we got a hotel room at the local casino, opened a bunch of packs, built some decks, and attempted to read the directions that came in the 60 card Starter Decks from Premiere. For those who didn’t have to learn how to play SWCCG this way it may be tough to understand, but that thing (the instruction manual) was IMPOSSIBLE to figure out. We still make jokes about it to this day. We would deploy, pay 1 to battle, then say “I have 7 power, you have none, lose 7 cards.” At the time, according to the directions, or so we thought, you could initiate battles even when there was no one there…
When A New Hope, the first expansion, was released it caught us all by surprise. At the time a friend and I were living away from home for the summer and a bunch of guys came to visit us. For fun we stopped by the local card store to see what they had. All of a sudden, one of us noticed that A New Hope was released. The first guy says, “I’ll take 4.” Guy #2, “I’ll take 6!” Guy #3, “I’ll take 7!” You get the point. Eventually the first guy who started the waterfall double dipped and bought even more. This went on until the 6 of us bought the store out of their supply – not an exaggeration!
Clone1: Haha incredible. I always ran out of funds prior to the store running out of supply. So, after you got the rules down, how competitive were you when you started? Were you participating in any tournaments at a local/regional/national level?
Walseth: I was very competitive. I played all the time. I was actually the official Decipher representative for the Duluth (MN) area. I still have, use, and treasure my “Gold Squadron” tote bag. I was running tournaments all the time and a former World Champion, “Matt Potter,” actually came through my area.
Clone1: And did you ever take any time off as most of us did? If so, what brought you back?
Walseth: I did. I can’t remember when, maybe around Cloud City…I actually sold my entire collection to a store. MISTAKE! I think what brought me back was I eventually ended up working in the same store I sold my collection to.
Clone1: Brutal! It’s always painful to hear when people sold their collections prematurely. Hopefully the store cut you a deal on building a new collection! Anyway, you remember all the fun times you had, get back into the game, then what was the inspiration to get your students involved?
Walseth: My first year teaching I knew I would be a bad sports coach because I was too competitive (in sports). I would want to win, even if that meant not everyone would get playing time. That’s not the right attitude to have for middle school. So I instead thought about teaching SWCCG – that way my students could be competitive and I wouldn’t have to worry about equal time. This was back in 2000.
Clone1: Brilliant strategy. Also, no crazy parents screaming at you from the sidelines (hopefully). What was the process to get the program off the ground? Did you need approvals, sign-ups, etc. to offer this at your school?
Walseth: So, at the time our school had funding for what was known as “Extended Day.” It was only used for students who needed extra help/time to get caught up on school work. I prepared a short presentation for my administration and presented my idea as a way to have students practice reading and algebra skills. And yes, during the presentation I did “puff my chest out” and used Brainiac and Attack Run (Epic Event) as examples in my presentation so they could see what I was referring to. It worked, they approved and I had my after school program.
Clone1: I’ve never thought about the game in this way before, but the reading and math make sense. The game is incredibly complex though, I’m assuming it went beyond this basic level pretty quickly?
Walseth: At first it was about reading and math, but over the course of time it developed into so much more. Over the next couple years I started to think about what exactly the program was trying to accomplish. Sure, it had math and reading skills, but it was also about giving students who may not be interested in sports a chance to participate in a competitive arena. Then I added a 3rd goal which was to improve social skills. I noticed many of students struggled with their social skills. We focused on learning how to make friends, expressing frustration (when losing), being a gracious winner, cheering on or helping their fellow classmates while balancing their own desire to excel, etc. Finally, I started promoting a “Growth Mindset.” This is about having kids understand that the only way to improve is to learn from your mistakes. We show them they won’t be “masters” right away at any craft and that it takes time and effort over an extended period of time to achieve and reach a truly competitive standing. That winning…is not the most important thing.
Clone1: It’s very intuitive that there is a lot to be gained from learning and playing the game. It sounds more like a club focused on life lessons as opposed to simply improving math or reading.
Walseth: 20 years later, without a doubt, this after school activity has become just an extension of what I want them to take out of my Social Studies class. Mainly that kindness, empathy, hard work, and self-reflection should be what we all strive for.
Clone1: So what was the first meetup like? Any growing pains after getting approval from the school?
Walseth: The first year, I was terrible. It was like throwing kids into the deep end of the pool and saying “Swim!” I’ve got it down to an art form now, where kids all start with basically the same cards and we slowly progress over the whole year.
Clone1: So, describe the art form. Anyone who has tried to explain the rules to a friend understands that it’s not easy…
Walseth: My process is very slow and deliberate. Students have to first memorize the 7 phases, which means simply know what to do in each phase. Which is NOT the same as how to use each phase. For example, in the Draw phase they need to know this is the phase where you draw cards from the Force Pile to your Hand. Teaching them how many to draw or when to stop is a whole other set of skills. For about 15 school days they learn and practice the 7 Phases, using 20 card decks that only have Locations, Characters, and Starships. Also, the Battle Phase does NOT implement Attrition. After this time period I let them know if they’re interested in continuing their training they can sign up for my after school program. Roughly half of the students typically sign up, then over the course of the school year they learn more rules, card types, and strategies as time allows.
Clone1: I’m assuming it wasn’t easy to refine the teaching process! When I think back to playing with my brother, I’m not sure we ever completed a game and also followed all the rules. In fact, we probably fought about the rules during every game. Anyway, were there any bumps in the road along the way?
Walseth: There was a moment about 10 years ago when the school could no longer pay me for my time and it became 100% volunteer. For a fleeting moment I considered whether or not the program should continue, but that thought went away in a blink of an eye. The amount of positive feedback from parents has been priceless. They often thank me for giving their kids this opportunity. Or, whether it’s things like Mitch Nieland from my first group back in 2000 eventually inviting me to his wedding, or Justine (a current 8th grader) saying to me last October, “This is the first after school activity I’ve ever been a part of” I know this activity is accomplishing exactly what I want it to.
Clone1: That’s amazing, and thank you for continuing the program. We certainly need more people like you in the world, willing to volunteer simply because it improves the world. Were there other issues you experienced early on, prior to when you realized the program would be a success?
Walseth: Initially finding enough cards was hard, but over time word started to spread and countless people from around the world have donated their collections to our program. Whether or not students stick with the program is not considered a challenge because whether it’s 5 or 15 kids, or whether they quit after a month or stick with it their whole life, I’m just glad they had the opportunity to be part of something that isn’t usually offered.
Clone1: And what surprised you most when you were starting the program?
Walseth: Hmmm… what surprised me the most… I guess it would be how much support my administration here at Rosemount Middle School provided the program and what I was trying to accomplish.
Clone1: Finally, tell us about where the program is at today.
Walseth: Well, here we are in our 20th year, and I’ve taught this game to roughly 250 students. I’m always trying new things to see what works the best. This year I’ve implemented a new strategy where I’m teaching them by the set release dates just like how Decipher released the cards instead of starting with all the Tier 1 decks. I’m also taking a larger role in the Minnesota Community and bringing new / returning players back to the fold. Check out my latest tournament post (https://www.starwarsccg.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=494&t=71626)
Clone1: That is excellent. 250 students is pretty incredible. It’s such a great story to hear that people are still being introduced to Star Wars CCG and that there will be a new generation interested in the game!