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Beginners' Guide: Yu-Gi-Oh!

This column is for new players wanting to get into the wonderful world of table top gaming. We explain the basics and point you in the right direction if you want to learn more about a specific game.

You can start emptying your hand in a game of Yu-Gi-Oh! as early as turn 1!

Almost 20 years ago, Magic: The Gathering changed the gaming world forever by introducing the concept of collectible card games (CCGs) or trading card games (TCGs). Quite a lot has happened since Magic's now been played in over seventy countries by over six million players! Heck, there even was a time when you could watch Magic live on TV! It's not often that you come across a product that lives up to even the highest of expectations and that takes the meaning of the phrase "The sky's the limit!" to the test.

Having read the title of this article, you'll already know that it's not about the success of Magic, so why am I telling you all of this? Well, while Magic introduced the concept of TCGs, Yu-Gi-Oh! took it all the way to the next level!

Based on an immensely popular Japanese anime, it didn't take long for Yu-Gi-Oh! to conquer the world and follow in the footsteps of Magic. It's known as the best selling TCG today and it's also able to attract millions of players to become the "King of Games" (the literal translation of "Yu-Gi-Oh!").

Fast, fun and exciting!

The best feature about Yu-Gi-Oh! is the fact that you only need a couple of minutes to learn the basics of the game. I've often worked at conventions and fairs, presenting new games to visitors of our booth. While it took them 15 minutes to understand some of the more advanced TCGs like Magic or the World of Warcraft TCG, it rarely took them longer than 7 to 10 minutes to understand the core concepts of Yu-Gi-Oh!; draw a card, summon a monster, attack! It's almost as easy as 1 – 2 – 3.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves and start from scratch.

In a game of Yu-Gi-Oh!, often referred to as a "duel", both players start with 8000 Life Points. The goal is to reduce your opponent's Life Points to 0 before he can do the same to you. Most of the times, you'll be using monsters to accomplish that as they can attack your opponent and reduce his remaining Life Points in the process. Which already brings us to the card types; apart from monsters, the game also features Spell (green) and Trap Cards (purple). You use those to either take out opposing monsters or draw additional cards.

Contrary to most other card games, you do not have to spend mana or any other kind of resource to play a card in Yu-Gi-Oh!. If you want to play a Spell card and it doesn't say you have to discard another card first or pay a certain amount of Life Points, you can simply put it on the field and its' effect will activate.
You can summon or set one level 4 or lower monster per turn. All of them have an ATK and DEF value which tell you how strong they are attacking or defending. Level 5 or 6 monsters, which tend to be stronger in terms of their ATK and DEF values, require you to offer 1 monster on the field as a tribute. Level 7 or higher monsters need 2 tributes so they can be summoned to the field. As Tribute Monsters are not seeing a lot of play, you'll rarely have troubles figuring out if you are allowed to summon a monster to the field.

You can add pretty much any card you desire to your deck; that is as long as you follow the rules of the forbidden and limited card list (some cards are quite powerful so you can only have 1 or 2 copies in your deck instead of the regular 3). The minimum deck size is 40 cards, which means you'll often get to see the majority of the cards you put in your deck.

Take all of this together and you know why Yu-Gi-Oh!'s often getting described as "fast, fun and exciting". Few games tend to last longer than 7 turns per player, although they can sometimes end as early as turn 1 (not too likely, but possible). This might sound like it really takes the fun out of the game, however, depending on the deck you're playing, you often have a number of answers for the threats your opponent's throwing at you!

Sometimes, all it takes is a card from the top of your deck to turn the duel upside down and walk away victorious. You'll feel an adrenaline rush several times playing a game of Yu-Gi-Oh! as it's constantly going back and forth with both players trying to trump the cards their respective opponent was putting on the table the turn before! Even if you don't come out of a game winning, you can always start another "quick game". That's what leads to players frequently "losing" several hours while playing their favorite game.

Turn Sequence

Every turn in Yu-Gi-Oh! is broken down into 6 phases: Start Phase, Standby Phase, Main Phase 1, Battle Phase, Main Phase 2, End Phase.

During your Start Phase, you draw a card. The Standby Phase only becomes important as soon as a card effect says that it activates during that particular phase. During your Main Phase, you can summon Monsters and play Spells or Traps. Immediately following it is the Battle Phase, the most important phase of all! Basically, this is when you'll send your monsters into the fray and try to overcome the opposition. Then there's another Main Phase where you can play additional Spells or Traps and Summon or Set a monster if you haven't already done so already in the current turn and the turn concludes with the End Phase which can be compared to the Standby Phase.

Game Zones

Most players have watched one episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! at one point or another, so they are already familiar with the concept of a designated play area with a set number of Monster (1) as well as Spell and Trap Card zones (2). This means you can never control more than 5 monsters or have more than 5 Spells or Traps on the field (this doesn't include a Field Spell card which goes into its very own area on the field) at the same time.

This limitation rarely comes into play; however, it can add some strategic depth to some games where you have to figure out how to get rid of your own cards.
Apart from the 5 zones for Monsters and Spells and Traps each, there's also a Deck Zone (4), a Graveyard (3) as well as a zone for your Extra Deck (6). That doesn't conclude all the different zones you'll need for a full match of Yu-Gi-Oh!, though. Cards can also be banished, which means they'll end up in yet another zone. Simply think of it as a second Graveyard where it's harder to bring cards back from. Last but not least, you should totally bring a side deck. Usually, this is placed next to your game mat and you'll use it to swap cards in between games to better adapt to your opponents strategy.

If this sounds too confusing to you, don't worry. Simply play a few games and you'll have no troubles figuring out where your cards are supposed to be going!

Monster madness

Like I said before, monsters are probably the most important card type in Yu-Gi-Oh!. You summon them to the field so they can defend your Life Points or damage your opponent.
They come in all different sizes and variations; there are normal monsters which can basically only be used to attack and defend. Then there are effect monsters which have a built-in effect that can come in handy – some of these monsters can destroy opposing Spell or Trap cards, some can attack twice in one turn and still others can help you special summon more monsters to the field so you can gain the upper hand in a close game.

Most of the popular monsters feature an effect that allows them to be special summoned to the field. Considering that you can special summon as many monsters during one turn as you want, this isn't very surprising. The 1 normal summon per turn is the most precious of all resources in Yu-Gi-Oh!, so you want as many ways to work around it as possible.

Over the course of the past years, newer and stronger monster types were introduced. First there were Ritual and Fusion Monsters that required you to have at least 3 cards in your hand or on your side of the field to special summon them. Then, the 3rd Yu-Gi-Oh! TV show Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's unleashed a brand new type of monsters: Synchro Monsters. These monsters only required you to control a Tuner Monster together with a Non-Turner Monster in order to synchro summon a Synchro Monster from your extra deck with a Level equal to the combined level of the synchro materials. These monsters were first introduced in the card game with the set The Duelist Genesis and they kept dominating the dueling cosmos ever since!

The 4th TV show Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL brought the Xyz Monsters with it. You no longer need a Tuner Monster to Special Summon them from your Extra Deck, however, the levels of the 2 monsters you want to use for the Xyz Summon must match the rank of the Xyz Monster. They are then put under the Xyz Monster and they can be detached (sent to the Graveyard) to active the effect of the Xyz Monster which will almost always prove useful!

Don't worry if it's a little hard for you to figure out all the different monster types. Simply start with normal monsters and work your way up from there. You'll know how to special summon some of the stronger monsters to the field in no time!

Lots of Interaction

The game utilizes a rather unique system for chaining effects to each other. Fortunately, it's quite easy to learn: Whenever your opponent plays a Spell or Trap card or activates the effect of a card, you can chain to it with another effect with an equal or higher Spell Speed (the exception to this rule are effects with Spell speed 1; they can't be chained to other effects with Spell Speed 1). After you chained an effect, your opponent gets a chance to chain another effect of his own. In case you don't feel like chaining, he may also chain to his own effect, but not after giving you the chance to respond.

Once both players agree that they don't want to add any more effects to the chain, there's no way stopping all the effects from resolving. So you can't wait and see what happens after one effect resolved and then chain another effect; you'll have to sit tight and watch the whole chain resolving. This system is easy to pick up once you've mastered the Spell Speeds.

Most effects have Spell Speed 1, so it's possible to chain to them with a Spell Speed 2 or higher card. This is where the Trap or Quick Play Spell Cards come in; you can activate them during an opponent's turn after you've set them in your turn. You may not activate them the same turn you placed them face-down on the field.
It happens quite often that your opponent is about to pull off a huge turn, but you then activate a Trap card and foil all of his plans! If you can hide behind a few powerful Trap Cards, your Life Points may never be in danger and you can take control of the duel with ease.

Wow, giving you a basic idea of what a game of Yu-Gi-Oh! was like seemed a lot harder than I would have imagined. Which brings us to a great recommendation: Play the game!
Yes, there is a lot going on in a single duel, however, most turns will be pretty straightforward. Once you've played a couple of them, it will all come naturally to you and it won't take long until you're ready to take down the opposition!

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