In early 2009, my son returned home from a trip to Florida with several small plastic ‘marbles’ called Bakugan. He was very excited and wasted no time in showing me what they were and how they worked.
He placed a sort of playing card on our dining room table and motioned me over. “Daddy, watch this!” he said and slammed the little ‘marble’, or Bakugan onto the card whereupon it sprang open! Now, standing atop the card was a tiny fantasy creature.
“Coooool,” I said and immediately questioned how it worked.
Between my son’s eager and very animated explanations and my own inspections, I discovered that the Bakugan were more than just plastic ‘marbles.’ They were tiny, magnetic, spring-loaded plastic balls of engineering ingenuity. Quite a spectacle to behold. I also discovered that the playing cards contained metal strips which acted as a triggering mechanism for the magnet-bearing, spring-loaded, Bakugan! When these tiny plastic ‘marbles’ came into contact with the cards the metal strips and magnets react, forcing the Bakugan to spring to life!
I noticed the cards had numbers on them and wondered if Bakugan was a game? Unfortunately, I discounted this at the time, assuming that if it was, it would be geared towards much younger children, thereby not challenging to my son.
Fast forward ten or eleven months to Christmas. My son kept the Bakugan in good shape all year; at least I hadn’t stepped on any in the dark, or sucked any of them into our vacuum cleaner. He’d often use them as characters in his stories, giving the Bakugan names and special powers. My wife purchased a Bakugan video game and several more of the toys for him for Christmas. I expressed my concerns for her doing so, stating I wanted him playing more advanced games, and leaving the plastic ‘marbles’ to the younger children.
“I know,” she said, “but he likes to play with the figures and make up stories!”
So I left it at that.
Since my son enjoyed playing with figures (action figures, Bakugan, LEGO Minifigs), I decided to try a miniature game. In the past I’ve found miniature games offer a lot in the way of strategy and challenges. With this in mind, I decided on the Dungeons and Dragons miniature game. What child doesn’t like magic, wizards, elves, and treasure? I purchased the game early and anxiously waited for him to discover it on Christmas day. To say he was excited when he opened it would be an understatement; he wanted to play immediately.
We sat down later that day and played the game’s ‘quick start’ rules. They were fast-paced, easily understood and my son thoroughly enjoyed it. I began to add more of the games rules. As I did, my son began to drift off. Gone was the excitement. He laid his head on his hands and complained that he was growing bored. I told him it would move faster as we learned, but he continued to complain. It soon dawned on me that I was pushing my games on him and I needed to play his games no matter how silly I thought they were.
He asked if I would play Bakugan with him. At that time, ‘playing’ Bakugan meant making up stories with the figures, so I told him I thought Bakugan was a game and if he wanted to play, we had to learn how to play it right. He agreed and I surfed the internet and found the official rules.
I printed the rules and in no time at all, we played our first game. We had little to no strategy and my son would win almost every time. Strategy isn’t the only skill needed to win a game of Bakugan, good marble rolling skills are essential.
To play the game each player chooses three Bakugan, three gate cards, and three ability cards. The players sit opposite each other and they place a gate card on the table. Each gate card is laid end to end in the center of the table with the opposing player’s gate card closer to you. Players take turns rolling Bakugan at the cards in an effort to make them open (stand). If both players land on the same gate card a battle begins. The basics of a battle is based on ‘G Power’. G Power are three digit numbers (usually between 250 and 750) printed on the Bakugan, the gate cards, and often ability cards as well. The player with the highest G Power wins the battle. The winning player wins the gate card, the first player to get three gate cards wins the game.
If a player stands two of his Bakugan on the same gate card, the player wins that battle without a fight. So, lucky for my son, unlucky for me, if you lack strategy but are a good roller, you can still win the game. He won more often than not at first. Despite appreciating the Bakugan from a geek standpoint and liking the three digit addition in the game, I felt the rules to the game itself were a little too easy. Whoever had the highest G-power would win the battle, which seemed to be nothing more than blind luck at the toy store. If you had Bakugan with a high G-power and you could roll well, you’d win every time.
I studied the cards for a little while hoping there was more to the game than that. As I did I began to notice cards that allowed you to win by having the LOWEST G Power in the battle. I became intrigued and wondered if I would be capable of putting together a deck that won by losing. I put together a combination of cards that allow you to win by losing and stealing your opponent’s gate cards. I called this deck the ’90 pound juggernaut’ and challenged my son to a brawl. (Games in Bakugan are called brawls.) At first, my son accused me of cheating when I would use a card which allowed me to steal a gate card he had already won. After each game he would anxiously search through his set of cards trying to find the same ones I had used.
It dawned on me that the way to teach him strategies was not to tell him about them, but to beat him with them. Each time I did he wanted to be able to read and understand each card. I got excited as I started to see learning opportunities. It wasn’t long before my son was reading the cards and correcting me when I played incorrectly. I felt that, for the first time, I’d found a game we could both share excitement for and that would challenge us strategically, mathematically, and phonetically for a while to come!
We played nearly every other day, 1-3 games a night. At first I would add up the G-power during each battle for the both of us. I had thought about showing my son how to add three-digit numbers, but I worried that if I pushed it on him I would only turn him off – much like the D&D Miniatures game. I was thrilled one evening, when at the beginning of a battle, my son informed me the he wanted to add up his own ‘G-power.’
I told him to get a pencil and some paper and he ran off as quick as he could. When he returned, I wrote out a few equations and explained that adding any number of digits was no more different than adding 2 single-digit numbers. The only trick is to carry the one. (I am told by my educator friends that this is now called ‘grouping’.) I was amazed at how fast he learned the concept and was overjoyed that he was pleased with himself! After playing several more games we went upstairs and showed his mother and grandmother what he’d learned to do.
The two of us continued to learn about the Bakugan game-world by watching the TV show and, for the first time ever, my son would let me read to him non-picture books – novellas written about Bakugan. I was amazed at his attention to detail as I read him the stories. He often stopped me to ask specific questions about the tales, or what certain words mean.
We still like to play, read, and learn together. Bakugan has been a very positive experience in both of our lives. One that led us all the way to New York City! …but that’s another story.