Failure IS an Option

“Hon, did you buy something on Ebay tonight?”

Oh snap, I didn’t know he got notifications on that…


“Ummm… did you….”

“Yeah, I bought 4 somethings.”

A dubious, “Okaaaay” followed. The doubt was well-placed, probably. He was looking at my purchase of a dozen Guardians booster packs. Earlier, I’d emailed my Mom:


Remember that card game, Guardians? The one with the awesome art we used to collect? I just did something impulsive. I just bought a crap-ton of that on ebay. This time, we’re totally going to play it! 🙂

Guardians came out in 1995, during the early Magic: the Gathering craze. I was still living at home while attending college, and my Mom and I went out cavorting together a lot. We used to go to the Hard Rock Cafe almost every Friday night. They knew us there. One of the bouncers was John Sencio, actually, who later went on to become an MTV vj. He kept us posted about his progression through the elimination process, but we didn’t see him again after that. (Recently, LinkedIn suggested that I might know him… I have NO idea how it possibly made that connection).

We were also at the Hard Rock during the OJ Simpson chase, watching along with other patrons on the multiple televisions. Good times.

Anyway, we went to Magic: the Gathering tournaments a lot. Not to play, mind you. At that point we weren’t serious at all about playing. But we collected, and traded. Island Fish Jasconius was one of my very favorite cards, so clearly we were in it for the art vs. the game.

Then, fresh out of college, I met my future husband (a tournament Magic: the Gathering player, ranked #2 in the world at Type 2 when we first met). I moved out soon after that, first to the neighboring town, then to the neighboring state. Just far enough away that I didn’t really see my Mom that much anymore. It’s natural, mind you, and it happens to most people earlier than that. After all, I’d lived at home throughout college.

Life did what it does, it got more complicated. I focused on my career, we eventually bought a house, and had kids. All the stresses and loss of innocence that adult life brings, it brought. And I missed the old days. I missed getting home late summer nights from my job selling boutique clothes at Faneuil Hall, cracking open a Bass ale with my Mom, and just sitting on the porch enjoying the summer night air.

Flash forward to present-day. On this particular lazy Sunday, my son and daughter were obsessing over the latest Pokemon game, and she was showing me cards and talking about how the art was sometimes “full art” meaning it covered the whole card. She knows the terminology for all this stuff because they watch YouTube. This prompted me to tell her about Guardians, and how the art had been so cool, with the creatures breaking out of the border section. I did a Google image search to show her some of them. And then, I’m not sure why, but I decided to check Ebay.

Four “Buy it Now” auctions later, I had quite a collection of starter decks and booster packs headed my way. Ah, the age of instant gratification. Now, my husband is a bit of a minimalist. He’s all about getting rid of old stuff we don’t need anymore. I’m no hoarder, but I’m all about keeping things that have sentimental meaning. So my suddenly dropping a good little chunk of cash on a card game that he suspected wasn’t even that good (I wouldn’t know, having never actually played it) from the mid-nineties… well, yeah. I get it. But my mind was already churning with ideas. Me and Mom could make a video talking about the old days, talking about this game. Then we could do one where we opened these packs. And THEN… then we could do videos of actually playing this game! A game that came out 20 years ago, and then faded quietly into obscurity. It’d be quirky, fun, different.

See, in 2009, I’d gotten this crazy idea to make a documentary about designer board games, the modern tabletop games like The Settlers of Catan that are widely known now, but back then, in the United States, not so much. Never mind that I’d never made a YouTube video before. And you know what? A trip to Germany and a couple years later, my film came out. And people liked it! So yes, I get big crazy ideas, and life has done nothing but encourage me.

I mean, I’ve also had ideas like learning to make fondant flowers for wedding cakes, or candying real flowers to sell to local restaurants and such. Those ideas crashed and burned. But I keep coming up with new ones. Oh, like learning to crochet, or upcycling board games and their components into merchandise for a massively successful Etsy story, or a line of collectible office worker action figures that come in their own cubicles… I actually pitched that one to an agency once, but I think the open office trend killed that one.

A week or so after that, I had to go on a business trip. I’m habitually too early for flights, I’d rather be 3 hours early than risk being late. Part of me also likes wandering around airports, I guess. The night before I left, I slipped a starter deck of Guardians into my carry-on. I figured the flight would provide a lot of time to grapple with the rules.

There’s a reason my Mom and I never actually played Guardians, see. The rules are as notoriously complicated as the art is beautiful. One of the only recent writings I’d found about the game, from 3 months earlier, was a proposal to edit the rules into a set of “starter rules” to help ease new players into the game. This is said to be one of the big reasons the game never really took off. It’s just not inviting to a new or casual player.

So there in the airport, I cracked open the first pack of Guardians cards I’d opened in 20 years. As I looked through this first handful, a surprisingly high number of them were instantly recognizable. I have trouble remembering what 3 things I’m running to the grocery store for, but the lyrics to 80s songs are forever locked in my memory. So, too, it seems, are some of these cards. It has everything to do with the art, and perhaps the humor, too.

Then I opened the little instruction booklet. “Welcome to the True Past” it proclaimed. How fitting. Because this was my past. And just as in those days gone by, my eyes were glazing over by the third page. This was going to be tough. Especially since, unlike many more modern games, there were simply no “Let’s Plays” of Guardians. YouTube wasn’t a thing in 1995. I was going to have to understand these rules all by myself.

Another thing I discovered in my research about Guardians was that there were 3 expansion sets. I think I knew about Dagger Isle, the first one, but Drifter’s Nexus and Necropolis Park were news to me. And it looked like finding either was going to be a challenge.The entire wealth of Ebay only offered up one single auction, for 9 packs of Drifter’s Nexus. At $80, it was a little too steep for me, at least not until I had proven to myself and my husband that I was willing to actually learn the game. Dagger Isle, however, was relatively easy to come by. In fact, my initial acquisition brought me as much or more Dagger Isle than base set. Dagger Isle wasn’t going to be a problem. Drifter’s Nexus and Necropolis Park, though, were poised to be my white whales.


UPDATE: I have left this post as-is, to provide insights about the try and fail method of embracing out of the box ideas. You often hear the inspirational stories of success, but people don’t want to share as much about the failures. And this one failed, at least insofar as not achieving all the grandiose plans I had for it initially. I had ideas for a video series, blog articles, maybe even an eBook. I even toyed with the idea of getting a new simpler ruleset going in partnership with these guys who’d posted about that, and actually acquiring the rights to the game, and reprinting it. Those are the kind of ideas that flash through my head on a Sunday night and bring me to impulse Ebay purchases. I wanted people to know that sort of thing is part of my story, as much as the success of Going Cardboard was. I wanted to share the enthusiasm I felt when the idea first occurred, and the atrophy that followed, and to proclaim that sort of progression to be OK.

I did a few videos, so as far as that goes, I succeeded. But I didn’t get any closer to actually playing a game of Guardians than I had as a teenager. In the end, I scooped up that auction of Drifter’s Nexus. I opened one pack, just because I couldn’t resist. It was cool.

…and within days, I Ebayed the entire collection. It was an ultimate (minor) loss, financially. But I’m glad I did it all, and that I have crazy ideas, and that I chase them. Because once in a while, those ideas hit, and you don’t know which one is going to hit until one day, it does.

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