Craig's house of cards

Bridgette Harris believes in the power of cards.

As an active card player, tournament officiator and owner of Fun & Games, 33 W. Victory Way, Harris has created an exclusively "non-electronic" gaming haven for Craig residents to unplug and come together for friendly matches.

"The fact is that we have a place to play," Harris said about her store. "If we don't have an open copy of a game, we'll open one. It's all hands-on, and between my husband and my kids, we know how to play every game, and we will do any tournament people want to. In fact, we just did a monopoly tournament."

Part store, part gaming center, in the communal environment that Harris opened last year, it's no wonder that among the wide variety of games hosted, the most popular are tournaments for the collectable card game titled Magic: The Gathering.

Since its 1993 inception, the fantasy-based card game has attracted an international fan base and created a competitive industry complete with a sanctioned, professional tournaments and million-dollar prize purses.

Because of Harris' status as an official tournament organizer, Fun & Games is the only location between Denver and Salt Lake City where gamers can participate in sanctioned Magic tournaments. Players travel from as far as Grand Junction and Denver to play, and Harris counted 32 sanctioned tournament players this spring.

Because these sanctioned Friday matches can, according to Harris, get "pretty serious and cutthroat with people playing ridiculously powerful cards," a tight-knit group of after-school gamers show for the more casual weekly Magic match-ups on Wednesdays.

"Fridays are more serious with the points and ratings," sophomore player Jarod McCoy said. "Wednesdays are a lot of fun. Sometimes it gets aggressive. It's a free-for-all."

"You get to play a lot more," agreed senior Katrina Pedersen about Wednesday's Magic game sessions. "It's more fun because more people get to play at once, there's a lot less down time between games and you can talk more."

Harris hosts many other game tournaments. In addition to the collectable card games, many "constructable card games" have gained popularity among Craig's gamers, who range in age from 8 to 40. Most of the gamers are in high school.

Saturday morning's Pirates game tournaments turn out a regular group of five players, while the NASCAR Race Day game has become a favorite for younger gamers who show up at 5 p.m. to move pieces around a board replicating the Pocono Raceway.

With room for 40 gamers at her store, one of Harris' greatest challenges has been overcoming popular perceptions of a business appealing to a teenage audience.

"Our goal is good family environment. We're not a babysitter," Harris said. "In order for kids to utilize the play space, they need to be registered, paying customers. They can't just come in and hang out; under-18 kids need parental permission."

During Wednesday's Magic game, Pedersen's explanation of the games demonstrated the social appeal that brings Craig's card players together.

"I did a research paper for school on non-electronic gaming," Pedersen said. "Magic is the number one collectible card game in the world. It helps concentration and strategy."

When asked if it helps to form friendships, Pedersen paused before saying, "Friends? You mean these idiots?" giving a brisk, playful shove to her opponents, breaking into laughter before sitting down to continue joking and trading cards.

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