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For Parents: What Exactly Are Magic Cards, And How Do You Play?

When I was a Kenwood and Evergreen camper, one of my favorite parts of the experience was playing games in our bunk during downtime. No one had thought to bring hand-held electronic game systems to Camp, and no one had yet to invent Iphones or apps. During Rest Period after lunch, and on raining days, we would sit on the floor and actually play. Together. Without digital screens. It was incredible, and one of the ways we got to know each other each summer. We played a lot of board games, including checkers, RISK, battleship and backgammon. Our favorite card game was Spit, though we also played a ton of Gin Rummy and Crazy 8’s.

Thankfully, not that much has changed at K&E during the intervening years. We’re still a pretty unplugged summer camp. Campers are asked to leave their iphones and ipads at home, and are only allowed to bring devices that play music, and are unable to email, text, access the web, view videos, or use any apps. Our counselors are also required to keep their mobile devices outside of the bunks, away from the campers. We make this request of our community because it’s part of our camp community’s culture, but also because of the growing body of research about the importance of developing brains having extended unplugged time.

It usually takes our more plugged-in kids about 24 hours of being at our summer camp in NH before they forget that they even own such things, let alone how attached they become when they are using them at home. And then they (re)discover how lovely life can be without always being tethered to a mobile device. They use their free time for hanging out, being outside, goofy conversations, and a lot of olde school game playing. It’s part of the magic life at our camp in NH. 


This is what free time is like when you spend your summers unplugged with camp friends!

So what are the games that campers and counselors play at Kenwood and Evergreen these days? Many of the board games are the timeless classics: checkers, chess, backgammon, monopoly, and battleship. Spit is still the dominant card game, though Prez, Uno and War are still popular as well. But in the last few years one game kind of appeared out of nowhere and became the unofficial card game at Camp, or at least at Camp Kenwood: it’s called Magic: The Gathering. Most in our camp community refer to it as “Magic Cards”. Few parents seem to have ever heard of it. 


Kenwood campers of many ages spending a Rest Period playing Magic Cards

So what exactly are Magic cards? I must admit that while I’ve watched kids play it for many summers, it was only recently that I came to fully understand the rules and strategy involved. On the same day that I gave one of my kids a deck of Magic cards for Hanukkah this year a long-time K&E parent forwarded me this article:

Like so many others, this Camp parent’s son had never heard of, let alone played, this game before he arrived at Kenwood years ago. In the NYPost article one avid player describes the game as “a cross between chess and poker, where it’s got the strategy of chess, but it’s got the mental, face-to-face aspect of poker”. From what I’ve watched this is a pretty accurate description. So how do you play? Well, I found this step-by-step explanation for beginners that certainly helped me understand the basics of the game better, along with some neat tips for developing winning strategies. I invite you to take a look, especially if your child is new to K&E and has never played this before.


Magic: The Gathering has become so popular that some campers design their own Magic cards in our Digital Photography studio

Please also know that most new Kenwood campers have never played this game before their first summer, and after their introduction this summer many of them will have no interest. That’s certainly OK with us. But since it does have some popularity in our summer camp community, and is often unknown to our newest arrivals, I wanted to make sure that our new parents at least had a chance to learn about Magic: the Gathering.

It is also worth mentioning that while Magic cards have never taken hold in our girls’ camp, last summer a new role playing card game was brought to Evergreen called Sleeping Queens. It became popular almost overnight, and in next Tuesday’s blog I will be writing more about it. Over the next few weeks I will be introducing our new camp families to some other fun insider information about life at our summer camp in NH.

Veteran parents: if there’s anything that you think I should write about for our new camp families (MLB Showdown, Crazy Creeks, Roof and Rafterball, Closing Banquet Clothing, or anything else) PLEASE let me know! 

Founded in 1930, Camps Kenwood and Evergreen is a brother-sister summer camp in NH. Through our innovative program we teach sports, arts, theater, outdoor and adventure, and the 21st century skills that are vital for the world’s future leaders and innovators. 

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