Each and every summer, a group of ordinary-looking Hong Kong people draw their swords, cast a spell and fly off to a distant land to meet other fanatical players of Magic: The Gathering, a trading-card game that has captured players' imaginations in more than 70 countries. Making its debut in August 1993, the game is now available in 10 languages, and there are more than seven million active players all over the world, according to its manufacturer in the United States. In Hong Kong, there are more than 800 players who participate in regional and national tournaments every year. Facing challenges from about 130 card games using famous icons like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Pokemon, Magic: The Gathering still holds the lead. It is estimated that several billion Magic cards are in circulation. A full set of Magic contains more than 6,000 cards. Each features a distinctive character, like a warrior, elf, wizard and other magical creatures. The number increases every year as new cards are released. The cards allow the holder to perform different acts like attacking, healing, and providing resources for other actions. A standard game starts with two players each having 20 points and 60 cards. Beginners may start with fewer cards. Players build up their own deck of pre-selected cards for various moves and must reduce their opponent's score to zero. To die-hard players, Magic is more than a game; it is a state of mind, to some even a way of life. 'It's all about strategy, tactics and diplomacy,' said Kingston Tong King-yim, a first year student at the Polytechnic University who has been devoted to the game for more than six years, and collected almost 4,000 cards. 'You have to calculate your resources and risks while arranging your own deck of cards, and watch each step of your opponent all the way. It grows ever more fascinating with the addition of new cards and new combinations over time.' Tong travelled to Malaysia and Taiwan to compete in public tournaments while he was in secondary school, and flies to Berlin next month to compete in the world championships as one of four finalists from the Hong Kong/Macau SAR National Championships. 'It feels great to be able to prove your competence in front of the world, and see how far you can go,' said Tong. Support for the yearly tournament comes from DCI, a non-profit making organisation promoting the game worldwide. The Hong Kong national champion this year, Teddy Ng Chi-fai, 36, who is now working as a colour analyst, said the international tournament is an inspiring cultural experience. He has joined tournaments in Japan, the United States, Britain, and Southeast Asian countries since he started playing the game in 1995. He now has an 8,000-strong army of cards. 'Hong Kong players are well-known for their flexibility and spontaneity, but very weak in creativity and originality,' said Mr Ng. 'We usually copy structures of decks from the Internet because we don't have the time or patience to develop our own. 'It's even worse among most of the younger players because they don't even have the motivation to perfect their skills. They believe in luck rather than skill,' he said. Tong concurred: 'In the United States or most of the European countries, people are generally more serious about their games and hobbies. Game manufacturers pay people to excel in them and contribute ideas in developing games. But in Hong Kong, people are only interested in their work and there is little room for hobbies to that extent,' said Mr Tong. 'Maybe it is also that we are less creative and innovative. We ought to have a society that is more appreciative of non-financial things if we want a change.' 'Friday Night Magic', a regular local tournament, is held every week at the following venues: Toyland Castle, Whampoa Garden; Hobby City, North Point; 202 Store, Western District; American Sportswear, Cheung Sha Wan. See www.wizards.com to learn more about the game.