Getting started with the Pokémon TCG


Pokémon is the only franchise that has achieved the holy quaternity for a media franchise:

  • A long-running TV series
  • Successful video games
  • A mainstream board or card game
  • Lots of merchandising

While Star Wars is close, it has always been predominantly a movie franchise, with the TV series being less important. Star Wars has also had less success in the mainstream video game and board/card game market. Yes, Fantasy Flight Games’ X-Wing has been the best-sold miniatures game, but that’s still a niche market. The Star Wars CCG was short lived during the ’90s TCG craze.

So, on to Pokémon. I remember my little brother collecting cards 20 years ago, but I only really got exposed to the phenomenon when my five-year old son started watching the TV series, and then got the Pokémon Let’s Go video game for the Nintendo Switch, which we played through together. The logical next step was getting started with the Pokémon TCG.

Game mechanics

I have played quite a bit of Magic: the Gathering – competitively in the Ice Age and Mirage blocks (including attending the first ever European Pro Tour in Paris as visitor), then casually for a few years after that. The Pokémon TCG was also designed by Wizards of the Coast, so some of the basic mechanics are similar. You need an energy source (lands in M:tG), there are trainer cards similar to instants and enchantments, and the goal is to knock out six of your opponent’s Pokémon with your own Pokémon. Luckily, the basic mechanics are a bit simpler than those of Magic (e.g. no stack of events, only one Pokémon is active), which makes it accessible for elementary school-aged kids – but it’s not a shallow game that offers little interest to grown-ups. Of course, it suffers from feature and power creep a bit, with more recent sets offering more powerful Pokémon and more complex mechanics.

Unlike Magic, there are many more cards that allow you to draw cards or search your deck for specific cards, so it is generally easier to get a combo to work. But drawing too little or only energy can still be a bit frustrating. For a more comprehensive look at the mechanics, check out this review on BGG.

Pokémon TCG online

If you want to get started with the Pokémon TCG, I suggest starting out online. The game is free to download for Windows, Max OS, Android, and iOS. It comes with a few starter decks and teaches the game mechanics against AI opponents. You can of course also play against real people and even take part in short three-round tournaments. You can win in-game currency for buying new decks and card packs, or of course spend real money to do so. The game works really well both on Windows and Android. I’m not interested in Standard game play that used the latest sets, due to the money expenditure involved, but playing with the pre-constructed theme decks is a lot of fun. You can view the deck contents before buying, so you can get a good idea of how a deck works before spending your hard-earned (in-game) money.

Real cards

If you want to get started with playing with real cards, I suggest the Pokémon Battle Academy box, especially in a family setting where you want to teach the game to your kids. The Battle Academy is affordably priced, comes with three pre-constructed decks, and a board for placing your cards in the right spot. From there on, the next step are the pre-constructed V decks. These can be bought individually or in sets of two. What’s great about all these decks and boxes is that they come with a code that can be redeemed in the online game, providing access to the same cards there. The final step is buying individual boosters and building your own decks, but this is where it can become expensive quickly. Unless you are interested in tournament play, I would stick to the theme decks and maybe customize them a bit.

Verdict

The Pokémon TCG is a fun, approachable trading card game with mechanics that closely mimic those of the video games. I think that the basics can be grasped by a six-year old with an interest in Pokémon. Younger kids who cannot yet read will need help with understanding what the different cards do, and those slightly older with understanding combos or cards in a foreign language (as the game is not available in e.g. Dutch). The availability of the free-to-play online version is a big plus, and you can have plenty of fun there having to spend money (or shuffle a deck).

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