The Pokémon franchise is arguably one of the largest, most popular franchises in the world today. It has spawned several generations of games, hundreds of episodes of anime, over a dozen movies, and merchandise of all kinds. The Pokémon franchise has gained such wide popularity that in 2008 scientist even named a newly discovered protein in the human body “Pikachurin” after the series mascot Pikachu. Most important to today’s topic however, the Pokémon franchise has created its own spin off trading card game series.
When the trading card game was first introduced, I remember the lines of people as I waited to buy booster packs. Everyone wanted them, and they quickly became both hard to find and very collectible. The feeling of opening up a pack and finding a shiny was almost incomparable to anything else at the time. Unfortunately I never actually learned how to PLAY the game. I didn’t mind much, I was happy being a collector, plus everyone I knew that collected Pokémon cards was also strictly a collector. A little over a year after the Initial North American release of the card game, a Gameboy Color adaptation was localized and would go on to sell over 1.5 million copies in its first year. It had proven to be insanely popular, and after playing it, I can see why. It follows the rules and gameplay of the actual card game very faithfully, as well as replicating nearly all of the official cards released to date.
So, with little knowledge of how to play, let’s dive in and see what I’ve been missing all these years.
The legendary Pokémon trading cards, I must have them. I’ll just stop at GameStop on the way home from work and pick them up. What do you mean I can’t pick them up at GameStop? How else do you get legendary Pokémon? BY BEING THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD?! But… I’ve never even played the trading card game before…
Thankfully, the game starts with a nice tutorial battle to teach you the basics. If you’re interested you can find full tutorials on the Pokémon website if you want more details on how to play.
For just the basics, you each play with a deck of 60 cards. You draw 7 cards into your hand, and place between 2 – 6 cards down as prizes for when you knock out an opponent’s Pokémon. During your turn, you draw a card and can place 1 Pokémon in play and up to 5 Pokémon on the bench. Each turn you can attach 1 energy card to your Pokémon which is needed to perform attacks. You can also play trainer cards, which have various effects like healing your Pokémon or searching your deck for specific cards. You end your turn by attacking, if you have enough energy, and then it’s your opponent’s turn. The match continues with this back and forth until one player either collects all of their prizes for knocking out the opponent’s Pokémon, or if the opponent doesn’t have any more Pokémon on the bench to send into play.
After you finish the tutorial match, you are presented with the most difficult task of any Pokémon game. You have to choose your starter. I love all three of the original starters for different reasons, but I’m going to pick my favorite starter, Charmander. The starter deck you get from Dr Mason isn’t a great deck, but it will get you through the first few battles until you can customize it yourself.
Here is where the Pokémon trading card game differs greatly from the rest of the main series Pokémon games, or even just RPGs in general. There is no linear story. Your goal is to go to each of the 8 clubs and challenge the club masters so you can win their medal, similar to the gyms and gym badges from the main series. Once you’ve collected all 8, you will be allowed to challenge the 4 Grand Masters, similar to the Elite Four. However, since the cards themselves don’t gain levels or become stronger, the only thing that separates a rookie player from a pro player is the balance of their deck. As such, you are free to challenge any of the clubs, in any order, at any time right from the start. There’s no world to explore, there’s no subplot to complete, there’s no towns to visit or anything. There is just the world map with the 8 clubs and a very small handful of important locations.
All of the clubs are laid out in the same way. You enter the club to an empty lobby with the exception of a receptionist who will give you some information about the club. To the left is a lounge with a few NPCs to talk to, as well as the link counter and a computer. Occasionally one of the club members will be hanging out in here as well and challenge you to a match.
Heading up from the lobby brings you into the Clubroom. Here is where you will have most of your duels and where you will challenge each of the club masters. You can’t challenge the master right away though. Most of them require you to challenge all of the other members first before they will duel you. Some of them are a bit more annoying with their requests, like the fighting club master who sent his members off to the other clubs to train. You have to FIND them before you can even challenge them.
When you first start out, even the regular members are going to be tricky since your starting deck isn’t all that great. Thankfully, every time you beat a club member, you are rewarded with 2 booster packs full of random cards. You can also have rematches with any of the club members as many times as you want until you build up a deck you are happy with.
I had a bit of difficulty making a good deck. You really do need to have a theme behind it for it to be functional. At first, I tried a fire & psychic theme, since the love the ghost types, but that didn’t work out too well for me. Eventually I settled on a pure fire deck, and that ended up lasting me for most of the game with only minor adjustments.
Once you have a good deck made, go ahead and challenge the Club Master. The Club Masters play just like any of the regular members, except they use 6 prizes and have a slightly better balanced deck. But since there are no levels, once you beat one Club Master, you’re pretty much good to challenge any of the other clubs. You might need to make small adjustments to work around type disadvantage, but that’s about it. My fire deck had some trouble in the water club, but even then it was well balanced enough that I was able to win with it. If you want, Dr Mason even has a machine that will copy the deck of any club member as long as you have that club’s medal. It very helpful if you’re not sure how to make a good deck yourself.
did you really name your deck after yourself? that’s so lame.
Since the game is nonlinear, it also has very little story. The only thing that really breaks up the gameplay any is the occasional challenge from your rival, Ronald. He will show up and challenge you in the lobby after winning certain numbers of medals, and if you beat him he will give you a rare promo card. Otherwise, he lacks much character depth and is just another random opponent.
Once you collect all 8 medals, it’s time to face off against the 4 Grand Masters. Again, because there are no levels, these 4 play just like every other battle, and if you’ve made it this far, they shouldn’t give you much trouble.
The only thing that makes this different from other battles is that you’re not allowed to leave the table until you’ve beaten all four of them in a row. But don’t worry, you’re still allowed to save and adjust your deck in between battles. You just won’t be able to go around collecting lots of new cards, so it’s not a big deal.
As is tradition, once you beat the 4 Grand Masters, you are told you were too late, and someone else has already beaten them, your rival. Since he already beat the masters, he is currently in possession of all of the legendary cards. No reason to worry though, while the legendary cards are powerful, they also take a long time to set up. Once you knock one of them out, it seemed unlikely he would recover from the blow.
Beat your rival one last time, and OH MY GOD THE CARDS ARE MAGIC! Are all the cards magic or just the legendary ones? Whatever the case may be, congratulations, you have become the greatest Pokémon Trading Card Game Master in the world and completed the game.
Gameplay – 8 / 10
I’ll admit I was addicted to this game while I was playing it. Everything was really simple and easy to pick up. Then there’s just an evil joy to using your Charizard to do 100 damage to a Rattata that only has 30 health. The only real fault I have with the actual gameplay is a fault present in all card games and board games. So much of your strategy boils down to luck. You’re lucky when you get a Pokémon and its evolutions all in your hand at once. You’re lucky when you flip a coin and get 3 heads in a row for maximum damage. You’re unlucky when you flip a coin and get tails and your Pokémon doesn’t wake up from being put to sleep. One of the club leaders I lost to after 40 rounds because we were very evenly matched. On the rematch I beat him on the 3rd turn because I had a lucky hand and he didn’t. There’s just nothing you can really do about it in a game like this though.
Graphics – 8 / 10
It’s a Gameboy Color game, so you can’t be expecting realistic CGI graphics or anything fancy like that. It’s good for what it is and you can’t expect much more from it. Where it really shines though is with the Pokémon cards themselves. Since they’re based on the real world cards, they managed to capture the image of each card the best they could and to great success given the limitations of the system.
Audio – 6 / 10
There was nothing particularly wrong with the audio. The music was pleasant, and fit the game nicely, and the sound effects were spot on. It’s just that nothing really stood out as memorable. To be honest, I can already barely remember the soundtrack, and I just finished playing it.
Story – 2 / 10
This is where the game really failed. The story is so shallow as to be non-existent. You want the legendary cards, and the only way to get them is to be the best in the world. So that’s what you do. You also have a rival, who also wants the legendary cards, and is given no further character development beyond that point. The fact that it’s just a card game is no excuse for a lack of story. The Yu-Gi-Oh card game series for example has you protecting the world from reincarnated Egyptian gods through playing the card game. So story IS possible in card games.
Overall Score – 8 / 10
Overall, I really enjoyed this game. Even with the shallow story, it didn’t take anything away from the total experience. It a fun game that is easy to pick up, but has a lot of depth and customization. I had never played the Pokémon card game before this, but it was a wonderful experience and I might have to start collecting again. My poor wallet, please forgive me.
Total Deaths – I never DIED. I wasn’t playing poker in the old west or anything. But my final record was – 47 Wins – 14 Loses
Total Playtime – 11h 40m
11 hours is a good length. Any longer and I think it might have become repetitive. There is still more to do after you beat the game though. You can still go around challenging club members to try to collect all of the cards. There’s also the challenge hall and challenge machine for some additional, well, challenges. So you could easily keep playing for hours more after you beat the game.
With 35% of all the knockouts in my playthrough (yes I counted all of them) Arcanine is my Pokémon Trading Card Game MVP. He requires a little time to set up, but with 80 damage, the take down attack was able to knock out most of the opponents Pokémon in one hit. Yes it causes 30 points of self inflicted damage, but with 100 health and a few potions, it was worth it. The flamethrower attack was also well worth the 1 fire energy cost to use and caused good damage on its own with 50 damage, enough to take out many of the weaker Pokémon, or 2 hit KO nearly any other pokemon.
I hope you enjoyed The Pokémon Trading Card Game. If you did, like and follow me on Facebook. Also leave your comments, suggestions, and recommendations. If you’re feeling real generous, you can even donate to help me keep the site going. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next time.