Isolation Day 174 Game: Pokémon TCG

My daughter has been expressing interest in playing the Pokémon TCG (Trading Card Game) off and on for years. Mostly on when I can’t play and mostly off when I’m ready to try it out, or when we’ve brought it with us on a road trip to stay somewhere, or have watched videos on how to set it up and play it, etc.

Today the planets aligned and we finally cracked it open.

A brief bit of background here: a TCG is a game where you generally buy a pre-made deck of cards that’s ready to be played right out of the box, and for which you can buy “booster” packs of cards, with a much smaller count per pack. The idea is that over time and with more playing experience, you can mix and match cards from any pre-made decks you have plus the cards from your booster packs in order to create your own decks to play against opponents. It’s a TCG in that you can trade cards with other players and, well, collect them.

In this case, the game is all about the insanely popular Pokémon universe, where seemingly endless reams of (often pretty cute) monsters are pitted against each other in kid-friendly battle.

I’ve played a lot of TCGs in my day, but Pokémon as pretty much a whole was new to me, and every TCG is at least a bit different than others. So for starters I’d purchased two pre-made “theme” decks–theme in that pre-fab TCG decks are made with a specific faction or group or colour or power, etc., of cards in mind that are intended to work well together. A newbie wouldn’t know how to do that yet, so theme decks it is.

We watched a couple of videos on how to get started and play and we were off.

Gameplay is pretty straight-forward, and will be somewhat familiar to anyone who’s played Magic: The Gathering (the granddaddy of all TCGs). You take the starting number of cards for your hand and you lay out monster cards in designated zones on your side of the table, and each player takes turns fueling up their monsters with the right type of energy card needed to power their unique attacks or effects. As one monster is “knocked out” (defeated) by an opponent, another monster from the “bench” zone comes forward and becomes the active monster to attack with and that will be attacked.

While the “basic” mode of monsters is all that can be brought into play initially, players can then “evolve” the monsters in order to upgrade their health and attacks.

As the opponent’s monsters are knocked out, the active player gets to pick up a prize card from a set of six of their own deck cards put aside face-down in the game setup. A player wins when they’ve picked up all six of their prize cards, or when an opponent has no more monsters to bring up from the bench to be the active monster, or when an opponent has no more deck cards to draw from.

Aside from a couple of small, unclear issues we worked out together and us both noticing it was taking longer than expected to play–mind you, such is the way for playing any tabletop game you’re just learning–my daughter and I generally enjoyed playing the game. I suspect she liked it more in no small part because starting about 2/3 of the way through, her deck really started clicking together and she roundly and soundly kicked my ass.

I admit I was a bit frustrated with how my deck (Burning Spark, the iconic Pikachu-themed Energy deck) wasn’t working well. It may have been pure (bad) luck of the draw, which happens to everyone sometimes. But I found myself drawing monster after monster through the game yet badly lacking much energy that those monsters needed in order to attack. The result was me offering up monsters for my daughter to wail on–she seemed to have no trouble with drawing enough energy cards to power her attacks–and sometimes I was finally able to power up mine to be able to attack, but they were so damaged from her attacks by that point that I either had to eat their loss (which discards any energy cards on them) or move them back to the bench to prevent them getting knocked out, which lets a player bring up a different monster from the bench and into play, but which comes at a cost of… you guess it, having to discard an energy card or two from the retreating monster.

With only the one game played so far, I don’t know if it was just a bad shuffle, or if it’s something actually unbalanced about the deck itself. I’d imagine it’s the former rather than the latter, because the company that puts out this game is the same one that created Magic: The Gathering. In other words, they’ve been making TCGs longer than anyone else. If anyone can make a balanced theme deck, it’s going to be those guys.

There’s also just play styles involved as well. It may take some tweaking of the Burning Sparks deck in order to get it to a point where it feels better to me personally. And what works for my tastes may not work well for anyone else. That’s part of the beauty (and on the flip side, often the lure of buying more and more cards) of TCGs: As long as you construct decks that adhere to card limit rules, the sky’s the limit on what you put together to play with. And there’s a lot of fun to be had in winning a game with a deck you put together yourself from the ground up.

That all said, I’m sure we’ll play again, and soon. Same place, same decks, and hopefully a better shuffle.