From JRPG-style turn-based battles to match 3 puzzle games, the experience of Pokemon battling each other has been translated into basically every game genre. My favourite of the bunch? Tabletop card game.
Yes, I understand that there’s a little bit of recency bias at play. I only started playing Pokemon Trading Card Game a few months ago. Even so, the way in which I have invested my time and brain power towards playing the game, buying the cards, and understand the nuances of combat is beyond anything I’ve put into any other Pokemon game.
Here are the aspects of the Pokemon Trading Card Game experience that I find incredibly captivating!
Adapts the sensation of traditional Pokemon battling as a card game
When playing a mainline Pokemon game, two trainers manage their squad of Pokemon through turn-based matches. The main combat area is where our pocket monsters fight while the others are on the sidelines, ready to enter the fray when called upon. Managing which moves you perform during each turn and what order to play your Pokemon are just some of the key considerations a trainer must make in order to score the victory.
The Pokemon Trading Card Game isn’t an exact translation of the video game experience, but it’s close enough to feel familiar. Each deck includes cards that represent your Pokemon. Much of the action takes place in Active space, where two opposing Pokemon duel, just like the video game. And just like the source material, the moves you use in battle and the ways in which you maneuver your Pokemon in-and-out of battle will be vital to your success.
While it shares the same framework as the video games, I enjoy the card game more for what it does differently from the source material. The rest of this post will focus on its key differentiators that make the card game more exciting for me.
In the video games, most of a Pokemon’s attacks can be performed at any time without any restrictions. In the card game, Pokemon can only perform moves that they meet the energy requirements for.
Generally speaking, you can only add one energy card to one of your Pokemon during your turn. But when most moves require multiple energy and the best moves require a lot of energy, managing its distribution becomes a core tenet of the card game.￼
And that’s before factoring in how your opponent is distributing their energy. How do you distribute your energy to counteract what they’re doing? Better yet, how can you distribute your energy in a way that puts you in the driver’s seat?
Pokemon Evolution Management
Unlike the video games, Pokemon in the card game can only enter the play area in their base forms. Once per turn, a Pokemon can evolve one step. For two-stage evolutions, you’ll need to evolve them over the course of two turns.
Evolved Pokemon generally give you a health boost and access to more powerful moves. But do you have enough time to evolve your lowly Charmander to the mighty Charmander GX with and provide it with enough energy to perform its devastating Flare Blitz GX move?
Having to manage the development of your Pokemon makes for an exciting resource management exercise throughout. Sometimes it’s worth it to let some Pokemon act as meat shields until your most powerful Pokemon is ready. Other times, lower-level versions of a Pokemon may prove more beneficial in the long run due to having access to moves that its final form won’t or by simply being available to land a knockout blow in a pinch.
Active vs. Bench
All of the action in the video game version of Pokemon occurs on the battlefield where opposing monsters do battle. The trading card game has a similar area called the Active space, but it also introduces the concept of a bench.
Located outside of the active space, the bench is an area where you can place five other Pokemon. From here, Pokemon can move into the active spot, accumulate energy, evolve, and activate their abilities without being in the direct line of fire…most of the time.
Compared to the video games where you only control the one Pokemon within its equivalent of the Active space, I find the process of managing Pokemon across the Active and Bench spaces to be more fulfilling. Having more variables to manage gives me a greater sense of control over the battle.
Though the Bench is primarily used as a space to energize Pokemon before they enter the Active space, I love it when the Bench gets involved in the battle. For example, one Pidgeotto card features the Air Mail ability, allowing it to draw two cards from your deck and allowing you to add one of those two to your hand. Some water Pokemon such as Empoleon, Inteleon, and Cramorant have the ability to snipe Pokemon on the opposing bench. As a counter to bench sniping, at least one Mew card can block all incoming bench damage. While the game technically doesn’t have tag team battles, the dynamics between the Active and Bench Pokemon make for a battle that’s oftentimes won through a team effort!
The experience of learning and building a deck
I started my journey with official theme decks and it was fascinating to figure out how to best use each one. Even now, I still enjoy unlocking decks in the digital game and learning how to maximize the performance of every deck I use.
If you want to invest in the experience further – both intellectually and financially – you can build your own decks or modify pre-made decks with other cards. With every new card I get, I’m constantly thinking about how it can impact a game and when I can test it out. And with so many different cards available, the possibilities are vast!
Unfortunately, I can’t directly compare the experiences of creating a competitive Pokemon team in the video games. I simply fight with whatever Pokemon I catch along the way and sometimes shuffle my squad around to accommodate for type advantage when it’s convenient. If I ever cool off from the trading card game, maybe I’ll look into more into the process.
When it comes to the concept of Pokemon engaging in battle, the trading card game is my favourite realization of that idea. I’m completely enamored with the way that it plays and the myriad of ways that it can be expanded upon. If you enjoy the Pokemon franchise – particularly the video games – you may enjoy the card game adaptation as much as I do!
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