(If you still haven’t tried this game, and you’re a TCG nerd like Brandon Scott, then here’s an article reminding you what you’re missing out on right now. It’s free to play online!)
Originally Published: July 7th, 2021
Frequent readers will be familiar with my love of Magic: The Gathering. But I’ve recently been playing the Pokémon TCG. And, for your entertainment, I’ll dispense some of my initial impressions of the game. People who know the game well, please enjoy laughing at my ignorance. For people interested in playing for the first time, here are five things I’ve learned after a few weeks.
#1: The Player Who Wins Sticks the Biggest Pokémon on The Board.
The pool of cards I’m working with is not big, it’s not impressive, and it’s got few rare cards. But the games I do win—and often the games I lose—come down to a simple idea: having two powerful Pokémon, one on the bench, one active.
As far as I understand it, you want to get to where you have a haymaker. You want a Pokémon that can deal absurd damage turn after turn, and then a second one that can come in if the first one somehow is beaten. Then you set up a third to come in if it happens again. Every other non-Energy card essentially functions to make this more possible or upset your opponent’s attempts to do the same.
#2: Winning Builds Momentum.
In a lot of games, it feels like it’s over way sooner than when the game ends. If there’s no decent backup Pokémon when your strongest goes down, you end up hemorrhaging Prize cards as they pick off support Pokémon. Because the opponent is getting more cards for each knockout, their winnings snowball and bury you deeper. Only by having very specific Item or Trainor cards have I ever been able to pull out of a bad tailspin.
#3 Balancing This Game Must Be a Nightmare.
Because everything but Trainor cards and bench size has no hard limit (besides deck size), the makers must have so much trouble avoiding nightmarish one-hit knockout decks coming into existence. Yu-Gi-Oh has this same issue, as there’s no limit on Spell Cards you can play in a turn. I looked over some of the best decks in Standard and was somewhat shocked to find that more than half a deck is just Support, Item, and Trainor cards. Between Switch, Boss’s Orders, and Quick Ball, this entire game seems to be setting up a few optimum Pokémon attacks on the back of massive card advantage engines.
#4: Weaknesses Are an Unfun Mechanic.
Maybe this is to incentivize not playing only one Type. Even so, making certain Pokémon deal double damage to others leads to yet more snowballing. Until recently, I had only good Water cards. Which meant, hilariously or not so much (for them), when I went against someone who’s using Fire types, I floored them. But, when I had to deal with Electric Type decks, I just lost instantly. Like, I get that type-advantage is core to Pokémon, but why does it almost always have to double the damage? Can’t it just add ten or something? I get why health points have gotten absurdly high.
#5: The Game Is Easy to Learn, Hard to Master.
Pokémon turns out to be a masterpiece in being simple enough that kids can play, but complex enough for players like me to explore interesting strategies. Magic requires an encyclopedia to understand, while Pokémon took me all of ten minutes to grasp the basics. From the way it does mulligans, to the hard deck size rules, to even the copywriting on the cards, it removes the unnecessary choices and complications. It lets players focus on using cool Pokémon with big attacks.
If you’re a parent and your kid’s showing interest in this game, let them play it. It’ll teach them strategies and planning. And, if you’re an adult and worried the game won’t be any fun: don’t be. It’s popular for a good reason.
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