The Pokemon Trading Card game exists in two separate forms. As you may know, the Pokemon phenomenon began with a video game, which then evolved into a television show (in Japan, at least, though I believe it was released the other way around in the United States). The Gameboy games have gone through several different incarnations (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Gold, Silver, and Crystal), and this is just the original RPG style of the game.

In January of 1999, it came about that Wizards of the Coast teamed up with Nintendo to release a Pokemon TCG. For those who are aware of WotC's work with games like Magic, Pokemon takes a very different approach. The rules are fairly simple (as opposed to Magic), which, in my opinion, makes the game play less interesting, since it gets old pretty quick.

The current sets of Pokemon TCG, from the WotC web site, are as follows:

  1. Base Set
  2. Jungle
  3. Fossil
  4. Base Set 2 (contains cards from Base Set and Jungle)
  5. Team Rocket
  6. Gym Heroes
  7. Gym Challenge
  8. Southern Islands Collection
  9. Neo Genesis
  10. Neo Discovery
  11. Neo Revelation
  12. Neo Destiny
There are also several promotional cards released at the Pokemon movies, another example of the brilliant inclusive advertisement campaign of Pokemon.

The thing I found most interesting about the series though, is that the card game has been remade into another Gameboy game, Pokemon Trading Card Game. I found it pretty odd that a game that began as a Gameboy game was reincarnated into a card game and then had another game based on that very card game. I have played the Gameboy card game (a ROM, I assure you, I don't think I would ever buy this game, or any cards for that matter), and that is where the following information is drawn from.

The Story: You are a young Pokemon TCG player, eager to become the very best. You must travel to the eight different gyms and play cards against the gym leaders to acquire their badges. Once you have their badge, you can open new deck machines which allow you to use your cards to build premade decks. The overall goal of the game is to get all eight medals, which earns you entrance into the Pokemon Dome, where you must defeat the four grandmasters and Ronald, your archnemesis, to earn the legendary Pokemon cards. Basically, for you Pokemon buffs, the story is exactly the same as that of Pokemon, only it's much less in depth, and there are fewer trainers to battle, and the story is basically non-existant (and non-linear).

A basic round in Pokemon TCG consists of three steps, which will be explained more in depth in the card type descriptions:

  1. Draw a card
  2. Put cards from your hand into play
  3. Attack with the active Pokemon
There are four different types of cards in Pokemon. There are Energy Cards, Basic Pokemon cards, Evolution cards, and Trainer cards.

  • Energy Cards - Energy cards are basically the equivalent of lands in Magic. You attach an energy card to a Pokemon to power it up. Only one energy card may be attached per turn. On each Pokemon, there is a list of its abilities and the energy required to use it. Energy is not used up in the process, but there are ways to remove energy cards from Pokemon forcibly.

    There are 6 basic types of energy cards, corresponding to the six types of pokemon, after which I listed the weaknesses of a Pokemon of that type, as well, since this is a good place to do that.

    1. Fire (weak against Water)
    2. Water (weak against Lightning)
    3. Lightning (weak against Fighting)
    4. Grass (weak against Fire)
    5. Psychic (weak against Psychic, maybe)
    6. Fighting (weak against Psychic or Grass, depending on the Pokemon)

  • Basic Pokemon - Basic pokemon are the base forms of a Pokemon, which are generally weaker than their evolved forms. The bench consists of five spaces for Pokemon and one space for the active pokemon. Only basic Pokemon may be placed on the bench. Each Basic Pokemon, like each Evolution card, has a certain amount of HP (always a multiple of ten - generally counters on a pokemon that represent damage represent ten damage), and when that Pokemon has taken as much damage as it has HP, it is sent to the discard pile (even though, unlike Magic, Pokemon TCG has no discard step if you have an excess of cards in your hand). Each card also has parts on it that say the Pokemon's resistance and weakness. For instance, a Fire pokemon might have a weakness for water, but a Water pokemon might have a resistance for Fire and a weakness for Lightning. If a Pokemon has resistance to a type, attacks of that type do twenty less damage, and if the Pokemon has a weakness to a type, damage done by attacks of that type is doubled.

    There are two types of abilities that Pokemon can use. There are the normal attacks, which require energy cards to use, and there are Pokemon Powers. Regular attacks can be anything from doing twenty damage for having one Fighting energy attached to a Hitmonchan to putting someone to sleep for having a Psychic energy card on Drowzee. There is a lot of coin flipping involved in attacks. Many attacks base the success of the attack (i.e., to determine if the opponent is paralyzed) on the success of a coin toss. You may only have one active Pokemon at any time, and it may only make one attack each turn, and this must be at the end of the turn.

    Pokemon Powers are generally activated automatically and require only that the Pokemon be awake or unparalyzed or something of that nature. An example would be Blastoise's Rain Dance, which lets Blastoise's owner play as many energy cards as s/he wants each turn provided that all of the energy cards after the first one are Water cards. Pokemon Powers are generally found on Evolution cards.

  • Evolution Cards - Basic Pokemon are not enough to win battles. Evolution cards are used to increase the power of a Pokemon's attacks. For example, the basic Pokemon Goldeen does only ten damage with its one attack, whereas the Evolution card, Seaking, may be placed on Goldeen, and then Seaking's Waterfall attack does thirty damage. The trade-off is that the stronger attacks on evolved Pokemon require more energy cards. An evolution card may not be played on the same turn that a Pokemon was placed on the bench or evolved. Also, each evolution card is specific to a certain Pokemon, so you can play Seaking on Goldeen, but not on Magikarp. There are also some Evolution cards that act on Pokemon that are already evolved - for example, Squirtle is evolved into Wartortle, which can then be evolved into Blastoise. This takes three turns, one to place the basic pokemon, one to evolve to the first evolution, and one to evolve to the second evolution.

  • Trainer Cards - Trainer cards can make or break the deck. They consist of such things as Energy Removal, which removes an energy card from the opponent's Pokemon, and Bill, which lets you draw two cards. They create some sorely needed diversity in the game, and help to keep it interesting. These are the cards that more closely resemble Magic cards, but even so, they are generally much more simple than anything one would see in Magic. You may play as many Trainer cards in one turn as you like, but overstacking your deck will result in a lack of Pokemon to use them on.

The game can end in three ways.

  • A player runs out of cards, in which case, s/he loses.
  • A player has no Pokemon on the bench, in which case, s/he loses. (in the event of an initial draw that has no basic pokemon, the hand is reshuffled into the deck, and the player draws seven new cards)
  • A player collects all of the prizes, in which case, s/he wins.
In the Gameboy game, matches are played for two, four, or six prizes, depending on who you're playing against. These prizes are just cards taken from your deck at the beginning of the game and placed to the side. Whenever you send one of your opponent's pokemon to the discard pile (whether it is the active pokemon or a benched pokemon - generally you can't attack benched pokemon, but there are certain abilities that can do that), you get to pick one of your prizes and place it in your hand. If you draw all of your prizes, you win the game.

Other rules are reminiscient of Magic. You draw seven cards in the beginning of the game. Unlike Magic, though, your deck must consist of exactly sixty cards.

The game is very interesting, and while I wouldn't recommend rushing out to buy it, it is entertaining enough as a temporary distraction.

Also, WWWWolf pointed out that the card game is a gateway drug to Magic and other sinister games.

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