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Pokémon TCG’s Sword & Shield expansion has British whimsy, haunted tea sets and a super-sized Snorlax - hands-on gameplay impressions

Can you Nickitt? (Yes, you can.)

The latest Pokémon Trading Card Game expansion Sword & Shield takes us to Galar, a quaint world rife with verdant fields and British stereotypes. Linked to last year’s Pokémon video game with which it shares its name, the new Pokémon TCG set adds 202 new cards, debuting around 50 Generation VIII Pokémon hailing from the anglophilic area, such as fluffy sheep Wooloo, treat-hungry electric corgi Yamper and a fresh trio of starting Pokémon. But that’s not all.

The Sword & Shield set heralds the introduction of the mighty Pokémon V cards. I witnessed their unveiling firsthand at a Pokémon preview tournament, where they sometimes emerged out of foil booster packs with all the reverence of mythic beasts.

Hefty of hitpoint and savage of attack, these super-sized Pokémon turn the course of battle immediately. Like their Pokémon EX and Pokémon GX predecessors, the V cards are so powerful they grant two prize cards when knocked out - putting you a third of the way to victory, providing you can take the beast down before it wipes too many of your Pokémon.

One of the two Legendary Pokémon V cards making its debut in the new expansion, sword-wielding wolf Zacian can mete out a not too shabby 230 damage in one hit with its attack Brave Blade.

Zamazenta, a Legendary fighting-steel type Pokémon.

The pummeling comes with a disadvantage though, as the action then requires a cooldown for one turn - opening you up to any damage and that potential two-card prize takedown. As I found, battling with the metal wolf itself, the exploitation of elemental weaknesses can push the beast back.

However, Zacian’s Intrepid Sword move lets you attach energy onto the card for free, allowing it to retreat and get a handle on that pesky Brave Blade recharge. It just needs to bide its time.

Other Pokémon V cards also have energy-manipulation tactics, like fire rabbit Victini, whose Spreading Flames move lets you attach up to three energy cards from your discard pile to your Pokémon in any way you fancy. Not just big on brawn, the V cards also open up new push-and-pull-style strategies.

Some of the 17 new Pokémon V cards can then evolve into Pokémon VMAX, turning an already beefy card into a godlike being of volatile energy bursts and one-hit knockouts.

The whimsical world of Galar. | Image credit: The Pokémon Company

The Pokémon VMAX cards represent the Dynamax and Gigantamax forms introduced in the Pokémon Sword and Shield video games, which can grow your Pokémon to humongous proportions during battle. (To give you an idea of the immense scale, the new set includes a Snorlax VMAX sporting a verdant landscape full of tiny trees on its belly.)

As well as having ridiculously high HP, the VMax Pokémon, in turn, give out three prize cards when beaten - making the promise of holy power a very risky ploy indeed.

Four VMAX cards are included with the Sword & Shield expansion, including a Lapras with over 300 HP, and a Morpeko, who looks like a mammoth hamster and is furious to boot.

But not all of Galar's Pokémon are quite as intimidating. A raft of Basic Pokémon from the region have been introduced as part of the expansion, including the delightfully named Sinistea, which has the rather nice Teatime move: commanding both players to draw two cards each. It then evolves into the haunting Polteageist, who metes out an awful lot more damage than its tiny teacup-shaped Basic form.

Staying in the phantasmal vein, V ghost/grass-type Pokémon Dhelmise is described as a ‘sea creeper’ and looks like a haunted anchor, but is actually a mass of predatory seaweed that dishes out 200 damage with its move Giga Hammer.

Some of the 17 new Pokémon V cards can then evolve into Pokémon VMAX, turning an already beefy card into a godlike being of volatile energy bursts and one-hit knockouts.

And on the topic of hefty materials, new earth-type Pokémon Stonjourner is the spitting image of ancient rock arrangement Stonehenge and evolves into a VMAX that can deal over 200 damage, while also packing a nifty earth energy-based heal that recovers 120 HP.

Pokémon from previous generations, but in new forms native to Galar, also make an appearance in Sword & Shield. The Galarian Ponyta, for example, is a psychic-type version of the Pokémon from the original 151. Many older Pokémon make appearances in their familiar forms too, including perennial fan-favourite Pikachu.

One card of particular note is the Viking-flavoured Perrserker, a steel-type evolution of the original cat-like Pokémon Meowth, except it wields a little sword and looks pretty wild.

Along with Godzilla-esque V Max Pokémon, the new expansion for the collectible card game also adds a new rule pertaining to supporter cards. These are mostly depicted as characters from the Pokémon world, such as former gym trainer and Ash’s companion Brock, and can enable all sorts of abilities, such as unearthing specific Pokémon from your deck or getting an extra energy boost.

Now, due to a new rule introduced to the Pokémon Trading Card Game in Sword & Shield, the first player can no longer lay a supporter card down on their starting turn - a canny move for many.

This means that following the card game’s opening coin flip, the person who wins might decide to wait for the second turn to get a useful supporter down immediately.

(To give you an idea of the immense scale, the new set includes a Snorlax VMAX sporting a verdant landscape full of tiny trees on its belly.)

The new supporter rule can also balance the odds somewhat for the second player, potentially making battles a little less punishing when you’re learning how to play the Pokémon TCG.

Pokémon Sword & Shield expansion adds a few notable new supporter cards, such as Hop, which lets you draw three cards, and character Bede, who can attach a basic energy card from your hand onto a benched Pokémon. Drawing this card can give you quite the advantage when it comes to powering up, say, a Pokémon V you have biding its time on the bench.

Overall, I enjoyed my time playing the new Sword & Shield expansion. Particularly wielding the leviathan Pokémon V and VMAX, as well as watching with equal parts dread and anticipation as my opponents inevitably prepared theirs. Never has the other player's back bench looked quite so alarming.

The combination of Pokémon new, old and unique to the ecosystem, plus cards packing plenty of cartoonish Blighty stereotypes, make for a delightful introduction to the whimsical world of Galar, where gargantuan Pokémon sprout up spontaneously on bucolic pastures framed with steel.

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