I’ve always loved Pokémon. Ever since my parents made the grave error of gifting me a Game Boy, a cartridge of Pokémon Blue and a bright green t-shirt with the words “Attraprez-les tous!” - or Gotta Catch ‘em All! - emblazoned on the front, I’ve had a great affection for the franchise. Despite my passion for all things Pokémon - which drove me to stand in a line of children at a Build-A-Bear shop just to get a plush Charmander - I’ve only recently started playing the Pokémon Trading Card Game.
Considering that the beloved card game has been receiving new expansions and mechanics for almost 30 years now, it’s easy to come to the Pokémon TCG with a certain feeling of trepidation. Where do you begin with a game that’s had nigh on three decades to become more bloated than a Snorlax with a gluten intolerance? Not to mention the multitude of issues players are currently facing with hordes of scalpers scooping up any and all Pokémon cards that they can find, which is subsequently resulting in some extremely expensive Pokémon cards, and shipping delays making it very difficult to get ahold of booster packs and the like.
Luckily enough, the Pokémon TCG Online app has provided me with the perfect way of getting to grips with things like the basic rules, deck creation and competitive play. Pokémon TCG Online has proven to be a really accessible entry-point for someone who isn’t hugely versed in trading card games and whose knowledge of Pokémon, up to this point, hasn’t really extended beyond the mainline video games and Pokémon: The First Movie - the latter of which I’d prefer to forget.
Certainly, the initial impression that the Pokémon TCG Online app gives is far from appealing. Its design and art style look like they both belong to a free browser game from the mid-2000s, rather than the official digital version of one of the most popular trading card games in existence. Creating a profile for the app is far from intuitive either, as you have to go onto a website separate from the app itself to complete the process. Even when you’ve managed to create an account you can still experience issues - Dicebreaker editor-in-chief Matt continues to struggle with logging into his account, despite requesting multiple verification emails.
The Pokémon TCG app is an excellent tool for learning the ropes.
Nonetheless, once you’ve managed to overcome those particularly garish hurdles, then you discover that Pokémon TCG Online is an excellent tool for learning the ropes. I was taken through a standard tutorial which taught me the very basics of the game, from how to assign an active Pokémon to evolution, which turned out to be short and sweet - to my great delight and surprise. I was then invited to absolutely demolish a series of AI opponents using one of several basic decks that you can use in the single-player challenges, which extend beyond the tutorial stages and into the larger game.
The single-player challenges are designed purely to help players understand how the game’s elemental system works - which is similar to that of the Pokémon video game series - and give them a chance to use various cards found in the wider game, which is great for helping to develop your sense of play and on-the-spot thinking. Beating these challenges adds cards to these decks, which can be unlocked if players successfully defeat the game’s AI opponents enough times while using them. There are even harder challenges available beyond the starting league, which are all ideal if you want to just play some Pokémon without any real stakes involved.
The digital app is surprisingly generous when it comes to giving players free cards and booster packs.
However, if you’re itching to start making your way up the online ranks of the Pokémon TCG’s competitive scene, then it’s very easy to do so. The digital app is surprisingly generous when it comes to giving players free cards and booster packs, as well as currency that can be used to buy additional packs. I did not spend a single penny of my own money, nor did I receive any currency or booster packs through a media contact, but by the time I’d played an hour or so of the game I’d already amassed a good enough collection to create several different decks that actually won me games against real human opponents.
Obviously, if you want to build a very specific deck, you’ll have to keep getting booster packs until the Pokémon cards you need pop up. But if you’re just looking to get started with the game, Pokémon TCG Online is far from stingy when it comes to giving you the cards you need to get going. This aspect is further helped by the inclusion of a Deck Wizard, which makes creating decent decks a walk in the Safari Park - one that’s preferably not populated by aggressive Victreebel or Arboks.
The Deck Wizard is honestly my favourite thing about the entire app.
Whilst players are free to build a deck from scratch using the cards they have, the Deck Wizard is an absolute marvel for trading card game newbies like myself, who know little to nothing about how to create a viable Pokémon deck. You simply pick one or two Pokémon you’d like to be included, whether that’s Blaziken or the adorable Raichu, and the Deck Wizard magics up a deck complete with the selected Pokémon, plus the energy, items, allies and additional Pokémon you need to bulk it up. I made several decks using this feature, all of which managed to win me online matches. The Deck Wizard is honestly my favourite thing about the entire app.
Once I’ve gained a bit more confidence, and maybe some more cards, I could even start easily making decks that are currently winning professional players matches thanks to the app’s Deck List Copy feature - which enables players to create decks that they’ve put onto their clipboard from somewhere else. There are Pokémon TCG websites with deck lists that support this function, allowing you to create championship-winning decks in just two clicks, which is an amazingly fantastic idea.
My journey into the world of the Pokémon Trading Card Game has only just begun, but I’m really looking forward to winning the World Championships using a Swoobat-only deck. Whether the Pokémon TCG Online app will allow me to achieve this dream, I do not know. However, I do know that I will continue playing the Pokémon TCG with relative ease thanks to its extremely accessible digital version.
Pokémon TCG Online is available on PC, Mac, iOS and Android via the Pokémon website.