If your youth consisted of collecting Pokémon cards and playing the Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue video games, then chances are you’ve dabbled in the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Inspired by the video games and introduced in the U.S. in 1999, the Pokémon TCG brought a whole new level of strategic gameplay into the world of Pokémon. And it seems most childhood players typically fell into two camps: you either played by the rules — or you, you know, made up your own rules.
At its most basic, the strategy-based game is played between two people acting as Pokémon Trainers who use their Pokémon to battle each other. Luckily, there’s no need to rely on the fuzzy memory of your 10-year-old self — with the release of Pokémon TCG Battle Academy, it’s easier than ever to learn or re-learn the (correct) rules to the game. The box contains everything you need to play, including three 60-card Pokémon TCG decks, a game board, tutorial guides for beginners and a rulebook for advanced players, and accessories to enhance your game.
But just for kicks and giggles, we decided to put three former players (and colleagues at Vox Media) to the test to see just how well they remember the rules of the game.
HOW MANY CARDS DO YOU NEED IN A DECK TO PLAY THE POKÉMON TCG?
James C.: “I think 40? That sounds right!”
Annie Y.: “It’s been years but maybe you need 12 cards to play. I feel like there’s a couple of rounds and you need enough cards to have various Pokémon types so you can play strategically depending on who your opponent is, but not enough to the point where the barrier to entry is high — 12 feels about right.”
Sean T.: “Oh, this is hard. I made up my own rules as a kid where we had 30 to 40 cards in a deck. My first guess was going to be 52, like a deck of playing cards, but I have a feeling it has to be a round number, so I’m going with 60.”
Clearly, what we thought was starting out easy was not so easy for these folks. Out of sheer luck, Sean guessed the correct answer — each player needs a deck of 60 cards. The deck should include Pokémon cards, Energy cards, and Trainer cards. Battle Academy comes with three pre-built 60-card Pokémon TCG decks to get you started, but as you advance, you can learn to build your own Pokémon TCG deck to fit your strategy. For example, you could purchase the Sword & Shield — Lost Origin and Sword & Shield — Astral Radiance expansion packs to add a whole new dimension to the way you play.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO IN ORDER TO SET UP THE GAME TO BEGIN PLAYING?
James: “I believe just cards, and possibly some tokens to track certain moves or Pokémon status effects. I know Energy cards are important too! To start, I think a coin flip decides who goes first, and the game begins with each player drawing five cards. The goal is for both players to get their battling Pokémon in play.”
Annie: “Nothing. Just bring your cards, find an opponent, and game on. A common thing I did growing up was whoever was youngest goes first. You can view all your cards at the same time, so you can get strategic with which Pokémon you want to play.”
Sean: “You need to have a shuffled deck, a table large enough for both players to play their cards, and a hand of six cards (like the number of Pokémon you can have in your party!).”
Both James and Sean got some elements right, but the correct answer is a little more involved. Yes, you need your Pokémon TCG deck and an opponent to get started. But you’ll also need a coin and a set of damage counters, both of which you’ll find in Battle Academy. The box also includes a game board with visuals that allow new players to easily understand how to set up the game and quickly see what they can do in a turn.
To start, shuffle your deck and flip the coin to see who goes first. Each player then draws a hand of seven cards before drawing six cards to set aside as prize cards. Place a basic Pokémon in the center as your active Pokémon — you can have up to six basic Pokémon in play at once, but only the active one can attack during each turn. The rest may be placed on your bench while they wait to battle it out.
ONCE THE GAME IS UNDERWAY, WHAT CAN YOU DO DURING YOUR TURN?
James: “Draw a card and attack your opponent’s Pokémon with yours! I know there’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist.”
Annie: “Hmm, you can switch up your Pokémon based on your opponent’s card, but I think you can only do that after your Pokémon’s HP is wiped out. Otherwise, it probably gets hard to keep track of which Pokémon has what HP left and I don’t remember doing that.
When it’s your turn, you can choose what kind of attack you want to launch on your opponent. If you are the one attacking, then keep track of how much HP your opponent still has. If you are the one being attacked, you can use your Pokémon’s defense mechanisms if they have one, and also keep track of how much HP you have left. For example, I think Metapod has a ‘harden’ defense mechanism that helps you gain HP when it’s activated.”
Sean: “You start your turn with drawing a card. You can then play as many cards until you want to take an action and have your Pokémon use a move against the opposing player’s team.”
All three former players got the basics down in one way or another — essentially, you’ll want to use the cards in your hand to do what you can to set up your active or benched Pokémon for success. Start by drawing a card from the top of your deck. With your current hand, you can do everything from adding Pokémon to your bench to retreating your active Pokémon to your bench to attaching an Energy card to a Pokémon to playing your Trainer cards. After that, your active Pokémon can perform one attack on the opponent, with any damage assigned via damage counters. You knock out the opponent and claim a prize card once you’ve inflicted as much damage as it has hit points, requiring the other player to replace it with a Pokémon from their bench.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN IN ORDER FOR YOU TO EVOLVE YOUR POKÉMON?
James: “I think all you need is to have the Pokémon’s relevant next evolution card in your hand to move to the next evolution. Energy cards may have a play here, but not sure how they factor in…”
Annie: “Honestly, I don’t remember evolving my Pokémon during the game. Is this a trick question? What if you don’t have the evolved forms in your deck? This is a trick question. Or have the rules changed since I last played in 2001?”
Sean: “Each Pokémon card has its own requirements for evolution. First, you are going to need to have drawn the Pokémon’s evolution from your deck, and the Pokémon you want to evolve needs to be in play in front of you.”
It is not a trick question, Annie! If you’ve drawn your Pokémon’s next evolution from your deck, you can play it, for both your active and benched Pokémon. Pokémon evolve from basic, to Stage 1, to Stage 2, with the exception of Pokémon V. You can only evolve one Pokémon per turn (and it can’t be in the same turn in which you’ve introduced it into play). By evolving, you’re able to keep your energy and cure any special conditions, but any inflicted damage still remains. Don’t worry, if you get confused about the logistics of evolving, Battle Academy features tutorial guides and a rulebook to help you along the way.
WHAT ARE SOME ADVANTAGES YOU CAN GET IN THE GAME, AND HOW DO YOU GET THEM?
James: “There are support cards that help you in instances, i.e. drawing bonus cards, or helping heal your Pokémon’s HP. Although I know they get a lot more unique than that. I’ve seen Trainer cards, but not sure what makes those unique.”
Annie: “The advantages in the game really depend on your deck. You should have a variety of Pokémon types so you can get ready for what your opponent is going to play. You should also have Pokémon with high attack points to make sure you can win.”
Sean: “There are type advantages and disadvantages in the game. Pokémon can be strong or weak against different types of Pokémon. It’s like a really complicated game of rock-paper-scissors. Water beats Fire. Fire beats Grass. Grass beats Water. But then Electric also beats water. And Ground beats Electric and Fire. And Water and Grass beat Ground. It gets even more complicated when there are Pokémon who have two types. You want to play the right type of Pokémon against your opponent’s types to get a type advantage and do double or triple the amount of damage your Pokémon would normally do.”
Trainer cards (including Supporter, Stadium, and Item) are cards you can draw from your deck to gain an advantage. And combining these cards with the abilities of your Pokémon can help you power up your Pokémon and gain the upper hand in the game. For example, the Hop Supporter card allows you to draw three more cards from your deck to give you more chances to draw a card you’re seeking.
Annie and Sean are right, though — it’s true that playing specific types of Pokémon against other types can help work in your favor and give you a strategic edge.
HOW DO YOU WIN THE GAME?
James: “Knock out all your opponent’s Pokémon! But maybe there are other ways?”
Annie: “You win the game when you deplete your opponent’s deck and HP. Then when you win, you’ll have the clout and title of being THE VERY BEST THAT NO ONE EVER WAS.”
Sean: “You have to knock out your opponent’s entire team of Pokémon in the field! You knock out Pokémon by using your Pokémon’s moves to do damage to drain the opponent Pokémon’s hit points. When your opponent does not have any Pokémon in play in front of them, you win.”
Finally, all three former players are right! You can win if 1) you are the first person to claim all six of your prize cards 2) the other player’s active Pokémon was defeated and they have no other Pokémon in play or 3) the other player has no more cards to draw from their deck.
HAS RELIVING YOUR POKÉMON PAST MADE YOU EXCITED TO GET BACK INTO THE GAME NOW?
James: “Yes! My friends and I have actually been re-collecting cards recently, and would love to get a better understanding of the game so we can utilize them for game nights!”
Annie: “YES! Would love to play again, especially as I recently received a pack of Pokémon cards from an adult party.”
Sean: “I recently found my collection in my childhood bedroom and started collecting cards again. Growing up I played the card game with my own rules. . . so I’d love to try playing again (with the actual rules)!”
Whether you’re a lapsed player or just starting out, Battle Academy’s unique education approach provides an easy point of entry to get you playing again!
*Last names removed for privacy.