If you’ve made your way here, you’re either personally interested in what the Pokémon Trading Card Game is all about, or you’ve had a younger member of your family ask you to buy some Pokémon cards and you have no idea where to start. No matter which it is, we have got you covered. Read on to find out all you need to know about the Pokémon Trading Card Game, whether you are a collector, a player, or a parent that needs to buy a Pokémon related gift. Let’s go!
What is a Trading Card Game?
Trading Card Games have been around for over 27 years, with the first of its kind being Magic: The Gathering (a more mature and intricate trading card game with fantasy themes). Hot off the popularity of the anime and the original series of Nintendo GameBoy games, The Pokémon Company launched their own trading card game in Japan in 1996 and then proceeded to translate and localise it for the rest of the world beginning in 1999.
A Trading Card Game, or TCG as they are more commonly known, is a game where all the game pieces aren’t fixed. But what does that mean? Imagine you are playing a game of chess against an opponent but instead of the regular pieces we all know and love, you can replace some (or all) of your 16 chess pieces with different chess pieces that have their own rules. To make it even more challenging, your opponent can do the same and they wouldn’t even have to use the same types of pieces as you! That covers the G for Game in TCG.
Another facet of a TCG is that the cards are printed and sold only for a limited period, so for many, TCGs are all about collecting rare old cards. You’ll often hear about some old rare card auctioned off for tens of thousands of dollars and there’s a huge portion of TCG audiences that enjoy the product for that reason. This illustrates the T for Trading in TCG, as players and collectors trade cards with others for ones that they want for themselves, to either complete their collection or to play with.
What Are You Interested In?
Depending on whether you’re buying Pokémon TCG product for yourself or someone else, you’ll want to pick up different items, so The Pokémon Company makes sure that there are different products available for all buyer types. Let’s broadly break up these into a few categories so that you can figure out which you are:
- Parent or Gift Buyer: You know that your child, or a friend that you are buying a gift for, is a keen Pokémon fan (whether a fan of the card game itself or the games or the anime) and you want to pick up a present for them
- Pokémon Collector: You know a lot about the different types of product and are always on the lookout for specific cards and/or promotional boxes that will be of significant value to you
- Casual Pokémon Player: You are interested in getting into the game or you are helping someone else (a child, sibling, or friend) get into the game
- Competitive Pokémon Player: You know the game and have either played it in the past, or actively play it now. You are keen on being part of regular events, racking up competitive points and potentially qualifying for the annual World Championship event
As these categories are extremely broad, you may actually cover more than one, but that’s okay. You’ll be able to figure that out as we proceed.
What Is A Booster?
Pokémon releases a lot of different product types so we will start with the base product unit before looking at the rest. At the core of the game since the beginning, is the Booster Pack.
A booster pack is a single solitary product and is the (smallest) way that cards are sold. Inside each booster you’ll find a selection of cards. These days there are 10 cards in each booster, but some special products may have a different number, but they will say so on the pack so don’t worry about that. Within each booster of 10 cards you will find cards of different rarities:
- 5 common cards – designated by a little circle mark l
- 3 uncommon cards – designated by a little diamond mark u
- 1 rare card (normal or holofoil with a shiny foil treatment) or this could alternatively be an ultra-rare or secret rare card – designated by a little star mark «
- 1 reverse holofoil card – this can be a common, uncommon, or rare card with a shiny foil treatment
- 1 basic energy card
But what’s that you say? That adds up to 11. Yes, it does. You get a “free” basic energy in every new pack that you open since these are an integral part of playing the game. As you can probably imagine, the rarity of any card does tend to make them more collectable (or not) and more playable (or not). Collectors are generally hunting down ultra-rares and secret rares, but some of the regular holofoil rares are also special enough for them to be interested in.
Boosters released for a specific set may have different artwork on them but that’s just the packaging and doesn’t change what you can find inside.
With the basic “unit” of Pokémon products out of the way, the next big question is why so many different packs exist.
Every 3 months, The Pokémon Company releases a brand-new set of cards to spice up the game. This means that the game is constantly getting new pieces that allows players to modify their original chessboard of pieces, to use our previous analogy. For a collector, that means new potential cards to hunt down. For a casual/competitive player, that means new cards with which to experiment playing with. For someone getting into the game or buying a present for someone, this matters a lot less. So, what should you be buying?
What Are All These Colourful Products?!
Set Related Products
When new sets are released, they tend to be released with a series of different product types to get those new cards into the hands of players. They boil down to the following:
Booster Boxes – These boxes contain 36 boosters of the set. Collectors and players will generally want to buy one or more of these for every set that is released
Elite Trainer Box – This product is one that appeals to all types of buyers. It includes a storage box, emblazoned with the set’s theme, 8 to 10 boosters (depending on the set), 45 Basic Energy cards that you’ll need to make decks, 65 card sleeves which you can use either for your deck or just to protect your cards, a player’s guide that explains the set and the cards within it, and some additional accessories (dice and counters). Collectors like these to store cards in. Players enjoy the accessories as well as the sleeves, dice, and counters. Even as a gift, this product holds a lot of appeal for any buyer
Theme Decks – Each set comes with 2 or 3 theme decks. These are ready-to-play 60-card decks that are great for anyone getting into the game. Each pack includes a how-to-play guide that teaches the basics along with a plastic coin that features the deck’s main Pokémon. These are almost always the best first product for anyone interested in finding out how the game is played. These decks aren’t competitive but are great for casual play and can be upgraded with new cards that the player opens from other boosters.
Once you’re aware of what the set specific products look like, you’ll be able to easily identify anything that isn’t from a set. Those are generally thought of as promotional products and are available in the following forms:
These are actual metal tins that sometimes feature a sought after ultra-rare promotional card. Within the tins you’ll find a variety of boosters which will include some recent and some older out-of-print boosters. For competitive players, these products are a bit of a hit or miss if they aren’t interested in the ultra-rare promo card, but for anyone that just wants to open boosters and have a “chase” card and a tin to store stuff in, these are great. These products make particularly good presents. Currently there are different types of tins that you can get your hands on:
Poké Ball Shaped Tins – These come with 3 boosters and a coin. They’re not great for storing cards (in fact, never store loose cards in them as they will get damaged) but they’re a lot of fun for kids to play with. There is no ultra rare promo in this tin.
Mini Tins – These are small rectangular shaped tins (with curved edges) that includes 2 boosters, a coin, and an art card depicting the Pokémon on the cover of the tin. As opposed to the Poké Ball tins, these are much better at storing a small number of cards and many competitive players buy them so that they can store their dice and counters in them, so these have a bit of allure for different buyers. There is no ultra rare promo in this tin.
Tins – The more “generic” tins are octagonal or hexagonal and you’ll see the ultra rare promotional card through a “window” in the front of the tin. The octagonal tins include 4 boosters while the hexagonal include 5. You’ll usually find the hexagonal tins in North America while the Middle East and Europe tend to get the octagonal versions. Regardless which you have access to, the promo will be the same.
Boxes & Collections
The term “box” is ambiguous when used to describe a product, however, it has a meaning when it comes to Pokémon product. Boxes and Collections are large-sized packages with a big window to see what’s inside the box. The contents will vary so you’ll need to look at each individually to decide on whether you want to buy it. You will find a combination of any of the below items within:
- One or more promotional cards – these are predominantly unique to these boxes and cannot be opened in a regular booster. The cards will either feature a different holofoil treatment or be part of a promotional series. You’ll see a star with the word PROMO on it if it is one of those. If you want those cards for your collection or to play with, then that box is a must-buy for you.
- A coin – these plastic coins are great collectables and kids love them, but they also serve a purpose as they are tournament legal coins that can be used in your Pokémon game.
- A pin – these are pins that go great on bags. These are highly collectable but do be careful if you are buying a product with one for a young child as the pin will hurt.
- Boosters – as with the tins, these boxes/collections can include new and out-of-print older boosters but can vary from one to ten boosters within depending on the product. With these, however, you can “see” the boosters through the window so you can make a fair assessment of whether you care about the booster offering within or not.
- A Jumbo card – ahhhh… These beautiful oversized “cards” are the perfect eye candy for children and collectors. They have no game use (as they aren’t legal for tournament play) so most competitive players will easily part with them and/or donate them to younger players. These are a pure fun addition to any box.
- A figure – some of the more special/premium boxes/collections will include a Pokémon figure dependent on the box’s theme. These are great figures for collectors and for putting on a shelf, but they are not meant to be toys for children. Be wary as playing with them can break them.
- A piece of artwork – some of the special and premium collections come with a folded-up poster great for younger players.
- A playmat – some of the special and premium collections come with a playmat that is great for causal and competitive players alike. Playmats can be bought separately in stores but the ones featured within these boxes are unique to those boxes.
With such a variety of contents within these boxes, you’ll need to make a decision about why you are buying that box. As a present, boxes with Jumbo cards, pins, and coins work well; especially if the promotional card is a popular Pokémon that you believe your gift recipient will like. For competitive players, they’ll just want to buy boxes that include playable promotional cards. The boosters and other elements within are just extra.
Other Unique Products
Every now and then, The Pokémon Company will release a new type of one-off product or a product that is part of a “series”. The following are the ones that you may run into:
Battle Academy – This is the single most important product for a family that wants to get into the game. If you are a parent with multiple children or an older sibling getting a younger sibling into the game, this product is undeniably the best of its kind. It is packaged to look like a board game box and includes a hard, good quality “playing board” to play on as well as 3 separate decks. It also includes a turn-by-turn guide to take players through their first few turns of the game. If you regularly have board game nights, these is a great addition to your selection. The decks included are around the same complexity level of Theme Decks but do include an ultra rare card each. The box has everything you need to play and once you’ve gone past the step-by-step guide, you can swap decks around and play different deck combinations. If your family then decides that they are interested in getting more decks, they can use the same playing board with any theme decks that they buy. This box is amazing value and possible one of the best gifts possible.
While TCG developers are all about selling cards, the games come with a bunch of associated accessories that players and collectors alike will be interested in.
Portfolios & Binders – These come in many different varieties. You can find portfolios that can store 4 cards per page or 9 cards per page. Some products, such as the Collector Chests, come with mini one-page portfolios as well. Three ring binders are available in different designs, but you’ll need to purchase the individual pages to store the cards within. These are great if you need to reorganise pages often. These products are great for all players and collectors. Children love these as they get to showcase their favourite/best cards in one easy way. Players use them for showing off trades or their collection. These are a great addition to any product purchase that includes boosters since the recipient will be able to put those cards straight into the binder.
Sleeves & Deck Boxes – These products are almost exclusively of use to players that require a box to put their 60-card deck in. Sleeves can be bought in packs of 65 so that you have a few spare if any of them tear. It is highly recommended to encourage the use of sleeves for taking care of all ultra-rare cards so if your gift recipient is a keen collector, adding some sleeves to the purchase will help them take care of their gift.
Playmats – Purely of use to casual and competitive players, these playmats have a rubberised base and a soft design top that helps protect the player’s cards while they are playing the game. Anyone that is interested in playing the game at events will want one (or more) of these. The design of playmats is a highly subjective choice so if you are buying this as a gift, make sure to select a design that features a Pokémon that they like.
Dice & Counters – These are included in Elite Trainer Boxes, League Battle Decks and the Trainer’s Toolkit. Paper cutout versions also exist in Theme Decks. You won’t necessarily need to buy these separately unless you have lost some and need to replace them.
What Do I Do With This QR Code?
Don’t throw it away! Every Pokémon product you purchase includes a PTCGO Code Card within it. These aren’t cards that you can actually play with but the QR code (or the 13 alphanumeric code) can be used to redeem a reward in the online version of the Pokémon Trading Card Game. That online version is, unsurprisingly, called Pokémon Trading Card Game Online or PTCGO for short.
The PTCGO game is another good way to get someone interested in playing the game. Since every product you buy can be redeemed in your online account, you do not need to spend any additional money to expand your online collection. Do note that individual booster codes will not give you the exact same contents when redeemed online, but you’ll still get a similar booster’s worth of cards. The codes on promotional boxes and collections that include one or more promotional cards will allow you to redeem the same promotional card(s) in your online account. Theme Decks, the Battle Academy box, and League Battle Decks will include codes that will redeem the whole deck online. For new players, this means that they can play the exact same theme deck online and get used to playing it in the same way they would play it in real life.
Please note that the PTCGO platform is a perfect example of Nintendo’s and The Pokémon Company’s commitment to having a safe environment for children to play online. All features of the game are age gated and, if you are setting up an account for your child, you will be able to control their online interactions. Compared to other online games that cannot commit to the age rating online, the PTCGO platform is on of the safest online games possible.
You can find out more about the PTCGO game at the following link: www.pokemon.com/tcgo
It is available for PC and Mac desktops as well as iOS and Android tablets.
Gotta catch ’em all!
Hopefully, you should be a Pokémon expert by now, but just in case you aren’t, we have a very active community of avid players that gather regularly to play casual and competitive games or just to trade cards. If you are interested in joining our community, you can join our WhatsApp group to ask any questions and to get information on upcoming events. Join our group here: LINK