It has been 14 years since I last played The Pokémon Trading Card Game. The second wave was just coming out, and all I had was a deck assembled from the original 151. Ah, memories.
It was not without a hint of excited nostalgia then that I tore open the new theme decks for the latest expansion, XY Furious Fists. It brings with it two new Mega Evolutions, Mega Lucario-EX and Mega Heracross-EX, the debuts of the Fossil Pokémon from the Kalos region, including Tryunt, Tyrantrum, Amaura and Aurorus, new Trainer cards and new types of booster packs. In the grand scheme of things none of these are massive changes to the core gameplay – a few new cards here and there that you might get in one of the booster packs, but nothing drastic.
The two theme decks – basically premade starter packs – give you everything you need to get playing. Each contains a deck of 60 cards, a game mat (the reverse of which doubles as a rulesheet), damage tokens and a commemorative coin. As their name would suggest, the two packs are themed. Dark Hammer is a Fighting/Dark set, complete with a shiny Pangoro, while Enchanted Echo is Fairy/Leaf, led by Sylveon. In battle the two decks are fairly well matched, and when you get into the swing of things matches can take quite a while.
I tested this out with two people. The first was completely new to Pokémon, so it was a good way to judge how easy the card game is to pick up. It only took one slower test round before they properly understood how to play, and a couple more before they started to win.
For those of you who don’t know: you start with a hand of seven drawn from your deck, and place any basic Pokémon on your bench, making one your active that will do battle. You and your opponent take turns, placing energy cards, using items and evolving Pokémon depending on what is in your hand, before attacking your opponent’s active Pokémon. The winner is the first to defeat six Pokémon. Really it’s a game of following what it says on the cards; quite simple, but deep once you work out what’s strong against what and such, and even more so once you start building your own deck.
What stood out most for me though, was when I played with someone who had played the game before. Like me, my second guinea pig had played the card game as a child, yet instantly we both understood how to play – 14 years on and it was still fresh. In a sense this is perhaps because we have both recently played the videogames: the card game does feel very similar in how battles pan out, with the conservative use of items and using the right Pokémon at the right time both essential.
More than that is how streamlined it feels. This is how I remember playing the card game – it was exactly as I expected it to be, quick and fluid. It is so nostalgic that I ended up digging out my old cards and playing a few games, and I was amazed at how clunky it felt. Moves take far more energy to use, and for lower damage, and it boils down to getting your best Pokémon out as quickly as possible: nothing can take down a Charizard with enough energy attached. Strangely, how great I remember the game being is actually how it is now, while the older cards just aren’t as good.
VERDICT: If you play the Pokémon TCG already and fancy some of the new Pokémon in the Furious Fists expansion then maybe pick up a booster pack or two; hopefully you’ll get a new trainer card at least.
If you’re a new player, the two theme decks are a great way to get into the game (the decks are even pre-shuffled so you can start straight away), and if you’re a lapsed player, even if it’s for as long as me, now is a fantastic time to get back into it. The Pokémon TCG is slick, easy to pick up and mirrors the videogames brilliantly, and 18 years since its first release, it’s better than ever.