GameCentral offers an introduction to the world’s favourite trading card game and explains why it’s suddenly become such a lucrative pastime.
It’s been over 20 years since Pokémon Trading Card Game stormed across the world, shattering children’s piggy banks. Even though it’s difficult for players to compete against each other at the moment, due to lockdown, there has been an unprecedented boom for buying physical cards over the last 18 months, which means those Pokémon cards stuffed in a box in your bedroom could now be worth a six-figure sum. So if you happen to get a Charizard first edition 13 years ago, and thought it was rare then, you won’t believe what it’s worth now.
Figures from eBay suggest sales of Pokémon cards in the U.S. shot up 574% between 2019 and 2020, with collectors looking to buy that Pikachu card they coveted as a child with money unspent during the pandemic. Even celebrities have bought into the hype, with controversial YouTube personality Logan Paul purchasing one of 10 Charizard cards from the initial run of the game, that’s still in mint condition, for $150,000. A sealed box of Pokémon cards that would have cost you less than £100 20 years ago could now sell for over £10,000.
Pokémon is one of the most popular and successful entertainment franchises in the world, encompassing video games, mobile apps, the trading card game (TCG), animation, and movies. 2021 sees Pokémon commemorate 25 years of the brand, with special anniversary celebrations happening throughout the year. It was hard to miss Katy Perry and Post Malone giving virtual lockdown concerts sporting photoshopped Pikachu tails, and with this wave of celebrations come some exciting new releases sure to spark interest in new players and renew interest in veterans.
Pokémon, like most other trading card games, uses collectible cards to let each player customise their game. The best way to learn to play is with a V Battle Deck, a ready-to-play 60-card deck that comes packaged with a quick start rules guide and everything you need to start. Once you’re ready, you can begin building your collection of cards with booster packs. These can be traded with friends to build an elite fighting force of the strongest pokémon or you can collect all your favourite characters for a truly personalised team.
The basic play mechanics of Pokémon TCG are just like the video games, as two pokémon face off in turn-based battles. Pokémon attack each other by using attacks or abilities powered by energy cards. The first player to take all of their opponents’ prize cards wins but other victory conditions include if your opponent has no pokémon left in play or no cards left to draw at the beginning of their turn.
The abundance of cute pocket monsters can make the game a little intimidating if you’ve never played it before, as not using the correct cards and counters at the right time can be a matter of life and death. The counters are, again, the same as the video games and tend to follow an obvious logic, such as fire pokémon being weak to water attacks, but it’s worth having a look at a glossary before you start, to familiarise yourself with the sheer number of cards and what they can do. Or just use the cards for a cute version of Snap for much younger players.
During lockdown The Pokémon Company has pushed some innovative ways of keeping trainers playing, including a digital tabletop version of the game that even has its own Pokémon Team Challenge for socially distanced tournaments. You’ve still got time to participate, with global registration taking place on March 26 and the final being broadcast in August.
Pokémon TCG is one of the most popular trading card games in the world and has spawned an impressive professional player league and, fingers crossed, the next World Championship is due to take place in 2022 in London. Once lockdown is over, those wanting to start playing at a non-competitive level should visit their local gaming shop, such as Playnation Games in Croydon, where you can play with a Build & Battle box ahead of the set going on sale at a pre-release event. This is the best place to learn with the newest cards or practice a few games in a friendly and relaxed environment.
The most recent expansions, featuring new cards and rules, are Shining Fates, which came out in February, and Battle Styles which launched on March 19. Shining Fates features more pokémon discovered in the Galar region, as well as new variants of Pokémon VMAX cards which allow players to gigantamax their pokémon to a huge size (like you can in the Sword and Shield on the Switch) on top of the normal Pokémon V evolution.
Pokémon Battle Styles introduces a new mechanic with Single Strike and Rapid Strike battle styles appealing to both speed players and strategists alike.
Not everything thing was smooth sailing with the release of Shining Fates though. The cross-promotional campaign with McDonald’s saw panic buying of Happy Meals, with some collectors buying 30 at a time, even though the cards included in the boxes aren’t particularly rare and are unlikely to make your fortune in years to come.
That was just the start though, as veteran players complained of empty shelves as scalpers snapped up the Shining Fates expansion, which is only available in boxes rather than booster packs. That made it impossible for ordinary fans to get their hands on the most exciting expansion for several years, and coveted cards such as the Shiny Charizard VMAX card.
These new sets are sought after as they contain lots of new shiny pokémon, not just shiny looking holographic cards – including the sought after seven shiny VMAX pokémon. Many new expansions contain cards that have advanced forms that are played on top of the regular fully evolved pokémon and have seen many variations over the years, such as Pokémon Prime, Pokémon EX, and recently Pokémon V – these can be very rare and expensive full art cards.
Pokémon TCG tends to be the first step in many players’ relationship with trading card games, with fans often moving on to Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game and then Magic: The Gathering.
For others it becomes a lifelong obsession and there’s almost no length some trainers will not go to in trying to complete their collection. I fondly remember, on my first visit to Japan, spending days navigating the impossibly complex underground system to try and collect stamps at specific stations, so they could be turned in for promotional Japan Rail Pokémon cards.
Every trainer probably has a similar memory and is now willing to put their money where their Meowth is, in terms of buying cards as an adult they could never afford as a child.
By Lucy Orr
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