|Multiplayer:||Yes, online only (in fact NO offline mode exists)|
|AI:||Yes, 3 levels|
|Purchase for iPhone:||None available. Buy an iPad now!|
|Purchase for iPad:||
Pokémon TCG Online
GD Star RatingPokemon TCG,
Maybe it’s because the franchise began its life on the Gameboy, but when mobile gamers list their biggest wants from the console world, Pokemon is always chief among them. Now, in a neat end-run around Nintendo’s “no hardware that we don’t own” policy, the Pokemon TCG has made its way to the iPad. Gotta catch em all?
PTCG focuses exclusively on the arena battles that make up the core of society in the Pokemon universe.
Each matchup starts with you drawing a hand of 7 cards. You’ll choose one Stage 1 Pokemon to be your lead critter, with the option to put any others on the Bench. Then 6 cards come off the top of your deck as “prize” cards, initially face down to the side.
Each turn you draw a card, and generally speaking, follow the rule of ones – you can play one Trainer card (special one-off effects that usually either draw cards or heal your Pokemon); you can attach one Energy card and one Item card to a Pokemon (Energy cards are required to activate their abilities; Item cards confer special bonuses); and you may Evolve a Pokemon by playing the next stage of evolution (most have 3) on any one Pokemon in play. You may also add any level 1 Pokemon in your hand to any empty slot on the Bench – it can hold a maximum of 5 Pokemon at any time. Your active Pokemon may then either attack or retreat.
Combat is purely deterministic. Each attack does a certain amount of damage, and barring any game effects that somehow mitigate it, executing an attack will damage your opponent’s active Pokemon by that amount. As Pokemon take damage, counters are added to the card to indicate how much damage has been dealt; when the counters equal or exceed the Pokemon’s life, it is sent to the discard pile, and its owner chooses any other Benched Pokemon to become Active. You may then draw one of your Prize cards into your hand. The winner is the first to either draw all 6 of his Prize cards, or to leave an opponent with no Active or Benched Pokemon in play.
This may sound a little dry, and to an extent it is; PTCG is a very straight-forward game. While dozens, probably hundreds of individual creatures exist in the game, in practice you’re only going to have two or three types of monsters in your deck, as to have any more would put you too much at the mercy of your Energy draws. There is a good deal of strategy in how you balance the deck, but gameplay itself holds very few surprises – the nature of the game telegraphs each move your opponent makes several turns in advance.
PTCG is a client for an online service, and as such requires you to establish an account with that service before you can do anything. It’s worth noting that the experience here is 100% online – even the single-player mode requires a live Internet connection, and no pass-n-play option exists.
You are treated to a brief tutorial the first time you play the game, which covers both the basics of gameplay and of the touch interface. The basic mode is a single tap to play a card, and a double tap to explode it for reading. Note that a single tap will play a card even if it is zoomed in, making it rather surprisingly easy to accidentally play a card you have zoomed in to consider. Even after the tutorial has ended, the game continues to throw pop-ups at you as you encounter new gameplay concepts. The app also includes full rules under a separate menu.
After the tutorial, you are turned loose on the online battleground. Your may participate in Trainer Challenges using 3 decks specifically built for this purpose; winning these challenges will unlock additional cards specific to each deck, ala the pre-2015 offerings for Magic the Gathering.
The other option is to play against live opponents, either randomly or against friends. Ranked battles are the heart of this mode, partly because they match you against opponents of similar strength, partly because they are the best path to unlocking more cards.
Interestingly, you are required to play five Practice (unranked) games before the game will allow you to participate in the ranked tournaments. This is odd, because where ranked games seem to do a decent job of matching you against opponents of similar strength, Practice games seem to be first come, first serve, and will frequently match you against someone with a deck full of rare, powerful Pokemon against whom a newcomer has no chance. This requirement to force you to likely lose – several times – before taking on opponents of your own skill level is a puzzling one.
The other odd thing about this game is the collectible aspect of it. CCGs are by no means uncommon on the iPad, but this is the only one we’ve seen where it seems curiously difficult to give the game real money. If there is an option to purchase in-game currency with real world cash, we couldn’t find it. The closest equivalent was a window where you could enter codes contained in card packs – a clever tie in to the physical product, but essentially useless for anyone who doesn’t plan to build an offline collection. Grinding thus seems to be the only way to unlock cards. PTCG, however, is one of a surprisingly small number of games in this genre where players can actually trade cards between one another, making it one of the only online games where the term “trading card” is actually applicable.
Not only is there no pass-n-play mode, there is also no asynchronous play. In practice, this isn’t all that bad, as most of our games seemed to take between 8 to 10 minutes to complete. The game is very aggressive about keeping the pace moving, too – each player starts off with a 25 minute chess clock, and the game will automatically cause you to concede if you are inactive for more than 30 seconds. This also means that a more dedicated player may well rack up a surprising amount of wins from opponents who got distracted by something on their side of the Internet.
Our only real gripe with this game is that it is a fairly incredible resource hog. The initial download weighs in at about 550mb, and then immediately downloads more content. More and more content is downloaded as you play; by the time we were done with this review, the app weighed in at 1.6 GB. This is fine on the desktop systems where the app originated, but represents a fairly significant chunk of the real estate available on most portable devices.
As an introductory CCG, the PTCG is a good one – it covers all the basics of strategy and deck building, with straight forward gameplay that allows room for depth and decision making beneath its simple mechanics. While the incredibly online nature of the app won’t appeal to everyone, the compact play sessions should keep it from being a problem in the practical sense. We do have some concerns about the amount of space the game takes up, but die-hard fans will no doubt find other games to delete.