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Pokemon Card Game Rules and How to Play

If you grew up in the 90s, you’d remember Pokemon. It was the latest craze, and it has endured and even reached new heights thanks to its range of animes, movies, and video games. But we’re focusing on the Pokemon card game rules in this piece. 

Pokemon trading cards come in many different sets. And over time, the gameplay has expanded and developed. It can easily be overwhelming to newbies, so to help, we’ll be looking at everything you need to know about how to play. 

What is The Pokemon Card Game? 

The Pokemon card game, also known as the Pokemon Trading Card Game (Pokemon TCG), was first released in 1996. In America, the game is now under The Pokemon Company who started publishing the cards in 2003. 

The game continues to be incredibly popular, with some estimates saying over 30 billion cards have been sold over time! The game, which is based on the Pokemon franchise, seems simple enough. 

Players take on the role of a Pokemon trainer; they then battle their opponent to knock out their Pokemon. But Pokemon is split into numerous different types. These types have their strengths and weaknesses that affect gameplay. 

Player’s will also have to manage energy and think carefully about how they battle. Like many card games, Pokemon is very strategy-based. It could rival some of the most complex RPG board games when it comes to high-level play complexity. However, there is always an element of luck involved. 

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the Pokemon card game rules. This will help you get started and learn how to develop your winning strategy. So, let’s first look at what you need to play. 

What You’ll Need? 

Finding Pokemon cards isn’t difficult; plenty of shops still stock them. There are also dozens of different sets available online. This is part of the problem as with over 80 different sets, how do you know what to buy? 

The latest sets are the Sword and Shield Pokemon cards. Thankfully, finding a starter deck should be quite easy. To help you, we have showcased some of the products below. You’ll also find booster packs available as well. 

Booster packs will contain fewer cards, but they can be used to supplement your deck. For new players, we recommend getting a starter deck of cards. This will give you 60 cards and be enough to get you started. 

On Sale Pokemon TCG: Sword & Shield Theme Deck
On Sale Pokemon TCG: Sword & Shield Theme Deck

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of variety offered when it comes to Pokemon cards. But thankfully, there are plenty of prebuilt starter decks. These are designed to ease new players into the game. Let’s look at what you get in the decks. 

Pokemon Cards

Well, you can’t play Pokemon without cards, can you?

  • You’ll get 60 cards in a starter deck. 
  • These cards come in 4 different key types. 
  • There are energy cards, trainer cards, item cards, and Pokemon cards. The Pokemon cards are sorted into stage 1 and stage 2. 

We’ll talk more about what these cards do in the gameplay section below. 


You’ll get a playmat with most starter decks. This is essentially your game board. While you don’t need to use it, it will likely be helpful for beginners. 

Damage Counters 

Damage counters are small tokens with numbers printed on them. These are used to show how much damage a Pokemon has received. Again these don’t always need to be used, but they will come in handy and are recommended. 

Special Coins 

Under Pokemon card game rules, every match/ battle starts with a coin flip. You can use these special coins instead of a regular coin. They are collectors pieces in their own right as well, just like the rarer Pokemon cards. 

The Pokemon Card Game Rules and Gameplay

The Aim of The Game

The Pokemon card game aims to win your battle. You do this by either knocking out all your opponent’s Pokemon or winning the 6 prize cards. Now, let’s take a more in-depth look at how you set up and play the game. 

Setting Up 

There is quite a bit of setup work involved in the Pokemon card game. Especially when you get more cards and more options for customization. Each player will need a deck of 60 cards, under normal Pokemon card game rules. 

Your deck can’t contain more than 4 of the same card. This rule doesn’t apply to energy cards. To help outline what each card does, we’ve included some information about each type of card below. 

Energy Cards 

These cards are what your Pokemon use to attack. Each move will have an energy cost attached to it. Energy cards come in numerous different types. For example, a water Pokemon will likely need water energy to attack. Retreating (commonly called returning) a Pokemon to the bench can cost energy as well. 

Trainer Cards 

These cards generally provide support in some way. Some examples of their effects include being able to sort through your deck, swap Pokemon around, and much more. When used strategically, these cards can turn the tide of battle in your favor. 

Item Cards 

Item cards are generally used to power up or heal your Pokemon. Common effects include restoring HP to a Pokemon or even reviving one after it’s been defeated. Like trainer cards, when used strategically, they can give you a significant advantage.

Pokemon Cards 

These are the cards everyone will be focusing on. Your Pokemon cards are what you attack with. Pokemon are split into two classes, stage 1 and stage 2. A stage 2 Pokemon will need to be evolved from its stage 1 form before it can be used. 

Pokemon come in numerous different types, which are marked by a symbol and color. For example, Grass Pokemon cards will have a leaf symbol and green background. While it might be tempting to focus on one or two types. The best Pokemon decks will have multiple different types at their disposal.  


Once both players are ready, you should flip a coin to decide who goes first. Players then shuffle their deck and draw 7 cards. The first 6 cards should be set aside; these are each player’s prize cards. 

If you defeat one of your opponent’s Pokemon, you can add one of these cards to your hand. If you manage to pick up all 6 before your opponent, you win. The battle begins when you play down a basic (stage 1) Pokemon.

Each player should play one Pokemon each; this is the active Pokemon. They can also have a bench with up to 5 more basic Pokemon on it. Players can draw another hand till they can play an active Pokemon. 

Only the active Pokemon can attack; if it gets knocked out, it must be replaced by a Pokemon from your bench. If at any stage your bench is empty and your active Pokemon is knocked out. Then you lose the game, so always try to have as many Pokemon in play as possible. 

Attacking and Evolving 

In your turn, you can do several things. You can play an item or trainer card, swap out Pokemon, draw another card, attach energy, and attack. Your attack is the second part of your turn so that you can do it alongside something else. 

Attacking costs energy, and each card will have one or two attacks it can utilize. As long as the right number of energy is attached, you can make that attack. Discard the energy afterward. The numbers next to the attack showcase the amount of damage the attack does.

This is then deducted from your opponent’s Pokemon HP total. For example, if your attack does 60 damage and the opponent’s Pokemon has 50 HP, it’s eliminated from the game. If the opponent’s Pokemon still has HP left, use Damage Counters to mark how much damage it has received. 

To evolve a Pokemon, you will first need its evolved form card. This is why building and designing your deck is such an important part of the Pokemon card game strategy. If you do, you can evolve a Pokemon into its stage 2 form during your turn. To do this, simply place the evolved form over the pre-evolved forms card. 

You can do this to an active or benched Pokemon card. Any damage is done to a Pokemon before it evolves still stands, though. Evolved Pokemon have more health and stronger moves, so evolving your Pokemon is highly recommended. 

Winning The Game 

Pokemon can be won in two ways. If you knock out 6 of your opponent’s Pokemon and claim your 6 prize cards, you win. However, you could win much more quickly if your opponent doesn’t have a lot of Pokemon on their bench. All you need to do is knock out any Pokemon they have in play. Once you do this, they’ll be unable to add new cards to their bench.

Pokemon – The Nostalgic Card Game 

For many people, Pokemon was likely the first non-playing card game they played. The game is competitive and challenging, with a definite learning curve to it. Over time the number of Pokemon has only expanded, making it a little intimidating for newcomers. 

But while you might not be ready for official Pokemon card game tournaments, it is a fun game for casual play! There are so many options and clever strategies you can employ. If you love deck-building games or strategy board games, then we highly recommend giving the Pokemon card game a go. 

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