Chapter 1 of Learning Pokemon
How to Play and Teach the Pokemon Trading Card Game

Learning Pokemon TCG is a series of blogs and videos that teaches you everything you need to know to start playing! This series is updated regularly to ensure all information is accurate.

The Pokemon TCG is an incredibly easy game to learn, and it’s worth doing no matter your age or experience – because it’s incredibly fun. The Pokemon YouTube channel created a series of quick, helpful videos to teach you everything you need to know about the basic rules of the game. Those videos are below, along with our text-based summaries that contain a bit more detail so you can reference them later without rewatching an entire video.

The starting version of a Pokemon is known as a basic Pokemon, like this Pikachu.

There are several important elements along the top of each card:

  1. Starting on the left, the word ‘basic’ indicates this is a basic Pokemon.
  2. Next to the word basic is the name of the Pokemon, in this case Pikachu.
  3. On the top-right, the HP (hit points) next to the number 60 indicates how much damage the Pokemon can take before being knocked out.
  4. To the right of the HP is the energy type of the Pokemon, in this case Lightning.

Below the art of the Pokemon, you will find a list of attacks. Like in the digital game, you get to choose one of these attacks to perform each round. This Pikachu has two attacks, Tail Whap and Spark. To the right of each attack is the amount of damage the attack does to your opponent’s active Pokemon. In this case, Tail Whap would do 10 damage, and your opponent would put a token indicating 10 damage on their active Pokemon.

To the left of each attack is the energy cost. This indicates the number and kind of energy cards that need to be attached to a Pokemon in order for it to use that attack. You can play one energy per turn from your hand by attaching it to one of your Pokemon. Below are the various energy types found in the game.

The icon to the left of the Tail Whap attack is called colorless, meaning you can use any energy type to perform this attack. Spark, on the other hand, requires at least one lightning energy and one energy of any kind to be attached to Pikachu in order to use the attack. Note, performing an attack does not mean you have to remove that much energy to use it – you just have to have it attached.

Some attacks, like Spark, have additional text under the name of the attack. Any time you perform an attack with text under it, follow the directions stated when you perform the attack. In this case, Pikachu gets to do 10 damage to one of your opponent’s benched Pokemon (discussed later) when it performs that attack.

When you deal damage to an opponent’s Pokemon equal to or greater than its remaining HP, it is knocked out. When a Pokemon is knocked out, move it and all cards attached to it to your discard pile. When you knock out one of your opponent’s Pokemon, you get to draw one of your 6 prize cards. Once you draw all 6 of your prize cards you win the game!

Each player brings their own unique deck of exactly 60 cards to a game of the Pokemon TCG. When you are setting up for a game, shuffle your deck and place it to the top right of your play area.

At the beginning of each game, you draw 7 cards. This is known as your starting hand. From your starting hand, you’ll put a basic Pokemon into your active Pokemon spot and up to five onto your bench. Note, all of these Pokemon are placed face down.

If you don’t have any basic Pokemon in your starting hand, shuffle your hand back into your deck and draw a new starting hand. You repeat this until you have at least one basic Pokemon in your starting hand. Your opponent gets to draw one additional card every time you repeat this process, so make sure you have enough basic Pokemon in your deck when you’re building it!

Before starting a game, place the top 6 cards from your deck facedown to the left of the play area. These are known as your prize cards. Every time your knock out an opponent’s Pokemon, you get to choose a facedown prize card to put into your hand (without looking at what it is first). Once you have drawn all 6 of your prize cards, you win!

To start a game, flip a coin to determine the first player. Both players now reveal all of their starting basic Pokemon by flipping them face up.

Below is an example of a pretty standard starting setup.

Now, on each turn, you will follow these steps:

  1. Draw a card.
  2. Do any of the following in any order, as many times as you’d like: Play a Pokemon, evolve a Pokemon, attach an energy card to a Pokemon, play a trainer card, retreat your active Pokemon, and/or use a Pokemon’s ability.
  3. Attack your opponent’s active Pokemon with your active Pokemon. This ends your turn.

Two things to note here – you lose the game if you have no cards to draw at the start of your turn, and if your bench is full, you cannot play more basic Pokemon.

If, during either player’s turn, your active Pokemon is knocked out (usually by an opponent’s attack), that Pokemon and all of its attached cards are discarded and you must choose a Pokemon from your bench to immediately become your new active Pokemon. If you cannot declare a new active Pokemon from your bench, you lose the game.

As your active Pokemon takes damage and gets closer to being knocked out, you may want to pull it back and replace it with a different Pokemon from your bench. Doing so is called retreating.

If you look at the bottom right of Mewtwo, you’ll notice the words retreat cost above three colorless energy symbols. This indicates the amount and type of energy you must discard from a Pokemon in order to move them to your bench. When you move a Pokemon to your bench, select one of your benched Pokemon to become your active Pokemon.

To the left of the retreat cost, notice the words weakness and resistance. If a Pokemon has a weakness, they take double the damage from attacks by Pokemon of the matching type (that is, if the attacking Pokemon has the matching symbol on the top right of their card). If they have a resistance, they reduce the total damage taken from Pokemon of that type by 20 damage.

Along with playing additional basic Pokemon on your turn, you can play evolutions of your basic Pokemon! You can play a Stage 1 Pokemon on top of the corresponding basic Pokemon and a Stage 2 Pokemon on top of a corresponding Stage 1 Pokemon. This is called evolving your Pokemon. When you evolve a Pokemon, all attached energy and any damage on the previous version of the Pokemon remain with the evolved Pokemon.

Note, you cannot evolve a Pokemon on the same turn that it enters play. This means that if you evolved Charmander into Charmeleon, you would have to wait another turn before you could evolve Charmeleon into Charizard.

Along with Pokemon and energy cards, decks also include Trainer cards. There are various types of trainer cards, including items, tools, supporters, and stadiums.

Items usually have an immediate effect and then are placed in your discard pile. On your turn, you can play as many items as you like!

Tools attach to your Pokemon and stay in play. While you can play as many in one turn as you would like, each Pokemon can only have one tool attached to them.

Supporter cards function like items, in that they usually have an immediate effect and are then placed in your discard pile. The caveat is that you can only play one Supporter card per turn.

Stadium cards generally impact both players and stay in play indefinitely or until they are replaced. There can only be one stadium card in play at a time, and when either player plays a new stadium, the previous stadium is put in its owner’s discard pile. Like Supporter cards, you can only play one Stadium card per turn.

There are 5 special conditions in Pokemon, including asleep, burned, confused, paralyzed, and poisoned. These conditions are most often applied to a Pokemon as a result of an attack. Whenever a Pokemon retreats to your bench, all special conditions are removed.

When a Pokemon is asleep, indicate it with with a token or by turning the card to the left. While a Pokemon is asleep, they cannot attack or retreat (unless a Trainer card or another Pokemon’s ability retreats them). After your turn, flip a coin. If heads, your Pokemon wakes up. If tails, they stay asleep.

When a Pokemon is burned, indicate it with a token. At the end of every turn (yours and your opponent’s), all burnt Pokemon take 20 damage. After taking damage from this condition, flip a coin. If heads, your Pokemon is no longer burned. Otherwise, your Pokemon remains burned until it retreats.

When a Pokemon is confused, indicate it by turning the card upside down. Confused Pokemon must flip a coin after they declare an attack. If heads, the attack happens as normal. If tails, the attack is canceled and the attacking Pokemon takes 30 damage instead! This condition remains until your Pokemon is retreated or becomes Asleep or Paralyzed.

When a Pokemon is paralyzed, indicate it with a token or by turning the card to the right. While a Pokemon is paralyzed, they cannot attack or retreat on their next turn. This condition is removed at the end of your turn.

When a Pokemon is poisoned, indicate it with a token. While poisoned, a Pokemon takes 10 damage between each turn. This condition remains until your Pokemon retreats.

Some Pokemon, like Eevee, have an ability. These abilities have a wide range of effects, so be sure to carefully read the text and follow it directly in order to properly resolve the ability.

And that’s it! Now you know the basics of the Pokemon Trading Card Game. It’s a relatively simple but effective system that does an excellent job of creating the feeling of being a Pokemon trainer – and at the risk of sounding ancient, this is a feeling we all fell in love with during Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue on Game Boy, and it’s just as fun as it used to be.

Now that you know how to play the Pokemon TCG, you’ll need to start collecting Pokemon cards in order to find the various Pokemon you want to use! Join us in the next chapter to learn everything you need to know in order to most effectively get the cards you need for your first deck!

Item added to cart.

View cart Checkout