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Pokemon Trading Card Game Online – it's free and it's awesome

Browser-based games don't capture our attention that often, but the Pokemon Trading Card Game Online is something different. For fans of the tabletop version of the game, the TCGO replicates everything you can do in the physical game and then some. It even allows you to import your real collection of cards online through redemption codes found on the packaging of all new cards henceforth, so you can play online against your friends using your own deck. The TCGO is perhaps most exciting to newcomers though, because it offers a wealth of tutorials, free decks and cards, and single-player AI tournaments to get you ready to build your own deck and play against real people. And it's all free of charge.

Above: The TCGO is generous with free decks – you get three to start with, and more unlock as you play

If you're completely new to the Pokemon Trading Card Game, once you've logged in to your account (you can set one up here), you can go through the tutorial to learn the basics, or you can skip ahead to the single player campaign right away. The beauty of the TCGO is that it caters to all experience levels every step of the way, so even if you skip the tutorials, the single player has a help system that reminds you of your current play options and suggests optimal moves (of course, you can also turn all of help functions off if you don't need them).

The one of the goals of the TCGO seems to be to emulate the experience of playing the card game in real life, and the single player campaign takes you through a tournament hosted by a fictional game store, with 15 AI opponents (all with unique personalities and flavor text, including some good-natured trash talking), who you challenge through four leagues of 12 games each for a total of 48 games. You can replay these games over and over too, which is particularly helpful if you're a hardcore player looking to test a new deck against AI opponents before using it against real people.

Above: Attacks are animated

Speaking of decks, the TCGO also features a deck editor with a robust set of features for building decks with as little or as much help as you'd like. You can filter cards by Pokemon, then have the computer build a deck around the Pokemon you choose, and then tweak it however you want, or you can build a deck completely from scratch – it's up to you. You can even bring out a list of the cards in your deck and bring it with you for real-life tournament play.

So, the single player options are great, but the big debut in the latest update to the beta is the online multiplayer. So when you've played enough of the single player that you're ready to play against real opponents, you can jump into some PvP. I'm told that the matchmaking has really been refined too, and there's even an elegant solution to punish rage quitters – frequent disconnectors are paired with other frequent disconnectors. Friends lists haven't been added to the beta yet, but soon you'll be able to challenge friends too.

Aside from battling, you can also trade cards (it is a trading card game, after all) with users through an online trades marketplace, where you can put cards up for offer and browse cards other users are offering. And in case you're worried about getting taken advantage of, you can set up trading controls that only allow like-for-like trades, so you don't accidentally trade a rare card for a common one.

Normally, we'd look for more to criticize, but it's pretty hard to complain here – The Trading Card Game Online simply offers a new way to play the Pokemon TCG, and unlike the physical version, it's totally free to play. This preview could go on and on listing all the features available to explore within the TCGO, but in the immortal words of Reading Rainbow's Levar Burton, you don't have to take my word for it. The beta is available to everyone now at http://www.pokemontcg.com/. If you already have a pokemon.com account, it works with the TCGO already, and if you don't, it's easy to set one up. It's all free, so if you're a Pokemon fan there's no reason not to check it out, especially if you're a fan of the videogames who's curious about the TCG.

18 comments

  • Shenlong4517 - August 30, 2011 11:20 p.m.

    My cousin had this one PTCG game for the PC and we killed the heck out of it growing up. Real-life-wise, I much preferred Yu-Gi-Oh! for its variety, but this, being free, looks like just the new experience I'd been looking for. Going to try it as soon as I get home!
  • robinkurosaki - August 27, 2011 8:32 p.m.

    i think you guys should realise what a real trading card game is, i.e magic the gathering, not the broken mess that is yu-gi-oh, an before you say anything, a blue eyes first turn is broken. anyhow this is a good laugh if you have interest in a variety of tcg, but is essentialy what we would of been playing ages ago had we not just got pulled into the trading an that be it XD
  • Isnogud - August 27, 2011 8:54 a.m.

    How is this free? I can only choose 3 already built decks. How can I make one of my own without buying stuff?!?!
  • GamesRadarCarolynGudmundson - August 29, 2011 10:15 a.m.

    The deck builder and extra cards/decks unlock when you play through the single player campaign.
  • goggamanxp - August 27, 2011 6:44 a.m.

    I've gotten rid of my pokemon cards a long time ago, and this will probably be a good trip down memory lane.
  • Crimmy - August 26, 2011 11:08 p.m.

    I'm sticking to Yugioh.
  • ParanoidAndroid - August 26, 2011 10:25 p.m.

    Hmmm... I remember enjoying the Gameboy Pokemon Trading Card Game a lot. I shall have to give this a look.
  • jackthemenace - August 28, 2011 1 a.m.

    I absolutely loved the PTCG on Gameboy colour, and that's the main reason I'm gonna give this a try. Id been hoping they'd release a kore up-to-date version for a while, since I found my old GB with that game in the slo, and then couldn't find the charger.
  • chrisantistas2inchpenis - August 28, 2011 7:19 a.m.

    Exactly the same here. PTCG for Gameboy Color was fantastic
  • Personamanxx - August 26, 2011 8:25 p.m.

    Hah, used to be in one of those Pokemon TCG leagues they used to have. I think I still have some of the Johto badges somewhere.... Seems like it could be fun for a little nostalgia.
  • badgraphix1 - August 26, 2011 7:38 p.m.

    Hmm, the reason I quit playing the TCG was because cards were too much money. This effectively solves that problem.
  • SunniDee - August 26, 2011 7:13 p.m.

    Great article Carolyn and are you on it too a lot
  • codystovall - August 26, 2011 6:23 p.m.

    I dont like the energy concept, thats why I play yugioh.
  • masterjoe123 - August 26, 2011 6:23 p.m.

    I love this game. I didn't think the tcg was that great until I tried this game online.
  • suicidali - August 26, 2011 5:11 p.m.

    Hm, I've been wanting to get back into the PTCG since I lost my deck many, many years go. This might be a good replacement to buying a bunch of cards... It's a shame it's not like the Yugioh equivalent, which has all the cards available to you at the start, though I guess some people would prefer something like this.
  • tuomotaivainen - August 26, 2011 10:58 p.m.

    Except the Yugioh equivalent is a buggy PoS that wont even allow you to purchase points for cards AND any "packs" you win in free matches have to be payed for with said points.... Ya... This doesn't have much in the way of competition.
  • suicidali - August 27, 2011 11:41 a.m.

    I meant the unofficial free verson, as in Dueling Network
  • 510BrotherPanda - August 26, 2011 5:06 p.m.

    I met one of the guys building the beta version of this when we all went to The Glowing Stars' debut performance. He's a cool guy. Still haven't finished customizing my avatar for the actual game, though...

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