TCGs and Computer Games – How Do They Measure Up?

Comparing the Big Three

Trading Card Games, or TCGs, are a huge part of the tabletop gaming hobby, with dozens of TCGs available to choose from, popular with young and old gamers alike. People grow up playing their chosen TCG, and they return to it again and again; people collect the cards in the same way football stickers are collected, and trade them for varying value; some cards fetch staggeringly high amounts of money! The biggest TCGs have worldwide tournaments and events, and have spawned spin-off movies, toys and video games of all sorts.

The biggest three, Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh and Magic: the Gathering, each have a strong electronic presence alongside their physical card games. The platforms are radically different, so how do the video and card games compare to each other, considering they’re both from the same inspirational source? Let’s have a look!


If you don’t know what Pokemon are, then you’ve probably been living on Mars for the past 20 years! In the last two decades since its inception, the Pokemon franchise has infiltrated nearly every part of popular culture: video games, tv, movies, music, tabletop games, toys and clothes have all felt the touch of those crazy little Pocket Monsters!images

The video games came first; Pokemon Red and Green launched on the Nintendo Game Boy in February 1996. A mere eight months later, the TCG appeared, with its initial set numbering 102 cards. Both games focus on the central theme of collecting, training, evolving and battling Pokemon against rival trainers.

The video games conform to the by now quite familiar blueprint of the Japanese RPG (role play game) format, with the player taking control of a central character who explores a map, uncovering the story and collecting items as they go along. In this case, the items include Pokemon, and the player hunts down, captures and trains them in order to battle them against increasingly powerful Pokemon – some wild, with the aim to capture them, others controlled by a rival trainer. The Pokemon battles are turn-based combats in the same style as games such as Final Fantasy, the top-view map exploration broken into (sometimes without warning) to switch to a third-person battle view, with the player choosing which of their Pokemon they will pit against the opponent in front of them.

5-10-pokemon-sun-moon-169-enThe battles in the Pokemon video games are clearly the central point of the action, with everything else your character does revolving around finding and training new Pokemon to take into battle. However, there is also the exploration aspect, with rare Pokemon and items hidden in far-flung corners of the map, and of course those players who love to thoroughly explore their games will have plenty to do just wandering around. So it’s not just a cute-monster-beat’em’up! The games are incredibly popular, still going strong 20 years after the first one – with Pokemon Sun and Moon due for release later this year.

The TCG, however, cuts out the exploration aspect and goes straight for the collecting and battling, with extra emphasis put upon the collecting. You are the trainer, and you need to find your rare Pokemon in the booster packs you buy! There’s something a little more satisfying about collecting Pokemon as represented by the beautifully printed cards (especially the highly valuable foils and reverse holo cards!), than there is in collecting a bunch of pixels on your Game Boy or DS screen. Serious Pokemon collectors will amass hundreds of cards, and they can browse through them at any point, keeping them carefully stored in card folders and sleeves. The Pokemon Company release regular new sets, and collection boxes focusing on particular Pokemon, so collectors are kept quite busy!

Gameplay wise, you’ll find most of the mechanics of the video game duplicated in the TCG; the different types of energy are there, the evolution mechanic is there (as long as you have the right budget-decks-garchomp-169-encards!), and so on. Just like in the video game, the players take turns to try to knock out the opponent’s Pokemon, and will have a selection of Pokemon they can swap their fighting Pokemon out for if it starts to get weak. There are three ways to win the battle: knock out all of your opponent’s Pokemon; cause your opponent to run out of cards to draw from their deck, or draw all six of your Prize Cards (which you get each time you defeat a Pokemon). Of course, as well as needing to know your Pokemon’s strengths and weaknesses, you also need to get to grips with the art of building your card deck, so there is a little more to it than the video game battles.

Price wise, they’re probably comparable; you might spend £40 to £50 on a video game that will give you hours and hours of gameplay, and card collectors will spend at least that much getting booster packs from each set to make their decks and find the cards they’re looking for, not to mention the collection boxes, sleeves, folders, deck boxes and toys!

tcgo-xy8-new-playmats-169-enThere are crossovers, of course; back when the Pokemon TCG was still quite new, there was a Game Boy version, but it didn’t really catch on outside of Japan. Then there’s the soon-to-be-released Pokemon Go, which takes putting you in the shoes of the trainer another step further by turning your phone into a sort of Virtual Reality device, which will let you go out and hunt down Pokemon in the world around you! And these days, no TCG is complete without its online variant, so of course there’s an online Pokemon TCG – and physical Pokemon booster packs and collection boxes all come with an online code card inside so you can log on and get some free cards for your online TCG!



In contrast, Yu Gi Oh did things in rather the reverse order! Also about 20 years ago, Yu Gi Oh started with a manga, which was followed by an anime; then came the TCG, and finally, the video games!

The TCG has players ‘summoning’ various monsters to do battle with, as well as spells and trap cards that can affect the state of play. The aim is reduce your opponent’s Life Points to zero (from 8,000 – this game deals in big numbers!). You can also win by causing your opponent to run out of cards in their Main Deck, or with certain cards that have specific victory conditions that can be met.PGLDGods

Yu Gi Oh is a much more complex game than Pokemon, with seven different decks and zones involved in the placement of your cards, over two dozen monster types, several monster categories, and level and rank systems which both have different effects on how the monsters can be used. However, it is the best selling TCG in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records, so it can’t be that difficult to get the hang of! Konami bring out all manner of trial decks and starter decks as well as the booster sets and collectors’ tins, so anyone looking to start playing can pick up a pre-constructed deck designed for beginners, complete with a rules guide and a playmat.

ForbiddenMemories-Cover-ENGiven that the TCG came first, it’s perhaps not surprising that the video games focus almost entirely on playing a computerised version of the TCG. Anime storylines are followed in the games, but mostly to line up recognisable opponents from the stories. Some of them, such as Dungeon Dice Monsters, focus on the board games that were featured in the anime and manga, but the vast majority are TCG games with varying twists or gimmicks. They mostly appeared on the Playstation consoles, but by no means exclusively; Xbox and GameBoy Advance games were available too. But we haven’t seen much in the way of Yu Gi Oh video games for quite some time – but more on that shortly.

Incidentally, the two board games featured in the anime, Capsule Monsters and Dungeon Dice Monsters, were both produced in a physical format by Mattel, but sadly neither caught on.

Naturally, Yu Gi Oh also has its own online TCG version (albeit unofficial – the official one, Duel Arena, closed down within a year), so you can play online if you can’t find an opponent to play face to face. There’s also a Facebook, Android and iOS version, so you never have to be without a way to play!

And with Yu Gi Oh’s twentieth anniversary looming ever closer (it’s in September), we have new video games to look forward to! Duel Links will be released on iOS and Android very soon (it is finishing beta testing this month after its original April release date was pushed back), and as yet unnamed games for the Nintendo 3DS, PC and consoles. The 3DS game is expected sometime in the summer, and the PC and console game will be an online game and will be released in the winter.



magic-the-gathering-magic-the-gathering-magic-origins-intro-pack-set-of-5-p122151-131730_imageMagic: the Gathering is the oldest of the three, and it’s the one everyone thinks of when they think of geeky card games! MtG debuted in 1993, and 23 years later it has a huge, loyal player base and a thriving tournament scene across the world, with the best players earning enough money from their winnings to call it their job! It also has a thriving trade community, with single cards being sold even from brand new, with stores and websites (including us!) opening booster packs to have single cards ready to sell on release day. It’s a big business! The most valuable card sells for thousands of pounds! Just like the others, Wizards of the Coast provide several different types of MtG product beyond the usual boosters, from Deckbuilders’ Toolkits and Intro Packs to Fat Packs and Gift Boxes, so players of any level are catered for.

MtG has had various electronic incarnations over the years, but the rules of the game have proven problematic in a digital format. The first game in 1997 added in RPG and exploration elements, much like the Pokemon video games. Other attempts have included real time and turn based strategy games, with varying amounts of the original TCG present; most notably, the MtG: Duels of the Planeswalkers series, which has evolved over time since its first appearance on the Xbox in 2009. Its most recent version, Magic Duels:M15_Duels_-_Steam_3.0 Origins, released last year, has taken several steps to bring it as close as possible to the physical card game, including allowing for cards to be collected and decks to be built. It’s also free to play, which is something the previous games were not, and cards can now be earned through play as well as bought. In fact, it’s now incredibly close to Wizards‘ own online version, Magic Online.

So what is Magic Online like? How does it differ from the TCG? Well … it doesn’t! As much as they have been able to make it, Magic Online is exactly the same! The game and the rules are the same, with the added bonus of rules being enforced by the programme, which makes it great for beginners! The cards look the same and have all the same effects, and you can even pick up digital promo cards by attending the regularly scheduled online events or competing in the online tournaments! It even has the same collectors’ aspect, as you earn or buy digital cards in digital booster packs, some of which will be digital foils, which you can trade on the virtual marketplace for other digital cards to round out your collection. Wizards have done an amazing job at getting the online experience as close as possible to the physical experience. All you’re missing is the travel to events … and the horror of dropping your carefully organised card collection!

So What Do We Think?

So that’s how the major TCGs and their video game counterparts compare. There’s no common link here: some are quite different, others take pains to be as similar as possible. Some video games give additional gameplay around or to one side of the TCG simulation; others just seek to recreate it. Some TCGs pre-date their digital counterparts; others are seeking to recreate them. The only constant we can find is that there will be, somewhere in the video games, in some variant, the TCG game. So no matter which game you’re looking at, whether you’re thinking of taking your TCG gaming online or wondering if the TCGs are anything like your favourite console game, you should find enough similarities to make you happy, and enough differences to keep your attention.

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Posted in Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!
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1 Comment on TCGs and Computer Games – How Do They Measure Up?

  1. Nice read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that. And he just bought me lunch since I found it for him smile Therefore let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

    Elayne Boggs | June 30, 2016 at 7:46 am () ()