Hi there! My name is Josh. You might have seen a few of my articles on TCGplayer about Magic: The Gathering in past months. Today, though, I'll be delving into the Pokémon Trading Card Game—specifically why the classic Game Boy Color game is bad for the Old School 1999 format.
Before I begin, I'd like to explain a few things about Old School 1999 and the Game Boy Color game. For those of you not in the know about Old School 1999, it's a format for the Pokémon Trading Card Game that isn't too far off from Magic: The Gathering's Old School 1993-1994 format, which seeks to use the oldest cards from the oldest sets, and nothing else.
In Pokémon's Old School 1999, the same is true. The first three sets in the game—Base Set, Jungle, and Fossil—are the only expansions in the format. The only other legal cards in the format are the four promotional cards released with Pokémon: The First Movie and Mew. Mew, specifically, was actually originally released in Japan in the Fossil expansion set, so despite it being the eighth Wizards of the Coast Black Star Promo, it's legal for this reason.
Beyond the scope of the format, Old School 1999 is played the same way it would be back in 1999. The Burned condition is nonexistent in Old School, as are Dark, Steel, Fairy, and Dragon types. Furthermore, players do not draw as a result of their opponents taking mulligans at the start of the game. Past that, the rules are effectively the same.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game for the Game Boy Color also does not have very different rules from the games we play in real life today. Using a similar core to Old School 1999 as a whole, the Game Boy Color game melds the card game with a Pokémon League style not unlike the main series Pokémon RPGs. However, the game is clunky and slow to start.
However, the clunkiness and speed (or lack thereof) that this video game possesses are only the tip of the iceberg on why it's a bad game for people looking to get into Old School 1999. Here are a few more reasons why it's not a good choice for interested players:
- In the Game Boy Color game, players are not only matched up against NPC opponents with massively-underpowered decks, but are also encouraged by the game to make decks in the same way as the opponents they face. A major issue with this game is that it encourages players to make decks with four copies of Basic Pokémon, two Stage 1 Pokémon, and only one Stage 2 Pokémon. The card game as a whole, however, rewards players who run full playsets of each stage. If someone were to use a deck pre-built within the Game Boy Color game against someone who was actually playing competitive Old School 1999 cards, luck being equal, the latter would easily defeat the former.
- The ease in which players of the Game Boy Color game acquire cards is simultaneously difficult (at the start, within the scope of the video game) and fairly simple as players progress enough. The difficulty in obtaining cards in the video game means that progression is slow. This is reminiscent of MTG Arena, Wizards of the Coast's online interface for Magic: The Gathering.
However, there are no in-game transactions, meaning you can't pay currency—either real or simulated—to progress. However, that's part of the problem. The free acquisition of packs in this video game (albeit on merit of defeating opponents) sets a false ideal for players looking to play with strong cards. If I wanted to make a "Haymaker" deck (that is, an Old School deck that runs Base Set Hitmonchan (base4-8) to achieve victory), I'd be happy to know that it's easy to get four copies Hitmonchan in the Pokémon Trading Card Game for Game Boy Color. But in real life, I'd have to shell out approximately $25 per card, if I was paying market price for non-shadowless copies. (Conversely, shadowless copies of Hitmonchan are about $110 if sold at market price. Yee-ouch!) That difference would be shocking to a player coming from the GBC game directly into Old School 1999, and price differences only seem to get more drastic from there.
- One last issue is that to even get a hold of the original GBC game is difficult. Thankfully the game is available on the Nintendo 2DS And 3DS consoles through the VirtualBoy in the eShop, but as the 3DS is not being supported any longer, that availability may already be at an end. A physical copy of the game is approximately $15, but to get that with a working Game Boy Color—because, let's face it, we don't all have ready access to a Game Boy Color or better—might be a bit steeper. The only other option is emulation, but as that's not exactly the most legal option, it's not an avenue that should necessarily be pursued. You'd be better off just jumping right into Old School and learning from real players.
Of course, the Game Boy Color game isn't all bad. In many ways, it's a great advertising tool for Old School 1999. Plus, it teaches the basics of the early years of the card game. However, these pros are far outweighed by the cons.
For what it's worth, the game has progressed far beyond what Old School 1999 could ever hope to be. After all, the scope of the game overall is more than those three sets and five promos. But the lessons of the present can be applied to the format of the past. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Keeping evolution lines solid is a strong strategy. As mentioned above, the Game Boy Color game contained text within its dialogue that encourages a "pyramid"-style of evolution lines. This was probably due to the lack of likelihood in drawing a Basic Pokémon, but because of the mulligan rule forcing a player to have an Active Pokémon always handy at the start of the game, this doesn't really matter, even in the video game. A solid block of playsets of each evolutionary stage is good.
- Prioritizing Trainer cards and other forms of card advantage is key to victory. In my experience playing Magic: The Gathering, I've known for a long time that having cards available to use generally means it will be easier for me to win. Without a maximum hand size in the Pokémon Trading Card Game, this becomes even easier.
Furthermore, because Supporter cards (which in the card game can only be used at a rate of one Supporter per turn) don't exist in Old School 1999, players can use cards like Bill (base1-91) or Professor Oak (base1-88) multiple times in a turn. These cards provide extreme cases of card advantage, and because they're from the game's genesis, the cards are mostly unregulated in how strong they are. Another card that provides this sort of advantage is Kangaskhan (base2-5) from the Jungle set. It's versatile in that it can defend itself using another attack, but until that point it draws a player cards.
It's important to apply these tips to the Old School 2000 format, which includes the Rocket expansion as well as Gym Heroes and Gym Challenge. The Pokémon Trading Card Game for the Game Boy Color is even more ineffectual here, however, as none of these cards even exist in that format, besides what's in Old School 1999.
All in all, the Game Boy Color game doesn't stack up to actual play with the cards it uses. In other words, the finished work, while fun in some ways, is lesser when compared to the sum of its parts.