Mom’s Guide to Pokemon Cards

October 3, 2019

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On my son’s seventh birthday we entered a whole new world – the wonderful world of Pokemon.  And like millions of other moms I was clueless.  He unwrapped a gift from his best buddy and it was a huge pack of Pokemon cards and a binder.  He was so excited – “All the other boys play with these at recess” Huh? I had never heard him breathe the word Pokemon before.  He ripped open the packages ogling the crazy little creatures and spouting off all sorts of numbers.  I remained clueless.  He was so enthralled with these little pieces of cardboard and I was so confused.

Mom, What do I do with my Pokemon cards?

About two hours later he asked “Mom, what do I do with my Pokemon cards? How do I play with them?”  You are asking the wrong person, Bud.  But, like any good mom I texted all my friends – and they were all clueless too.  Their kids had piles and boxes and binders full of these cards, but no one knew what the kids did with them.  When I asked my son what the kids do at school with the cards all I got was “I don’t know”.  Everyone told me to just let him figure it out – but now I was intrigued.  What do you do with Pokemon cards?

That night I spent countless hours on the internet learning everything I could about Pokemon cards.  I studied videos and watched portions of tournaments and I figured it out.  I could now play a regulation game of Pokemon.  I was so excited the next morning when my son woke up – I pulled out the cards and started teaching him how to play a REAL game of Pokemon.  He looked at me as if I had three heads and said “That’s not what the other kids do”.  So, hours of my life were lost and my brain was filled with useless information.  I quickly realized that there was nothing out there explaining to moms in simple terms what Pokemon is and what our kids are doing with these cards.

What is a Pokemon?

What is a Pokemon – A pokemon is a “pocket monster”.  Pokemon Trainers catch wild Pokemon in Poke Balls (those mostly white and red balls) and then they use them in battles against other Pokemon trainers.  In essence, in a game of Pokemon, two trainers are battling each other with their Pokemon.  Interestingly, Pokemon started as video game based on bug collecting on the original game boy – and has turned into a very successful franchise of cartoons, movies, games, video games and cards – all based on this very basic premise of collecting Pokemon.

What comes in a Deck of Pokemon Cards?

Pokemon Cards

Pokemon cards are the ones your kids are most excited about.  “Gotta Catch them all” They have pictures of the monster on them, the monster statistics – telling you how well it will do in battle, what energy it requires and how it can be defeated.  Each Pokemon is from a different region – and you may see them organized this way – Kanto, Johto, Alolo and the list goes on and on.  They are also classified by type – water, normal, flying, fire, bug – again the list goes on and on. 

Depending on what type of Pokemon are battling they can inflict different degrees of damage in a battle.  For example, a fire Pokemon is weak to a water or ground Pokemon.  This concept is probably not important to most 7 year olds though.  

As if it wasn’t confusing enough – Pokemon evolve.  Meaning that they can transform into an even more powerful Pokemon under certain circumstances. These higher power pokemon are able to do more damage in a battle.  I think of them as families – which often come in sets of 2 or 3. 

Evolution from basic to stage 2.

Once concept that was difficult for me to grasp is that there are multiples of each type of Pokemon.  I always thought Pikachu was a particular character – but it is a type of monster.  So, there might be a million Pikachu’s out there.

What do the numbers on the Pokemon card mean?

Basic at the top left of the card means that this is a starter Pokemon and might be able to be evolved.

HP at the top right of the card shows us how much damage the Pokemon can take before he loses all his power. This is his health. The lightning sign next to this number is what type of Pokemon it is. Pikachu is an ELECTRIC Pokemon.

Gnaw is his first attack. This is what he will do if you play an electric energy card. The 10 means that he will take 10 health points from his opponent.

Agility is Pikachu’s secondary attack which he will do if you play two colorless energies. Again, he will take 10 health from his opponent.

The circle at the bottom right of the card denotes how common or rare this Pokemon card is. A circle is a common Pokemon, a diamond is a less common Pokemon, a star is a rare Pokemon and a white star is a super rare Pokemon.

Trainer Cards

If you played this trainer card you would take 20 points off your Pokemon card allowing him to stay in battle longer. Once a Pokemon loses all its health it dies.

In a real game of Pokemon the trainer cards allow you to do something extra on your turn – inflict extra damage, heal injured Pokemon or switch the Pokemon that are battling.  They are relatively easy to understand. But something that often just goes in the back of your kids Pokemon binder.

Energy Cards

In order to attack one another Pokemon need energy.  Each type of Pokemon (water, normal, flying) requires a different type of energy so there are multiple different types of energy cards to be collected.  These are the least exciting cards to your kids – especially once they have been collecting for a while.

Official Playing Board

Players sit across from each other
Close up of one player’s side of the board

This is what an official Pokemon playing board looks like and there is one included with your starter pack of cards along with a coin and point chips.  My boys will occasionally try to play a real game of Pokemon but normally end up creating some sort of hybrid game that I do not understand at all.

Point Tracking Chips

The point tracking chips are used to keep track of how much damage is done to each Pokemon.  So, if you inflict 10 damage on your opponent’s Pokemon, they would place a 10 chip on their card.  Each Pokemon has a certain amount of damage it can sustain before it dies.  Once it dies that card is discarded and you move on to your next Pokemon.


The coin is used when you are directed to by the cards – either the trainer cards or the Pokemon cards themselves.  Depending on whether you get heads or tails you may be instructed to do something different to your Pokemon.  The cards are very self-explanatory – so this helps. In reality, the coin is just something your kids will lose on the bus.

How is the Pokemon Game Played?

A true game of Pokemon is actually a very complex thing – you need to create a deck of 60 Pokemon cards that work well together and that you would be able to evolve.  Hopefully the cards you chose will be strong against those of your opponent.  It is recommended that you have 20 Pokemon, 20 trainers and 20 energy cards.  If you actually want to learn how to play Pokemon there are some really good tutorials online – it is way beyond the scope of this post.  I just want you to understand what the different cards are, what your kids are talking about and how they are playing.

If your child’s first Pokemon cards are a specialty set or a small foil pack instead of a starter deck they will not get the board, chips or coins. I think this is partially why were so confused when we got our first set of cards. For collecting and trading purposes the specialty packs are better because all they contain are Pokemon cards – no trainers or energy cards. But, if your kids want to try to play an actual game you should get a full deck of cards.

What are our Kids Actually Doing with their Cards?

So, what are our kids doing with Pokemon cards at recess? Honestly, I think they are just trading them and sharing “war stories” about how powerful their Pokemon are.  They want to collect them all – and most never will.  They will come home with old, ratty, ripped cards that they think are the most amazing thing ever – and I’ve learned to just let it be.

When my son got his first Pokemon cards he was so excited to take them to school.  Before he did, we sat down and had a long talk with him about how to trade fairly and not be taken advantage of.  You can only imagine how upset I was that next day when he came home with all of his “good” brand new cards gone.  And he had nothing to show for it.  To make a long story short – some boy told him his cards were all “fake” and just took them (to help him out).  I was so mad – mad at him, mad at the other kids, mad that they were allowed to play with these stupid cards at school.  When I calmed down, I realized that this was a lesson he needed to learn – who to trust, how to trade, how to stand up for himself.  And although those damn cards are pricey – all he lost was a piece of cardboard.  There are much worse ways to be taken advantage of in this world. Lesson learned.

What else do Kids do with their Cards?

My kids do battle with each other in a hybrid sort of game.  They don’t follow the official rules but they match up different Pokemon against each other – It kind of reminds me of the card game “War”.  They also pretend that their cards are play figures and spread them all over the house – they live in dollhouses, lego creations etc.  But mostly, they organize and reorganize their binders of cards, learning the stats of each Pokemon.

I have no idea what is going on here – but there are setups like this all around my house.

Pokemon has taken over our lives – we have Pokemon stuffed animals, pajamas, t-shirts, movies and legos.  We watch Pokemon cartoons on Saturday morning. My kids even have Pokemon nicknames for each other.  They are obsessed.  We have also started playing Pokemon Go and catching our own Pokemon.  They absolutely love it.  I’ll be writing a post soon on the basics of Pokemon Go – so check back.

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