I'm on the ropes. My opponent is using a Pokémon called Serperior that can flip two coins, and do 50 damage each time it gets a heads.
It's knocking out all my low-level 'mons, and I only have a few critters left. But then I draw a Lopunny - a beefy rabbit that can boot an opponent's active monster onto the bench.
There's no time to evolve Buneary and attach three energy cards before all my other creatures are KO'd so I have to just go against Serperior unarmed and hope one of those coin flips fails.
My opponent flips the first coin. It's a heads. 50 damage will hurt, but I'll survive. The second coin? Tails. Lopunny lives to tell the tale.
I lay down the final enemy card and boot Serperior onto the bench, giving me time to regroup, reenergise, and eventually win the match.
Evolution is real
If the Pokémon TCG is supposed to capture the roller-coaster ride of your typical Pokémon video game battle, then it's a success. This game has overpowered cards and cruel attacks, but enough special moves and tools to let you even the playing field.
It's thrilling and theatrical, with tense coin flips, stunning comebacks, and last-minute reversals.
It sounds complex, but it's actually quite straightforward, and even card game newbies will pick it up after a brief tutorial.
Each player has one active Pokémon, and more on the bench. You attach energy cards to critters so they can perform attacks, and you can evolve one Pokémon into another if you've got the right cards. There are status effects and specials, but everything complex is handled by the game itself.
This iPad version works really well. The design is clean and easy to read, and dragging cards about with your finger is largely responsive.
There are some technical hitches, though. You have to put your password in every time you play, you can't play without a web connection, and the game often reloads whenever you change app. Thankfully, it saves your progress.
And, at times, the app's slavish dedication to authenticity goes too far. Your health is displayed in damage stickers, so from the main view you actually have to calculate how much HP you have left. A dynamic health meter would be nice.
Oh, and the less said about those gruesome avatars the better.
The game is packed with content. There's a huge solo campaign, tournaments (though I haven't seen any yet), and real-time online play with friends and strangers. You can play matches with prebuilt decks, or you can make your own.
Hit the deck
The deck-building section is nicely done, making it clear what you need to do to make a valid deck and offering loads of tools for filtering. You can even search the text of every card to find specific status effects or moves.
And if, like me, you find the idea of picking 60 cards quite daunting, there's a clever wizard that builds a deck around two chosen Pokémon (though you'll still need to go in and tweak for the best results).
You get a significant number of cards for free with the game, but you can get more by buying them (apparently with real money - see the box out for more), trading with others, or even by redeeming codes found on real world packs.
Sadly, while there are thousands of cards to play with, you can't seem to play with the super retro decks from the early days of the TCG. My nostalgic heart weeps.
To some, the Pokémon TCG was just a fad that lead to playground beatings and ended friendships. But it's actually a deep, inventive, and hugely popular tabletop game - every bit as as engrossing and addictive as something like Magic or Hearthstone.
This iPad version isn't perfect, but it's still a great way to get involved with this terrific card battler.