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Rise of the Digimon TCG: The new trading card game taking the world by storm

Back in 1997, in the midst of the virtual pet craze, Bandai released the Digimon virtual pets to critical acclaim, following up just six months later with a second generation of the devices and then a third gen in 1998. This was the beginning of what became a worldwide phenomenon—much like the Pokémon franchise—and has since spawned countless TV shows, movies, video games, toys and most importantly, trading card games.

First released in Japan in 2020, and then the West in 2021, the card game had already established a solid player base in its home country. Since its subsequent global launch, the Digimon Trading Card Game (TCG) has slowly made a name for itself as one of the top TCG’s around. But what exactly is the Digimon TCG? To understand it better, let’s take a trip back to the year 2000 and pay a visit to Digimon TCG’s older brother, the Digi-Battle card game.

So what is the Digimon TCG and where did it all begin?

In February 2000, Bandai distributed its Digi-Battle card game in the West. Based on the very popular Digimon Hyper Colosseum in Japan, the initial release contained two 62-card starter decks and four 30-card half decks. This was followed soon after by the first booster set, containing 54 cards. Over its pitiful two year lifespan, only six booster sets were released, bringing the card total to 324 before it was ultimately discontinued.

There were a few reasons behind the premature death of the game for the rest of the world. The first being a lack of community support. In its homeland of Japan however, Digimon Hyper Colosseum had massive backing from a thriving community of fans. Each year, tournaments were held which would bring existing players together as well as aiming to draw in new players. Despite this, TCG culture was still pretty new in the West, so those kinds of groups and events didn’t really exist yet, making it much harder to find like-minded people to play with.

Secondly, learning to play the game was rather difficult. Unlike today, where we have YouTube and other internet resources at our fingertips to help us learn, a kid in 2000 trying to learn how to play would’ve had to read through a long and boring rules sheet—and who wants to do that? You would have thought that the Pokémon TCG would have had the same problem, but the brainiacs at Nintendo beat Bandai at its own game (pun intended) and came up with the genius idea to help children get to grips with its rules with the introduction of a digital version of the TCG for the GameBoy Colour.

Finally, there were major distribution issues. Bandai initially put the Upper Deck in charge of its Western circulation of the game, however, since the company had only previously dealt in sports trading card delivery the method was all wrong— resulting in only big stores such as Target receiving Digi-Battle card games, while smaller, local game stores hardly got a look in. The final nail in the coffin was when, after the release of the second booster set, Bandai decided to take over its own distribution of the game in the West, which only made things worse. The cards also got a new 3D re-design around the time which didn’t go down well with fans, making it the least printed set in the card game’s short history. Just two years later, Bandai discontinued it.

Fast forward to 2020 and we were presented with the release of Digimon Adventure, a reboot of the original 1999 anime. To coincide with this project, Bandai surprised everyone by releasing the Digimon Card Game. A brand new, completely redesigned Digimon TCG that had fans excited, if a little apprehensive. Would this one be a complete flop like its predecessor? You’ll find your answer a little further ahead.

What do players think of the game?

The Digimon TCG (2020) actually has a pretty simple concept. Two players take on the role of the ‘Digidestined’—a person who has been chosen to protect the digital world from evil forces—and battle it out with their Digimon, ‘digi-volving’ them to make them stronger and ‘break’ the other players’ five Security Cards (think of them as firewalls). After all of a player’s Security has been destroyed, one final attack will finish them off and win you the game. Seems simple enough on the surface, but much like an iceberg, there is so much more than meets the eye—a very encouraging sign for any fledgling TCG.

To understand why this game is gaining so much attention in the TCG community, SCREENSHOT spoke to some avid Digimon TCG (2020) players to get a better understanding of what makes it so special. Sven Laughlin, Mark Paquin and Anthony T’Challa are all huge fans of the game and shared  similar sentiments when it came to what drew them to the community.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of Digimon since I was a kid. I loved watching the original series and even playing the original card game,” said Laughlin. “So when I saw a new game I knew I had to play!” T’Challa was much the same, and even managed to create multiple communities consisting of dozens of players, “I’ve been a huge fan of the Digimon series since I was a kid [too]. My best friend and I saw a few of the original starter decks in 2021 and thought ‘Why not?’.” Since then he hasn’t looked back. “Honestly, the best decision we’ve made! We went from three friends at our kitchen table to starting a local community of dozens of players at multiple local game stores!”

So, it seems quite clear so far that the game sparks a lot of nostalgia for its players, which is to be expected. With many of us growing up around the time the series was in its heyday, it’s understandable that that would be a large motivator for fans to start playing. But what about the game itself? Is it even any good?

Paquin definitely thinks so. “Coming up with fun strategies or seeing people able to make their decks based around their favourite Digimon is exciting,” he said. “Plus the memory system is a great resource balancer.”

Unlike Magic: the Gathering (MTG), or the Pokémon TCG, which use resource cards such as lands or energy respectively, the Digimon TCG uses a memory gauge—going from 10 to zero and then back to 10. This system is shared by both players, so by spending memory to play cards, you’ll slowly shift the memory counter onto your opponent’s side. Once this happens, it becomes the other players turn. So not only does it really make players think about how to best utilise their memory, so as not to give the opposition the advantage, it also allows for more customisation of their decks without worrying about how many resource cards they need.

Laughlin agrees with Paquin on the excitement around the game but for a different reason. “The game is so fun to play mainly because of the community. I’ve made a lot of new friends since I started playing.” It seems that community is a huge part of this TCG, which is warming to see, especially since it’s a far cry from the original Digimon TCG that did so badly partly because of its lack of community.

Can Digimon ‘digivolve’ into a top tier TCG?

So, we know there is a strong sense of nostalgia for the game, it plays pretty well and has a very strong community behind it but the next logical question would be: Can it reach the heights of the big three? Yu-Gi-Oh!, the Pokémon TCG and Magic: the Gathering. This TCG holy trinity has been around for a long time and have individually rooted themselves as the pinnacle of what trading card games should be. Can the Digimon TCG make it into the big leagues? Do they all have the potential to stand the test of time?

Pokémon maybe. I don’t see much Pokémon play, at least where I reside” said Paquin. “Magic would be a bit of a reach with its longevity and diehard player base. That would have to be seen if Digimon sticks around for years to come.” T’Challa however has a much more positive outlook for the game “Absolutely. At first, I had my reservations. But the popularity of the game has skyrocketed since we first started playing […] more people from different TCG communities like MTG and Yu-Gi-Oh! have been migrating to us.”

It seems that the Digimon TCG has all the makings of an incredible trading card game. It’s only in its infancy, and will definitely have to prove its worth against the big three, but with so much love and support for it already, it seems like it is well on its way to becoming the next great trading card game. T’Challa sums it all up quite nicely. “The game is so accessible, the cards are relatively inexpensive compared to other TCGs, and the community is fantastic and welcoming. I haven’t been this happy playing a card game since playing MTG as a kid.” If that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does.

Digimon Card Game Theme Booster Digital Hazard [EX-02] will be released in Europe, Latin America and North America 24 June 2022.

From Tamagotchi to Nintendogs: decoding the rise of virtual pets as loyal companions in the cyberspace

Let’s face it, we all love pets—be it a dog or a cat, a bird or a rabbit, fluffy friends bring immeasurable joy to our lives. For some, however, due to financial or logistical reasons, a pet just isn’t a feasible option. But who said a real one is your only option? Do you want a pet that is relatively inexpensive, can fit in the palm of your hand and can still provide the same amount of serotonin as the real deal? Then a virtual pet is the perfect choice for you! Don’t know what we’re on about? Well, you’re in for a ride into one of the most wholesome subcultures on the internet today.

What is a virtual pet?

A virtual pet, put simply, is an artificial human companion. These cute critters come in many different varieties but they all share the same goal—to give you the opportunity to easily raise a pet with love and care. But that’s not all. Most pets require you to feed, play and groom them, just like their real-life counterparts. Some of them can even evolve into different forms depending on the device you are using. They, of course, have no real physical form other than the gadgets they are housed in, which are often small, palm-sized and delightfully portable—making them perfect for those who didn’t have a pet but wanted one oh-so-badly.

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Virtual pets can range from portraying actual animals like the Petz series to fantasy creatures as can be found in the Tamagotchi and Digimon series. They are also not limited to the tiny pocket devices mentioned earlier, some virtual pets are web browser-based while others are part of video games like the widely loved Nintendogs collection by Nintendo. But where did these adorable digitised creatures originate? It’s time for another gaming history lesson.

A virtual past

Back in 1991, a video game company by the name of PF Magic was set up somewhere in San Francisco, California. This little company would go on to make the first virtual pet game ever in 1995, called Dogz. The great success of this entry prompted them to release Catz just a year later—ultimately birthing the Petz franchise. Little did they know at the time that they had just started one of the biggest crazes the 90s would ever witness…

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In the same year that Catz was released, Bandai Namco brought Tamagotchi to the masses. Probably the most well known virtual pet to this day, Tamagotchi took the world by storm when it was released internationally in 1997 and had you feed, play games with and cherish a little alien you’d carry around in your pocket. If you did all this you would be rewarded and your little friend could grow up or morph into one of many different characters available. The fad had the entire US in a chokehold, to a point where they were actually banned for disrupting children’s school work as they needed constant attention to survive.

In 1998, Nintendo also jumped on the bandwagon and released the Pocket Pikachu, following the phenomenal success of the Pokémon franchise. The toy housed the series’ mascot, the electric mouse-like creature Pikachu, but worked a bit differently from those that were launched before it. Instead of having to care for Pikachu, owners would attach it to their belt and use it as a pedometer. For every 20 steps taken, Pikachu would give the player one Watt, a currency that could be used to buy the virtual pet presents online.

Fast forward to 2022, although the initial craze has died down significantly from the 90s, virtual pets (and the nostalgia that surrounds them) are still going strong. Don’t believe me? Well, Bandai Namco actually released Tamagotchi Smart in 2021 as part of its 25th anniversary. The new device is designed to resemble a smartwatch—complete with a rechargeable battery and a slot for special memory cards which allows you to download additional accessories, characters and food for your Tamagotchi pal. Technology never ceases to amaze us, am I right?

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My pet is better than yours

Over the years, we have seen countless virtual pets enter the market. So many pixelated friends came and went. But which ones were the most popular? Let’s take a look.

1. Tamagotchi (1996)

Credited as the start of the portable virtual pet craze, there’s no doubt Tamagotchi should be in the top spot. Bandai really hit the nail on the head with this one, selling millions of units in Japan and North America alone, as well as many other iterations of the accessory years down the line. Your task was simple—take care of your little baby Tamagotchi until it grew up into a healthy adult. If you neglected your little friend then it, well… died. Sad times. It wasn’t long before kids started holding funerals for their late pets. Your zeros and ones won’t be forgotten, little guy.

2. Digimon (1997)

Probably more well known for the popular animated TV series, Digimon was Tamagotchi’s successor, but this time marketed with ‘boys’ specifically in mind—it was the 90s after all. On top of looking after your digital monster, you could also level up your Digimon’s power and using the built-in connectivity features, link up with friends and battle it out to see who had the stronger monster. Digimons are, in fact, the champions.

3. Pocket Pikachu Colour (1999)

Pocket Pikachu Colour was the second entry in the Pocket Pikachu series and incorporated probably one of the coolest features of a virtual pet at the time. Remember those Watts I mentioned earlier that you could save up? Not only could you look after Pikachu and take him on walks, but by connecting it to Pokémon Gold and Silver via the infrared sensor on the Game Boy Colour, the Watts could be traded to the video game.

Depending on the amount traded, the player could receive a variety of items in the game. This feature wasn’t seen again until the release of Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver (HGSS), remakes of Gold and Silver, which came packaged with the Poké Walker accessory—a device that let you transfer a Pokémon from HGSS and take it for a walk, earning Watts as you go. Nintendo’s out here, always trying to get us to exercise—one way or another.

This is just the beginning

Since their birth in the late 90s, virtual pets have slowly declined in popularity, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone for good. Bandai Namco has just celebrated Tamagotchi’s 25th anniversary and released a new device to accompany it. More and more virtual pet apps are also appearing on both Google Play and App Store as we speak. The shift from physical hardware to apps may just be the way to go, since practically all of us have access to a smart device of some kind. There’s even research that shows virtual pets are good for our mental health. Who knew back in the 90s playground, when you were showing off your new Tamagotchi or Pocket Pikachu, that it would be helping people nearly 30 years later find their peace of mind?

So, if you’re feeling lonely and need a little companionship, maybe a virtual friend is all you need. But remember—a Tamagotchi is for life, not just for Christmas.