When Pokémon burst onto the scenes in the late 90s, Digimon wasn’t far behind. On first appearance, both anime series were quite similar – they both came from Japan, both had ‘mon’ in their name, and both focused on little creatures who had a chain of evolutionary stages that made them bigger and stronger. Despite the similarities, both franchises differed in plot and art style, and as a result, found success in their own right. Among the abundance of merchandise, a Pokémon and Digimon card game was released in the West, based on their Japanese counterparts. The problem is, while Pokémon is still thriving today, with 74 sets under their belt, the original Digimon card game only lasted a measly two years.
With the new Digimon TCG growing in popularity, it begs the question, why did the original Digimon trading card game fail, while the Pokémon trading card game, released at a similar time, is still one of the most popular trading card games after 25 years?
Digimon Hyper Colosseum – The Beginning of the original Digimon card game
The Digimon card game, also known as the ‘Digi-Battle Card Game’, was actually based on the Japanese Digimon game created by Bandai, known in the West as ‘Hyper Colosseum’. Around the time of its release in the late 90s, most TCGs were really about who could get the highest-scoring card down on the field, rather than any real strategy. When it came to ‘Hyper Colosseum’, however, the addition of Digivolution, abilities and types rocketed this game into a league of its own.
One incredibly unique feature of ‘Hyper Colosseum’ was that both players took their turns at the same time! This is something that never really caught on but certainly made it one of the most fast-paced TCGs in existence. Another interesting feature you wouldn’t see in any other card game, is that once a player runs out of cards, they just shuffle their discard pile back together and keep on playing! Can you imagine that flying in the Dragon Ball Super or Pokémon TCGs?
‘Hyper Colosseum’ was wildly popular in Japan, with Bandai even running tournaments as early as 1999 for its growing fan base. With such a strong following, the next natural step was for Bandai to venture out and offer their card game to the West, who were discovering Digimon for the first time.
The Release Of The ‘Digi-Battle Card Game
In February 2000, Bandai released a couple of 62-card starter decks and four 30-card half decks. Shortly after, the first Booster was released containing just 54 cards. Over the course of its short run, it released 6 Booster sets which bought the grand total of Booster cards to 324. Overall, the cards looked fantastic, thanks to the reuse of the ‘Hyper Colosseum’ artwork.
So with all the promise of the ‘‘Digi-Battle Card Game’, where did it all go wrong?
Lack Of Community Support
One major reason that the original Digimon Card Game didn’t see a fraction of the success the Japanese counterpart did, was because there was a greater sense of community for ‘Hyper Colosseum’. In Japan, they held tournaments every single year which drew new players in. When it came to the release of the English version in 2000, TCG culture was still relatively new in the West, which meant there were no events to help build a stable community.
Learning The Game
Back in the 90s, there were no video websites like YouTube to teach players the rules of a new TCG. This meant that reading a lengthy and tedious rule sheet was the only way to learn the rules. Well, the Pokémon company, in all their innovative genius, came up with the brilliant idea of teaching kids how to play their TCG by releasing the digital version on the Game Boy and Game Boy Colour.
Unfortunately, no such game existed for the Digimon Card Game, or should I say, no such game existed outside of Japan! Bandai released their own Digimon card game on their own handheld system, the WonderSwan. Like Pokemon, this strengthened the playing community in Japan but did nothing for the game elsewhere.
A significant factor in the failure of this game was its distribution issues. The Upper Deck Company was put in charge of distributing the Digimon TCG in the West, despite only having experience with sports-related trading cards. This resulted in them only distributing the cards to large stores like Target, while hobby and collectable stores could barely get their hands on them.
Bandai dropped Upper Deck after the release of their second Booster Set, which put the final nail in the coffin for the Digimon TCG. Bandai decided to become their own distributor, which only made availability worse. It was around this time that the cards also got a 3D rendered redesign that didn’t go down well with fans. This set was the least printed of all Digimon cards and saw the TCG fizzle out just two years after its release.
The New Digimon TCG
With the release of the new Digimon TCG, kicking off with the Special Boosters Ver 1.0 and Ver 1.5, it seems that Bandai has learned from their mistakes and created a game that is not only fun to play but has also captivated the attention of collectors. If you want to check out the latest incarnation of the Digimon Trading Card Game, head over to this article, where we take a look at the best cards of the latest booster set.
Mathew Parkes – Ludkins Media
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