Growing up, I missed the window where Pokemon and its associated card game were hugely popular; I suppose my parents caught a lucky break, but then again, they did have to deal with my Transformers and GoBot toys all over the house!
As of 2016, I'm not sure if Pokemon is going through a resurgence or not, but if any of you have younger school-age offspring like I do, then you may have heard a lot of begging for learning Pokemon and collecting cards. Things finally came to a head around my son's birthday this year, and I had to give in and start looking into this strange and unfamiliar universe.
The first challenge is, because it's several decades old, the Pokemon trading card game has evolved considerably, having sprouted dozens of themes, expansions, and characters. There's even a tablet app that lets you play a digital version of the game for free, but my children already get enough screen time and encouraging this digital playing was the last thing I wanted. The second challenge is, there isn't really a 'getting started' guide for parents that would ease one into purchasing the proper cards to learn the rules with a 5 or 6 year old, without investing a whole lot of time, research, and money. After a few false steps, here are my thoughts on making this as painless as possible.
Just buy the following starter deck (Trainer Kit) from Amazon:
It's less than $10 so you can inexpensively decide if Pokemon is something you want to introduce at home. The kit comes with a printed sheet of rules to the game, a plastic coin for flipping, a game mat that shows where the different piles of cards should go, game markers, and has a simplified set of 60 cards that are pre-arranged and split into two 30-card decks for two players. Even better, it comes with a detailed walk-through that will get you through several rounds of play; after spending about 15 minutes on this, I was ready to go through it and teach it to my son. After you do this walk-through, you can shuffle the decks and then play several 'real' games.
Once you've gotten familiar with the mechanics of the game, then the real fun begins. The actual game consists of each player having 60 cards each, so you'll need to purchase more cards to have a two-player game at home that reflects the real game. (You can, of course, use the cards you already have as a single player 60-card deck)
At this point, if you have an iPad or Android tablet lying around, and you have some spare time, you should probably download the free Pokemon TCG iOS or Android app and play some games on your tablet. This way, you can see the full game mechanics for yourself and observe some of the strategy and complexity that begins to emerge. You'll have to go to Pokemon's web site and register for an account to get the most out of this (although the app does let you play as a guest). I wouldn't recommend letting your kids play with the apps at this stage, although you can create child accounts down the road with access controls.
Now, on to buying more cards so you can get a full set of two 60-card decks.
Although you can buy what are called 'booster packs' which contain 10 random character/training cards, at this stage, it's much better to invest in one of the following:
Theme packs: Each theme pack comes with a complete 60-card deck that you can use immediately to play with another person. Here are a few of the more recent ones that you could look into (for about $12 to $16 each). You could buy one of these and immediately begin playing the full game with you child.
Elite Trainer Box: There are basically gift boxes that come with a nice box to organize your cards, ~8 packs of boosters (10 cards each), and about 45 energy cards (which are included in theme decks, but not in booster packs). They also come with competition-legal plastic/acrylic dice and markers (nice upgrades to the cardboard ones you got in the starter pack). They also contain card sleeves to protect your more expensive/powerful cards. These boxes are quite a bit more expensive at list price (~$50), but Amazon has them on sale for a little over $30, which actually makes the price per card around 26 cents, about the same as buying a theme deck at list price. Here's a selection of the most recent trainer boxes:
Once you start getting more and more decks and booster packs, you'll need a way to keep them organized. There seem to be two main ways people store them: in special card boxes (like a card catalog or recipe card box), or in clear poket pages kept in a binder. The latter seems a little tedious for all but your most precious and/or rare cards with pretty foil artwork. So, I'd recomend the following: Keep your decks and booster cards in a travel box, and keep a binder for special cards.