Pocket Crystal League (opens in new tab) is a Pokémon-style card game, but it's not, you know, the Pokémon Card Game. This free project on itch.io by independent developer moodytail retrofits colorful, Pocket Monsters fun to the addictive structure of last year's indie card game hit, Inscryption.
Like Inscryption, players draw from one deck for resources, and one for units, in this case using various amounts and types of the Pokémon series' distinctive berries to bring Pokémon into play, with an ultimate goal of winning a "tug-of-war'' with opponents over a shared pool of life points. Uncontested Pokémon can directly attack the opposing player, and must be blocked with another Pokémon in turn.
Moodytail loses the spooky, psychological frame story of Inscryption in favor of pure strategic fun, and to that end has introduced new elements mixing up the card battles. Type advantage can make a huge difference in contests with enemy Pokémon, for example. Additionally, there is one more slot on the field versus Inscryption, bringing the total number of cards in play to five, and moodytail has incorporated levelling up and evolving individual cards.
The connective tissue of the battles is turn-by-turn progression through the wilderness between gyms. Each turn offers the choice between one of a number of essential progression activities, including battling other trainers for money, levelling up your deck, acquiring new cards, and so on. I found myself wracking my brain over the optimal choice at each stage, and it can take some rerunning of areas to build a strong enough deck to challenge Pocket Crystal League's demanding gym leaders.
Pocket Crystal League really scratched my Gwent/Inscryption itch, and with eight gym leaders and the attending levels between them, it's an impressive package for a free solo fan game. The only catch is the attention it may receive from Nintendo lawyers. The Big N has been much less accommodating of fan creations than other publishers, and moodytail is braced for the impact of an almost-inevitable cease-and-desist. The developer is proud of their work, however, and would like to share it with as wide an audience as possible until that day comes.