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How to Play the Harry Potter Trading Card Game (Part 1)

Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.

What is the Harry Potter Trading Card Game?

Harry Potter's books and movies exploded in popularity. The majority of us have, in one form or another, glimpsed the magical world of Hogwarts at least once. But for some reason, the Trading Card Game (TCG) enjoyed only moderate popularity before quickly fading into obscurity.

It's a shame, too, because the game is quite fun. Because it was cancelled before long, there's only a few hundred cards, and they're only from the first few books, but the game we received is a solid resource-building strategy contest, bearing some similarities to the enormously popular Magic: The Gathering.

Today, we'll learn the rules of the game, review some of the cards, and hopefully rekindle a bit of interest in this hidden wizarding gem.

The Hermione character card. Yikes, now I see why the game didn't quite take off.

The Hermione character card. Yikes, now I see why the game didn't quite take off.

Game Setup

Before your one-on-one match begins, both players need to assemble a deck of 60 cards each, plus one Character card that you'll always have in play. If you're struggling with the high-level math here, that's a total of 61 cards. The 60 cards in your deck can include other Characters, Spells, Items, Lessons, Creatures, Adventures, Locations, and Matches (we'll go over these soon), but you can only have a maximum of four of the same card in your deck.

When the game begins, each player puts their chosen Character into play, shuffles their deck, and draws seven cards. And get this: the rules then say to "determine which player goes first". I think we all can agree the best way of deciding is to shout "Sectumsempra" loudly until your opponent agrees to let you choose. Or, you know, flip a coin or whatever.

The Steelclaw Spell

The Steelclaw Spell

Basic Objectives

Most trading card games (Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, etc.) give you a certain amount of life, and when that runs out, game over. Here, "life" is measured by the remaining cards in your deck. Thus, when a card tells you to deal 7 damage, your opponent discards the top seven cards of their deck. The first player to run out of cards in their deck loses.

This creates an interesting risk vs reward system in many instances. Do you want to draw those five cards to replenish your hand and give you more options, or should you keep them in your deck to bolster your defenses? Should you spend your resources to play a high-level Spell? Is Draco Malfoy a stronger wizard than Dumbledore?!? Very subjective questions, indeed. Well, except that last one.

Turn Progession

Alright, so your Sectumsempra-ed until your opponent let you go first. Nice job, you nasty little Slytherin. Here's how each player's turn will go:

1. If a card in play tells you to something before your turn, do it first. Often you won't need this step.
2. Then, before taking any actions, draw one card.
3. If you have creatures in play that deal damage, inflict the damage now.
4. Now for the meat of your turn. You have 2 actions each turn. You can spend an action to draw an extra card, or play a Lesson, Spell, Creature, Item, Match, or Location card from your hand. You could use your two actions to, for example, draw two extra cards, play a Lesson and a Spell, play two Spells, etc. See the next section to learn more about these types of cards.

Then you have certain categories that require 2 actions to play: Character cards and Adventure cards. These require more actions to use, but tend to have powerful effects.

Each turn, you don't have to spend both (or any) of your actions if you don't want to, but typically this isn't a good idea.

5. Last, if a card tells you to do something at the end of your turn, do it after you've used (or forfeited) your actions. Your turn now ends.

A Charms Lesson card

A Charms Lesson card

Wingardium Leviosa!

Wingardium Leviosa!

Spiral Dive

Spiral Dive

Lessons and Spells

Alright, so we know the basic objectives and how each turn works. Now we need to review the many different types of cards. Let's begin with Lessons. These cards take 1 action to play, and fuel your Spells. There are five types of Lessons: Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, Care of Magical Creatures, and Quidditch.

You can't cast a Spell unless you have as many Lessons in play as the number on the upper-left of the Spell card. For example, the Wingardium Leviosa! Spell pictured to the right only takes 1 Lesson.

You also need at least once Lesson that matches the type of Spell being cast. Wingardium Leviosa! is a Charms Spell, so you need at least one Charms Lesson in play to cast it.

You can tell what kind of lesson you need by looking at the symbol in the top left of the Spell card. For Charms Spells like Wingardium Leviosa! you'll see a blue heart. Transfiguration cards will have a red butterfly, Potions cards contain a green cauldron, Care of Magical Creatures cards possess a brown footprint, and Quidditch Spells have a golden snitch.

Here, one last example. The Spiral Dive card to the right has a Lesson cost of 5, and because it's a Quidditch card, you need at least one Quidditch Lesson in play to cast it. If you had one Quidditch Lesson and four Potions Lessons, you could cast it as one of your turn's actions. If you had 20 Transfiguration Lessons but no Quidditch Lessons, you could not cast it.

The Potions Mistake Spell

The Potions Mistake Spell

Spell Types

Spells have many different effects, but each group tends to specialize in certain areas. Potions Spells deal loads of damage but often require you to discard Lessons from play. Charms deal minor damage, but often have bonus effects to hinder opponents or boost you. Transfiguration cards often remove Creatures and Items from the field. Care of Magical Creatures Lessons allow you to play Creature cards, which we'll cover in Part 2. And finally, Quidditch Spells usually require many Lessons to play, but deal damage and can remove Items or make your opponent discard.

Hermione, Top Student

Hermione, Top Student


Each player always has their starting Character in play, and he/she can never be discarded. However, you can place additional Characters into your deck, and spend 2 actions to put one into play. Doing so allows you to use their abilities, but note that unlike your starting Character, these wizards and witches can be defeated by certain cards; only your initial magic-user is invulnerable.

Also, note that only one of each Character can be in play. This includes your opponent's cards. Thus, if they've played Ronald Weasley, and you have Ron in your hand, you'll have to wait until their Ronald is removed from the field before you can play your card. The exception to this rule is starting Characters; both players could begin using Severus Snape (but neither could play an additional Snape card at any point in the game).

Some Characters have different forms. The Hermione Granger card pictured at the beginning of the article has a different ability than the Hermione, Top Student card shown to the right, but both count as Hermione. Meaning, you can't use Hermione, Top Student if your opponent has the regular Hermione Granger card in play (unless they're your starting Characters).

Phew, magic can get complex, can't it?

Part 2

Great! We've learned about the basic rules, Lessons, Spells, and Characters. Check out Part 2 here to discover how to use Items, Creatures, Locations, Adventures, and Matches. I'll see you there.


Jennifer Dubose on May 08, 2019:

I can't wait to play the game . But what about the location cards