I've seen a few comments here that recognise Pikachu has a greater hold on the five year old imagination, and I'd say that was my experience too (not that the game wasn't enjoyed, it provoked interest in the subject and fun was certainly had). I thought I'd post some of my thoughts on why and some things I might try and do with the cards to address that.
- The brand, this is pretty obvious but it would be lazy to explain it in these terms.
- Dragons and monsters are immediately exciting, any child can engage of imaginative flights with the raw material of Pokemon. Rainbow trout and roses less so. Programmes like Octonauts (watch some if you're not familiar, ten minutes of fun for 4-5 year olds and surprisingly educational).
- Pokemon makes thematic sense; my guys are fighting your guys as part of a tournament backstory, and I have a clearly defined role to occupy (the trainer). I think Phylo is far more abstracted; I'm an ecosystem, that wants to be big but doesn't want your ecosystem to be big and I can't really explain who I am or why I like my ecosystem but not yours. I think the missing role and motive is surprisingly important in engaging with the game imaginatively.
- Some of the text is definitely not aimed at Pokemon aged audience - "sexually dimorphic"? There has got to be something more meaningful to the average person than that. Most children will not have a clue what to make of a card like that and even with dictionary definitions of the two words is going to struggle to pull together the meaning.
Some of these points are much more of a problem for a five year old than a fifteen year old.
So I was thinking I might try and play the game as something more cooperative. We play our hands to build an ecosystem, and after we've both played a turn we turn we flip an event and apply it. We're both then trying to grow the ecosystem against the events and get a combined score. There is drama in what is flipped over and hopefully more opportunity to buy into the drama of the event and its consequences.
Anyway, I think that as a way of stitching together simplified ecosystems it's an extremely successful system. I really admire what's been achieved. I do wonder though if the simulation has come first to the degree that the game is very much second.
With Pokemon there is no doubt the game came first. Phylo is designed to be educational and then fun but it's competing with something designed only to be fun. I think that is always going to be a huge obstacle to serious challenge to Pokemon in the five year old mind share.