I love card games. As a kid I grew up playing Thirteen with my paternal grandparents. Thirteen is one of the many offshoots of the Whist family of card games (the Wikipedia entry has a pretty awesome list of related card games over the past few centuries, check it out!) which includes Bridge and Spades. From there I moved onto Magic: The Gathering, the still extremely popular collectible card game (CCG). I started playing Magic, like so many others, with Revised Edition which came out in 1994.
I missed the Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! craze because at that point I was invested in Magic and had a negative view of them, thinking they were rip-offs for kids (something I don’t think any more, though I still see them as simpler than the wildly complex Magic). In the 90s and into the 2000s there weren’t a lot of video games that were card games. Nearly all of them were digitized versions of those three massive CCG franchises or barely altered replicas of them with a popular anime or video game skin tacked on. I looked at this great Wikipedia page on all card game video games and I think the list of Gameboy Advance card games proves my point:
Digital versions of the CCG trinity are obviously popular. There have been MANY versions of them released over the years - Magic in particular has an exact digital copy of the game online where people pay high prices for rare digital cards (though still not nearly as high as some of the exorbitant real world cards).
I think what I’ve always loved about card games is the amazing depth of strategy that can happen. The fact that there are so many incredible games made from the standard deck of playing cards is pretty mind boggling. You can also take your time with card games: there’s no rush (in a non-competitive environment) and there’s a natural state of relaxing perusal that happens as you stare at your hand in between turns.
Now, every time I see a card game video game, which is still relatively rare, I always want to try it. Something Magic: The Gathering thankfully popularized was the structure of CCGs - a limitless amount of cards and therefore a limitless amount of potential strategy. The idea of deck manipulation, adding and removing cards from the base deck, is wildly different than traditional playing card games. Deck manipulation has also become one of the core elements in popularizing tabletop games (Dominion being the most famous type of deck-building game, I could write a whole other article about table-top card games!) some of which have also been digitized.
There has also been a slew of new original digital CCGs including the now extremely popular Hearthstone. I’ve played a decent amount of Hearthstone but personally didn’t enjoy it for too long. I also checked out lesser known games such as Shadow Era, which was pretty cool, and the now-dead Might & Magic Duel of Champions which I actually really loved (and not only because of my Heroes of Might and Magic obsession).
Over the past several years I’m seeing more and more card game video games on PC and it’s made me really happy. Developers are expanding the ways in which card games can be mixed in with games, and even the games I didn’t quite enjoy overall (Guild of Dungeoneering felt extremely unbalanced and Hand of Fate’s card part was amazing but the fighting parts were very clunky) were still fun to check out and play. Looking at Steam now I see games I haven’t tried yet that have fairly high ratings (the “Card Game” tag including, of course, FFVIII with its in-game card game Triple Triad something I spent ***a lot of time*** playing on my PS1 back in the day).
The game currently on top of the Steam charts for card games is the amazing Slay the Spire. I love it. It’s still in early access, and it definitely still has some balancing issues (balance issues will forever plague card games due to the nature of how they work) but it’s a total blast. The art style is cool, the way deck building is done as you progress is great, the ideas behind how the cards interact with the playable characters (I REALLY LIKE THE DEFECT and its orb powers) is one of its strongest design choices, and the roguelike dungeon crawl structure works perfectly. The announcement that it’s being ported to Switch has me VERY excited because handhelds are perfect (see the above shot of the 8 million Yu-Gi-Oh! Gameboy games) for card games and there are VERY few outside of the main 3 CCG franchises.
I recently went to Play NYC and was happy to see two pretty cool (but still in early development) card game video games there. As indie gaming continues to grow and game development technology becomes more accessible I’m hoping to continue to see new and interesting things happening with card games. A couple I’m keeping my eye on that are highly rated on Steam are: Book of Demons (early access ARPG deck-building where the monsters you slay give cards that create your skill tree/deck), and Prismata (early access strategy game where you build a robot army of cards). I’m also really hoping that Slay the Spire sells well on Switch and that we see more card games on that fantastic portable console.
Know any card games you think I might like? Let me know!