The Best Card Games on Android & iOS05 Sep 2019 28
Modern digital card games combine the cerebral appeal of tactical play with the adrenaline rush of random loot and top-decking. It might seem like they’re dime-a-dozen, but the games detailed below are all absolutely worthwhile, judged on their own terms.
No luck of the draw? Perhaps some quality strategy games you can play without internet instead!
Some are cutthroat tests of supremacy, others bucolic come-as-you-may types, but all are thoughtful and ingenious in sundry ways. There's two flavours of card games that currently dominate the niche - highly competitive TCG/CCG multiplayer battlers derived from Hearthstone, and more cerebral or casual affairs, often translated from physical card games that already exist. We've woven the two types together into one supreme list.
Not everything release gets to claim a top spot, either because there's no room for it or we weren't fans of it at review - maybe we haven't reviewed it at all yet. Still, it's worth letting you make up your own minds so here's a summary of card games released recently:
Age of Rivals (Review)
How we forgot about this one for so long is anybody's guess, but we've fixed it now. Released in 2017, this strategy card game takes a lot of inspiration from physical design but is very much a digital game. It's more drafting than deck-building, with five phases repeated across four rounds and a game can last as little as ten minutes.
It's minimalist, but with a touch of flair as you try and draft along specific themes and build your board up as the game progresses. While it was in a bit a state when it first launched, the years since release has seen this one mature into an excellent game worth checking out if you want a break from deck-building, but still like that creativity that comes from making the best of what you draw.
Shards of Infinity (Review)
Ascension is a house name in deck-building card games, especially on mobile. While Playdek were responsible to bring that light into our world, Temple Gates Games have the honour of bringing the spiritual successor to Ascension to mobile - and it's one of the best card games we've played to date. The game itself is slick, well designed, and has some very interesting twists on the deck-building formula. This isn't Ascension with a new skin, but a new game in its own right.
As for the app, Temple Gates have done a brilliant job. The game is colourful and brought to life with very few technically concerns. Everything is cross-platform and multiplayer is competently designed. If you're looking for a new card game to occupy you in 2019, look no further.
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Mystic Vale (iOS | Android) (Review) - A very similar game to Shards, Mystic Vale is another deckbuilding game that uses the same base premise, just with a different theme and a different twist on the usual proceedings. This one was developed by Nomad Games, and while entertaining in its own way it doesn't really shake up the genre as much as it needs to really stand out.
Miracle Merchant (Review)
Tinytouchtales' Card Thief has been a staple on this list since its inception, but there are other great card games the developer has made. Their most recent release was Miracle Merchant, a game about trying to craft potions for customers in need of a remedy or other liquid solution. You must juggle the competing but equally important needs of satisfying customers (by brewing exactly what they asked for) and maximising profits (because making potions is expensive and that Porsche won't pay for itself).
Miracle Merchant is solitaire card-gaming at its finest. The art style is impeccable, and the tactical decision making is incredibly deep. Assembling a potion of four cards sounds easy, but actually with negative cards to consider, and the fact that if you fail to make a potion you will lose the game, you have pick and choose your battles in terms of how 'good' to make the potions for customers, especially considering you need to maximise profit as well.
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TinyTouchTales have done plenty of great card games, from Card Thief and Card Crawl, to Potion Explosion.
Meteorfall: Journey (Review) (GOTY 2018)
Challenging and Stimulating: In the happier sessions, Meteorfall ends with a successful final showdown against the aptly-named Uberlich. Working backwards from that ultimate battle to the four starting characters is much more challenging than the squidy art and breezy interface might suggest.
This is a game that's been wonderfully supported post-release, with several major content expansions at the time of writing. What's better, it's all been given away for free! There's a reason this won our Reader's Choice Game of the Year award, you know.
Reigns: Game of Thrones (Review)
The Pinnacle: The meme/phrase "living your best life" is not often one you hear applied to a videogame, but we can think of no title that's more applicable than Nerial's licensed Game of Thrones version of their hit card/monarch simulator Reigns. As Brittany mentions in her review, this is hands-down the best version of the Reigns formula, and it helps that it involves and engaging and popular IP.
The typical Tinder-style swiping mechanics coupled with the usual medieval hilarity and tough choices is coupled with some subtle new twists, where players get to try and rule the Seven Kingdoms as one of nine iconic characters from the show (which are unlocked over time). All this is enabled through the guise of Melisandre - you're essentially playing out her visions of how these characters might get on sitting atop the Iron Throne. Licensed games often get a bad rap, but they can now look to this game to wash away all their sins. This is how you do it, folks.
The Gold Standard: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a rogue, a priest and a warrior walk into the bar. Players struggle to reduce the opponent life to zero as players get more mana (read: energy) to fuel stronger minions and more devastating spells. The power curve and rarity drop rate are a little punishing, but later expansions and patches have remedied this somewhat. Hearthstone’s card battles unfold on a tavern table, in the middle of the hub-bub and merriment of a chaotic Warcraft scene, usually narrated in a dwarven brogue.
Yes, the card game itself is solid and as stripped-down as it can be without being simplistic, but Hearthstone flashes of creative genius and setting go well beyond the card base. The animations and sound design have been polished to a mirror sheen, and the gameplay, love it or hate it, is the standard because of its sterling quality and undeniable fun factor. Just don’t sweat the meta or top-tier competition, because then the grind will eat up your life.
Outrageous fun: A game of hot potato with a nitroglycerine-infused feline escalates until every player save one has met their maker. Fiery kitty death and simple humor belie a take-that game which puts everyone immediately at each other’s throats. Hostility and sabotage are the name of the game, because each player has only one life to live, and one defuse card to keep that hairball from becoming a fireball.
The game is a childish, cartoonish pastiche of obvious joke made too hard too often, but despite the unapologetic unrefined everything, it remains one of the best guilty mindless pleasures around. If you ever need a reason to froth at the mouth and fling spittle at your fellow humans over fictionally threatening cats, look no further: Exploding Kittens is simply an excuse to have a good time, a cheeky pretext. Irksome, shameless and perfect it its base way.
Plants vs. Zombies: Heroes
Food for thought: This franchise has reinvented itself several times since the original’s premier success. The sequel to the tower defense titan dallied with free-to-play energy timers and premium unlocks, then the series experimented with the FPS arena shooter, releasing Garden Warfare. Along the way, some of the magic and charm was lost. Plants vs. Zombies Heroes is an inspired and refreshing late entry into the game series, translating the original tower defense themes to a CCG with some nifty changes. Perhaps the coolest single defining feature of PvZ: Heroes is the asymmetry: one player represents the zombies shuffling forward for a quick bite while the other coordinated the plants fighting to repel the undead.
The power dynamic between the two sides is unusual and distinct, recalling Netrunner more than Magic or Hearthstone. The flow of new cards into eager players hot little hands, the balance between card strengths and their relative availability as well as the overall strategic robustness of the game are all top-notch. This core gameplay shines along with the visual polish and jazzy flair the series has come to be known for. Plants vs. Zombies Heroes is a fun late entry that deserves more love.
An evergreen choice: This one stands out from the other members of this list on two fronts. Firstly, for its palette, which is as frigid as monochrome as you’d expect. Secondly, because its gameplay is survival-based, not just thematically but actually. Gathering supplies, fending off nasties and keeping the elements at bay take every possible trick the cards will give you. Better performance will net you better tools, but unlike other games, Frost’s best rewards are a sense of security and temporary respite. In other words, the game won’t see you chasing exhilarating high score or excitement, but rather staving off the undesirable. Loss aversion, the fear of breaking a fragile equilibrium, the game daring you to take only appropriate risks when the phrase is a hollow oxymoron. The game rewards you with the chance to keep playing, keep exploring its stark dangers and bag of tricks.
The Elder Scrolls: Legends (Review)
Devastating combos: Bethesda’s entry into online card battling has the normal variety of twists on the race-to-zero archetype that most card battlers end up parroting to some extend or another. It has two lanes, one of which is a ‘shadow’ lane granting cover to units slotted there. The other change is truly radical though, and alters the core idea of card advantage. Players who lose a large chunk of life in a single turn get extra draws as compensation the next turn.
This acts as a huge counterbalance and means that showy and impressive turns in some cases actually become victims of their own success. Getting the most bang from your buck from each and every card still matters, of course, but the card-draw granted from life loss is a devious catch-up mechanism, especially when combined with the ‘Prophecy’ keyword.. Standard, with not much else to distinguish it from the crowd aside from the setting and its tweaks to the formula, but a worthwhile entry with intelligent design and classic appeal for Skyrim fans.
Card City Nights
Solo-play stalwart: The characters are idiosyncratic, the game-within-a-game conceit a little cheeky but still refreshing, the consistent tone humor-ish, deadpan. Beating certain keystone characters unlocks their signature, ultra-powerful cards whose effects even jive with that character’s personality. In other words, there is a correspondence between writing, characterization and deck archetypes between. Never quite a rollicking good time or agonizing head-scratcher, the deckbuilding and collecting (yes, there are boosters, no nothing is truly ultra-rare) of Card City Nights makes for an easily enjoyed and easily binged experience.
Star Realms (Review)
Interstellar Deck-Building: This game marries the level of expansion and customization of a TCG with the bite-sized crunchy decision-making of a deckbuilder. Its combat elements and faction-specific combos make for a serious nostalgia trip for those looking to revisit memory lane without first collecting, collating and crafting a custom deck just for the occasion. Star Realms’ many expansions, rapid-fire gameplay and clear iconography make it a compelling addition to the game enthusiast’s roster and an easy must-have.
Hall of Fame
We're keeping the list pretty tight at the moment, but there's way more than ten excellent card games to celebrate, with more on the way all the time. Every now and then we'll rotate games out for other games, but we don't want those past greats to be forgotten. Below is a list of previous members of this list, lest we forget:
- Knights of the Card Table
- Race for the Galaxy
- Card Thief
- Lost Portal CCG
- Pathfinder Adventures
- Flipflop Solitaire
- Guild of Dungeoneering
- Lost Cities
- Eternal Card Game
- Pokemon TCG
- Reigns: Her Majesty
- Shadowverse CCG
What would your list of the best card games look like? Let us know in the comments!