The Best Card Games on Android & iOS17 Jul 2018 11
We're on a power trip and no-one can stop us. First we told you what the best Board Games were, then we dared to dream of what the best turn-based strategy games might be. Now we're here to conquer a new genre - card games (although not counting CCG/TCG types).
Below are a wide variety of excellent examples which aren't simply trying to be another Hearthstone. Some have excellent single player campaigns with persistent upgrades and unlocks, or customizable decks. Others skew towards the heavily-instanced, unique-runs roguelike approach, and then there's digital adaptations of many of the excellent deck-building or other types of card games that exist. Between these extremes, there’s something for everyone.
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.
Guild of Dungeoneering (Review)
With Guild of Dungeoneering you come for the game, stay for the jokes. The sing-song plot is doled out over each of the game’s regions and challenges, and while the class system isn’t strictly balanced, the overall arc of the regions is. A single play session will eat up a bit of concentration and a bit more of time, sometimes even the better part of an hour in the later stages, but even the basic encounters feel fresh, engaging and vital to ultimate success. Diverting but finite in its appeal, the Guild of Dungeoneering is not a calling for all gamers but is a welcome and refreshing quest whose expansions add more flair and mechanics to extend the main storyline.
Card Thief (Review)
Card Thief: Get in, get rich, get out. The story of a heist plays out with endless variety, thanks to Card Thief’s intermingling systems of light and shadow, directionality and position. These systems are intuitively taught through appealing sound and visual design, and the game rewards deeper understanding of the basics and their complex interactions by giving the player more finicky toys to play with. In short, an unstinting challenge to sink your teeth into, with a razor-sharp core idea enlivened by a pastel of special effects and alternate thieves.
Card City Nights
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.
Good ole’ Reiner Knizia can always be relied on for some arithmetic fun. His success and sheer number of gaming hits with staying power can partly be attributed to a creative knack, but it also comes down to a large and prolific output, along with thorough playtesting. Players finance archaeological expeditions, building stacks of colors with cards numbered two to ten. Each of the five colorful expedition must have cards played in ascending value, with skpping permitted. So playing a tenner to start would doom an expedition, because at the game’s end any expedition is worth the sum of its cards, minus twenty, multiplied by the presence of any extra finance cards ($$$). Simple, right? The other half of the game is the push-and-pull with players drawing and playing cards one at a time, sometimes opting to discard cards into a common area rather than play them. Boring to explain, easy to play. Tense and fulfilling to win.
Frost 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.
Star Realms (Review)
Star Realms 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.
Meteorfall: Journey (Review)
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. Its fight-or-flight decisions and journeying remind me of FTL transported to a fantasy setting, with cards. Okay, so the likeness is weak, but the juxtaposition of richness and minimalism are what really matters here. Seriously, Meteorfall is a wolf in cartoon clothing.
Race for the Galaxy (Review)
Perhaps the quintessential engine-building card game, Race for the Galaxy is one of the more aged members within this best-of list, debuting originally in 2007. Its longitudinal sense of strategy and complex combos quickly made it a favorite amongst players. Along with this hefty strategic challenge, the unique simultaneous action selection mechanic enlivened the game with some bluffing. Barring the official release of Dominion for mobile, Race for the Galaxy represents a classic, yet innovative take on a victory-point race. The app runs like a dream and offers stiff competition and solid multiplayer.
Reigns: Her Majesty (Review)
Alright, it’s true: the cards in Reigns: Her Majesty only combine to create game paths and branching outcomes later on, but this sequel to the swipe-to-rule-them-all motherload of simple-yet-satisfying game, Reigns, deserves to be on this list because it has mastered what every good card game needs: flashpoint moments. The bite-sized binary decisions, served one-by-one in Reigns, amass weight, consequence and difficulty, not merely because of narrative investment but also because of a chain of causality. Much ado about something anyone who’s tried the game already knows, or more importantly, has already felt.
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:
- Pathfinder Adventures
- Flipflop Solitaire
What would your list of the best (non-CCG) card games look like? Let us know in the comments!