Card games are often considered the more compact cousin of board games. With far fewer components, shorter runtimes, and thinner rulebooks, there’s never a bad time to have a game. However, the best card games around can be just as complex and engaging as their bigger, board-ier tabletop counterparts.
We can suggest some of the best card games around right now, whatever the occasion. The list below will continue to grow, but we also have further suggestions in our other guides. Whether you’re the best pure-bred trading card games; easier-going family card games, funny card games, or the best card games for adults, we have a recommendation for you.
The best card games in 2023 are:
- Arkham Horror: The Card Game
- Magic: The Gathering
- Cards Against Humanity
- Unstable Unicorns
- War of the Ring: The Card Game
- The Resistance
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Arkham Horror: The Card Game distils the unfathomable chaos of Lovecraft’s eldritch monsters into a condensed card game. It can be played cooperatively or single-player, and it tasks you with investigating and resolving various arcane mysteries. Spoiler alert: some sort of eldritch being is likely causing the traumatic events you encounter.
In Arkham Horror, it’s you versus the cards. You’ll be trying to advance a given scenario with the help of your Act deck, and the game will be throwing nasty new encounters at you to slow you down. You won’t always win, but even when you lose you tell a compelling story of doom and (Arkham) horror.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game is what’s known as a living card game. This means new cards are released fairly regularly, but you’ll always know what you’re buying in a box. There’s none of that random chance and rare card hunting that you see in TCGs like YuGiOh and the Pokémon trading card game.
Magic: The Gathering
The grandfather of all collectible trading card games, Magic: The Gathering continues to thrive in the year 2022. Pretty much every MTG card is stuffed with gorgeous art and strategic potential, and new sets are arriving all the time. While it isn’t too hard to learn the basics of Magic, the constantly evolving meta and wide variety of MTG formats give the game plenty of long-term playability.
If you’ve never played this particular TCG, worry not – we’ve crafted a guide for just the occasion, and it can teach you how to play Magic: The Gathering in a jiffy. Once you’ve nailed its core mechanics, it’s time to figure out your preferred playstyle. MTG Commander decks are one of the most popular ways to play right now, and the increasingly prevalent MTG Jumpstart format provides one of the quickest ways to start playing.
Cards Against Humanity
The potty-mouthed party game Cards Against Humanity changed game nights forever in 2011. It combined simple ‘Apples to Apples’ style gameplay with some of the darkest gallows humour of the decade, and card gamers everywhere leapt at the chance to show off their crude comedy skills.
The aim of the game is to score points and make everyone laugh. Simply play the funniest (or most outlandish) card from your hand in response to a prompt, and hope that the Tsar with the final vote that round picks you out from the crowd.
Over ten years after its release, Cards Against Humanity has oodles of expansions and spin-offs to offer. There truly is a version of this game for everyone. There’s the childproof Kids Against Maturity spin-off; a bundle of ‘nasty’ packs that cover topics like periods and weed; packs about the horror of climate change; and even that one pack that game in a jar of Mayonnaise.
Exploding Kittens basically reinvented Russian Roulette for the modern gaming audience, and Unstable Unicorns is another card game from the same whimsical publisher. Everyone starts with a sweet baby unicorn in their stable. This is the start of your mighty unicorn army – whoever has the right amount of stable-d unicorns wins the game.
The simple gameplay loop of drawing and playing cards is soon thrown into chaos by Unstable Unicorns‘ different card types. You can upgrade your own stable or downgrade someone else’s; you can halt a player’s plans with an instant card; magic cards turn the round on its head; and the colourful cast of unicorns come with their own special abilities. Building your army isn’t as simple as it might have first seemed.
War of the Ring: The Card Game
The War of the Ring was originally a board game beloved by many (the Wargamer team think it’s one of the best couples’ board games you can play, too). This is a complex wargame that helps you stage epic battles from J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Yes, it’s one of the best Lord of the Rings board games around too.
War of the Ring: The Card Game is a 2022 adaptation of this strategy game. The Free People of Middle-earth are still going up against Sauron’s armies, but now two teams of four can play. Everyone has a specific deck to work with, and you’ll each take turns playing characters, items, and events – either to control a specific location or to further the quest of your allies.
War of the Ring: The Card Game has plenty of strategy to chew on, but its rules won’t overwhelm newcomers. It’s also beautiful to look at, recreating the classic fantasy world of the source material in stunning detail.
The Resistance is a social deduction game in the same vein as Werewolf, but there’s no player elimination. This doesn’t remove the tension, though – in less than an hour, you’ll never be able to trust your fellow card gamers again.
In The Resistance, players must ‘work together’ to complete missions. Three successful missions mean victory for the Resistance Operatives, but any less gives the win to the Imperial Spies.
A Resistance Leader will nominate a group of players to embark on a mission every round, and these players can anonymously play cards that contribute to its progress. Resistance Operatives naturally want the mission to succeed, but Imperial Spies must sew the seeds of destruction without getting caught. However, the next mission’s crew is always decided by popular vote, so being identified too early is disastrous for the saboteurs.
Gloom is a card game that was clearly inspired by the illustrations of Edward Gorey. It tells the dismal tale of two to four families and the events that befall them in their miserable lives. You’ll be armed with a hand of clear cards. By placing them on top of characters, you cause events that can be good, bad, or deadly. You’ll actually want to give all the positive ones to your opponent’s family members, as the aim of the game is to score the most points as you kill off your characters one by one.
While victory points are the main currency, the big pull of Gloom is its storytelling. As you play cards, you’re expected to narrate exactly how the affected character got themselves in that sticky situation. The card may tell you that the family patriarch was devoured by weasels, but it’s up to you to add pizazz.