Tabletop gamers know how much fun it can be to puzzle through a complicated problem in a turn-based card game. Building a top-tier deck from a list of your favorite cards is a uniquely rewarding experience. Watching your cards do their thing and propel you to victory is the best part of any card-based video game!
Several of the best card-based games on the market are one-to-one recreations of the mechanics of existing trading card games like Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! Others are wholly unique creations made just for the digital medium, making them more akin to video games with card elements instead of card games adapted into a video game setting.
Either way, if you love card games, you’re going to love this list. Today, we’re breaking down some of the best card-based games ever made.
Hearthstone first hit the scene back in 2014, and in the intervening years, it’s had a massive impact on the world of digital card games. It competes directly with Magic the Gathering: Arena and is likely the reason that Wizards of the Coast even made Arena in the first place. Hearthstone is a digital-only game and draws its characters and references from the Warcraft game series.
Hearthstone has players craft a deck of 30 cards, which can range from spells to minions and even equipment for your hero character. Characters have 30 hit points and a repeatable ability that is unique to each of the ten playable classes. When you use your abilities and cards to reduce your opponent’s total life to zero, you win the game!
There are numerous spin-off game modes within Hearthstone, too. There’s the build-as-you-go Arena, which is similar to Magic’s draft format. There are even modes that don’t use card-based mechanics, like Battlegrounds, which is instead an auto-battler. If you’re looking for a great digital card game to pass the time, you can’t go wrong with the classic Hearthstone.
Pokemon TCG Online
The Pokemon TCG has been around for over 20 years, yet you rarely see people actually playing it. Collectors love the cards since they’re based on the endlessly popular Pokemon franchise, but, believe it or not, the card game is actually quite fun in its own right. You build a deck of cards that can include your favorite Pokemon, trainers, and items to help the battle go in your favor.
If you like collecting shiny cards but don’t have anyone local to play with, you’re not out of luck. Each pack of Pokemon cards includes a code for the online version of the game, which you can download for free. Those codes unlock cards you can then use in the online client, which has a robust selection of options to choose from. It’s an ideal way to learn the game and get acquainted with all the cards.
The gameplay mainly revolves around quickly searching your deck for your biggest, meanest monster and then finding ways to get a lot of resources on them right away. Those resources, called “Energy,” are linked to the Pokemon franchise’s iconic types, like water, fire, and grass. If you know how to hit your opponent’s type weaknesses, you’ll also get to deal double damage – just like in the iconic Pokemon video games!
Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links
Much like Pokemon’s online game, Duel Links is a digital adaptation of the Yu-Gi-Oh card game, complete with full sets from the real-life version of the TCG. It’s also a blast. The game is free-to-play and allows players to unlock cards through gameplay or with microtransactions, making it a great jumping-on point for new players.
Yu-Gi-Oh is distinct from most card games because it doesn’t use a resource system like Magic the Gathering or Hearthstone. While most games adapt some elements of Magic’s innovating mana system to balance what players can do early in the game, Yu-Gi-Oh only has one such limitation: monsters with a high enough “level” require a “tribute” to enter play from your hand. That’s it.
As such, Yu-Gi-Oh is widely considered to have one of the fastest metagames among popular TCGs. If you’re a fan of lightning-fast games and extremely precise deck construction, then you’ll likely love Duel Links. It also helps if you enjoy the art style of the late Kazuki Takahashi, the talented manga artist who created the Yu-Gi-Oh series. His unique art style is still evident in most card illustrations.
Inscryption isn’t a TCG but is instead a card-based roguelike. The game is played as a series of matches against mysterious opponents who sit down across the table from the protagonist. As you advance and acquire new cards for your deck, you battle against more sinister and dangerous opponents in increasingly complex bouts.
The game’s rules are straightforward, making it a bit of an outlier compared to the complex rules Pokemon or Hearthstone. Rather than letting the player get bogged down, it uses a system that involves “sacrificing” cards for “blood,” a resource that allows you to play ever stronger monsters.
The game has a definitive storyline, too! It’s a single-player experience that asks you to untangle its chilling story by combing through archives and facing off against the toughest opponents. If you’re a fan of moody, atmospheric games and you like the mechanics of building a deck from scratch as you play, then you’ll love Inscryption.
Mega-Man Battle Network
The Battle Network series is mechanically distinct from the more platforming-focused Mega-Man franchise. In Battle Network, you control Lan, a student who lives in the real world, and his “Navi,” a digital construct called “Mega-Man.” Mega-Man and other Navi like him are AI constructs that exist in cyberspace and can battle in fast-paced “Net Duels” that take place on a three-by-six grid.
You build a deck of “chips,” single-use powers that Mega-Man can use in combat, and collect chips throughout gameplay. Lan faces off against his buddies in friendly tournaments and also battles dangerous criminals in high-stakes battles – you know, the way heroes do.
If you’re intrigued by the premise of Battle Network, you’re in luck. The Battle Network Legacy Collection will come out on the PS4 and Nintendo Switch later this year!
Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire is another roguelike deck-building game that asks you to make hard decisions. When you start the game, you choose a character, which determines some basic attributes of your deck. The Ironclad, for example, uses a straightforward set of attacking and blocking cards and gets a “relic” that lets him heal a bit of damage at the end of each encounter. As you progress through the game, you get to add cards to your growing library of dangerous tools.
However, the Spire is a dangerous place. It’s easy to make a few misplays and have your avatar sink to zero hit points, sending you back to the start. All the rare cards you’ve struggled so hard to acquire turn into smoke, and you have to look for them all over again.
The biggest challenge in Slay the Spire is trying to find new ways to break the game with each playable character. If you can figure out a perfect loop with a handful of cards, you can master the Spire and ascend it with no issue. The game’s addictive loop will have you begging to head back in for “just one more run.”
Magic the Gathering: Arena
The grandfather of all trading card games, Magic the Gathering, has been around since 1993. It literally invented the mechanics we now know as standards for the industry, including using colors and slowly accumulating resources to make cards useful in different circumstances. A one-mana creature is quite helpful early in the game, but by the late game, a seven-mana monster can come down and turn the tide of a match.
If you’re interested in trying out the original game and seeing why people still rave about it 30 years after its release, you should check out Arena. This free-to-play adaptation of the card game lets you try out the newest sets as they come out, giving you the chance to draft new cards, create your own decks for standard play, and even make decks for side formats like Brawl.
Arena is a faithful recreation of the game, but it’s a completely separate ecosystem from the physical game. Buying packs of Magic cards won’t get you promo codes for Arena, as you’d see in Pokemon TCG Online. However, it’s still one of the most generous free-to-play card games on the market, offering players in-game currency they can use to enter drafts and unlock new cards!