These are our picks for the Top 10 Best Card Games Available Today. We didn’t include games like Poker and Bridge that can be played with a standard deck of cards, and we only included games where players draw from a shared deck, so you won’t see any CCGs, LCGs, or Dominion clones on the list. Games like Terraforming Mars, London, and 7 Wonders, which we felt are better classified as board games than card games, were also excluded from the list.
10. Love Letter
Love Letter uses wooden cubes to track wins.
Love Letter is the epitome of minimalist design. The game uses a 16 card deck with 8 different types of cards. Players always keep one card in their hand, and on their turn players draw a new card and then discard one of the two cards they're holding. Each card does something different, and the last player left in the game, or the player holding the highest value card when the deck runs out, wins the round.
Games of Love Letter are mostly won by deduction and card counting, but lucky draws and lucky guesses also factor in. Fortunately the game is short enough that the luck factor never becomes an issue.
Despite the game's simplicity, Love Letter's theme is relatively strong. Players are courting a princess, and the goal is to get love letters to her to win her heart. The cards represent members of the royal inner-circle, and those closer to the princess have a higher value. The princess is the highest valued card, and if a player ever discards her for any reason, they automatically lose the round.
Love Letter has lots of variants with new themes. Each Love Letter variant has an additional rule that fits with its theme, and which technically makes it a unique game. We recommend sticking with the original version, because we've found that if a player isn't familiar with a variant's theme, they can have trouble remembering the card names and keeping track of what's been played.
9. Sushi Go!
Sushi Go! is a game about card drafting. Players simultaneously play a card from their hand to the table, and then they pass their hand to the next player. This continues until all cards have been played, and then players tally their score for the round. There are several different kinds of cards, and each scores differently. For example some cards only score if you have a pair of them, or if you have more of them than other players.
Sushi Go!'s kawaii take on sushi dishes is enough to win over most gamers, but it's also a fast game with simple rules, solid gameplay, and a good amount of player interaction.
Sushi Go Party!, released in 2016, is an expanded edition of the original game. It adds a bunch of new cards and has rules for playing with up to eight players. All of Sushi Go!'s cards are in Sushi Go Party!, so there's no reason to get both editions. Several promo cards have also been released for both Sushi Go! and Sushi Go Party!.
Biblios uses a small board and five dice, but these are just to keep track of point values.
In Biblios players are medieval abbots trying to secure the best book collection for their monastery. The game's box is also designed to look like a book. If the game's theme interests you, the game box should make it an impulse buy.
Player collections are rated in five categories. The game uses three different types of cards, cards that increase a player's rating in a category, cards that change how many points a category is worth, and gold which is used to buy cards at auction. The game starts with players taking turns deciding which cards should go in their hand, which should go to auction, and which should be gifted to their fellow players. In the second part of the game, players bid on the cards sent to auction using the gold they acquired earlier.
Biblios is a set collection game with card drafting, auction, and point manipulation mechanics. The rules are simple and easy to teach, and the game plays fast, but despite being a relatively light game, its gameplay is fairly intricate. Plus it heavily lays into its theme.
Biblios is an excellent three or four player game. The box claims the game can be played with two players, but it's a horrible two-player game. In fact, it should lose review points just for claiming it can be played with two players.
This game uses coins and a player marker. Some newer editions include additional pieces.
Citadels is a game about city building. Each turn players draw cards or pick up gold, and then they can use the gold they have to build districts by playing cards from their hand. At the end of the game, players get points and bonuses for the districts they've built.
Citadels is really a game about changing roles. At the start of each round, players pass around a character deck and each chooses a character to be their hired help for the round. Characters give players special abilities, like swapping districts with another player, stealing another player's gold, or getting bonus gold for having the right kind of districts.
Citadels usually plays in under an hour, and strategy largely revolves around picking the right character at the right time. Choosing when to take gold, when to draw cards, and which districts to build are also important. The game does its best to mitigate luck, but as with most card games, it's still a minor factor in victory.
The first edition of Citadels had an expansion called Dark City that added new buildings and characters to the game. The expansion has been included in later editions of base game. In 2016 a new edition of Citadels was released that changed the game's artwork, removed some cards to better balance the game, and added a ton of new buildings and characters. The original version of Citadels is still sold as Citadels Classic alongside the new edition.
6. Lost Cities
Lost Cities uses a small board, but this is just to help manage the five discard piles.
Lost Cities is one of the many masterpieces created by prolific designer Reiner Knizia. It's a set collection game with gameplay somewhat reminiscent of Rummy.
On their turn, a player can either start one of five expeditions, or continue one they've already started, by playing an expedition card numbered 2-10, or they can discard a card that their opponent will have the opportunity to pick up. Once a card is played to an expedition, a lower numbered card can never be played to it. At the end of the round players score the number of every card they've played to an expedition, but get a 20 point penalty for every expedition they've started.
Despite its simplicity, Lost Cities is full of decision making. Play the game too safe, and you'll miss out on scoring opportunities. Play it too loose, and it will probably cost you even more points. If you play high numbered cards early, you may miss out on picking up lower numbered cards for that expedition later, but you'll open up hand space to build other expeditions. If you discard a card your opponent can play you may be handing them points, but if you never give your opponent anything you'll end up with a hand full of worthless cards. A big part of the endgame is how quickly or slowly players deplete the draw deck.
Recently a couple of expansions have been released for Lost Cities, but due to changes in the card sizes they're not compatible with older editions of the game. There is an official four-player variant that requires two copies of the game to be combined together. Following the success of Lost Cities, Reiner Knizia designed a Lost Cities board game based on the same theme.
A Mu deck is made up of five colored suits with cards numbered 0-9 plus an additional 1 and 7 for each color.
Mu is a trick taking game for four to six players, and its card play is similar to other trick taking games. A player leads with a single card, and the other players must follow with a card of the same suit, or if the player led with a trump then with another trump. If a player cannot follow with the same type of card that led the trick, then they can follow with any card they want. The player who plays the highest trump wins the trick, or if no trump was played the highest valued card in the suit that led the trick wins it.
There's nothing special about Mu's card play, but its bidding is amazing. Players bid for the position of Chief and Vice by playing cards from their hand face up in front of them. These cards are still part of that player's hand and can be used in tricks, but they remain exposed until they're played. The player who comes in second on the bid gets to be the Vice, and he picks a suit color or number to be the trump. The winner of the bid gets to be the Chief, and the Chief picks a suit color or number to be a higher valued trump. The Chief then picks a partner, and the two have to score a number of points determined by the Chief's bid to get a bonus, otherwise the Chief gets a penalty.
Mu's card play may be typical, but its bidding, with changing teams, multiple trumps, and partially exposed hands, is extraordinary. Even though its rules are a bit more complicated than Bridge, players new to trick taking games can usually learn Mu well enough to play competitively much faster than with other such games, because Mu's strategies and metagame are much easier to pick up on. Amazingly Mu manages this without sacrificing any of the game's depth.
Mu uses a proprietary deck sold as either Mu & More or Mu and Lots More. Mu and Lots More comes with better additional games, but Mu & More has better card quality.
4. San Juan
San Juan uses a few card shaped tiles for the different roles and a set of tiles to track the sale price of goods.
San Juan is the card game adaptation of Puerto Rico. It's set in Puerto Rico, the game's art design is based on Puerto Rico's, it was designed by the same designer, and many of its mechanics are inspired by Puerto Rico's. There's more than enough Puerto Rico in San Juan to keep Puerto Rico fans happy, but San Juan isn't just a card game version of Puerto Rico. It plays like its own game.
Much like Puerto Rico, every round each player picks a role, and then every player takes that role's action, but the player who picked the role gets a bonus when taking it. Unlike Puerto Rico, everything in San Juan is done with cards. Earning money means a player draws cards to their hand. When a player has to pay for something, they discard cards. When a building produces a good, that's represented by a face down card.
All of the cards in the game are buildings, and when a building is played it gives its owner special abilities and, at the end of the game, points.
San Juan has a much larger variety of buildings than Puerto Rico, so there's a much larger variety of strategies. Its opening is also more varied, since the strongest opening is largely dependent on what's in a player's starting hand. San Juan plays best with three or four players, but it's a strong two-player game.
There's a lot to love about San Juan, even for players who have gotten bored with Puerto Rico, or who were never big fans of the game to begin with. San Juan is a Euro that plays fast, is easy to teach, isn't too intense, but still has a lot of depth to it.
The original version of San Juan, released in 2004, had an expansion pack that added new buildings and a new kind of card, events. After being out of print for several years, a 2nd edition was released in 2014 with all of the buildings from the expansion pack, along with a new building of its own, but none of the events.
Tichu uses a standard 52 card deck with four additional proprietary cards. It's a trick taking game largely inspired by the Chinese card game Zheng Fen, which unlike Tichu is played with a standard 54 card deck.
Tichu is played by four players in teams of two. Each round the deck is dealt out to the players, and then the lead player opens the trick by playing a card combination, like a pair, straight, full house, or even a single card. Players can follow by playing a higher valued combination of the same kind, or they can pass their turn. The last player to play a combination wins all the cards in the trick and leads the next trick. There's a bonus for being the first player to empty your hand, and a team scores the maximum points if they both go out before either of the other players. Before the start of the round players can declare that they'll be the first to empty their hand, and they'll get a bonus for succeeding, but if they fail they'll get a penalty.
Tichu is Bridge's wild and sexy younger brother. It's much easier for new players to learn the game's strategy, but its crazy, multiple-card tricks are captivating and alluring even to Bridge veterans. Unfortunately Tichu still has a relatively high learning curve, and most players won't be able to play well enough for their team to have a chance of winning until they've played several games.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, an expansion was released for Tichu. The expansion added a second deck of cards that gave players special abilities. So far the expansion hasn't been released in English.
Imagine a game about building civilizations. A game where players start as hunter-gatherer tribes that are just starting to transition to agricultural societies, and the goal is for players to guide their societies' technological advancement through the ages and be the first to reach certain milestones. A game that typically ends with all players having modern or near future societies, and which has rules for players to attack each other as well.
There are a lot of games like the one you're imagining on the market, but you're probably imagining a game with a lot of pieces, complicated tech trees, and a big rulebook that takes four or more hours to play. Innovation is a civilization building game like the one described, but it plays in under 90 minutes, and the only pieces are a deck of cards.
Carl Chudyk is known for minimalist game designs that are light on the pieces, but have strong themes and deep gameplay, and Innovation is his masterpiece. Innovation has everything a player would expect from a complex civilization builder, but it comes in a small package that plays fast. It's a game that's as much loved by fans of light and medium Euros as it is by fans of games like Sid Meier's Civilization and Through the Ages.
Innovation is currently in its third edition. Four expansions have been made for the game, all of which add new cards and rules to make the game a little bit more complex, but never take it too far from its simple, minimalist roots.
We'd guess that most modern gamers have played more games of Hanabi than any other game. It's the only game that almost every board gamer seems to own, no matter what kinds of board games they're into, and it's the only game where owners seem to consistently have to buy new copies because their old copy is worn out. Hanabi has some of the deepest gameplay we've ever seen, and its rules are simple and it plays fast. Even though Hanabi is best with four or five players, it's a great two player game and a better three player game. Hanabi is a coop, but people who normally hate playing coop games like Hanabi. Despite being noncompetitive, more than any other game it drives normally polite gamers to throw fits and have fights with their friends.
A Hanabi deck is made up of five colored suits with cards numbered 1-5. In each suit there are three 1's, one 5, and two of every other card. There's an optional sixth suit with special rules that can be added to make the game more difficult.
The goal of Hanabi is for players to work as a team to lay cards down by suit in numerical order. Players hold their hands backwards so everyone else can see their hand, but they can't. On their turn a player can play a card to the table and hope its playable, or they can discard a card for a clue, or they can use a clue to tell another player all of the cards in their hand that are a certain color or a certain number.
Hanabi's rules are simple, and on the surface it's just a game of deduction, but high scores require a lot of metagaming and thinking collectively as a group. For instance players usually order their cards in order of how recently they've been drawn. A common convention is to always discard the card that's been in your hand the longest unless another player has clued you that you might want to keep it. Experienced players can sometimes even use the metagame to clue multiple teammates what cards they should play with only a single clue.
The original version of Hanabi was released with rules for a second game, Ikebana, that used the same deck. Due to the overwhelming success of Hanabi, Ikebana was dropped from the international release. Several special editions of Hanabi have been released, including editions in metal tins, editions with larger cards, pocket sized editions, and a deluxe edition that uses Mahjong tiles and has expansion pieces.