In between writing about Neon White and MARVEL SNAP, I feel like I have become somewhat of a card game enthusiast, so I thought I should jump on a list of the best modern card-based video games. I’ve become such a fan that I’ve also started joining my local game store for weekly Pokémon TCG in the wake of Pokémon TCG Live’s release and am considering dabbling into Magic: The Gathering now that the Lord Of The Rings set is out — even if my wallet is not a fan of this idea.
Given this, I—of course—jumped on the code for Friends vs Friends, a frantic online PvP shooter which combines combat and card-based loadouts and is the fourth game from Madrid-based studio Brainwash Gang. I’ve also previewed the game at gamescom 2022, so the game has had my interest for quite some time now.
However, after a few hours of playing Friends vs Friends left me feeling lukewarm about it (expanded thoughts on this below), I started to wonder: what other titles would scratch my card game itch? So that’s how I started coming up with my list of the best modern card-based video games to play. But before I reveal my hand, let me run through the rules I imposed for myself and some honourable mentions that unfortunately did not make the cut.
First of all, I decided to go with no trading card games (Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic: The Gathering, etc.) or digital collectible card games (Hearthstone, MARVEL SNAP, etc.) because a lot of people are already familiar with either category. And also, the team here already put together a list of four timeless trading card games last year, which I highly recommend giving a read.
With both TCGs and DCCGs out of the way, I also decided to exclude titles based on real card games or board games, so the likes of Poker Night 2, Wingspan, and even Tabletop Simulator are also out. I pushed this rule a little bit further and decided that mini-games are not eligible just the same, so I had to say goodbye to my beloved Triple Triad for the purposes of this list. This rule is in place because I wanted to show just how many great games have anything to do with cards as part of their core gameplay or set of mechanics.
And finally, I wanted this article to feature only games playable on modern consoles — modern meaning, in my opinion, generation eight onwards — and computers. So no Fullmetal Alchemist: Trading Card Game, Metal Gear Acid (at least until a legacy collection that includes it comes out) and so on. The decision to go for modern only comes from my wanting to show some love to games that are still currently on sale from official retailers, whether it be on GOG, through a collection, etc.
Ground rules firmly established, here’s a rapid-fire list of the honourable mentions for the best modern card-based video games: Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, Hand of Fate II, Monster Train and Reigns.
And now, in no particular order, here are my top picks for the best modern card-based video games to play today:
Platforms: PC, Linux
Developer: Brainwash Gang
I mentioned I was going to go more in-depth on Friends vs Friends earlier, so this is as good a place to start as any. To summarize the pages of notes I kept while playing this game into a few chunky paragraphs, I ultimately think that Friends vs Friends could be, but is not yet, a great card-based Counter-Strike-esque shooter if it receives proper support and significant updates.
This is because underneath the frantic gameplay and easy-to-pick-up-and-play nature of the title is a progression system which favours veteran players and a matchmaking system which, even post-patches, does not do a good enough job of pitting you against players at a similar level.
Which is to mean that if you haven’t picked up this game closer to launch but want to start playing now, it is likely that you will constantly be on the back foot. Your potential opponents have probably already unlocked and/or updated a significant number of cards which will, when played, grant them access to a wider arsenal of guns, throwables and variable status effects.
And if that’s the case, skill or cunning will rarely be enough for you to turn the tables in your favour. Oh, and to make matters worse, Friends vs Friends has no anti-cheat implemented yet, and I have personally gone against quite a few players I was suspicious of myself. Luckily, the developers say that this feature is on the way, but time will tell when or if it comes to fruition.
However, all of these issues go away if you bring a friend or two to play with in private lobbies. And that’s where this game reveals how fun it really is and how well adding cards to a fast-paced shooter works — I have honestly had a blast figuring out the best time to use a card to unlock a gun so I can get the upper hand and compensate for my not-so-great aim; even I can win a round if my opponent only brings a pistol to a sniper fight.
After about 5 hours of total playtime, though, I felt like I got everything I needed from Friends vs Friends for a while, and I moved on. At the time of writing, I want to be optimistic about the future of this title, given that the team over at Brainwash Gang is clearly passionate about this project and is committed to multiple updates and expansions but, for right now, considering it retails at 13.99, I can only wholeheartedly recommend it if you bring a party with you. Just make sure you stay friends after, okay?
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (soon), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, PC
Developer: Angel Matrix
I have written extensively about my love for Neon White in the review, so I will keep it short here. Suffice it to say it would have been my game of the year last year if not for the behemoth that is Elden Ring. Nevertheless, since it’s been out, this incredibly stylish card-based, speedrun-inspiring shooter has aged better and better in my mind, and I can safely recommend it to almost anyone. Only stay away if you are interested in deckbuilding — Neon White does not involve customizing card loadouts in any way — and/or if you are interested in a remarkable story. God of War: Ragnarok, this is not.
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, PC, Linux, Mac
Developer: Daniel Mullins Games
If, however, you are interested in deckbuilding AND a great story, Inscryption might just be what you are looking for. What starts off as a horror-themed if unassuming card-based roguelike slowly unravels and evolves into way more than meets the eye. Gameplay-wise, it is more like Magic: The Gathering than the two aforementioned picks in that you place creatures on the board in the attempt to attack and damage your opponent unless you are prevented from doing so by an enemy unit or some other hijinks.
Outside of combat, you get the chance to play around with the cards at your disposal and prepare for the next encounter. To reveal anything more is to potentially rob you of the many incredible surprises that await but take it from our review of the game, which calls Inscryption a “great creepy experience to get your skin crawling with some thought-provoking depth in its gameplay.”
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and 5, PC
What if you took Marvel’s cast of illustrious characters, Persona’s social links, XCOM’s gameplay and added them all into a pot that’s already full to the brim with playing cards? Well, the result of this unlikely mix is Marvel’s Midnight Suns, a card-based strategy game. The way that cards work in this game is that they represent the (usually) 8 abilities available to each character.
These cards then randomly get added to your playable pool, ensuring that gameplay is fresh and constantly dynamic. Our reviewer called the playing card mechanic “the biggest wholesale change to the XCOM 2 formula,” and I agree as this system can help prevent the repetition present in some of Firaxis’ earlier games where you could rely on a winning tactic over and over again. As for the story, it sure helps if you’re a Marvel fan already but maybe do not expect something on the level of, say, Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Developer: Mega Crit
In a similar vein to Marvel’s Midnight Suns, Slay the Spire is also a game which blends multiple genres to create something greater than the sum of its parts. The result is a dungeon crawling, rogue-like, deck-building adventure which Derek Heemsbergen, in his review, deemed “a loving homage to a niche sub-genre of days gone past.” I would go one step further and call Slay the Spire both the populariser and the next evolution of the sub-genre—an absolute must-play for anyone who loves any card game.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac
Hear me out before you go into the comments and write something like, ‘you said you were not going to include games based on real card games or board games, so what gives?’ Well, the reason Card Shark is here is because it is all about not really engaging with the card game. Instead, the main gameplay loop revolves around cheating your way out of it.
This classifies it more as a sort of adventure game than anything else, and my oh my, what a riveting time it is to scam these French aristocrats. It also helps that the game is a looker, boasting some really neat watercolour backgrounds and portraits. We may not be able to eat the rich, but cheating against them at cards? Scrumptious!
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac
Developer: Rose City Games
Continuing the trend of mashing genres is Floppy Knights, which puts together turn-based tactics and card game strategies. The result is a delightfully fresh take which is rendered visually in the wonderful style of Marlowe Dobbe (of Dicey Dungeons fame)and which boasts a fantastic soundtrack by Grahm Nesbitt, who previously worked on Garden Story. What more could you want?
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: Four Quarters
The very last, but certainly not least, entry in this list is Loop Hero, which is a roguelike, deck-building, auto-battling RPG set in a procedurally generated world. What sets this title apart is that you configure the map based on the landscape cards you have in hand. For example, you may draw and play a dungeon card which would then become available for your character to auto-move and auto-battle in.
In this way, it reminds me more of a tile-laying board game like Carcassonne than anything else. It’s a fantastic title to jump into all in all, but especially if you also happen to appreciate its 80s-like aesthetic.
That’s a wrap on the best modern card-based video games list for now, but let me know if you agree or think I have snubbed a game or the other in the comments below!