Top 10 best card games

Classic painting of dogs playing cards

Writing a Top 10 best card games is a pretty daunting prospect. First, there are literally thousands of them. And second, what really constitutes a card game?

For the sake of this Top 10, I’m defining a card game as an affordable small box game where cards are overwhelmingly the main component. I’m keeping it family and non-gamer friendly, so everything here is accessible to all. And I’ve tried to make sure most of these games are very easy to get hold of. While avoiding common games most people will already know from the high street.

As I’ve made the list with families etc in mind, I’ve got some honourable mentions. I didn’t think one-player games were appropriate for this list, but both Onirim and Friday are fantastic, simple games if you’re looking for a solo experience. Onirim has a slightly simpler rules set, while Friday does a good job of injecting a bit of light (Robinson Crusoe) theme.

I’ve also left out the brilliant Schotten Totten and Lost Cities; two competitive thinky card games that offer a great two-player experience. As well as ‘party’ style games such as word games (Codenames, Just One etc) and social games such as Coup.

Top 10 best card games – the list

Game name links will take you to longer reviews of these games, where I’ve written them. The games are in no particular order:

  • For Sale (3-6 players, 30 mins, 1997)
    A classic auction game of two halves, where you bid for property cards in the first half, then blind bid for scoring cards with those properties in the second. Simple to learn, with nice push-your-luck and player reading elements. See also No Thanks, an equally popular push-your-luck card game where you place tokens ‘not’ to take cards – with the lowest score winning. Both are excellent fun.
  • 6 Nimmt (2-10 players, 45 mins, 1994)
    Players choose cards simultaneously, then lay them in number order, hoping not to place the sixth card in a row. When you do, you have to pick up the row – and the lowest score wins. Many say its too luck-based, but good players win more often than not. See also 3 Sind Eine zu Viel, which has similar game play but adds set collection and hand management elements for a slightly more strategic experience.
  • Archaeology: The Card Game (2-4 players, 30 mins, 2007)
    A fabulous thematic push-your-luck set collection game. Try to get the most points by collecting sets, which increase in value the more of a type you have. There’s no hand limit, but certain cards will force all players to discard half their hand immediately. While special cards encourage interaction. For a push-your-luck set collection game with lighter rules and theme, check out the equally fantastic Coloretto.
  • Parade (2-6 players, 45 mins, 2007)
    This is probably the most traditional style card game on the list. Players take it in turns to lay a card from their hand, with number and colour affecting what they’ll need to pick up from the central card row. Cards collected give negative points, but some clever scoring rules mean a good player can manipulate this. It’s tense, tactical and a lot of fun. And if you can find the version with the wonderful Alice in Wonderland artwork, more’s the better.
  • Red7 (2-4 players, 30 mins, 2014)
    Another clever, traditional style card game where it’s all simply about numbers and colours. The twist here is that each colour also represents a win condition (highest card, most even cards etc). So you either play a card to your tableau to be winning; and/or to the middle of the table to change the win condition. Thing is, you have to be winning at the end of your turn or you’re eliminated from the round.
  • Love Letter (2-4 players, 20 mins, 2012)
    Famous for starting the short-lived ‘micro game’ trend (of which my Empire Engine was a small part). The game has just 18 cards, which are reshuffled and used each round. There are just 8 different cards, each of which has an effect on others. Each player has one card in hand. On your turn you draw one and play one, trying to eliminate the other players. With the last player standing earning a point.
  • Port Royal (2-5 players, 45 mins, 2014)
    A great little push-your-luck game with a bit more to it than others on the list. On a turn, you flip cards one at a time to make a row. Different coloured ships earn you money, while people cards can be bought to give you points and abilities. But if you flip a ship of a colour already in the row, you turn ends and you get nothing. It’s actually still very simple to pick up and deserves ins continued popularity.
  • Basari: The Card Game (3-5 players, 45 mins, 2014)
    My favourite negotiation game. Players have a hand of 3-4 action cards, picking one simultaneously each round. If you alone pick the action, great – you get to do it. If two pick, the players bid versus each other to do it. So one does the action, the other gets the gems bid. But if three or more choose the same action, no one gets to do it.
  • Eternity (3-5 players, 30 mins, 2016)
    There are so many great small box trick-taking games out there, they’re worthy of their own list. And for the sake of list variety, I’m only going to include one here. Eternity is my personal favourite trick-taker. The artwork is beautiful and it has a few clever, yet subtle twists on the tradition. It is possible to manipulate the trump suit. While cards have two purposes, with both needing to be employed to score maximum points.
  • Point Salad (2-6 players, 30 mins, 2019)
    The most recent release in my top 10 best card. And proof there are plenty of clever and original ideas still to be unearthed. This deck has double-sided cards, with a veggie on one side and a scoring condition on the other. As you take cards you also have the ability to flip them, as you try and maximise your scoring cards by picking up the right veg. But to spice things up, the better scoring cards will score minus points for one of the veg types too.

Lock down gaming: Play these games online

Many of my top 10 best card games are available to play digitally, either on websites or through apps, including:

Looking for advice on what to buy in other board game genres? Check out my extensive collection of board game Top 10 lists.

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