I’ve played a lot of non-standard card games and was thinking last night about what my favourites were and why. So for people new to the hobby, or just interested in possibly finding some new titles, I thought I’d list my top picks. I’ll start with the five best card games I own; five that I feel will always be in my collection and have already stood the test of time. Next time I’ll list five that I’m sure will end up in my collection and mention why they’re on my wishlist.
My top five card games
5) Guillotine (2-5 players): This may seem like an odd choice for card game connoisseurs, but Guillotine is a fun little gem that is perfect in the right situation and company. The rules are really simple, it retails below £10 and it plays in 30 minutes. Guillotine is the ultimate in gallows humour. Half the cards represent a queue of nobles awaiting the dreaded chop during the French revolution – in most turns you end up ‘collecting’ one of these for your collection. The other half of the cards are picked from a central deck to make up the players’ hand. One is played each turn to influence the order of the queue, affect other player’s collections of nobles or influence other aspects of the game. It’s a simple, silly ‘take that’ game which is fast and furious while offering plenty of scope for humour and general messing about. It doesn’t hit our table that often now, but its one of the oldest games in my collection and in certain situations it’s just right.
4) Glory to Rome (2-5 players): This is a much more complex game that will likely play in about an hour and set you back £10-20. The rules are pretty complex but well worth investing in, as this is a truly great card game. In Glory to Rome each player is building a Roman city, amassing victory points by completing buildings and stockpiling resources. Interestingly, the game can end in various ways, as the completion of certain buildings can alter the end-game conditions. The building cards themselves are all relatively simple to work out – it’s the way they interact with each other that will win you the game. There is a certain amount of player interaction, as certain cards allow you to take cards from other players. But the ral joy is in creating a set of buildings that work together well. In addition you slowly build up a team of ‘patrons’, allowing you to do more actions on your turn as the game builds to its conclusion. With an interesting and unusual turn sequence too, this really is a card game everyone should at least have a go at.
3) Archaeology: The Card Game (2-4 players): Back to shorter games, this is a fantastic little filler that is simple, cheap (less than £10) and plays out in 20 minutes. Archaeology is a set collection game in the classic rummy sense, but adds a fantastic push your luck element that is beautifully worked into the archaeological theme. You have no hand limit and there is no discard pile – all cards swapped out of players’ hands go into a central ‘market’ that is available throughout the game. This means the obvious thing to do would be to keep a load of great cards in your hand to make the best sets. However, what makes it so tricky are two types of special cards: ‘thief’ cards which allow others to steal from you, and ‘sandstorm’ cards that force you to discard half of your hand into the market. Archaeology also comes in a very small box, so is also a great card game to take on holiday. It’s another game I’ve reviewed fully, so look out for that on here in the next week or so.
2) Dominion (2-4 players): Generally considered one of the best card games of all time, Dominion started a rush of releases described as ‘deck building card games’. Each game will last you 30 minutes or more and you should be able to pick it up for around £30. The game comes with a massive 500 cards, but they come in sets of 10 – only some of which are used in each game. This adds a huge amount of replayability, while there are other expansions with more cards available too. Each player starts with their own identical ‘deck’ of just 10 cards, from which they draw a hand of five each turn. However, these cards are used to buy cards from the stacks of 10 that have been chosen for that particular game (more powerful cards cost more). These either give actions to use on your turn, money to help buy better cards, or end game victory points. Of course the cards you want are the victory point ones, but these serve no other purpose – so clog up your deck when you shuffle and redraw, making it harder to get good combinations to help you get even higher value victory point cards. It’s a truly great card game that is deceptively simple to pick up but plays differently every time.
1) Race for the Galaxy (2-4 players): I won’t talk about this much here, as I posted my Race for the Galaxy review (linked above) on here a few days ago. It’s an incredibly deep civilisation building game that should play in about an hour and set you back just over £20. There are expansions too, which while not necessary add an awful lot more to the base game. It is well worth fighting through the complex rules and initially baffling symbolism on the cards, as the game underneath is a true classic. The sheer number of options, multiple paths to victory and real sense of theme make this a brilliant card game.