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Best card games - find new favorites that won't get lost in the shuffle

best card games
(Image credit: Space Cowboys)

You're in luck if you're searching for the best card games; our experts have rounded up their top recommendations below. That list includes everything from party classics to thoughtful alternatives you can play during a quiet night in, so there should be something to suit you here regardless of what you need.

You won't have to spend all that much on them, either. Our bargain-hunting software's been busy looking for the most tempting offers, and you'll find these deals below. Because they're updated on a daily basis, you can be guaranteed the lowest available prices.

Curious about how we settled on the products for this list? Our writers and freelancers have spent years going hands-on with the best card games they could find, so we've only included options we genuinely believe are worth your time and money.

Best card games - top 10

1. Jaipur

The best card game overall

Specifications

Players: 2
Ages: 10+
Difficulty: Easy
Lasts: 30 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to learn
+
Moreish gameplay
+
Engrossing mechanics

Reasons to avoid

-
Only for 2 players

If you ask us, Jaipur is one of the best card games ever made. Accessible, vibrant, and wonderfully moreish, this award-winner should be in everyone's collection.

Players take on the role of traders in the Indian city of Jaipur, and their challenge is to earn themselves an invite to the maharaja's court. The only way to do this is by becoming the best businessperson in all the land, so leave your compassion at the door - cutthroat tactics are the order of the day. However, there's no set way to go about winning. Want to buy and trade cheap items quickly? Knock yourself out. Would you prefer to collect high-ticket goods for a larger payout at the end? That's OK too - you've got room to experiment, and there are plenty of strategies to try out.

Just keep an eye on your opponent. Trading wins you chips from a limited stack, and these are worth points. Unfortunately, those points decrease as you go further down the pile. That means your efforts may be wasted if your rival beats you to the punch. The result is an engrossing balancing act, so Jaipur will grab you by the scruff of the neck and refuse to let go.

2. Exploding Kittens

The best quick card game

Specifications

Players: 2 - 5
Ages: 12+
Difficulty: Easy
Setup: 1 min
Lasts: 15 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Quick to play
+
Straight-up bonkers
+
Easy to understand

Reasons to avoid

-
Simplistic

If you’re looking for a quick and quirky game to enjoy with friends, Exploding Kittens is calling your name. The premise is simple: each player needs to draw a single card from the deck and hope they don’t get an exploding kitten. If that happens, you’re out of the game. More specifically, you've blown up (sorry). As you'd expect, the winner is the person who doesn't end up being blasted to smithereens.

How do you avoid meeting an explosive end? Don't worry, you've got a hand of cards that will help you turn the tables. Some contain ways to skip your turn or 'defuse' kittens. Others let you know what card is going to be drawn next. Learning how to use these special abilities - and being cheeky with them at every opportunity - is key to your survival. For example, you might see that an exploding kitten is on its way. You'll then rearrange the deck to ensure your opponent draws it, blowing them to kingdom come while you ride off into the proverbial sunset. It's wonderfully devious.

Because you can get through a game in about 10 - 15 minutes, Exploding Kittens is also ideal as a palette cleanser between bigger board or card game sessions. That means it's practically made for parties, especially due to the fact that its sense of humor is straight-up bonkers. Indeed, it's one of our go-to choices for get-togethers with friends.

3. Sushi Go!

The best card game for kids

Specifications

Players: 2 - 5
Ages: 8+
Difficulty: Easy
Lasts: 15 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Fast-paced
+
Very moreish
+
Easy to grasp

Reasons to avoid

-
Difficult to master

Sushi Go is a bizarre little game that's suitable for everyone; it's easy to understand and incredibly quick to play. In fact, we've found ourselves coming back time and again because each match can be wrapped up in under 15 minutes flat. That gives it a shot at being one of the best card games for kids who don't want to sit for long periods of time.

Your aim? To create the most appetising 'meal' from a deck being passed between players. You do this by collecting food cards featuring the likes of cartoon dumplings, and each item's got a different points value attached to it. Some are worth more than others, while certain cards only pay up if you've gathered the most of them. 

As an added spanner in the works, you can't see what cards are left in circulation until it's your turn - you never really know what dishes you’ll be able to choose from. While that might sound like it would get confusing, you quickly become used to it
and will soon be stealing cards your opponents need to finish their set. Because what tastes better than getting the upper hand?

The best card game for 2 players

Specifications

Players: 2 - 6
Ages: 8+
Difficulty: Hard
Lasts: 30 mins

Reasons to buy

+
A tough challenge
+
Charming art style
+
Snappy, clever gameplay

Reasons to avoid

-
Can be punishing

Even though it's based on a movie that came out in 1993, Hocus Pocus is exactly the sort of game we need right now - straightforward, yes, but challenging enough to keep us busy during downtime. It doesn't matter if you're short on manpower, either. This one's at its best when played in a pair.

A cooperative game that tasks you with banishing the Sanderson witches by dawn, Hocus Pocus revels in the spooky charm of its inspiration. Naturally, it involves brewing a potion stuffed with all kinds of gunk (Dead man's toe? Oil of boil? You bet). The aim is to fill your cauldron with five of the same ingredient color or type, and that'll stun one of the witches. Get all three and you've won.

But here's the snag: you can't communicate with your teammates. You can't even show them what ingredient cards you've got in your hand. Players are only allowed to ask if someone's holding a specific type or color, and the answer must be a simple yes or no. That forces you to read between the lines. Planning ahead becomes tricky, too; someone may undo your hard work by accident.

Hocus Pocus never seems unfair, though. It's always easy to see where you went wrong, and you'll want to keep trying even if you lose. That's why it ranks so highly on this list of the best card games - it's bewitching, if you'll excuse the pun. As we mention in our review, it will "most definitely put a spell on anyone wanting a fast but engaging experience".

5. Joking Hazard

The best card game for adults

Specifications

Players: 3 - 10
Ages: 18+
Difficulty: Easy
Setup: 1 min
Lasts: 30 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Hysterical
+
Opportunity for bizarre stories
+
Great cartoons

Reasons to avoid

-
Definitely an 18+ game

If you're a fan of Cards Against Humanity, this devilish and NSFW alternative will be right up your street. Joking Hazard follows a similar formula of filling in the blanks with the funniest response, but it shakes things up by using pictures instead of words. Cue absolute chaos.

Modelled after the tongue-in-cheek cartoons of Cyanide and Happiness, two cards - one random, the other chosen by a player from their hand - begin a story. Everyone else has to finish it with a card of their own, and the most amusing response gets a point.

Luckily enough for those of us who don't enjoy being put on the spot, finding something to crack up your opponents isn't hard. Most of the cards in Joking Hazard have a laugh-out-loud quality to them, and they're all absurd. Perhaps your character will opt out of a conversation by flying away using nothing but the power of their farts. Maybe they'll eat the other person whole. Either way, it's ridiculous. Add in Deck Enhancement #1 (opens in new tab), #2 (opens in new tab), or #3 (opens in new tab) and you've got no end of (hilarious) options.

While this provides an 18+ product with one twisted sense of humor, it never feels vindictive. Joking Hazard is crude and silly, but it never never punches down.

6. Pokemon Battle Academy

The best trading card game

Specifications

Players: 2
Ages: 6+
Difficulty: Easy
Setup: 2 mins
Lasts: 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Accessible
+
Steady drip-feed of rules
+
Compatible with the full TCG

Reasons to avoid

-
Potential for uneven matches

For many of us, Pokemon Battle Academy will be a time capsule of our childhood. As an entry-point to the classic Pokemon Trading Card Game, it thrives on nostalgia for a hobby that's been enjoyed across the world since 1996. Like we point out in our review, we don't know "if it's ever been this accessible".

Providing everything you need to get started with easy-to-follow rules, Battle Academy is the perfect way of easing yourself in no matter whether you're a lapsed fan or are new to all this. More specifically, it drip-feeds rules exactly when you're ready to hear them.

If this is your first time battling Pokemon, here's how it works; you start by choosing an active monster who'll be attacking your opponent, while others stay in reserve. You'll then attach Energy cards to your Pokemon each turn, powering their list of moves. But beware: certain attacks need different amounts of Energy, so you've got to judge when and where to use them before your Pokemon is knocked out. Can you save up enough Energy ahead of your rival's assault? Either way, the winner is the first person to defeat a certain number of Pokemon. It's a compelling, uncomplicated formula that supports one of the best card games of the last few decades. After a few matches, you - like us - will be rushing out to build your own Pokemon TCG decks.

7. Arkham Horror: The Card Game

The best horror card game

Specifications

Players: 1 - 4
Ages: 14+
Difficulty: Moderate
Setup: 5 mins
Lasts: 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Streamlines the board game
+
Great atmosphere
+
Long-lasting consequences

Reasons to avoid

-
Two sets needed for four-player games

Bad news, everyone - cosmic terrors that defy all logic are trying to break into our world, and their very presence threatens insanity. More importantly, you're the only thing standing between them and humanity (just another day at the office, then). Want the best horror card game? Here it is.

Rooted in H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, this is a streamlined adaptation of the classic Arkham Horror board game that simplifies gameplay for a snappier - yet still engrossing - experience. Challenging players to investigate and solve eldritch mysteries in a backwater US town, they're armed with nothing but cards that represent their character's talents, tools, and flaws which need to be overcome during the course of the campaign.

That's because the consequences of your actions will carry from one game to another - this is a 'living' experience that builds over time. The result is a light-touch roleplaying experience, and you can really immerse yourself in Arkham's setting due to that depth.

Want to call in reinforcements and share the action? Combine two core box-sets of Arkham Horror: The Card Game and you'll be able to play with up to four people instead of two.

8. The Resistance

The best social deduction card game

Specifications

Players: 5 - 10
Difficulty: Hard
Time to set up: 5 minutes
Time to play: 30 minutes
Age: 13+

Reasons to buy

+
Oodles of tension
+
Exciting
+
Betrayals are a lot of fun

Reasons to avoid

-
Can destroy friendships

Are you a good liar? Can you tell when your friends are lying to you? This game puts it all to the test. A web of intrigue and deception that'll turn allies against each other, it's one of the best card games for fans of social deduction.

The Resistance casts you as a band of freedom fighters who are battling to take down a corrupt government. Sadly, dictatorships aren't easily overthrown and there are traitors amongst your crew. Finding out who they are is the meat of this experience, and it's a paranoia-fuelled trip. Anyone could be a villain in disguise, so a good rule of thumb is to trust no-one.

While its gameplay is similar to Mafia or Werewolf, Resistance has one key difference; the freedom fighters have an objective that isn't tied to rooting out spies. To be precise, they win by completing three out of five missions. As such, it's not enough for the traitors to keep themselves hidden. Instead, they'll have to do everything they can to make sure the rebels don't succeed... and all without exposing themselves.

This results in tense but thrilling games of cat and mouse. Who do you trust? And how will you know if they're pulling the wool over your eyes? A must-have if you enjoy playing armchair detective.

9. Boss Monster

The best fantasy card game

Specifications

Players: 2 - 4
Ages: 13+
Difficulty: Moderate
Setup: 2 mins
Lasts: 30 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Awesome pixel art
+
Cool theme
+
Be the villain

Reasons to avoid

-
... ugh, math

There's something deliciously evil about Boss Monster; it flips the idea of a traditional dungeon crawl by making you the villain at the end. Your objective? Tempt in adventurers and kill them off for points. Cue a bout of cackling laughter.

Even though it features math-based mechanics and multipliers, this card game's straightforward enough once you've gotten your head around it. After being given a unique Boss featuring its own rules, you begin building your dungeon with monster rooms and traps. These offer different sorts of treasure, and that attracts a variety of questing heroes - for instance, wizards are seeking out arcane knowledge while warriors want better weapons. Although you'll use this knowledge to lure foes into your dungeon, you can also weaponize it by drawing victims away from another player's lair.

The resulting tug of war is lots of fun. Sure, Boss Monster suffers a little when there are just two participants involved. But playing with a full roster is awesome. It's a great way to kick off games night before moving on to something more in-depth, particularly when you add The Next Level (opens in new tab), Rise of the Mini-Bosses (opens in new tab), and Tools of Hero-Kind (opens in new tab) expansions (to say nothing of the Crash Landing (opens in new tab) set that lets up to six players get involved).

Gorgeous pixel art and packaging modelled after the NES era only add to its appeal. Boss Monster is an unashamed love letter to the 16-bit days of fantasy video games, and that effortless charm makes it one of the best card games in looks alone.

10. Gloom

The best narrative card game

Specifications

Players: 2 - 4
Ages: 10+
Complexity: Moderate
Setup: 2 minss
Lasts: 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to understand
+
Hilarious
+
Varied card effects

Reasons to avoid

-
Requires improv skill

Gloom is all about making people miserable. Don't get the wrong idea, though - playing it is a blast. Twisted and wacky in equal measure, it's the sort of pastime that'll give you plenty of water-cooler stories to tell the next day.

To get into specifics, you'll be meddling in the affairs of a Victorian family who look like extras from a Tim Burton movie. Everyone uses cards to depress them as much as they can, and you then kill the poor blighters off in the stupidest way possible (Mister Giggles the clown might be mauled by manatees, for example). The more glum your victim is when they kick the bucket, the more points you get. Indeed, what sets Gloom apart is the glee with which it encourages you to foist misery on others. 

So, what's the challenge? Your opponents are, but not in the way you'd think. In a delicious twist, they'll be trying to undo your work by cheering your family up. Improvisation is important, too. You'll weave a story of the unfortunate, implausible events that have befallen your family members, and most of Gloom's appeal comes from making each other laugh by being as sadistic as possible. The word 'macabre' was practically invented for this game, and we're all for it.

Best of the rest

11. Marvel Champions

The best deck-building card game

Specifications

Players: 2 - 4
Ages: 14+
Difficulty: Moderate
Setup: 5 mins
Lasts: 60 mins

Reasons to buy

+
Cleverly translates superpowers to tabletop
+
Makes good use of alter-egos
+
Deep but not overwhelming strategy

Reasons to avoid

-
Takes a few rounds to get into

Superheroes have conquered almost every medium in the last few years, so it's not surprising to see them make the transition to card games with Marvel Champions. Fortunately, this isn't a cynical cash-in. It's a fun but strategic deck-building game that smartly translates its characters' abilities to the tabletop. Because it's developed by Fantasy Flight, you also know you're in for a high-quality product that'll be supported for years to come.

Your aim is to reduce a villain's health to zero before they achieve their nefarious goal, but players will need to make smart use of allies, abilities, and upgrades to do so. Intriguingly, that includes calling upon a superhero's alter-ego. For instance, Spider-Man can interrupt villain attacks while Peter Parker gains resources that are essential for deploying more cards. It's a cool tip of the hat to the one of the genre's most beloved tropes.

The game's rhythm takes a few turns to absorb if you're new to deck-building games, but the effort is worth it. Because this is a cooperative experience, you and the other players have to make decisions that will complement your characters' unique strategies. It's the sort of thing that gets better the more you play.

Marvel Champions is excellent fan-service, too - it calls upon a broad range of heroes from the classic to the obscure. Although Iron Man, Captain Marvel, and She-Hulk are here, so are the likes of Hellcat. As with everything else in this game, it's a cool tribute to over fifty years of comic book history.

12. Marrying Mr Darcy

The best card game for social b*tchiness

Specifications

Players: 2 - 6
Difficulty: Moderate
Time to set up: 1 - 2 minutes
Time to play: 60 minutes
Age: 12+

Reasons to buy

+
Unique gameplay
+
Fun event cards
+
Playable period drama

Reasons to avoid

-
A bit niche

Stop! I see you scrolling past this game because you think it’s for ‘dreamy girls’ or fans of stuffy old Georgian literature. But if you miss out on Marrying Mr Darcy you are, frankly, skipping one of the most entertaining games on this list. 

After picking a debutant from Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, the aim is to woo and marry one of the men from that novel for reputation or wealth. If you roleplay it and really get into the historical bitchiness of the whole game, it’s heaps of fun, especially when you start screwing over your opponents. 

You begin by playing the Courtship stage, where you take it in turns to draw event cards that allow you to build up your own eligibility, or ruin the chances of your opponents (spoiling the chances of someone else getting a good marriage is almost as entertaining as getting one yourself). Then you move on to the Proposal stage, which sees you competing for the hand of whichever suitors you qualify to marry. 

Alright, so it’s a simple game. But it's also very replayable. The levels of cunning and scheming you can achieve make it seriously entertaining too, even if you have no interest in Georgian literature, social scandals, or getting yourself Mr Darcy. Plus, you can always add a bit of spice via the Emma add-on (opens in new tab) or the Undead Expansion (opens in new tab) that riffs off Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

13. Agatha Christie's Death on the Cards

The best mystery card game

Specifications

Players: 2 - 6
Difficulty: Moderate
Time to set up: 2 - 5 minutes
Time to play: 20 - 40 minutes
Age: 10+

Reasons to buy

+
Charming artwork
+
Tactical and devious
+
A good poker face isn't essential

Reasons to avoid

-
Isn't all that easy to understand

Ever fancied yourself as an armchair detective? Now it's time to put those skills to the test. There's a murderer amongst you in Agatha Christie's Death on the Cards, and the other players have to catch them before they make good their escape. The catch? You've got no idea who they are. 

To make matters worse, the killer will also be working behind the scenes to derail your investigation. That means you'll need help from the likes of Poirot and Miss Marple if you want to bust this case wide open, and they come to the rescue in the form of card power-ups that you collect over time. 

It's not an easy nut to crack, though. Everyone's got something to hide. And we mean that in a very literal sense - each player receives three 'secret' cards at the beginning of the game, and you're out if they all get revealed. That makes bluffing an important part of the game.

The trouble is, uncovering secrets is the only way you can reveal the murderer. Cue mistrust, misdirection, and a whole load of "he said, she said." Not that you need a good poker face to win; in a pleasant twist, the mechanics are strong enough that tactics alone can earn you victory. This means you can also use Death on the Cards as a game for 2 players, which is always handy if you're a little short on man-power.

More board game guides

Want more suggestions? Looking for something specific? Don't forget to check out our range of other board game guides. No matter whether you're hunting down a beloved classic or something for your children, we've got you covered.

Keen to try roleplaying games, on the other hand? Don't forget about the best tabletop RPGs (including the best Dungeons and Dragons books) and our feature on how to play D&D online.

Benjamin Abbott
Benjamin Abbott

As the site's Tabletop & Merch Editor, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to Lego buying guides. I have been writing about games in one form or another since 2012 and can normally be found cackling over some evil plan I've cooked up for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.