When we tell people we’re into “board games,” what we often mean is “board and card games.” If you just say card games, people often think of the standard deck of 52, but if you just say board games, people focus a bit too much on the board in the middle of the table. But a lot of games are made primarily — or mostly — out of cards, and at least in my world, that generally doesn’t mean the public domain deck.
There’s even an annual award for such games, called the À la Carte award.
Today’s article is part of our “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory. I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc. In this case, I picked a component. We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria. We’re aiming for an article a month, and I’d love your suggestions about future lists.
For purposes of this project, I simply asked everybody to vote for 10 games that represented great card games. I specifically excluded trick taking and climbing games, because knowing this group, they’d dominate the list! I didn’t define how much of the game had to consist of cards, instead just telling the group that I was looking for games that are primarily cards. Put succinctly, I asked for the sort of games that could win the À la Carte award.
Anybody could add to the list assuming they were going to vote for it. Each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 10 games, and they could give one game 15 points, one game 14 points, all the way down to giving one 6 points. We all put our votes into a spreadsheet. We then added up the points for each game and picked the top 10.
We had 16 OG-ers vote, and 69 different games received votes.
To get on the list took a minimum of four writers rating the game decently well. That wasn’t a rule, but rather how the breakdown naturally worked out. There’s actually great consensus towards the top of our list.
Below you’ll see designations for gold, silver, and bronze. Those represent the number of voters that put a given game in the #1, #2, and #3 spot, respectively.
Without further ado, here are 10 Great card games!
Honorable Mention (Games That Barely Missed the List):
15. Team Play (1 Silver)
14. 6 Nimmt (2 Bronze)
13. Magic: The Gathering (1 Bronze)
12. 7 Wonders (2 Silver)
11. No Thanks (1 Bronze)
#10 – Show Manager
42 Points, 1 Bronze
Designed by Dirk Henn
#9 – St. Petersburg
44 Points, 1 Silver
Designed by Bernd Brunnhofer
#8 – Medici
46 Points, 1 Bronze
Designed by Reiner Knizia
#7 – San Juan
49 Points, 1 Gold
Designed by Andreas Seyfarth
#6 – Bohnanza
53 Points, 1 Gold
Designed by Uwe Rosenberg
#5 – Hanabi
62 Points, 3 Silver
Designed by Antoine Bauza
#4 – Codenames Series
64 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze
Designed by Vlada Chvatil
#3 – Race for the Galaxy
67 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze
Designed by Tom Lehmann
#2 – Lost Cities
77 Points, 3 Gold
Designed by Reiner Knizia
#1 – Dominion
117 Points, 2 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze
Designed by Donald X. Vaccarino
Thoughts from Opinionated Gamers:
Chris Wray: This is the first list (I think) where the majority of my votes did not make the list. I saw a few of the games above as primarily being board games — Medici and St. Petersburg, for example (even though I love both games).
I also voted for Coloretto, For Sale, Hanamikoji, Link (a.k.a. Abluxxen), Silver (or Cabo), and The Game.
Larry: Wow, almost a total shutout for me! The only top 10 games which made my list were Codenames and Medici, which is an unprecedented lack of connection to the group for me. And I love card games too; I guess just not the ones that everyone else likes. Weird. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’ve never cared for biggies like Dominion, Lost Cities, and Race.
Jambo was my top pick and it’s amazing to me that it didn’t even crack the top 15. But it’s a fairly old game and only 6 of our members have ever played it. That was followed by Babel, Codenames, Key Flow, and Baseball Highlights. Just not fitting in with the rest of the OGers, but I’ll continue to love playing these games!
Brandon Kempf: So, after thinking about this one a bit, I came to realize that I didn’t even vote for my favorite card game. I absolutely adore Bohnanza, Dominion, 7 Wonders & 6 Nimmt, but for some reason I didn’t even think to add my absolute favorite, Arboretum. So I am declaring this whole thing, null and void across the board and demanding a new vote. As it is, I think only three that I voted for made the Top 10. This is definitely an eclectic list of card games, I think it skews a bit old, but that probably can be said about a lot of our lists, most of them rightfully so, but this one in particular feels a bit out of date to me. I mean from the last two years or so, I probably could have voted for Mandala & Hats, but I failed to even nominate them because I was kind of swept up in the group think a bit. So dear reader, my apologies for not coming to the rescue of the newer games.
Tery: It was really hard for me to think about card games when I couldn’t include trick taking games, because I really, really like trick taking games. My votes are fairly well represented between the honorable mentions and the winners, with Dominion definitely in the top spot for me. Team Play would probably be much higher on my list; it’s easy to teach, even to people who don’t play games often, it handles different numbers of players well and it is a lot of fun. I like the partnership aspect, particularly the passing, and am always happy to play it. I also really enjoy The City, Star Realms and Ascension, none of which made the list. Brandon also mentions Hats and Arboretum, two games that I have recently discovered and agree that they are excellent choices as well.
Mark Jackson: While I had some other games I voted for, this is actually a very good list – with the exception of Hanabi, which I will find an excuse to avoid playing pretty much every time. (“I have to go wash my cat.” I do not own a cat.) I think Dominion has been eclipsed by more interesting deckbuilders (Trains, Arctic Scavengers, Shards of Infinity, etc.) but it still is the grandaddy of the genre and deserves its place in the sun. I’ll also second Tery’s recommendation of Team Play (on the honorable list).
My missing highly rated games included The Rivals for Catan (the excellent reboot of the Catan Card Game), Friday (a fantastic solitaire deckbuilder), and the Mystery Rummy series – particularly Al Capone.
Matt Carlson: In contrast to many of these “top 10” lists we do here at OpinionatedGamers, I’ve played the majority (8 of the top 10.) It may be because they are older titles, but still generally in print. This also means I voted for most of the top ten. One thing I found during voting was that I ranked both Magic: the Gathering and Dominion highly even though I have some issues with their gameplay. I extremely dislike the CCG nature of Magic, but the depth of gameplay through deckbuilding and card interactions is second to none. I would argue it is the pinnacle of gaming for discovery-minded players who like to poke around and have “ah-ha” moments of new interactions and combinations. Dominion fuels that same measure but without the annoying price of entry of Magic, thus I rank it higher. Its main drawbacks are in its physicality. Setting up a game and then playing through (“the shuffling game”) a game can be tedious at times, and since players create their deck through gameplay there may be interesting combinations to explore but they cannot be realized as there is a different combination that is far faster to implement.
My only big omission is Sentinels of the Multiverse. I’ve no problem with others ranking it low, but as a fan of co-ops and the well-implemented theme it deserves attention. It’s main drawback is its fiddly complexity, but that brings out some of the “combo-licious” ideas mentioned above. I also liked Glory to Rome, with some of the same aspects… can you tell I’m in the target audience? They aren’t for everyone but they do fit my gaming preferences.
Other shout-outs go to No Thanks!, my go-to game for many years to foist off on non-gamers to show them the world of games is bigger than they realize (a reverse auction, what is that?) Codenames is one of the best party-games around and works with almost any number of people. I love co-ops so Hanabi is easily on my list. I was one of those who voted for The Mind, whether you want to call it a game or not, I don’t care but I enjoy it. (I assume it’s the same folks who would call an escape room not a game, which is also fine.) I’ve always seen St. Petersburg as the “smallest unit of euro-game” with a nice flow of: build up an economy and then purchase points, where the key aspect of the game is when to stop the former and start the latter. I did not vote for Race for the Galaxy as it doesn’t go over as well in my more beginner gaming groups. It’s main drawback is that, contrary to some games, in order to do well players really need to know all the cards in the deck before starting gameplay. I’ll play, but have never seen the great attraction of Lost Cities while 7 Wonders is fun but not usually my first choice of card game due to the strong left/right pairing that can derail one’s strategy without much of a chance to affect it. Bohnanza didn’t make my list, but was still in my top 20 or so, and my family would add in Love Letter as it is so lightweight and quick to play it’s one of the few games my wife will play.
Past Articles in the 10 Great Series: