The world has been playing cards since at least the 9th century AD. Or so the historic accounts of Ouyang Xiu, a statesman and scribe for the Song dynasty, suggest. Card games didn’t stay in one place over the ages, though, and they evolved, spawning dozens, if not hundreds of iterations.
Over time, cards spread out of China and reached the Middle East in the 11th century and then Europe around the 14th century. The majority of card games split into two variations – trick and non-trick taking games, providing information about the complexity of each card game. There are of course social card games, which focus less on strategy or depth, and try to maximize the fun time you have.
Social and Family Card Games
This type of games has a lightsome gameplay and rules that are easy to crack. Titles such as “Cheat,” “President,” and “Speed,” are premised on interaction with other players, more so than producing the strongest hand. The lightness of the gameplay, though, doesn’t mean they are just fit for children. Not at all, and adults do play these games to date.
1. Cheat (3-13 players) – In this game, players try to get rid of their hands by sending them back to a communal pile face down. If a player suspects you are lying, you will be called a Cheat and then forced to pick up the whole lot of discarded cards.
2. Mao (2-7 players) – Mao is another game where the goal is to get rid of all your cards. The game has been around since at least the 1960s, and the curious twist about this one is that nobody would tell you the rules. You have to carry on and figure the game on the fly, but careful – if you do end up breaking the unspoken rules, you lose.
3. Speed (2-4 players) – Speed is another card game where time is of the essence. You will effectively want to be the first player to get rid of your cards, but to do so you would need to be the first player to actually discard a card. The concept has given rise to some interesting and more pop culture games, such as “Dobble” and even “5-Minute Dungeon”.
4. Rummy (2-6 players) – Rummy is another cornerstone card game and a classic. The game asks from players to create “melds,” consisting of sets of cards with the same values or consecutive values. The rules can change slightly based on the version you play, and you can experience variations such as “Gin Rummy,” “Mystery Rummy” and even “Contract Rummy”.
5. Palace (2-6 players) – Palace has crafted a very lightsome atmosphere for the players who are trying to get rid of all of their cards, and specifically be the last person to have done so. The game already has some modern iterations such as “Llama”.
6. Exploding Kittens (2-5 players) – Exploding Kittens is one of the most popular social or family games these days. In the game, you are trying to run through the deck without encountering the “Exploding Kitten” bomb card which ends the game for you – unless you have a special “Defuse” card. Players are able to intervene and prevent fellow players from playing good and bad actions. The game was released in 2015 but it has spawned over 10 dedicated editions to dated and has been translated into almost 20 languages, and there are quite a few editions!
7. Cards Against Humanity (3-20+ players) – Cards Against Humanity is a highly-scalable game with an unlimited number of players so long as you have enough cards. The game asks from players to “fill out the gaps,” by offering a punchline which is usually deemed politically incorrect, offensive or explicit in nature. The game is very popular, but then again, in the right company.
Non-Trick Card Games
Why start with the non-trick games you might wonder? The non-trick taking card games tend to be a little more strategic in nature, and the deeper your understanding of such games becomes, the smaller part luck plays. While you can’t always be in control, there are some games where you can accurately predict the next card dealt if you have had enough training. Some games in the other sections are also trick-based titles, but they don’t quite hit the spot when it comes to depth.
8. Blackjack (2+ players) – Blackjack has long been considered one of the most involved games you can play. It can be played with one, two or eight decks and players have been known to successfully outplay the house by accurately predicting the unplayed cards left in the deck. In Blackjack, you simply try to build a game that is stronger than the dealer’s without going over 21.
9. Baccarat (2+ players) – Baccarat is a French classic where chance has a little more to do with the outcome. Players bet on two types of bet, a “Player” and “Banker,” but confusing as these names may be, they don’t have to do with your bet as a player specifically. There are three outcomes in each round, i.e. the Player or Banker bet wins, or the round ends in a tie.
10. Poker (2-7 players) – The ultimate game of skill that has made people millionaires, poker takes skill, the right mind set and perhaps a bit of chance. The game was popularized in the 17th century among settlers along the Mississippi River, and spread out to the rest of the country in the following centuries. A typical game of poker takes several betting rounds to conclude. The winner is the player with the strongest hand in the end. To this day, poker remains to be one of the most played games in the world and you can experience it yourself at BetOnline Poker, which many reviewers agree to the best dedicated online card room around.
11. Spite & Malice (2 players) – Spite & Malice, also referred to as Cat & Mouse, is a game that resembles Solitaire where patience and bidding one’s time is everything. Each player takes a turn to complete an action.
12. Eleusis (4-8 players) – Eleusis is a game where the dealer crafts the rules of the game and the players try to find out what the rules are. Eleusis is a modern invention requiring a ton of creativity, but if you are in the right company, you would be able to appreciate the innovative twists the game brings to the table.
Trick-Taking Card Games
While social and recreational games have a few extra rules attached to them, trick-tacking card games focus on the idea of playing the strongest card. Each round a player will be able to play one card and the rounds themselves are referred to as “tricks”. The games already require some strategizing, which is both fun and an opportunity to match your wits with those of your opponents.
13. German Whilst (2 players) – A German Whilst pits you against a single opponent. Each player receives 13 cards and one card is placed face up. This one card is also the point of conflict as players begin competing for it. The winner gets the card and the loser claims the next face down card. When the stock is gone, players continue by going through their hand and in the end, the person to have won the most tricks is the winner.
14. Le Truc (2 players) – Another strategy-oriented game, Le Truc introduces and masters the concept of bluffing. This 19th century French game uses a 32-card deck and allows players to talk big and hopefully force their opponents to fold. Even to date, the game remains quite popular and there are popular variations, including Spanish Truc. A common predecessor to the game is considered Put, an English bluffing game.
15. Piquet (2 players) – Piquet is perhaps best known as the forefather of poker. The game goes back to the 14th century and it has pioneered the concept of hand building. Piquet features hands as pairs, three of a kind and flux, or simply flush as it’s known today. Italians and Spaniards also picked up the game as a national pastime back in Piquet’s heyday.
16. Spades (4 players) – Spades, as the name suggests, is a game that revolves around the namesake suit. In this game invented at one point in the 1930s in the United States, the spades will always be trumps and they beat all other suits. The scoring system can be a little too complicated for comfort’s sake at first, but once you get the hand of it, you will find spades an absolute delight to play.
17. Skat (3 players) – Skat is another game which, true to its German ancestry, makes things a little too complicated perhaps. The game was devised back in 1810 and considered a national pastime in the country. It pits players in teams of defenders and the declarer and has an interesting dynamic. It might take some time to get into, but once you do, you will have a real appreciation for this high-scoring trick game.
Fantasy and Digital Trade Card Games
The past few decades have seen the rise of the so-called collectible trade card games, with many transitioning to digital platforms as well. These games have complex rules based on “champions,” “spells,” “terrains” and other unique gameplay conditions specific to each game. The game requires skillful deck-building and understanding of the opponent’s gameplay and deck. A slight drawback here is that in order to keep apace with the “meta,” you would need to invest in buying cards.
18. Magic: The Gathering (2 players) – Magic: The Gathering is a cornerstone game released in 1993 and designed by mathematician Richard Garfield. The game became a quick player-favorite owing to its unlimited scalability, allowing players to acquire new cards, build more successful decks and challenge fellow players to duels.
19. Hearthstone (2 players) – Hearthstone is one of the first and most successful digital trade card games. Released in 2014 by Blizzard, the game taps into the World of Warcraft lore to create another dueling game. Instead of collecting physical cards, though, players simply win new cards by playing or purchasing expansions. The game can be played both recreationally, but it also has a deep competitive and strategy element.
20. Legends of Runeterra (2 players) – Legends of Runeterra is a game developed by Riot Games and released on April 30, 2020. The card game builds on Riot League of Legends but introduces a state-of-the-art combat system not available in other card games. LoR is also a less “grind” focused game meaning you can attain around 75% of all cards without spending any money, and just by playing. The game can be quite complex versus skilled players, but then again, you can simply play against the AI for fun.