In the 90s, card games like Magic: The Gathering and The Pokémon Trading Card Game were popular with youth all around the world. There was a social aspect as well. Friends could get together and play the same way they could with four people on the Nintendo 64. Another popular cartoon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, also featured battles using cards and was immensely popular during its mid-90s to mid-2000s run.
These shows and franchises introduced head-to-head card playing to a generation and cemented its legacy. Today, while traditional analog card playing still exists, the movement has mostly moved digital. There are scores of online games featuring the same premise as the analog ones, with the ability to reach bigger audiences and the appeal of playing anyone, anywhere in the world.
The proliferation of mobile phones also helped this evolution. With so many card games available, which ones are the best? We've compiled the top four you should be playing right now.
Hearthstone describes itself like chess: easy to learn and hard to master. It's a fast-moving game that unlike some of the others on this list doesn't have a physical counterpart.
The game is based on Warcraft lore and was previously subtitled Heroes of Warcraft. Players pick a "hero" from one of ten classes with unique abilities and then try to reduce their opponent's health to zero.
The game is streamlined and has a few different modes, but the normal mode simply involves two random players going head-to-head. Other multiplayer modes involve 8 players, unusual deck rules, or a drafted deck.
The game's free-to-play but has microtransactions and gold as prizes to earn or buy new cards. It's also a popular esport, with a yearly world championship and a prize pool of $1 million. Hearthstone is available on mobile platforms and computers.
Pokémon TCG Online
The digital Pokémon Trading Card Game is based on the physical version of the game. Part of the fun is its faithfulness to the source material. Things like evolutions, trainers, status ailments, battles, and other ideas from the franchise are all baked into the game.
The game works like a real-life (well, you know what I mean) Pokémon battle. Two players take turns trying to knock out all of the opponent's Pokémon. There are a lot of other things that go into it, and different ways to win, but basically, beat your opponent and you'll be victorious.
The Pokemon TCG features a few different modes, including tournament, theme, and unlimited. It's an especially fun boost of nostalgia for people who grew up playing the physical card game in their youth. Catch 'em all on mobile platforms and computers.
Gwent: The Witcher Card Game
Gwent is a (relative) latecomer to the digital card game released in 2019. It rose to prominence in the wake of the popular video game and more recent Netflix show The Witcher.
The game's featured prominently in The Witcher 3, with main character Geralt of Rivea always eager to partake in what he considers an enjoyable pastime. Like its counterparts, Gwent is free to play and similar to Hearthstone, does not have a physical counterpart.
The game lasts three rounds with players going turn for turn. Players play at least one card a turn from a deck of 25, and unlike Hearthstone, the game does not have a mana system.
Best two out of three wins. The player with the most points at the end of every round is victorious. Rounds end when both players run out of cards. The game has a surprising amount of depth and advertises itself as skill-based rather than luck. There are several different modes ranging from casual play to ranked, where players strive to move up the leaderboard.
Gwent is available on consoles and mobile platforms. The latest expansion, Way of the Witcher, was released on Dec. 8. The game continues to grow as an esport, with tournaments featuring $50,000 prize pools.
Magic: The Gathering Online
This was the OG card game of its day. In the same way that Dungeons & Dragons enthralled the youth of the 80s, Magic: The Gathering captured the zeitgeist of its time.
Part of what made it so great was its ease to play, creating a low barrier to entry, not to mention the compelling lore. Dragons, wizards, and demons going head-to-head, dark spells cast, and thoughtful gameplay all coincided for an enjoyable experience.
In 2002, Magic: The Gathering Online, a fairly traditional port of the game was released. In 2019, Magic: The Gathering Arena came out. It was modeled more after the popular free-to-play games like Hearthstone.
MTG Arena follows the same rules as the physical game, with mana that depletes when players summon creatures and cast spells. To win, a player must drain their opponent's life to zero.
Magic is a popular esport, with the Mythic International event offering a prize pool of $1 million.
This is just a small sample of all of the different digital card games available online. Notable others include The Elder Scrolls: Legends, Yu-Gi-Oh Legacy Of The Duelist: Link Evolution, Shadowverse, and The Lord Of The Rings: Adventure Card Game. Happy card playing!
Check out the new Legends of Runeterra card type, coming with the new Monuments of Power expansion: Landmarks.