International TableTop Day is still on the way (March 30th), and you know what deals out really well on a good, hard tabletop surface? Cards, and there are some really good card games out there. No, of course I’m not going to be talking about poker, cribbage, Texas hold ‘em, rummy, or bridge. I’m not even talking about Go Fish. Leave that old deck of 52 standard playing cards right where it is in that junk drawer of yours. It’s time to try out some newer cards with this list of 11 card games you need to know about — some of which you absolutely must try for yourself.
As a fantasy nut and Dungeons & Dragons nerd, I apologize in advance for not including Magic: the Gathering in this list. Look, I know that legions of fans can’t be wrong — it’s popular for a reason, and, as an aside, I’ve no doubt that D&D was kept alive by Wizards of the Coast because of M:tG — but I just don’t find the game to be, well, fun. Smart, strategic, addictive, and wallet-opening, yes.
But I’m all about fun. And storytelling, and laughing. So don’t kill me, Magic fans. Just see if any of these might also interest you.
No. 1 | Gloom
"The world of Gloom is a sad and benighted place. The sky is gray, the tea is cold, and a new tragedy lies around every corner." Easily my favorite card game. Each player controls a family of eccentric, misanthropic
fiendsindividuals, and your goal is to make them suffer -- with cool transparent cards and their layering effects -- before ushering them along to their untimely deaths. Meanwhile, you play cards of good fortune upon your opponents' family members. The mechanics are simple yet brilliant, but the real fun of the game is the storytelling that accompanies each action. Just how was Butterfield, the Lurking Butler, mauled by manatees and what did Balthazar, the Unfaithful Hound, do that he was distressed by dysentery? Check out the Gloom videos at Atlas Games. (Images my own, with thanks to the Brooklyn Strategist)
No. 2 | Dominion
Tons of people adore this deck-building, monarchical game of shuffling and victory point acquisition through means both honest and clandestine. And with good reason. Depending on who you play with, Dominion is either a strategic but strangely cathartic thinking game or a series of independent, Solitaire-like rounds that you just happen to play at the same table as your friends. Either way, you play treasure cards to buy action cards, which when they appear in your hand later will give you new ways of screwing your opponent or scoring you some victory cards. (Images courtesy the Brooklyn Strategist and BoardGameGeek)
No. 3 | Once Upon a Time
This is a storytelling game -- duh -- but with some cool structure to it. Each player is dealt a hand of Story cards, each of which names a story element ("princess," "time passes," "sword"), and a single Ending card. Your goal is to tell a story, using each element in whatever order you want, so you can bring your story to the proper ending. But your opponents can hijack your story by playing their Story cards in an attempt to steer the tale to their ending. Whoever plays all their cards and can bring the story to a "logical" conclusion that fits their Ending card wins. This is a great game of imagination for kids, but I've also seen it played dirty by drinking adults. Either way, laughing and fun both ensue. (Image my own, with thanks to the Brooklyn Strategist)
No. 4 | Bang!
In this awesome Old West-style game, one guy or girl is the Sheriff, and must display the Star, while every other player is secretly either a Deputy (who will ally with the Sheriff), an Outlaw (whose only goal is to kill the Sheriff), or the Renegade (who only wins if they kill everyone). The Sheriff, meanwhile, just needs to kill the Outlaws. On each player's turn, they take shots at the other players with Bang! cards, or play any number of other crazy cards like Indians (everyone forfeits a bullet to deal with them), Dynamite (an explosive "hot potato" card that keeps getting passed around until it blows), or Jail. (Image my own, with thanks to the Brooklyn Strategist, and BoardGameGeek)
No. 5 | Munchkin
I find it interesting how popular this game is with kids, because Munchkin is a spoof on fantasy tabletop RPGs and kids gravitate to this game long before they've played any such thing. Then again, "munchkin" is a game industry term for immature gamers who play aggressively in cooperative games where there's no need to. Still, this is an intentionally over-the-top card game worth playing a few times, at which point you'll become very sick of it. Until you're not anymore and you start playing again. (Image my own, with thanks to the Brooklyn Strategist)
No. 6 | Scavenger Hunt
This rather obscure but incredibly enjoyable game put out by Goodman Games places you in the role of a scavenging animal in the savannah -- the adorable hyena, vulture, jackal, leopard, crocodile, or monitor lizard. Your goal is to find the best carcasses (each given a value between 5 or 25 points), claim it, fight off your fellow scavengers, then drag it back to your lair for safekeeping. But Skulduggery cards and Event cards can mess things up for everyone. No one dies, but if you lose a fight, you do get beat up; you flip over your card -- which depicts your animal pathetically trounced -- and have to lose a round in your lair licking your wounds. Check out the preview page for Scavenger Hunt on Goodman Games. (Image my own)
No. 7 | Sentinels of the Multiverse
Ever wanted to play as a superhero and gang up on a villain with a bunch of your friends, but in card game format? That's what Sentinels of the Multiverse allows. Each hero, like Legacy or Absolute Zero, has their own deck full of powers, one-shots, and equipment. Playing the game is pretty simple, and a turn consists of drawing a card, playing a card, using a power, or some combination of these three. The villains range in difficulty, but the designers made sure to include a variety of them to provide for whatever kind of game the players want. Want a quick and fun beginner game? Give Omnitron a whirl. Want to make things difficult? Try The Matriarch. There's something for everyone. (Images courtesy of BoardGameGeek)
No. 8 | Snake Oil
Every played Apples to Apples? It's a fun party game, but Snake Oil is Apples to Apples but actually involves creativity. Each round, one player is the Customer and draws a card declaring what sort of customer. A beach bum, a gangster, Santa Claus, an insomniac, a ninja? Whatever it is, that's what the other players need to cater to on their turns. They choose two cards from the six in their hand, combine them to make a new invention, then pitch that invention to the customer in like 30 or 40 seconds. My favorite inventions from games I've played: The Brick Pillow (ideal for gangsters), Heaven Candy (for a pregnant woman), and the Alcohol Mountain (doesn't matter). Play this game only if you enjoy laughing a lot. (Images courtesy of BoardGameGeek)
No. 9 | The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
I'm not into Magic: The Gathering because, despite the rich lore that surrounds the game and the cards, their actual story isn't very present in gameplay. That's why I'm more of a D&D guy. But The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game scratches that story itch for me. While you play and tap cards like many CCG games, it's cooperative and its adventurous. Each time you play, you choose a quest (and there are many expansions to be had) that ties in somehow with J.R.R. Tolkien's epic and you each choose a handful of heroes. No, it didn't make sense that Bilbo, Éowyn, and Dúnhere were attacked by the spawn of Ungoliant on the banks of the Anduin, but it sure was fun. (Image my own, with thanks to the Brooklyn Strategist)
No. 10 | Guillotine
The premise is simple: You're an executioner during the French Revolution. There's a guillotine and a line of nobles leading up to it. On you turn, you can play one card from your hand which allows you to manipulate that line in some way. At the end of your turn, whichever unfortunate is standing at the front of the line is beheaded -- you get the head and its worth in points. 1 or 2 points would be for minor nobles, 4 or 5 for important nobles (like Marie Antoinette or Robespierre), or even negative points if they're a martyr or someone the populace didn't want to see die. Damned martyrs. There's just no accounting for public opinion. The game is played in three cycles of twelve nobles each. After the last head is chopped in the third round, you tally which player has the most points for the heads they've acquired. (Image my own, with thanks to the Brooklyn Strategist)
No. 11 | The Great Dalmuti
Hey, look, a Mensa-picked game made the list! This one's for smart people, not like all those other coloring book games. It also may mark the first time Mensa has affixed it's seal of approval to pastime inspired by a drinking game. Though the deck is specially constructed, Dalmuti takes its gameplay cues from the great undergrad intramural sport Presidents and Assholes, forcing players to lay down tricks -- a pair of fours, or four eights, for example -- in an effort to shed their cards first. The game also makes note of the ranks of the up to eight players, with the player who won the last round playing The Great Dalmuti, able to steal good cards from the player who came in last, The Great Peon, and pawn their own trash cards off in return. Just like in life, the rich get richer. (Image courtesy of KevinAndGames)