In my mind there is apparently a distinction between “card games” and “games that use cards”; a fact I was unaware of prior to making this list. Each of the games that made the list is either entirely cards, or close to it, with just the occasional appearance of tokens or dice. These are the types of game you could transport in deck boxes or the increasingly popular Quiver with one exception, my #1 card game would probably require a LOT of deck boxes to actually take it anywhere. Funnily enough, the game I ranked #1 isn’t just a lot less portable than the others, it’s probably the one you would likely describe as a “game using cards” but it’s so damn good that I couldn’t not include it.
#5 – Red7
Portability is one of the big advantages to games consisting solely of cards, and Red7 from Carl Chudyk exemplifies this. It’s a perfect game for traveling or for just throwing in a purse or pocket to take to dinner. It’s easy to teach and plays super quickly – when we play it in restaurants or bars, we can either play to a winning score or just play individual rounds until our food arrives. It looks good on the table, garnering comments form passersby, keeps players engaged and provides plenty of ah-ha moments, all of which earns it a spot on both my most-commonly played games rotation and on this list.
#4 – The Game
Of note, this game wouldn’t have made this list it it wasn’t for Beth Sobel’s absolutely stunning re-skin. The original game’s art and graphic design were such a turn-off that I avoided playing The Game, and upon showing it to him, my husband agreed that he wouldn’t have played either. But once I got my hands on the re-skin, we discovered that this “cards-with-numbers” game is an easy-to-teach, fantastic co-op that always ends up being played multiple times in a row when it gets to the table. We haven’t actually won yet, and that hasn’t stopped us from enjoying playing over and over.
#3 – Port Royal
Alexander Pfister has been on a roll recently, with many of his recent designs getting a lot of great buzz. This push-your-luck, tableau building game is easy to teach and leads to plenty of exciting moments as the active player flips cards hoping to find the cards they need without ending up under attack by pirates too tough to fight off. The ability to purchase cards from the active player provided that they flipped enough cards to get around to you and didn’t bust while doing so adds tension for everyone else at the table, keeping everyone involved throughout the game.
#2 – The Castles of Burgundy: the Card Game
“Cards of Burgundy,” as it’s been dubbed, seems to be Stefan Feld’s attempt to distill his classic The Castles of Burgundy board game into a deck of mini cards. The most surprising thing about the result is just how much playing it really does feel like playing its older sibling. The game is a table hog, requiring as much space if not more than the full board game, but the fact that the game is just a deck of cards makes it infinitely more portable. This makes it a perfect convention game; easy to fit in a backpack and pull out when you reach the open gaming area & are looking for a meatier experience than most small box card games.
#1 – Pathfinder Adventure Card Game
I got this Mike Selinker game in the RUTHCon math trade in July, and it’s become my most-played game of 2016, with 33 games recorded in BGStats (and I know for a fact that I forgot to log at least a few of our games). I’m currently playing through two separate campaigns, and so is my “gaming-adjacent” husband which is even more telling. The game plays like a RPG campaign with each character’s deck being not just their equipment, spells and allies, but also their health; this leads to a delightful tension between wanting card draw to get your good items out but not wanting to deplete your deck too quickly. With multiple campaign sets available and with family members getting me one for Christmas, I know we’ll be continuing our adventures for a long time to come.