Card games are some of the most popular games to play in your spare time. Even with the emergence of online gaming, many of us can’t look past a good card game. They’re timeless, yet some are significantly better than others.
If you’re looking for some simple card games to play, we’ve got a list of the best ones to try. Feel free to read that article and comment if we’ve missed your favorite card game. Today, the focus shifts to something slightly different - what makes a good card game? More specifically, how do you spot a good one or a bad one?
While many card games are completely different, the best ones all have the same features. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the key features in card games and how good and bad ones can differ.
Simple RulesOne of the reasons a game like Uno has been popular for generations is the simplicity of its rules. Everyone knows how to play it - and even if you don’t, you pick it up very quickly. Solitaire is another fantastic example; there’s a reason people have been playing this on their Windows PCs for ages. It’s easy to get to grips with, so you don’t spend hours trying to figure out all of the rules.
Bad card games are too complicated for most people to learn. In many ways, this is the same for all types of games. Why would you play a game if it’s got insanely complicated rules? All of the fun gets sucked away as you spend most of your time learning the rules and checking if you’ve done things right.
Tactical GameplayWhen we talk about card games needing simple rules, this doesn’t mean they should be utterly straightforward. People don’t enjoy complex games, but they also don’t like games that are far too easy to win. There should be an element of tactical gameplay in good card games, so you have to think two steps ahead of your opponents. It’s one of the reasons Texas Hold’Em is such a vastly popular card game in the poker world. You learn how to play it very quickly - and on paper, it looks like a simple game. However, there are so many tactics and plays involving bluffing and psychologically taking apart your opponents. It makes the game more enjoyable to play as there is more than one way to win.
The same can be said of a game like Spades. There’s a tactical element as you work with your teammate to try and beat the other team. Card games become boring when there are no tactics and you leave everything up to chance. It’s why most adults no longer play things like Pairs or Go Fish. They’re great games to play with kids because they’re very easy to understand. As an adult, you lose interest as there’s no tactical nouse at all - it just depends on the luck of the draw…literally.
MasteryLeading on from the point above, tactical gameplay opens the door for mastery. The best card games are those that you master. You begin as a noob with barely any understanding. After quickly learning the rules, you start to progress and get better. Progression is what keeps you entertained and interested in the game over many months or years. You go from being a complete noob to having full mastery of the game and being revered for your skill level.
Again, and we don’t mean to keep banging on Go Fish or Pairs, but neither game opens the door for mastery. There’s a very low skill ceiling that everyone reaches within one or two games. The ideal card game will have a high skill ceiling so you continuously push forward and progress. This is something that all games need to keep in mind too. Some of the best video games right now have high-skill ceilings. It encourages people to be competitive and grind the gams so they get better. Ultimately, it’s what keeps people coming back for more.
Card games do this so subtly, which is why they are still some of the most popular games in the modern era. The great thing is, you can achieve progression and mastery in single-player card games as well as ones involving other people. Look at solitaire, for example. When you first start out, you may fail or need to keep resetting the game. Eventually, you get your first win. Then, it’s a case of resetting and trying to win again, but in a quicker time. The urge to keep beating your time - or your friends’ times - encourages you to play over and over.
VersatilityThe best card games have a degree of versatility to them. In essence, they can be played in different ways with small tweaks here and there to the rules. Once more, Uno is a game that comes to mind. You can play it the classic way, but there are so many house rules you can introduce to make the game more interesting. There’s the 7+0 rule that lets players exchange cards when putting down a 7 or 0. You then have the +4 stacking rule - if you put a +4 down and the next player also has one, they can put it down too.
It’s a wonderful example of how you can take a card game and keep making it better after many years of playing. The same can be applied to other games too, especially ones using a traditional 52-card set. One quick tweak to any game is to switch around the value of Aces. Are they high or low? This simple alteration can drastically change the way you play a game like Spades or Blackjack.
Also, versatility can relate to things like the number of players in a game. Some games can be played alone, but also with other people. Being able to tweak the rules to suit the scenario makes a card game so much more enjoyable. If you have no one to play with, you can still hone your skills and pass the time. When friends or family come around, you’ve got a fun game to play with everyone!
Bad card games don’t have any versatility. You can only play them in one specific way and there are no ways to tweak the rules without completely ruining the game itself.
BalanceWe spoke about tactical gameplay earlier, but there should always be a balance between skill and tactics. Otherwise, you run the risk of going in the opposite direction and making the game boring for less-skilled players. Nobody wants to play a card game if they constantly get destroyed by you in a matter of minutes. It’s fun for you, but not for them. Likewise, if you’re playing and you keep losing because someone else has better tactics, then it removes some of the fun from the game.
So, you can’t have a game that’s too easy and random, but you also can’t have one that’s totally dominated by skill. As such, the key is finding the right balance. There should be an element of randomness that comes in to throw a spanner in the works. It means a less-skilled player can still have fun because the randomness might give them an advantage over a more-skilled player. At the same time, it’s fun for the skilled individual as they have to think of ways to combat randomness and chance.
In the end, the high-skilled player should still win, but it’s more satisfying for everyone. Players feel like they have a chance because they might get a lucky draw or end up with a really good card. The worst card games aren’t balanced in any way. They’re either way too random so you don’t see the point in playing, or they’re too heavily weighted in favor of skilled individuals.
ReplayabilityThis has been hinted at throughout this post, but we need to discuss card games and replayability. As you can imagine, the best card games are extremely replayable. They remain enjoyable ten, twenty, or thirty years after you first played them. Did you know that some of the oldest playing card games still around today originated in the 1400s? That’s over 600 years of replayability, so they must be doing something right.
Ultimately, all of the previous features come together to make a card game replayable. It’s easy to learn, which means it’s easy to get your friends or family interested. You can pass a game down through generations, and the tactical elements keep people intrigued. You want to get better at the game, but the hint of randomness means it’s not easy to master right away. It keeps you coming back for more as you try to be the best in your friend group or family.
Sprinkle in some versatility and a few rule changes and you have a game that gets better over time. If it starts getting boring, you can take a break or make a change to the rules and it’ll instantly be enjoyable once more. Bad card games lack replayability - you play them once, maybe twice, and then there’s nothing more to gain from them.
Keeping all of this in mind, you know how to spot a good or bad card game. If you’re thinking of playing games with your family/friends this holiday season, use this guide to determine which card games are worth picking up.