Whether you’re talking about the people playing them or the studios responsible for their creation, card battlers are among one of the most highly competitive genres in gaming.
While most recognize big-budget card games like Hearthstone, some of the best deck-building video games come from smaller indie studios that aren’t afraid to try new ideas.
The best example of this would be the rise in popularity of deck-building roguelikes such as Slay the Spire and Monster Train.
Here, we’ll be highlighting the best deck-building games that strike the right balance between challenge, accessibility, and replayability.
Make sure to check back as we continue to update this list in the future and consider reading our other curated lists to learn about more great games:
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Legends of Runeterra
Developer: Riot Games
Platforms: PC, Android, iOS
One of the more recent entries on this list, Legends of Runeterra ran its open beta back in January, followed up by a full release in April 2020 for both PC and mobile. Developed and published by Riot, the game adapts many of the concepts from the studio’s popular MOBA, League of Legends, to deliver a refreshing take on deck-building card battlers.
This is most evident when looking at the game’s card selection, which is broken down into three sections: Champions, Followers, and Spells. Each category features a wide range of unique abilities and effects that aren’t currently offered by other deck-builders. Couple this with the game’s MOBA-inspired design and LoR starts to feel like a completely different beast that never strays too far from conventional card battling.
Magic: The Gathering Arena
Developer: Wizards Digital
Magic: The Gathering Arena has come a long way since its beta phase in 2017. Currently available on PC and mac with a mobile port in the works, the game presents the best digital incarnation of the classic card battler to date. Even better, it’s been able to cater to veteran Magic players while still being approachable enough to attract newcomers, attributed mainly to its free-to-play model.
Developer Wizards Digital has managed to achieve this by keeping consistent with today’s gaming landscape. For one, many of the same strategies and techniques of classic Magic are possible in Arena. However, to make battles more immersive and engaging, every card played is followed up by flashy animations and sound effects, which have become the standard for the genre.
Slay the Spire
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1, Switch, Android, iOS
Considering we mentioned it in our introduction, you’re probably not too surprised to see Slay the Spire make this list. After all, it’s one of the best examples of combining mechanics from two wildly different genres to create something new and exciting. Presented as a tough-but-fair deck-building roguelike, the game has you climbing a massive spire filled with random battles, treasure, and rest points.
The goal of the game is to make your way to the top while assembling a powerful deck in hopes of defeating the final boss. Each run offers an entirely new path with unique enemy encounters, obstacles, and rewards. This encourages you to mess around with different deck strategies and try out each playable character, two areas that significantly boost Slay the Spire’s replayability.
Developer: Shiny Shoe
Monster Train is another deck-building roguelike but manages to ramp things up by presenting you with three-vertical battlefields instead of just one. Set in a world where hell has frozen over, you play as five monster clans on a mission to reclaim the underworld from the forces of heaven. Each run has you guiding a train down alternate paths that offer unique rewards and challenges.
Combat is turn-based and features modified card-battling mechanics that allow you to mix and match minions and spells from several clans instead of just one. Clans are leveled up throughout the game, unlocking new cards that can be added to your deck. There’s a great deal of variety when it comes to deck combinations, random events, and even battling due to the game’s three-tier design.
Developer: Klei Ent.
While it may still be in Early Access, Griftlands has already displayed its deck-building potential while delivering satisfying roguelike gameplay with high replayability. There are currently two playable characters available, Sal and Rook, with a third protagonist in development. The story changes based on your character’s traits and how you decide to approach each situation.
The sci-fi inspired world Klei has created is vibrant, full of charisma, and jam-packed with opportunities to get into trouble. As you make your way around, you may find yourself talking your way out of bar fights, highway bandits, and sketchy trades. Actions both in and out of combat are performed through cards, which you acquire at the end of every encounter, allowing you to try out new strategies on your next playthrough.
Developer SnoutUp appears to have a strange infatuation with games centered on pigs that has spilled over into the card battlers. Best described as a ‘swine-based dungeon crawler roguelike,’ Card Hog manages to stand out in a couple of different ways. For one, the cards on-screen double as the actual map your character is traversing.
It’s an innovative and surprisingly fun approach to deck-building that allows you to come up with new strategies you wouldn’t find in most card battlers. Dungeons are jam-packed with enemies, traps, weapons, and loot you can use to your advantage. If you’ve grown tired of the same old deck-builders, Card Hog is a great game that will change how you approach card battlers.
Developer: Terry Cavanagh
Platforms: PC, Switch
The last roguelike deck-builder we’ll be highlighting in this list is Dicey Dungeons, which offers gameplay similar to Slay the Spire but with a completely different aesthetic. Each playthrough sees you selecting from one of six playable characters represented by charming dice heroes. They each present unique approaches to battling and possess their own gear pool in the form of cards.
The objective is to clear the dungeon by making it to the end and defeating the final boss, Lady Luck. Battles can be quite challenging and explore a bunch of interesting mechanics you don’t typically see in deck-builders. Despite its originality, the game has been criticized for its terrible RNG, which is greatly affected by Dicey Dungeons’ smaller card pool. This can make it nearly impossible to complete a run if you don’t get certain cards to drop early on
Developer: Image & Form
Platforms: PC, Switch
SteamWorld Quest does a great job of marrying traditional deck-building gameplay with RPG mechanics in a neatly wrapped fantasy-inspired single-player campaign. In it, you assemble and lead a party of courageous heroes with unique abilities and interesting backstories as they explore a magical world on the brink of collapse by evil forces.
Although there’s not as much card selection as more PVP-focused deck-builders, with Quest totaling just over 100 cards, the game overcomes this obstacle through its hero diversity. At the start, you’re lead to believe each hero falls into a specific category—Healer, Tank, Damage, etc. However, it’s not too long before you realize they can be useful in a variety of situations, especially when combined with party members who compliment their abilities.
Developer: Abrakam SA
Platforms: PC, Switch
Faeria may not play like a traditional card battler, but features many of the staples of modern deck-building games. Each match sees you faced with a board consisting of empty tiles that can be occupied by one or more cards in your or your opponent’s hand. As more cards are placed on the board, the battlefield begins to take shape and both sides compete for resources until one wins.
Players can focus their efforts on controlling the board, dealing direct damage, or seeking out wells that contain magic, an essential component for summoning more powerful cards. Faeria is a lot more welcoming of newcomers than many of the other games on this list, encouraging players to use built-in card collections called codexes to create well-rounded decks.
KARDS: The WWII Card Game
Developer: 1939 Games
You may have noticed a trend with most of the entries on this list and how a majority of them employ a high fantasy aesthetic. If that’s not really your style or you’re tired of seeing the same orcs, knights, and elves flood your screen, military-themed deck-builder Kards provides an alternative. In place of magical beings, the game sees you leading WWII tanks, planes, and artillery units into battle as you wage war with rival nations.
Each country acts as a playable faction, with unique strengths and weaknesses designed to reflect its capabilities during the 1940s. The entire game has an air of authenticity that’s not typically found in this genre. For example, the artwork on cards is sourced from old books, posters, comics, resulting in more immersive battles that are consistent with Kards’ historical context.
Developer: Grey Alien Games
Developer Grey Alien Games has a track record of blending solitaire with other card subgenres to create one-of-a-kind experiences. Their latest title, Ancient Enemy, does just that while presenting an engaging turn-based combat system that’s equal parts puzzle game, solitaire, and RPG. In it, you play as a mage who awakens from a long slumber only to find his world destroyed at the hands of evil.
As you make your way through atmospheric levels, you’ll encounter increasingly challenging foes with distinct elemental strengths and weaknesses to keep in mind when constructing your deck. Winning battles rewards you with loot in the form of new cards you can use to devise different strategies. Although Ancient Enemy has received criticism for playing too similar to the developer’s previous games, namely Shadowhand, we feel it’s still a solid deck-builder worth checking out.
Platforms: PC, Android, iOS
There’s a good reason why Blizzard’s card battler remains one of the most popular deck-building games on the market. Well, probably a couple of reasons. For one, it was one of the first of its kind, releasing in 2014 to a lukewarm reception before exploding in popularity alongside competitive eSports. However, one can’t avoid questioning why so many players would be drawn to Hearthstone in the first place.
You can attribute this to Blizzard’s focus on making the game appealing to a broad demographic of players, even those who typically don’t play card games. Hearthstone features an easy-to-read UI, engaging animation and sound design, matches with consistent pacing, and a slew of card expansions that have released throughout the years. Add to this the fact that it’s free-to-play, and it’s clear to see why it’s still the go-to deck-builder for many.
Platforms: PC, Android
Of course, not everyone is going to mesh well with Hearthstone’s high fantasy aesthetic. And while there are plenty of alternatives for fantasy-inspired deck-builders, Shadowverse is one of the card battlers to employ a mix of traditional fantasy and anime aesthetics. This is mainly due to the game’s Japanese origin, which also bleeds over into Shadowverse’s over-the-top character design.
Hearthstone players will recognize a lot of similar mechanics on display in Shadowverse, only more fleshed out to create an overall much deeper card battler. This includes a unique evolution mechanic that sees you buffing minions until they transform into more powerful versions of their former selves. Additionally, the game is known for its overpowered hero traits, which have allowed for some ridiculous strategies and deck combinations to emerge over the years.
GWENT: The Witcher Card Game
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1, Android, iOS
First appearing as a highly-addictive minigame in The Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red would later turn the tabletop card game known as Gwent into a standalone title in 2018. Played primarily in taverns on gambling tables, the Gwent we know today has been drastically expanded upon with quality of life improvements such as new card designs, visual effects, and more detailed battlefields.
That’s not to mention the numerous gameplay enhancements, with the standalone Gwent featuring a wider selection of spells, units, and special abilities than its Witcher 3 counterpart. Support for ranked and casual multiplayer has been added, and the game’s free-to-play model makes it easy for anyone to pick up. We figure that’s a better alternative than buying a copy of Witcher 3 only to ignore the story and spend countless hours battling townspeople for gold, materials, and new cards.
The Elder Scrolls: Legends
Developers: Dire Wolf, Sparkypants
Platforms: PC, Android, iOS
This next recommendation comes with a bit of a caveat since Bethesda has decided to cease development on The Elder Scrolls: Legends after three years of regular updates and expansions. With that in mind, here’s why we think Legends is still worth checking out in 2021. For one, the game takes many of its cues from Hearthstone, in terms of both visual and gameplay design.
However, it also introduces new systems and mechanics to help differentiate itself from Blizzard’s popular card battler, such as a lane system that splits the battlefield down the middle. The right Shadow Lane allows you to conceal units for a single turn while the left Field Lane functions as you would expect. At first, this may not seem like a big deal, however, learning when to play cards straight or keep them hidden adds an extra layer of strategy that can end up leading you to victory or defeat.