cover image of an article about great card games - a man surrounded by flying cards, illustration, white background

What Makes a Good Card Game - Great?

What Makes a Good Card Game - Great?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different card games, excluding the countless games and variations that come from playing cards

But I think that we all can agree that not all card games are not good. And only relatively few of them wear the accolade of being a "great" game.

So, what are the elements that make a game - great? Well, let's find out!

What Makes a Card Game Fun?

The base minimum for every great game - it should be fun. Of course, the fun can come in many forms, like being funny, being the right kind of difficult, being social, and so on. 

Above all, a card game is truly fun when it feels like a shared adventure, a narrative that unfolds with every hand dealt, creating memories beyond the game itself.

A card game sparks joy when it takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions, where every card drawn can either elate you or keep you hanging by the thread of suspense. It's the unpredictability that turns every turn into a thrill. Coupled with that, the game becomes a dance of minds, a labyrinth of strategies where you navigate through opponents' tactics while implementing your own.

So, to wrap it in a single paragraph, the minimum requirement for a great game is being fun. If the game is intended to be funny - it should be easy to play and bring laughter to the group. If it is a competitive card game, it should bring out competitiveness and engage the players against each other.

But being fun is just the beginning of the story. After all, many good games are fun. But a great game needs something on top. Something more!

 a man sitting at his dest and tinkering with a card game, an illustration

How Do You Make a *Good* Card Game?

Crafting a top-notch card game is like mixing a killer cocktail. Your base spirit is the concept; it needs to have a kick, something that gets people saying, "Now that's a clever idea!" But don't let the strong stuff overshadow everything - it's not about who's got the most convoluted ruleset. It's about making it tasty, easy to understand but rich in layers, like a good whiskey.

So, let's look at some of the base elements of making a great card game.

1. Finding its Purpose

Before everything, any card game needs its purpose or goal. Will it be a competitive game, a collaborative game, or maybe a drawing game or a deck-building game? 

Should the game be funny or more serious, easy, or require strategizing; should it include social elements; are simply using the cards enough?

These questions need to be answered early because the answers will lay the foundation for everything else - starting from design, to card choice, to deck size, to possible accessories, and even to the game's price.

2. Tweaking the Gameplay

As we have established - any good game needs to be fun. And for the most part, fun comes from the actual gameplay. So, the game mechanics and gameplay need to be tested and adjusted until you, your friends, and at least a few more people can agree that the game is fun.

3. Adding the Sprinkle On Top

So, now you know the goal of your next great game, and you have figured out the gameplay mechanics. Perfect, now you have a recipe for a good game. Now, it is time to make it great!

To make a good game great, you need to add at least a few layers on top, but the thing is - these layers differ from game to game.

Sometimes you need the game to be beautifully illustrated with intricate details, but sometimes a simple text on the cards is enough. Sometimes you need to craft an elaborate rulebook, but sometimes a small leaflet with a few sentences will suffice. And I could go on and on.

In short, to make the game great - you need to add the sprinkle on top by applying the right additional elements.

a man perfecting his card game, illustration

How Do You Make a *Great* Card Game?

So yes, there are many different, let's call them, secondary elements that could be applied to a good game, but to make a good game great, you don't need to apply them all. Only those that make sense for your specific game. So, let's find out what are the most common secondary elements.

1. The Rule of Simplicity

One way to become great is to be so simple it becomes irresistible to try. So simple that a five year old could play it.

Sure, it's fun to decipher the Da Vinci Code-esque rules of some games. But when you want to draw in new players, rules that are easier to understand win the day. Remember, the game "Uno" didn't become a household name because of the convoluted gameplay.

2. Strategic Depth Matters

In contrast to previous point, a game could be great because of its complexity.

Engaging card games, like "Magic" The Gathering", pack in multiple layers of strategy, including deck building and combining multiple cards to achieve game winning effects. 

This complexity enhances the gameplay and rewards the players with the challenge itself. And for a good reason - they should be rewarded for their strategic thinking. That's how good card games leave a lasting impression.

3. Unpredictability - A Dash of Spice

In the realm of the best card games, unpredictability is the spice that keeps things exciting.

Cards drawn randomly can sway the game, keeping everyone on the edge. But, randomness shouldn't overshadow strategy - they should complement each other. This is the highwire act that games like, Doomlings and Exploding Kittens, walks so eloquently.

4. Replayability

A great card game isn't a one-hit-wonder. It's the evergreen classic that players return to time and time again.

Each playthrough should complement the previous one (for example by keeping a point sheet) or each playthrough should feel feel fresh, offering new strategies and experiences. Now, that's a recipe for unlimited fun!

5. Art and Design

Visual aesthetics play a vital role in making card games memorable. The artwork should captivate players, transporting them to the world the game represents.

Think about the captivating artwork in games like "Mysterium" and "Arkham Horror". It doesn't just look good; it creates an atmosphere that's as much a part of the game as the rules themselves.

Artwork is something that Edward, the creator of Spheres of Life: Mythical Forest, took to heart when designing the game. Every detail of the game - from cover and box, to instructions, to cards themselves, are crafted with attention to the world of the game.

6. Social Interaction

Good board games promote healthy social interaction. They're not just about winning or losing but also bonding with friends and family. A game that encourages conversation, laughter, and friendly banter will always hold a special place in players' hearts.

7. Balancing Player Interaction

Player interaction is a vital factor, but it shouldn't always involve conflict. Great card games incorporate collaboration, trading, negotiation, or even subtle bluffing. This balance ensures that every player, aggressive or diplomatic, can enjoy the game.

8. Scalability

The ability to scale based on the number of players can turn a good card game into a great one. It should be just as fun with three players as with six. Adjustability in game dynamics based on the player count, like in "Spaceteam", can make all the difference.

9. A Touch of Theme

Thematic immersion can transform mundane card games into epic adventures. A strong theme can captivate the players, like collecting unicorns in the "Unstable Unicorns" game, or take the newly released Spheres of Life: Mythical Forest. This fantasy card game propels you into a mesmerizing universe full of magic, mythical creatures, and forest realms. As a player, you team up with a Hero, embarking on a journey that oscillates between strategic gameplay and a richly crafted narrative.

Not only is the game visually stunning, but the compelling backstory complements the theme, inviting you to participate in an immersive experience that transcends the tabletop. With each card drawn, you'll feel as if you're taking a real step in the enchanting forest, encountering mythical beings, and utilizing magical abilities.

10. Mindful Game Duration

It's no fun when a game overstays its welcome. Good card games respect the players' time. The best card games offer satisfying gameplay within a reasonable time frame. After all, you don't want a game that feels like it's outlasting the Hundred Years' War.

11. Clever Use of Components

Whether tokens, meeples, or cards themselves, the clever use of components adds an extra layer of enjoyment. A game like "Splendor" uses poker-style chips, not only as a resource but also as a tactical element, giving it an edge over its counterparts.

12. The Joy of Progression

Players should feel a sense of progression as the game unfolds. Accumulating points, resources, or territory gives a satisfying sense of growth. This is what turns an ordinary game into an epic adventure.

13. The Perfect Endgame

The endgame phase is the crescendo of every card game. The best card games have exciting conclusions where everyone feels they have a shot at victory. Nothing beats the thrill of a close endgame where every move could be the difference between glorious victory or crushing defeat.

group of friends sitting around a table and playing card games, an illustration on white background


So, there you have it! Thirteen ingredients that transform good card games into great ones. Of course, this isn't an exhaustive list. Every game is unique, just like every player. The beauty of board games lies in their diversity. So keep exploring, keep playing, and you'll discover what makes each game great for you. Happy gaming!

P.s. our newest card game - the Spheres of Life: Mythical Forest uses several of the mentioned elements, like beautiful artwork, thematic backstory and a great mix of strategy and luck. So, if you are into competitive card games that require skill and luck wrapped into a stunningly designed form, then check it out!

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