A flawless card game that has been around for years, and will be for many more.
A fun, highly collectible card game for any demographic.
Grab your deck and head for the tabletop – as we check out the best trading card games!
It’s been thirty years since the world’s first collectible card game (CCG), Magic: The Gathering, was released.
Though its overnight success spawned legions of new CCGs and TCGs (which are the same thing, just with different names!), most other games launched in the 99s fell by the wayside and were eventually discontinued.
However, Magic: The Gathering is far from the only successful CCG/TCG in the market; there are many other examples of games which have been critically as well as commercially successful.
Let’s find out, as we check out the best trading card games!
1. Magic: The Gathering (1993)
The fact that Magic: The Gathering (MTG) has been around for three decades makes me feel incredibly old.
I remember struggling to get my head around this new concept of building a personalised deck from cards in your collection, with which to take on your opponents.
I thought there was no way it could work and remain playable – it seemed like a concept that was doomed to failure.
Yet here we are, thirty years later, and Magic: The Gathering has arguably never been stronger or closer to the mainstream as it is now.
In case you’ve been living on a different plane of the Multiverse for the last three decades, here’s a quick run down of MTG.
Though many different ways to play have evolved and become popular since the game launched in 1993, a Standard game of MTG sees players in the roles of Planeswalkers – essentially wizards who can travel at will through the different planes of the Multiverse – in a deadly duel to the death.
Their deck of cards is their spellbook, with which creatures are summoned to battle each other and attack the opponent with; the ultimate aim being to reduce your opponent’s life total from twenty to zero points.
Despite first appearances, the basic mechanics of Magic: The Gathering are very easy to understand; it’s a genuinely simple and straightforward game to learn.
The complications come, of course, courtesy of the many thousands of cards available at any given time, with which you’ll construct your 60-card deck.
Deck building itself is a huge part of the appeal of MTG; putting together lethal combinations of creatures or finding killer combos that will destroy your opponents, thanks to the unique effects of various spell cards.
MTG’s healthy and vibrant player base looks set to support the phenomenal game for many years to come; no doubt it’ll still be massively popular in another three decades too!
2. Pokemon Trading Card Game (1996)
First released in Japan in 1996, the Pokemon Trading Card Game made it to the West in 1998.
Based on the video games which themselves originally released in the same years – 1996 in Japan, then 1998 in the US – the Pokemon Trading Game sees players embodying Pokemon Trainers, aiming to knock out six of their opponent’s Pokemon with their own creatures.
As the video game series has seen the cast of collectible creatures expand from the original 151 to over 1000 Pokemon, so too has the Trading Card Game seen its selection of cards and creatures expand to become a huge selection.
Over the years, many new types of Pokemon have arrived in the Trading Card Game – with ex, GX, V, VSTAR and VMAX versions of numerous Pokemon adding powerful new abilities and high HP making them more powerful than standard Pokemon.
These evolving Pokemon types, as well as the ever expanding roster of characters and other cards – along with the beautiful card art – and the simple to play, hard to master
game mechanics have kept the Pokemon Trading Card Game thriving for decades.
Like MTG, the Pokemon Trading Card Game’s popularity shows no sign of slowing down and continues to attract new, younger players, with its appealingly colourful cards and addictive gameplay.
3. Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Card Game (1999)
Another game that’s been part of the cultural landscape for decades, Yu-Gi-Oh first launched in Japan in 1999, then headed West in 2002.
There’s a very meta feel to the Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Card Game, with it being based on a game that features heavily in the Yu-Gi-Oh manga (and, subsequently, anime) series.
In the universe of the Yu-Gi-Oh manga and anime, the game is called Duel Monsters; in the real world, it is simply named after the comics and cartoon themselves.
It’s essentially the same game that appears in the stories, however; part of the appeal of Yu-Gi-Oh is seeing powerful cards utilised within the fictional tales, then getting hold of those exact same cards to play with in the real world!
In the Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Card Game, players have decks of monsters, traps and spells which they play onto the field.
Some cards are placed face down and can be triggered either at will or when certain conditions are met in the game; this adds a great deal of tension during play, as you won’t know what your opponent has seeded the Spell/Trap zone of the field with until it’s revealed.
Yu-Gi-Oh is another game that’s hugely popular and seems to be perennially so; like Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon, it’s just as healthy – if not more so – today than ever, thanks to the ability to play online as well as collect and play with physical cards against family and friends.
Something that’s unique to Yu-Gi-Oh amongst its peers is the fact that cards are never rotated out or made illegal to use in tournaments as new sets are released – which means that cards you picked up in the early 00s are still playable in your tournament deck even now, up to 20 years later!
4. Flesh and Blood Trading Card Game (2019)
Compared to the veteran games that we’ve covered on this list so far, Flesh and Blood is most definitely a new kid on the block.
Despite arriving on the scene in 2019, Flesh and Blood has built up an impressive and dedicated player base – thanks to its easy to learn gameplay and innovative mechanics.
Hailing from New Zealand-based Legend Story Studios, Flesh and Blood sees players choose a single hero to play with, equipping them with items and weapons that are used to attack the other player’s hero – who of course has their own associated cards to attack and defend with.
Heroes are based on classic fantasy archetypes for the most part, with Flesh and Blood’s world and lore allowing for beautifully illustrated and – pun not intended – nicely fleshed out designs.
An interesting aspect of Flesh and Blood is the recycling of cards to use as resources when bringing other cards into play; any card can be used as a resource – and these are ‘pitched’, then placed on the bottom of your draw deck.
Naturally, this means that these cards will be coming back to help or hinder you as the game progresses – giving weight to every decision of which cards to ‘pitch’.
Combat has a fast paced design that relies on a ‘chain’ system, which almost has the feel of a one on one fighting game.
Though a relative newcomer to the TCG scene, it’s clear that Flesh and Blood is a thoughtfully, smartly designed game by TCG enthusiasts – and it looks set to be around for a long time to come.
5. Disney Lorcana (2023)
Though Disney TCG Lorcana has yet to hit retail, its upcoming release has already captured the imaginations of tabletop card game fans worldwide.
Every drip feed of information is seized upon by fans, who are eager to see more of the jaw-droppingly gorgeous cards and glean whatever information they can on the game’s unique mechanics.
With the rules partially leaked online, we do now have a good idea as to how the game works.
Intriguingly, the aim of the game in Disney Lorcana is not to defeat your opponent – with players cast in the role of ‘Illumineers’ – or their characters, but instead to gather 20 Lore points to secure victory.
The resource used to play cards is ‘Ink’, which is generated by playing cards to your ‘Inkwell’. With more cards allocated to the Inkwell, more powerful cards can then be played outside of it.
Characters earn Lore by being sent on Quests – which works like ‘tapping’ (or rotating cards 90 degrees) in MTG. Lore is represented by Diamond symbols at the bottom of a card – and the number of symbols is how much Lore a character can earn from a Quest.
It’s also possible for characters to engage in challenging each other, which is functionally similar to combat – and can result in cards being removed from play.
Little else is known about the game at this stage, but – as launch approaches later in 2023 – it’s clear that Lorcana has a great framework to base its Disney-focused action on, with seemingly straightforward mechanics and a less directly confrontational feel than most TCGs.
6. Keyforge (2018)
The designer of Magic: The Gathering – Richard Garfield, has been responsible for numerous other tabletop game designs since his seminal CCG was released in 1993.
Many have been well received both commercially and critically – and Keyforge is no exception.
Keyforge has an incredible, technology-driven aspect up its sleeve: each deck you purchase is randomly generated by an algorithm.
What that means in practical terms is that your deck of cards is entirely unique in its construction and even its name (which is also randomly generated!).
Though this also means that decks cannot be built in the same way as is the norm with other TCGs, it means that – despite an expanding pool of cards, drawn from numerous, unusual factions – you can never be certain what will lurk in a Keyforge pack.
The mechanics of Keyforge are very different to the usual ‘drain your enemy’s life force to zero’ too. The game sees players attempting to forge three keys (hence the game’s name!), by collecting a resource called ‘Aember’.
In lieu of using other cards or resources to pay to bring your hand into play, players instead declare one of three ‘Houses’ that they’ll be using at the start of each turn – and can play as many cards from their hand that match the declared House on their turn.
The visual design of Keyforge is absolutely gorgeous, with an assortment of crazy creatures, items and settings that span both sci-fi and fantasy, set in a strikingly bright multiversal milieu.
Despite its original publisher selling the rights on – with the game moving from Fantasy Flight Games to Ghost Galaxy in the process – Keyforge still has a committed playerbase.
Keyforge’s unique, randomly pre-constructed decks also prevent the use of online deck lists being used to one-up opponents – which is a refreshing change for a modern TCG!
7. Digimon Trading Card Game (2020)
Digimon itself has been around in one form or another – beginning as Tamagotchi-esque virtual pet devices, before becoming an animated show, manga and video game series – since 1997.
It spawned a Collectible Card Game in 1997 too, though the game available today is a new design – with numerous versions of Digimon card games having been released since the late 90s.
There are some similarities between the Pokemon and Digimon card games – in particular the aspect of bringing creatures into play and evolving them into more powerful forms – but the aim of Digimon is different to the ‘knock out a certain number of opposing creatures’ of Pokemon.
Instead, in Digimon, players attempt to destroy their opponent’s Security cards – by attacking them with their Digimon creatures.
One aspect of the game that’s really interesting is the Raising Area, which players use to hatch and breed new Digimon.
The gameplay in the Digimon Trading Card Game – with only three types of cards: Digimon, Tamer and Option cards – is incredibly simple and fast-paced, giving the game an accessible feel.
Many other TCGs can feel overwhelming at first, but Digimon is a game that can be picked up and played very quickly by gamers of all ages!
8. Final Fantasy Trading Card Game (2011)
Though the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game was initially released in Japan in 2011, it wasn’t until an updated version was released in 2016 that it made its way to the West.
Based on the long-running and perennially popular RPG series, the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game features characters from across the vast history of the video games.
Typically, winning a game of the FInal Fantasy TCG means forcing your opponent to have 7 cards in their Damage Zone, but players will also lose if they have no cards to draw or take damage when their deck is empty.
When damage is dealt, players draw one card from their deck to place in their Damage Zone per point of damage – which makes for a fast-paced game, which also has pretty streamlined and simple rules.
9. Cardfight!! Vanguard (2011)
Launched as an anime, manga and trading card game at the same time, Cardfight!! Vanguard is a true multimedia property – with the trading card game itself featuring prominently in the anime and manga.
Despite the somewhat complex look of many cards in Cardfight!! Vanguard, it’s a genuinely easy game to get into.
There’s a great selection of anime inspired characters and settings on each card, with gorgeous artwork throughout to represent the individuals that make up the game’s Clans.
Getting into Cardfight!! Vanguard is as easy as picking up a Trial Deck – essentially pre-constructed starter decks – and finding a willing opponent who has their own deck!
It’s a great game with a huge amount of diversity amongst its Clans and their associated mechanics, which gives Cardfight!! Vanguard a unique feel in comparison to many other Trading Card Games.
Plus, its multi-pronged media approach makes it incredibly easy to get sucked into the game’s lore – with anime, manga and even live action films to check out!
10. Bakugan (2006)
Another long running media franchise, Bakugan is an unusual hybrid of toy, board game and trading card game that’s still hugely popular worldwide.
Though developed in conjunction with an anime series, the Bakugan toy/game actually released prior to the animated show.
In the original version of Bakugan, players physically roll their Bakugan character capsules onto the play area, with the aim of getting the capsule to spring open and transform into a creature as it hits a metal ‘Gate’ card.
Players select their Gate cards and ability cards at the beginning of the game – adding a very basic deck building aspect to the experience.
When two opposing Bakugan are on the same Gate card, combat ensues – and the winner of the battle claims the Gate card.
The aim of a Bakugan game is to win three Gate cards; it’s an incredibly simple game to learn and play, with the physical, dexterity-based mechanics being a big part of the fun.
The Trading Card Game is more complex – though still simple by the standards of other games on this list.
Players construct a 40 card deck, then choose three Bakugan character capsules and BakuCores – which function in the same way as the Gate cards from the original Bakugan game, in that they’re made of metal to trigger the transformation of the characters – to match the symbols on their chosen character cards.
Cards are used to give abilities and bonuses to the different characters; combat is triggered after characters are rolled onto the play area and cards are used to help resolve this, during the Brawl phase.
There’s nothing quite like Bakugan, which makes it unique as a Trading Card Game.
So that concludes our best Trading Card Games list – there’s plenty more games out there, but these are the ones we consider the very best.
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