Best Card Based Indies

Best Card Based Indies

Digital card games have soared in popularity in recent years, with the most well-known ones (like Hearthstone) having hundreds of thousands of concurrent players. This should come as no surprise as card games are a ton of fun, and in the digital space, the possibilities are endless.

With endless possibilities comes endless choice, and that’s the problem. If you’re looking for a good one, where on earth do you start?! If you’re looking for the best card based indies out there, you’ve come to the right place. 

Below, you’ll find a list of some fantastic card-based indie games ranging from well-known to obscure. I’ve not put these titles in any particular order, but if I’ve missed your favorite, it’s likely because I’ve not played it myself. With this in mind, I’ve sunk a ton of time into every game here and would gladly recommend any of them! 

Bottom Line Up Front

There are some fantastic card-based indie games on the market, and they cover everything from conventional card games to story-driven epics. If this is your first foray into card-based indie games, I can’t recommend Slay the Spire enough. It’s simply a masterpiece and one you’ll come back to for months (or maybe years!) to come.

Selection Criteria

As the term ‘Card Based’ is rather vague, I think it’s important to establish some criteria that games must meet to make it into this list. These criteria are as follows:

  • Cards must have a prominent role in gameplay, whether through deck-building mechanics or otherwise.
  • Digital versions of physical card games are not allowed; this includes titles on Tabletop Simulator (TTS). 
  • Where applicable, all games must have a Metacritic score of 75 or higher.

The decision not to include digital versions of physical games is a difficult one to make. Still, I feel physical games would be more suitable in an article dedicated to that specifically. It wouldn’t make sense for a game like Exploding Kittens to be on the same list as Slay the Spire.

The Games

As mentioned, these are in no particular order and are all fantastic games with strong card-based mechanics. Whether you’re a fan of deck-building or just exciting card games in general, you’ll find plenty to love here.

#01 Hand of Fate

Hand of Fate
Hand of Fate game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 78
  • Developer/Publisher: Defiant Development
  • Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One

I will always have a special appreciation for Hand of Fate, as back in 2015, I’d never played anything like it! Nowadays, it’s a little rough around the edges, but if you ask me, it’s aged like a fine wine.

Hand of Fate pits you against The Dealer (the scary man in the picture) as he takes you on a story-driven adventure through your past. Every card you reveal is an event that fleshes out the world through surprisingly engrossing storytelling. These events can throw you into games of chance, give you valuable items, or even force you into battle! Combat is unique, as instead of battling opponents with cards, you switch to a third-person perspective and fight in real-time! 

Hand of Fate would be mediocre at best without the Dealer. He’s superbly voice-acted, does a great job setting the scene, and ultimately, he’s a jerk that you’ll love to hate! This is no traditional Deck-builder, and there isn’t anything else quite like it.

#02 Slay the Spire

Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 89
  • Developer/Publisher: MegaCrit/Humble Bundle
  • Platform: All

If one game in this list needs no introduction, it’s 2017’s Slay the Spire. A Deck-Building masterpiece that many would argue has never been topped! Slay the Spire tasks you with, well, Slaying the Spire! And taking on an unforgiving gauntlet of Card-Based battles.

On the surface, battles are a simple game of countering your opponents, but they hinge on your ability to cobble a strong deck together. You’re constantly being offered cards, so each run becomes an elegant balancing act where a few bad decisions can cost you the whole game!

The best thing about Slay the Spire is even though it’s complex, it’s approachable. You’ll probably lose your first few runs in spectacular fashion, but you’ll understand what went wrong every time. There’s something gratifying and addictive about figuring out your own deck-building strategies, and that’s what Slay the Spire is all about. 

#03 Inscryption

Inscryption
Inscryption game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 85
  • Developer/Publisher: Daniel Mullins Games/Devolver Digital
  • Platform: PC (Scheduled for release on consoles Q3 2022)

Inscryption was one of the first games that sprung to mind when I started making this list, but it’s the one I dreaded writing about the most because I don’t want to spoil it! Inscryption has elements of deck building, comedy, and even psychological horror! Unlike any other game on this list, Inscryption is dark and atmospheric. It’s also a game where the less you know going in, the better.

The card game itself is a simple numbers game. You use Animal Cards to overpower your opponents, sometimes with grizzly outcomes. Your opponent doesn’t concern themselves with trivial things like rules, so expect the goalposts to be forever changing. As far as ‘Who’, ‘What’, and ‘Why’, I’d be entering spoiler territory if I explained much more.

Inscryption is a phenomenal game; it boasted over a million sales within its first few months on Steam and has held an ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ review score since day one. Even more impressive still is the game was put together by one person! If you’re even slightly curious, I can’t recommend Inscryption enough.

#04 Guild of Dungeoneering: Ultimate Edition

Guild of Dungeoneering: Ultimate Edition
Guild of Dungeoneering: Ultimate Edition game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 76
  • Developer/Publisher: Gambrinous/ Versus Evil
  • Platform: All

Guild of Dungeoneering is a fantastically unique game where you send brave adventurers into dungeons to fight monsters and collect treasure. The twist is that you’re assembling the dungeon tile by tile! Oh, you can’t control the adventurer either, and they’ll happily walk into fights they can’t win unless you persuade them otherwise. How do you convince them? Well, gold and treasure, of course! 

Combat is both card-based and wonderfully simple. Each card has icons for attacks and defence. Your opponent attacks first each turn, and you want to throw up the best card to counter theirs. As Guild of Dungeoneering is a Roguelite, death is permanent, but there’s a whole system for building your very own guild. You’ll earn rewards for that whether you win or lose. 

I can’t talk about this game without mentioning the bard that sings of your victories and inevitable failures. It would be grating in any other game, but here, it just adds to the charm. There’s beauty in simplicity, and The Guild of Dungeoneering weaves its mechanics into an approachable and skill-based title.

#05 Dicey Dungeons

Dicey Dungeons
Dicey Dungeons game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 80
  • Developer/Publisher: Terry Cavanagh
  • Platform: PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Although equally dice and card-based, Dicey Dungeons is a fun and simple Roguelite with light deck-building and a soundtrack that will stick in your head hours after you’ve turned it off.

Dicey Dungeons is heavily combat-based, and as you may have guessed, battles are heavily influenced by the roll of the dice. This is where the deck-building comes into it, as your deck determines what numbers you want to see and what abilities you can use. You’ll figure Dicey Dungeons out pretty quickly, but there is a deceptive amount of content to play through. There are six characters (contestants) to pick from, and they all have unique card pools and play styles.

Dicey Dungeons may be ‘simple’, but it can be deceptively difficult. If you want to see the true ending, you’ll have to beat the game 35 times and contend with a slew of modifiers that will challenge even the most seasoned players. Good luck!

#06 Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamesh

Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamesh
Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamesh game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 81
  • Developer/Publisher: Image & Form Games
  • Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch

Games in the ‘Steamworld universe have been around for a while, and one of their unique selling points is they don’t stick to a single genre. Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamesh is Image & Form’s take on a Card Based RPG, and it’s so good I’d love to see a sequel one day.

If you’ve played any other Steamworld games, you’ll feel right at home being back in this ever-expanding universe. The distinct, beautiful art style is here, and so is the goofy humor! Aside from exploring the world on foot and all the usual RPG tropes, this game tasks you to build a deck for each character in your party. Making multiple decks complimenting each other is quite a challenge and Steamworld Quest doesn’t shy away from throwing you into tough battles unprepared!

Many games on this list are Roguelites that offer short runs that deliver maximum replayability. If you’d rather immerse yourself in an epic that will take much longer to beat (12 hours+), Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamesh might be right up your alley.

#07 Stacklands

Stacklands
Stacklands game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: N/A Early Access
  • Developer/Publisher: Sokpop Collective
  • Platform: PC

Stacklands is a card-based Village Builder, and YES, that’s a thing! As it turns out, it’s a good thing too, and the pictures don’t do it justice. Your goal is to build a thriving village, and you accomplish this by selling cards so you can buy booster packs (who doesn’t like opening booster packs?!) and stacking cards for their effects.

I could list examples, but there are so many clever and inspired combinations, and a massive part of the fun is figuring them out yourself. Stacklands isn’t all sunshine and rainbows either, and you’ll quickly be accustomed to how quickly things can spiral out of control. This is the plight of every Village or Colony simulator, but Stacklands tackles the genre with some wonderful and unique ideas. At the time of writing, Stacklands is an absolute steal at $3.99! It’s worth so much more!

#08 One Step From Eden

One Step From Eden
One Step From Eden game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 82
  • Developer/Publisher: Thomas Moon Kang/Humble Bundle
  • Platform: All

Out of every game here, I think One Step From Eden will appeal to the most niche audience, but if that audience is you, you’ll love every second of it.

One Step From Eden’s combat pays homage to the Mega Man Battle Network games and their unique grid-based battles. Combat is in real-time, and juggling attacks whilst dodging enemy fire is a frenetic mental workout! In One Step From Eden, your attacks are determined by cards you pick up through a run, so deck management is a resource you must keep track of as you fight. 

As I said at the beginning, One Step From Eden isn’t for everyone, and it stands proudly defiant of anyone expecting their card games to be relaxing! There’s a wealth of content here with tons of different characters and cards. This one has a steep learning curve but is well worth the trouble.

#09 Monster Train

Monster Train
Monster Train game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 86
  • Developer/Publisher: Shiny Shoe/Good Shepherd Entertainment
  • Platform: All

If you’ve ever wondered what a mix between deck-building and tower defence would look like, look no further! Monster Train is a Roguelite at heart and is another title with more than a few similarities to Slay the Spire.

Those similarities abruptly stop when it comes to combat though, and this is where Monster Train comes into its own.

Battles are a beautiful fusion of the two genres; your deck dictates the monsters you use for defence, and you place them inside your train where you think they’ll have the most impact. The moment you end your turn, you become a bystander watching your choices pan out, the battles are wonderfully animated, and it’s savagely addictive. 

You can probably tell from the pictures, but Monster Train is a beautiful game and probably the most visually striking on the entire list. The card art is superb, and even though it may seem minor, it really helps draw you into the world. If you’re hungry for more, you’ll be pleased to know Monster Train recently got a massive expansion too! 

#10 Roguebook

Roguebook
Roguebook game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 89*
  • Developer/Publisher: Abrakam Entertainment SA/Nacon
  • Platform: All

Roguebook takes its fair share of ideas from Slay the Spire (even sharing the same naming traits in some cases!), but that’s not necessarily bad. If you’ve played Slay the Spire, Roguebook will feel very familiar, and it twists the formula enough to stand on its own. You’ll find most of the similarities between the 2 titles during combat, but Roguebook really shines out when you’re not fighting at all.

Roguebooks map is like a blank canvas that you splash with ink as you explore, and it’s absolutely stunning! It’s clear the devs were proud of their work here, as you’re encouraged to explore the map just as much as taking fights. If you’re a Slay the Spire fan and want to try something fresh but familiar, this is a superb title to fill that niche.

*Unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch version of Roguebook has a much lower Metacritic score than its PC counterpart. I’ve not played it myself, but the biggest complaint is the cards are tough to read in Handheld Mode, owing to the small text. With this in mind, I recommend avoiding the Switch version unless you plan to play docked.

#11 Loop Hero

Loop Hero
Loop Hero game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 82
  • Developer/Publisher: Four Quarters/Devolver Digital
  • Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch

With its 8bit aesthetic and a fantastic soundtrack, Loop Hero is a Roguelite with an addictive gameplay loop where you’re constantly weighing up risk vs reward. It also has a story that’s so much better than I was expecting! 

You play a rather passive role in Loop Hero. Your hero constantly walks around a terrain loop, and you use cards to place things like monsters for them to interact with. The longer you stay on the loop, the better rewards you’ll find, but those monsters become more dangerous as time goes on.

You can leave any time, which brings us to the big reason you want to shoulder all that risk, the Campsite! The Campsite exists outside the loop, grants permanent upgrades, and progresses the story; if you don’t want everything to take forever, you need to stay on that loop as long as possible! You can take Loop Hero as slow as you want but watching all those sweet rewards roll in is so satisfying when things get tricky! Loop Hero is all about risk management. Are you going to leave the loop with more gear than you can carry or a pittance because you got greedy? 

#12 Griftlands

Griftlands Game

  • Metacritic Score: 84
  • Developer/Publisher: Klei Entertainment
  • Platform: All

I’m sure a few of you were wondering when I’d mention this one, and with good reason! Where do I start with Griftlands? It’s a Roguelite with a heavy emphasis on the story. Griftlands is set in a surprisingly bleak sci-fi world, and you control one of 3 characters as they negotiate and battle their way through quests. If you’ve played Slay the Spire, combat will feel familiar and has all the deck-building tropes you know and love, but the most outstanding feature is Negotiation.

Negotiation uses an entirely different deck. This one is geared toward winning arguments and breaking your opponent’s resolve. It’s a genius feature and something I’ve never seen before! As Griftlands is a Roguelite, permadeath is an ever-present threat, but your losses will still net you rewards you can take into future runs. There’s a lot to explore in Griftlands and potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay if you want to see it all.

#13 Luck be a Landlord

Luck Be a Landlord
Luck Be A Landlord game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: N/A Early Access
  • Developer/Publisher: Trampoline Tales
  • Platform: PC

Have you ever wanted to feel what it’s like to rely on gambling to afford your rent? Yeah, me neither, but it does make for a game that’s fun, unique and scarily addictive! Luck be a Landlord isn’t a card-based game in the traditional sense but has Steam tags for ‘Roguelike Deckbuilder’ and ‘Deckbuilding’, so who am I to argue?

Luck be a Landlord tasks you with gambling on a slot machine to pay your ever-increasing rent. The catch is that you control what symbols appear on the reels. Symbols on this slot machine interact with each other, and each run becomes a frantic hunt for synergies that’ll make you rich!  

There are a ton of creative interactions in Luck be a Landlord, and whereas you’ll understand the basics within seconds, it’ll take hours to grasp what works and what doesn’t. If you’re a fan of deck-building and the delicate balancing act that comes with that, you’ll love Luck be a Landlord. Don’t let the simplistic graphics fool you. What this game lacks in presentation, it makes up for in addictive gameplay.

Honorary Mentions

These last couple of games break the Selection Criteria rules a little (ok, a lot). These are some of my favourite card-based games, and both have received a slew of positive reviews. If you’ve made it this far through the list without something catching your eye, these might just do it!

#01 Wingspan

Wingspan
Wingspan game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: 84
  • Developer/Publisher: Monster Couch
  • Platform: PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

In the ‘Selection Criteria’ section, I explained that I wouldn’t cover digital versions of physical card games, but I need to make an exception for Wingspan, a strategic card game based on birds. Many physical card games make do with a digital lick of paint, some basic animations, and they call it a day. With Wingspan, you can tell how much effort has been put in to make the digital version its own thing. 

Wingspan is a beautiful game and, dare I say, quite relaxing once you’ve got the hang of it. Your goal is to have more points than your opponents at the end of four rounds by collecting birds, food, eggs and completing objectives.

There’s a ton of strategy to unravel as every bird does something completely different; some even pinch resources off your opponents! I never thought I’d say this, but if you’re into your ornithology (or even if you’re not), Wingspan is worth a look, especially if you’re looking for something different.

#02 The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls

The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls
The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls game. Photo by Anthony Yates.
  • Metacritic Score: N/A
  • Platform: PC

I couldn’t write about card-based games without mentioning The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls. As it’s only available to play on Tabletop Simulator or in real life, I thought it a better fit at the end here. The Binding of Isaac: Repentance is one of the most successful indie and Roguelite darlings on the market, and this is their take on a card game.

In The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls, the goal is to be the first to collect four ‘Soul’ cards. These can be obtained in a few ways, but using your cards to beat ‘Boss Monster’ cards is the best way to do it. Player interaction is encouraged; you can use your cards on your opponent’s turn to disrupt them or even help them if you feel charitable! This game incentivises betrayal, so playing with people you get along with is best. 

If you’ve ever played the Binding of Isaac video game, it’s a real treat to see all your favourite characters and monsters in card form. It’s obvious a lot of thought went into this part, and there are some very clever ways that monster behaviours in the video game translate into their card counterparts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: I’ve never played a card-based indie game before. Which one should I try first?

Answer: You can’t go wrong with Slay the Spire. Thanks to its staggering amount of content and how easy it is to pick up and understand, it’s easy to recommend. It’s also available on every console and is a superb fit for the Nintendo Switch if you’re on the go.

Question: I’ve played all the well-known indie card games and want one that’s a little more unusual. What should I play?

Answer: One Step From Eden is criminally underrated, in my opinion. It’s a fantastic game, but the combat isn’t for everyone. If you’re interested, I recommend watching some gameplay first to see if it’s for you. Stacklands is another excellent choice, especially if you want a game where the primary focus isn’t fighting.

Question: Can you explain what Roguelikes and Roguelites are?

Answer: Roguelikes are procedurally generated, which means they offer different maps or scenarios each time you play. Every playthrough is different, and that’s the big draw of the genre. If a game is a Roguelite, it always has some form of overarching progression on top of that. Many of the games above are Roguelites, as you’ll usually unlock things (like new cards) that will appear in subsequent attempts.

Another prominent feature of Roguelikes and Roguelites is permadeath. If you die in a run, you go back to the beginning and although that may sound a little extreme, it’s a big draw of the genres to many players.

Conclusion

With this article, I wanted to put a list together full of incredible games and include something for everyone. I would gladly recommend any title in this article to anyone wanting to try card-based indie games. However, in the grand scheme of things, this article merely scratches the surface, as countless other games like this are worth your time. There’s always a new card game on the horizon, and who knows, maybe one will dethrone Slay the Spire one day!

Scroll to Top