Whether it's Magic: The Gathering in the '90s, Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! in the 2000s or Hearthstone in the 2010s, card games have always been all the rage. The best ones are simple to get into, but hard to master, making it easy to sink hundreds of hours into them playing your friends...or total strangers.
From the moment online gaming began, it didn't take long for collectible card games to make the jump over, and the advent of smartphones has only made the genre proliferate further. For this list, we've weaned things down to only the best CCGs, and even discuss how easy they are to play "for free," the big keyword in the era of mobile games.
10 Shadow Era
One of the older games here, Shadow Era has been around for the better part of this decade, standing strong next to your Shadowverses and Hearthstones. It adds cards at a reasonable pace, giving players plenty of time to experience a meta before moving on and adding anything else new.
Shadow Era also features some of the most robust single-player content on the market, with over 100 missions to play through that give out rewards that feed into online play. This means for free-to-play players, the game isn’t a grind to acquire new content and does not constantly push customers to make purchases.
9 Hex: Shards Of Fate
Shards of Fate is unique in that it was released after Hearthstone, but still strongly resembles the Big Papa of CCGs, Magic: The Gathering. Shards of Fate's resource system is heavily reminiscent of Magic’s mana system. Nonetheless, HEX is technically another free-to-play game, and fortunately boasts a robust single-player mode that tells the story of the world while allowing players to get comfortable with gameplay mechanics and earn valuable rewards.
However, due to cards having actual real-world monetary value, buying packs can’t be done with the game’s free currency and instead tends to cost actual money. This, plus HEX not being available on mobile platforms, makes the game much more difficult to get into.
Eternal feels like a combination of Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, but it makes up for it with their unique take on the Wild West as a setting. It’s also considered among the genre's freest to play games.
Eternal offers players multiple different tournaments and alternate modes for them to experience, even having a sizable amount of single-player content to give those who prefer playing against the computer (PvE) plenty of options. It’s also one of the very few titles on here that’s made it to a console, coming out for the Xbox One in 2018.
Faeria is unique for a number of reasons, chief of which being it actually isn’t free-to-play. Players are actually expected to pay for it, but as a side effect, it’s far easier to build a proper collection of cards. Surprisingly, this has worked well for them, as the game is updated with new content quite often.
Setting its price aside, Faeria is also unique for taking place on a dynamic playing board, one in which placement of cards can affect future turns for yourself and your opponent. With this type of gameplay, inexperienced players can quickly cause disaster for themselves against skilled opponents.
After realizing just how much time its players were sinking into Gwent, CDProjekt RED decided to turn the mini-game from their popular The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt game into a full-fledged CCG. Though it spent quite some time in beta, that only means the developers have spent plenty of time listening to fans and fine-tuning the game for the best experience possible.
Gwent offers another look into the captivating world of The Witcher, which is why releasing a single-player expansion in the form of Gwent: Thronebreaker was probably one of the smartest things the studio has ever done. The CCG allows players to spend even more time in an isometric version of CD Projekt Red's world.
5 Magic: The Gathering Arena
The Granddaddy of them all, longtime fans recognize Magic as the very first trading card game ever. It’s been going strong since 1993, and though an online version of the game has been around since 2002, it is 2019's Arena that earns a spot on this list.
Arena makes Magic welcoming to newcomers while maintaining all the complexity longterm players have come to love. It’s also taken the necessary step of releasing new sets in the game the same day they release physically, meaning the game is never behind the “real” game in terms of deck types and strategies.
The big boy of the online card game world. It wasn’t the first digital CCG to come along, but Blizzard throwing its hat into the ring sent a seismic shock through the digital gaming landscape. It made people realize how much money there was in online CCGs. Since then, there have been a bunch of copycats imitating Hearthstone, be its way of expanding or unique resource system.
Though Hearthstone isn’t very free-hearted in terms of giving out new packs, their single-player expansions are largely free and offer players the opportunity to collect new cards for their collections.
3 Pokémon TCG Online
Pokémon TCG Online is one of the few games on this list that actually began as a traditional card game. That’s also part of the reason it’s rarely talked about, even though it is genuinely a fun game for the most part. One of the cooler things about Pokémon TCG Online is that players with massive real-life libraries can use those same cards in the digital game.
This means there’s little reason to spend money on digital items. Combine this with balanced gameplay and this is one of the most solid titles on the market.
Currently sitting at over eighteen million downloads and one million concurrent players, Shadowverse is basically anime Hearthstone. The game plays like Hearthstone but adds the mechanic of evolving monsters to allow for momentum shifts between players.
The series has managed to ingratiate itself with fans by having cross-promotions with popular anime and constant free pack giveaways, making it easy for players to get started. Shadowverse also has a fairly lengthy story mode where players can learn how to play all eight decks of the game, featuring some of the worst, most hilarious dialogue ever. What’s not to like?
1 Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links
Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links was Konami’s serious entry into the world of online CCGs, and boy did the publisher go all out. Not only did Konami make sure it was available on every relevant platform, but they created an entirely new format for the game. The number of monster and spell/trap zones have been reduced from 5 to 3, life points are cut in half, even the deck and extra deck have been greatly reduced.
However, what’s most surprising is Konami creating a separate library that allows for cards from older sets to be gradually introduced. In the beginning, Duel Links resembled the original Duel Monsters anime as much as possible. A decision that worked to great success, with the game boasting 80 million downloads just in the span of two years.