Last week, Blizzard announced "Knights of the Frozen Throne," the latest expansion for the massively popular digital card game Hearthstone. Since its launch, Hearthstone has proven there are many gamers looking to play online CCGs — and a lot of money to be made selling packs of cards to them!
Much like the copycat MMOs that followed behind World of Warcarft, a massive number of alternative card games have been popping up, all hoping to replicate Blizzard's success.
Of course, time is valuable and collectible card games have a tendency to take up a lot of it! With such a variety of options for the budding digital card collector to choose from, it can be overwhelming to pick one game to commit to.
Luckily for you, I am here to make that decision easier. I have played a whole bunch of digital card games over the past few years, spending at least a few weeks learning the intricacies of each one. Here are the top 7 most worth your time.
#7) Chronicle: Runescape Legends
- + Innovative gameplay
- + Impressive 3D visuals
- - Small player base
- - Lack of developer support
Chronicle: Runescape Legends is the most innovative game on this list, flipping the genre's conventions by having you fight your own character. You place monsters for your hero to fight, which when defeated drop weapons and loot that strengthen your character. After gathering power, your quest culminates in a final showdown with your opponent where you exchange blows to see who had the most successful quest.
Chronicle: Runescape Legends is such an interesting idea that it upsets me a little to rank it so low, but there are a number of issues that prevented it from fulfilling its potential. Some cards were clearly imbalanced, with legendaries often being direct upgrades to their more accessible counterparts. The developers also seem to have left this title to struggle on its own, and I can't recommend a game in such a situation.
- + Grid-based gameplay adds extra strategy
- + Puzzle missions act as great tutorial
- - Deck costs can be high
- - Pixel art may not appeal to everyone
Duelyst is a game that plays more like Final Fantasy Tactics than a traditional digital card game. Players place their creatures on the grid and can move them around each turn to either go after the opponent or protect their hero. Positioning is more important in Duelyst than in any other digital card game I have played, and it adds a lot of strategy.
The grid in Duelyst also results in a lot of neat tricks you can pull off if you have the know-how. Thankfully, the game contains a fleshed-out tutorial in the form of puzzle challenges that both teach new players some of the nuances of the grid-based gameplay while also granting them some nice rewards.
These rewards are important, because Duelyst makes the curious decision to allow more than one copy of the same legendary in a deck. This reduces the impressiveness of a legendary when they do appear, and also increases the cost of a high-tier deck due to needing to craft multiple copies. The drop rate on legendaries is fairly generous (at least when I played) so it's not a complete deal-breaker.
The Unearthed Prophecy expansion launched this month, so if the grid-based battle system intrigues you, it may be a good time to jump in and give Duelyst a look!
- + Simple to learn
- + Very popular, no issues finding games
- - Random effects can be frustrating
- - Difficult for new players to catch up without spending money
It's the godfather of digital card games itself: Hearthstone.
Ever since the game found mainstream success, it has been often criticized for its simplistic gameplay and over-reliance on random effects that make it difficult to take seriously as an e-sport (although the $1 million prize pool says otherwise!)
These criticisms aren't inaccurate, but there is a reason Hearthstone has seen such success despite having so many rivals. Regular expansions keep the game relatively fresh (with amazing cinematic trailers), and it's got high-budget sound and art too. Perhaps most importantly, the relatively simple mechanics make it very appealing to the mainstream, and it plays well on mobile devices.
Hearthstone is fun, and I played it for many years, but have recently found it difficult to keep up with the amount of playtime needed to secure a high-level deck without paying real money. Hearthstone is a real time commitment if you want to play it completely for free, and I'm saying that as somebody who has been at it from the beginning. A new player starting today would find it almost impossible to maintain a competitive deck.
Knights of the Frozen Throne looks like a great expansion to mix things up for existing players, but newbies will continue to struggle in Hearthstone.
- + Excellent art style
- + Solid draft mode
- + Innovative tile board
- - Stagnant community growth
Faeria is a card game that, like Duelyst, has some of the strategy arise from the board itself. The players form the land that the creatures stand on, and depending on their strategy can either build land straight toward the opponent's hero to attack them, or build to the sides to gain extra power from controlling the mana springs on the corners of the board. It's an interesting system that lends itself well to multiple play styles.
Faeria also has a good draft mode in which you can build a deck of any color combination from randomly opened packs - and there are both PVP and vs AI modes for this. The rewards are good, and overall it's not difficult to get a playable deck going as a new player in Faeria.
Due to a lot of streaming sponsorships, Faeria was the digital card game flavour of the month about a year ago, but seems to have mostly fallen off the radar since then. Having said that, there is still a decently-sized community and I believe the game still has potential to make a comeback. It's well-worth a look if you want a card game that's got more depth than Hearthstone, and is generous with rewards for new players.
#3) Elder Scrolls: Legends
- + "Prophecy" system acts as buffer against rush decks
- + Two lanes adds extra strategy
- + Variety of single player content
- - Maybe too similar to Hearthstone for players looking for something different
Elder Scrolls: Legends is similar to Hearthstone in that it has a plethora of lore from previous games in the franchise to help inspire cards and keep fans of the series entertained. On that note, that's not the only way in which Elder Scrolls: Legends is similar to Hearthstone. In fact, the games play fairly similarly — for better or worse — but it might be too similar for players who have had enough of Hearthstone and are looking for something completely fresh.
Having said that, there are a few crucial differences to Elder Scrolls: Legends that differentiate it as a card game. Firstly, the two lane system adds some extra strategy through positioning. Players have to decide which cards to place in the regular lane, and which to place in the shadow lane, restricting your opponent's use of them.
Furthermore, each player has a glyph for every five hit points on their character. When your HP drops below that value for the first time in each game, you draw a card. Additionally, if the card drawn contains the "prophecy" effect it gets played instantly! There is no such interaction on opponent's turns in Hearthstone, so it's a notable distinction. The glyph and prophecy mechanics can work against rush decks as players will often have to debate whether to attack the opponent's hero at all if they don't want to lose card advantage.
Elder Scrolls: Legends saw the Heroes of Skyrim expansion launch earlier this month, so if you're a budding adventurer looking for their next digital card game fix, you could do a lot worse than Elder Scrolls: Legends.
#2) Eternal Card Game
- + Huge variety of decks and gameplay depth
- + Best draft mode in the genre
- + Fun single-player campaigns
- - Magic-like mana system means being "mana screwed" is possible
Eternal is the game most similar to Magic: The Gathering on this list, so any gamers who always wanted to experience Magic without having to shell out hundreds of dollars on cards can rejoice!
Like Magic, Eternal's strength comes from the massive range of interesting decks you can make and the in-depth interactions between cards. If you want to have a deck that tanks up your hero with tons of HP, you can do that. If you want a deck filled with awesome graveyard shenanigans, you can do that! All the cards can take a while to learn, but you will have a great time doing so.
On top of this, Eternal has the best draft mode on this list, and the only draft mode that actually allows you to keep all the cards you draft! This is a fantastic collection booster for new players, as it isn't unlikely to see a legendary card or two in your draft.
The Omens of the Past expansion is releasing now, so I would recommend giving Eternal a look if you're up for a strategic and enjoyable digital card game experience.
- + Simple to learn, challenging to master
- + Strong developer support with regular balance updates
- + Very strategic: few random effects
- + Powerful starter decks make every player competitive
- - No draft mode yet
Who would have thought that a small side-activity in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt would have been so popular as to spawn its own full release? Whatever the chances, I'm very glad it happened! If I had to recommend a game right now to a new player looking for a digital card game to get into, it would have to be Gwent.
The core concept of Gwent is probably the simplest here — it's all about having the highest power value on your side of the board at the end of the round. There's no attacking your opponent directly, no trading creatures (in the traditional sense). Heck, there's not even mana! You can play your most powerful creature on turn one if you want to. It's all about utilizing your cards most efficiently to get the maximum point value out of them.
Because of this, Gwent is incredibly easy to learn, and yet the depth to this game is immense. There are so many little things you have to consider, especially in a close battle where every point counts.
My personal favourite feature of Gwent is the almost complete lack of randomness to the game, aside from the nature of drawing cards and the coinflip at the start. It almost never feels like you lost due to bad luck, and you can always find something to improve either in your play style, or in your deck itself.
Furthermore, Gwent is perhaps the most generous game to new players of any on this list, particularly through the way deck building works. By having a limit of four legendaries and six epics per deck, there is effectively a hard-cap on how much a top-tier deck can cost to craft, and this is very reassuring for new players. Furthermore, Gwent actually provides all players with six starter decks (one for each faction) that already contain four legendaries and six epic rarity cards! They're obviously not top-tier decks, but they're a fantastic starting point.
As the newest game on the list, and still in open beta, Gwent is missing a few important features such as a draft mode, but the developers remain very active and willing to address the concerns of the community, so I have confidence such features will be introduced soon.
Do you agree with this ranking? Let me know in the comments below!