To fuel your next game night, we researched 60+ products before buying and testing 9 of the best card games of 2020. Our experts spent two weeks learning rules, playing hands, and arguing over controversial moves, all the while taking tedious notes across metrics we designed to assess each game. There are plenty of options available on the market today, making deciding on one game tough. Our review highlights the top products and who will appreciate each one the most. Each game has something to offer someone. It's our goal, though, to match the right game to your specific interests, so that you can play a game you love with the friends and family you love.
The Best Card Games of 2020
Monopoly Deal is an excellent card game, starting with the fact that it is not the same as its parent board game. It maintains the competitiveness of Monopoly, but none of its boredom and forever-long duration. We love that this game doesn't rely on inappropriateness or shock value; instead, it's family-friendly. Deal is fun even when you only have two players (although 4-5 player games are even more entertaining), so it's good for cozy nights with your partner. Some of our testers have played this game for years and plan on more to come, unlike several one-and-done games. This game fits in a jacket pocket for transport to your local watering hole. Best of all, this is the least expensive game among all we tested, but with the greatest appeal.
Monopoly Deal usually takes new players a few games to really get it, but then, it's off to the races. Some of the rules are (intentionally?) unclear as to what is allowed or not, leaving room for interpretation that not everyone appreciates. If you're looking for a deeply strategic game, this one might not be enough for you, as it also incorporates luck of the draw to some extent. This is also what keeps it fun for younger and older audiences playing together. Our team of testers has played a great deal of card games, and this one continues to rise to the top of the heap. It combines entertainment, replayability, and clever design for many ages and maturities to enjoy.
Scrawl receives unanimous praise among our testers for its hilarity. The overwhelming laughter comes not from the game itself, but the creative input from the players. Not relying on cards with crude or gasp-worthy phrases, Scrawl gives a prompt and allows the imagination of the players to fill in the rest with interpretations in the form of phrases and illustrations, making it more replayable. Due to the speed of play, the cards are also not used up as quickly as in other prompt-and-response games, preserving the game's freshness. A time limit for drawing and writing adds a fun amount of pressure. And because everyone "plays" simultaneously, there's no waiting around. At the end of a round when the sequence of drawings and writings are revealed for all to see, we dare you to keep a straight face. Or, don't — let yourself laugh until you can call it a core workout.
We have a few, small caveats here. First, this game is pricey and comes with poor quality dry-erase markers. We recommend ordering an inexpensive pack of dry-erase markers separately. And while the prompt cards are PG (a few teeter on PG-13), we've seen a strong tendency for gameplay to get quite spicy. Maybe it's just us? However, with some self-censorship and removing a few of the more suggestive card prompts from play, it could be played with kids too. Note that while you do NOT need to be a good drawer to have fun in this game (poor drawings are often the winners, actually), convincing others to draw is occasionally tricky. Scrawl might feel out-there, but trust us — no game has ever made us laugh this hard.
Our Editors' Choice winner is an incredible value, but for folks seeking a game with more edge and complexity, Unstable Unicorns combines several compelling game aspects in a high-value product. The illustrations by creator Ramy Badie are cute and clever, in a fantastic, anime kind of way. We like that tactics are needed to succeed in this game, taking it beyond the aesthetic into a well-rounded game. The dichotomy of lightheartedness (we're playing with charming unicorns here) and cut-throat competition creates a fun dynamic, and the moderate levels of strategy and complexity keep this game coming out of the closet for more than just one game night.
While the gameplay isn't for children, some people might be turned off by the visuals of the game. We recommend giving it more than face-value judgment, though. If you ever want to spice it up, there are expansion packs (including a NSFW version) for purchase separately. The instructions are long and tedious, though, and it took most testers about 2-3 games before they were engaged and playing with a cohesive strategy. Taking into account that a game can take up to 30 minutes, this is long. All things considered, this is an entertaining, competitive, and creative spin on strategic card games that we believe many will enjoy without spending too much money.
For fans of Gin Rummy, Speed, Kings Corner, and similar card games, Dutch Blitz should make its way onto your shortlist. This game of simultaneous speed play inspires vintage fun; it's a great addition to any cabin getaway. The frenzied, chaotic nature of the game provides an entertaining mix of panic and satisfaction. It's family-friendly, so as long as kids are able to keep up with the speed, they can play along. The game works head-to-head well and can accommodate up to four players in its original pack, or up to 8 with the expansion pack. This game is fun to play over and over and truly fits the pastime vibe.
While this game isn't complex, the instructions are not user-friendly, making the game seem (on paper) more complicated than it really is. And if you're looking for a game of strategy, look elsewhere. This game is about shedding cards faster than your opponents, with little time or point to try to employ tactics. Despite these few drawbacks, this game has held a place high in our card deck rotation for years, and we love its charm and fast-paced fun.
If you haven't heard of this game already, let us introduce you to one of the most popular adult card games, Cards Against Humanity. If irreverent humor fits your friend group, this game will be a hit. Setup and explaining the rules take only a couple minutes at most, and within a single round, players are fully locked in and "get it." Gameplay involves a prompt card, and each player plays an anonymous response card, aiming to get the judge of the round to pick their card by using shocking hilarity, cleverness, or both. This game paved the way for NSFW (Not Safe For Work) adult games on the market, like an inappropriate grandfather, turned up to 11.
Cards Against Humanity is not for everyone. This game offers heaps of vulgarity, swear words, and is unabashedly offensive to many who don't appreciate this style of humor. If shocking indecency doesn't make you laugh, steer clear of this game. Know your audience, as there's no way to filter this polarizing game. The other drawback is that once all the cards have been seen and read, the entertainment of the game drops off sharply. Luckily, CAH has 600 cards in the starter deck, and a whopping 28 expansion packs available. They aren't free, but they do extend the life of this game. Regardless, the first time you play this game will be memorable (for better or for worse).
If you grew up with a video game console in the 1990s, chances are that Boss Monster will conjure nostalgic feels. The gameplay imitates a scrolling 2-D video game. In this game, you build your dungeon as an end boss. We like the role reversal to playing the bad guy (cue Billie Eilish), building a lair of traps and monsters for the demise of the "heroes." This game involves just enough luck of the draw involved to keep gameplay strategies fresh without the game falling into pure chance, which is a great balance. We also appreciate that the game is complex enough to allow one's strategy to evolve the more you play the game.
We admit that not everyone will fall for the aesthetic of this game, and the large learning curve and long setup time might be prohibitory for some. The instructions booklet has 21 pages (granted, the pages are small, but still). These directions are thorough and a helpful resource, but take time to read through and comprehend. The instructions also provide a link to an online how-to video, but we didn't find it very useful. Lastly, complexity is not what everyone is looking for. This feels more like a board (or video) game than most card games. If the look and description of this game are enough to draw you in, though, we think you'll be fully entertained with this unique game.
Enjoy murder mystery parties? Love a game of deceit? Interested in theater? If you answered yes, you're going to love playing Werewolf. This game pulls each player's persuasive skills to the forefront. Player creativity is at an all-time high here. The game tells you your role, provides a basic framework, and the rest is up to the players. Werewolf accommodates large groups of players, and can easily be a party game for the right group of players. It's repeatable, and the illustrations create a clean aesthetic. If this style of game fits your friend group or large family, it can be whales of fun.
This game can absolutely hit, but it can also flop. It depends heavily on all players' willingness to get into character and act out their roles. Also, the instructions in the deck of cards and online aren't very helpful. If you've never played before, it's going to feel very confusing for the first round. It's very helpful if someone is playing who already knows how the game works. This game also requires a large number of players. These limitations hold the game back from winning an award, but for the right group willing to weave a story of deceit, Werewolf is an incredible game.
Looking for a deck of cards that brings the suspense? Exploding Kittens fits the bill. Knowing that any card you draw from the deck could be your last creates a healthy dose of anxiety to fuel this game's fun factor. It's super easy to set up and learn to play, with really clear instructions and simple gameplay. Kids can also play along, and rounds are short enough that there isn't much of a commitment required for this game. The cards themselves add some humor to the game, too.
As for drawbacks, the strategic nature doesn't really factor in until the deck thins out. While this builds suspense, it means that the first half of each hand is generally uneventful. This game works with only two people, but we think it's much more fun with 4-5 people. And even with a well-played strategy, a lot of this game relies on luck of the draw. We even think this game is a little pricey for the entertainment it provides. Exploding Kittens is a novel game, though, and works great as a lighthearted filler between longer, more complex games.
What Do You Meme? adds a new twist to adult party games we've seen before. Instead of written prompts, this game has large picture cards of memes to which players submit their best response cards. Similar to Cards Against Humanity, the only strategy is to play to the humor or wit of each round's judge. Explanation of the rules and setup are both very quick. Winning and losing aren't really the focus, so you can quick whenever everyone has gotten their fill. This game really got us laughing several times, and it's at home at a house party.
The Achilles' heel here is replayability. We found that many parties lost interest in the game once the picture meme cards (there are only 75) circled back for a second round. Most of our test team enjoyed the game at first but then lost interest. There are expansion packs for purchase, though, that would help extend the life of this game. We think Cards Against Humanity is the superior game, as it comes with over 150 more cards and more provocative prompts and comments. If you love CAH but are looking for a new twist, What Do You Meme? satisfies that itch.
Why You Should Trust Us
Ross Robinson leads our testing team of competitive shufflers. Growing up with four siblings and a closet packed full of games got him off to an early start to becoming a game night zealot. Still, when the Robinsons get together, someone is in charge of bringing a new game. Hosting game nights with friends on the reg, Ross brings plenty of experience and game knowledge to the card table. He has played many of the games tested with his nieces and nephews, as well as being a former elementary teacher, helping to form an idea of what younger players want and need to hold their attention. Ross has played over 50 different card-style games as an adult and is constantly on the lookout for the next one to add to his collection.
We investigated stacks of games, reading hundreds of user reviews, and crunching numbers before selecting the nine products reviewed here. We bought them and created a rubric to score each product. We read through instructions, counted cards, assessed the level of strategy and complexity, and determined which games have longevity and which are played once, sit on a shelf for years, and end up at Goodwill. We also asked friends and family to play these games and report back on their experiences, averaging their input to gain an informed consensus. We love card games and did them justice by buying, opening, playing, fighting over, and assessing each model. Rest assured, there were many arguments regarding rules and interpretations along the way.
Analysis and Test Results
To separate some fierce competition, we cycled playing through these games back-to-back to rank and score each model's characteristics. Our testing rubric included five performance metrics; Replayability, Entertainment Factor, Strategy Factor, Design, and Ease of Setup. The products that rose to the top generally performed well in multiple, if not all, categories.
You shouldn't need to buy a new game every time you want to play. We've tested several games that are an absolute riot the first time we play them, then wonder where the fun went when we pulled it out to play again. A game's replayability is essentially its ability to entertain over time, or to grow old and no longer fun to play. We looked at home much fun each model is to play over and over in a single night, as well as how it ages over multiple game nights.
Monopoly Deal is one of the most replayable decks we've come across. Several testers pack these cards along on any camping trip or when heading to a favorite brewery, and it hasn't gotten old after years of play. Not only does it age well over time, but it's even fun enough to last an entire night of gaming. Dutch Blitz is another game that we've played for years without it losing its luster. We also expect Unstable Unicorns to remain on our shelf long term. While the cards are entertaining themselves, the gameplay doesn't rely on their uniqueness. Instead, it's how you play the cards you receive, and there is a huge diversity of types of cards in this game to keep the game ever-fresh. Even still, there are four expansion packs available for this game, should you ever want to spice things up further.
Party games are notoriously poor at replayability. They rely on shock value, which is more effective the first time you see it, not so much afterward. This type of game tends to rely on selling expansion packs to continually inject new cards into the game, but this requires additional purchases by the consumer. Cards Against Humanity offers a whopping 28 expansion packs at the time of publishing, blowing the other games out of the water in this regard. What Do You Meme? impressed our testers least in this metric, having less cards than CAH and fewer expansion packs available. It aged quickest for us. Scrawl is much more replayable than these games since the focus isn't on the cards as much as what the players create in response to the card. Also, the gameplay doesn't cycle through the cards nearly as fast as these other party games.
The most replayable deck of cards probably goes to Werewolf. Because the cards are essentially just character assignments, the game is unique each time you play it. However, while it's replayable on many game nights spread out, we don't think playing more than two or three rounds per game night is desirable — it's exhausting to deceive so much.
What is the maximum amount of fun to be had with a game? While this is admittedly subjective, we polled our friends and family to get their opinions on these games. We also play each multiple times and with varying numbers of players to get a feel for each product. Products that succeed in this metric are engaging for a wide range of tastes. Age appropriateness and the number of players required for an entertaining game can also boost a product in this metric.
Monopoly Deal, Dutch Blitz, and Boss Monster are all fun with only two players, which isn't something we can say for the other games. We think this is a great asset for a game, allowing head-to-head fun. Sometimes, you just don't have the numbers to play larger games. All three games are still even more fun with more players. All three of these games generate their entertainment in varying ways. Deal is about cutthroat competition, Dutch Blitz generates fun from frenzied and fast gameplay, and Boss Monster gets a lot of its entertainment from its complexity as well as nostalgic video game vibe.
Scrawl came out as the most entertaining game among our testers, who are primarily adults. It's hard to overstate how much relentless laughter this game has given us. While there's no profanity, there are some references that might not be welcome at every table, especially if younger players are present. It's possible to remove these cards from the deck and play with only the safer cards if you prefer. That said, a certain level of inappropriateness is also what makes this game laugh-out-loud hilarious most rounds. This game is best for 6 to 8 players, as the longer the chain of drawings and phrases from player input, the more it tends to diverge from the original prompt, and the more hilarious. Similarly, Cards Against Humanity and What Do You Meme? all require a larger number of players to be truly entertaining. Both games are much more profane than Scrawl — you've been warned.
Exploding Kittens is a pretty polarizing game for our testers. Some love the random, kooky suspenseful nature of the game, while others were a bit bored with it. It certainly has its worth to many, but we found it to be hit-or-miss. Unstable Unicorns is able to conjure up some serious competition, so you live to thwart your opponents, this is a great game for that. Werewolf, with the right size of group and willingness to get into character, can also be extremely entertaining. With the wrong people, though, it can be a dud.
If your ideal card game would have its strategic nature turned up to 11, pay attention here. While games of cards often employ less strategy than many board games, less does not mean none. We assessed the relative strategy each game by looking at how much skill influences outcomes. A game with a low skill ceiling generally relies on chance (luck of the draw), while one with a high skill ceiling allows players to develop and carry out a plan, as well as having room to improve one's skill. Speed based and luck of the draw games have appeal, but not so much for those seeking strategy-based games.
The most strategic game for small groups goes to Boss Monster. In this game, you build a dungeon to lure in and destroy attacking Heroes. The complexity of your dungeon is flexible and can change each turn however you would like. Your choices also have actual consequences, too. Another layer of complexity is not only defending your dungeon but also sabotaging the efforts of your opponents. Every time we play this game, we increase our skill level and our tactics become more elaborate. There is an element of responding to the cards you draw, but the emphasis is clearly on how you use these cards.
If you have a large group, no game is more strategic than Werewolf. This game calls to action your skills of persuasion. The entire game consists of convincing everyone else that you are an innocent villager, not a werewolf invading and devouring another human each night. It doesn't get much more strategic than creating and acting out a character within a story based on deceit. It's brilliant. Monopoly Deal and Unstable Unicorns both offer a moderate amount of strategy. When played as two-player games, they rely more on luck of the draw than anything else. However, with more players, the ability to strategize increases dramatically. For the party games, like What Do You Meme?, Scrawl, and Cards Against Humanity, the strategy factor is low, and none of them place much importance on winning or losing. A strategy is all but non-existent in Dutch Blitz, a game of speed.
The design and intent of a game influences user experience a great deal. Factors that we assess for this metric include the creativity and novelty each game provides. We also look for a balance of complexity and fluidity, while also realizing that simplicity can also be a great design for a game. Lastly, as games become more and more artistic, we judge aesthetics as well. We are generally pleased with the design of each game we tested.
Most of our testers voiced their appreciation for the design of Scrawl above all others. It's unique and inspires a lot of creativity. The rules are not complex, and the gameplay is simple. The game creates a portal into how individuals interpret images and phrases differently, and the results take hilarious to a whole new level. We like the design of Monopoly Deal for taking the best aspects of the board game and removing the worst aspects while maxing out competitiveness. Boss Monster surprised us with unique gameplay that simulates a scrolling Nintendo or Sega game. We also like that Werewolf provides a completely different way to play with cards, engaging the theatrical creativity and all-out deceitfulness of each player.
As far as aesthetics go, we like that art is increasingly becoming a selling point for card-based games. Werewolf stands out with clean aesthetics. The cards in Unstable Unicorns and Exploding Kittens are fresh, fun, and funny, adding another element to the game, making the first time you play the game all the more unique. Cards Against Humanity nailed the simple and stark, black and white look. Boss Monster gets a nod here too. The cards are busy, but they are immediately identifiable as 90s video game illustrations.
Ease of Setup
Ease of setup includes the learning curve for first-timers and how long it takes to set up a round of play. We studied the included instructions and sought online resources provided by the manufacturers. For more complex games, we like to see handy cheat sheets included in the pack. These are really helpful as you begin playing the game, as well as if you are a little rusty on the rules. We also considered how many patient rounds it took us before we were fully engaged and understanding of the rules and gameplay.
In general, party games are designed to be the easiest and quickest to set up and play. Cards Against Humanity and What Do You Meme? are the quickest games to explain to newcomers and to set up gameplay — just deal the cards. Exploding Kittens doesn't take too long at all to set up (shuffle, then deal) and while it requires some how-to explanations, the instructions are written out in a clear and even comical way. Scrawl is the most complex among the party-esque games we tested, with many pieces and less conventional gameplay. For all four of these games, a single round was all that was necessary to understand the game and really get engaged come round two. Games such as Monopoly Deal and Dutch Blitz have a greater learning curve, but only take a few rounds of play to get everyone on board.
Unstable Unicorns took us longer than we expected to figure out. We think the creators could find a better presentation of how to play the game, as some testers zoned out during the long instructions. It took most testers a minimum of three full rounds before gameplay became fluid. We like that the game comes with 8 cheat sheets that help if you haven't played the game in a while. Werewolf is woefully lacking in a clear explanation. Had some of our testers never played this game before, we would have been left hanging with the included instructions. There is a link to a video included in the deck, but that video doesn't give details on how to play; it's just an overview. Lastly, Boss Monster is the most complex game, requiring a whole booklet to explain the game. For all three of these games, we resorted to using third-party how-to-play videos for a couple of the poorly explained games.
Game nights are some of our favorite nights, and we hope our weeks of testing and assessing these products first-hand will lead you to many evenings of competition, laughter, and good old' entertainment. Grab the game that calls to you, gather your friends, shuffle that deck, and play away. Game on!
— Ross Robinson