A First Attempt at a Permanent Card Game Collection
Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
Ohio
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When I say card games, I mean games that do have cards and don't have boards. So, a game like Twilight Struggle, which is all about managing your hand of cards, is not what I'd call a card game. That said, a game like Masques, where the players build the board from cards, is.

Card games are different than boardgames. For one, the absence of a board means that they come in very small packages. As a result, keeping a bunch of them doesn't involve a whole lot of space. Unfortunately, the more games I have, the fewer times I play the ones I like the most, so that's not necessarily a good thing. Where it is a good thing is for genres that I like but don't love. I want a representative game, but don't want to waste a lot of space on it. Cooperative games and traitor games are two examples. In general, I don't like either genre, but every once in a while, I change my mind. Having Hanabi and Resistance close at hand scratches those itches without taking up a lot of extra space.

There are a couple of things I look for in a card game: (1) short duration -- games shouldn't take more than 30 or 40 minutes and often will only take half that time, (2) highly interactive -- turns are usually short and each action usually has a direct impact on everyone else, (3) thinky -- I still generally prefer brain-burny games.

There are two broad categories of card games: traditional card games and special power card games. I lump all trick takers and climbing games, as well as all other games that use a traditional (not necessarily 52-card) deck into traditional card games.


Traditional Card Games

Most of the card games I like fall into the traditional card game category. In general, they have a common gameplay. The game is divided into rounds and at the beginning of each round, you are dealt a hand of cards. The round continues until at least one person is out of cards. Then the round is scored and the process is repeated until either a certain number of rounds occur or someone reaches a target score. The winner is the person with the most (or sometimes least) points.

Each round is a mini-game. You start with a hand of cards. You develop a strategy for how you want to play your hand and then you employ tactics during the round to try to implement your strategy. Rinse & repeat. It feels like I get to play a game in under 5 minutes and then repeat that game 3 - 5 times. The whole thing takes around 30 minutes and I'm thinking the whole time.

Traditional card games are also, generally, very interactive. Each action, not only are you trying to help yourself and hurt the other players (other than your partner), you're also trying to bluff them into thinking your strategy is different than it is. In partnership games, you're also trying to read your partner and figure out how to help him as well as telegraph any help you're looking for. I think the one thing common to many traditional card games that is absent from most of the board games I play is the bluffing/double-think. Card games are often about hiding your intentions until it's too late for anyone to do anything about it. There are only a few boardgames I love (Metropolys comes to mind) that work the same way.

Finally, despite their small size and stream-lined mechanics, they are still brain-burny. They aren't brain-burny in the Roads & Boats "plan your supply line of 17 steps for the next 6 hours before making your first move" sense, but if a player is holding a hand of 12 cards, there's still a bunch of forward planning. Each action is usually very quick, but the planning before the first action of each round can take a little bit of thinking.


Special Power Card Games

In general, I don't play many SPCGs. It isn't because I dislike them. It's because I can't commit the time and the players to them. With SPCGs, the player who knows the cards and how to combine them the best will usually win. That means, if I'm going to be playing a SPCG, I want to be able to commit to playing it many times and, ideally, I want to only play it with people who have made a similar investment.

There are only three SPCG's in my permanent collection. Race for the Galaxy, created by Thomas Lehmann, is the most multi-player solitaire of all of my card games (which isn't to say it's MPS, it's just less interactive than the rest). Amanda and I have played it well over 100 times, and have learned the cards and the strategies that go with them together. It is probably our best "just one game before bed" sort of game.

The second SPCG is Innovation, created by Carl Chudyk. Innovation is all about the crazy card combinations. Players often start out scoring lots of points and grabbing achievements and think they'll cruise to an easy win. But you can't do everything and if you're milking a particular combo, you're probably not building infrastructure. And that often means someone else is going to find a bigger, better killer combo. The game is versatile and crazy. Although it supports 2 - 4, I generally only play it with 2.

The third SPCG is Pax Porfiriana by Phil Eklund. Like Innovation, Pax Porfiriana is a crazy game filled with lots of ups and downs. However, in Pax Po, this is as often a function of the game as the players. Eklund generally emphasizes theme more than smooth gameplay and PaxP is no exception. Some games will just suck for everyone (just like in real life) and no one will have any money. Other games, everyone will be rolling in cash. What makes PaxPo different than Eklund's other games is that it is as much a game as a simulation, which is to say that players have much more control over the final outcome than the game does. It is a game of crabs trying to crawl out of a bucket and constantly being pulled back in. The winner is the first crab to escape.


The Rest

Although most card games fall into one of the above two categories, not all do. Here is where I have the odd filler (Flowerfall, No Thanks, Coloretto) that's easy to toss in a bag and play while waiting for people to show up. Here is where I have the odd genre games (Hanabi, Resistance) that I'm not crazy for but like to play everyone once in a while. And here's where I've got two games (Masques and Die Fugger) that don't fit anywhere else.

Dates are current as of: Nov-14
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1. Board Game: Tichu [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:121]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 1991
First F2F Play: Jul-2013
Last F2F Play: Sep-2014
Total F2F Plays: 4

Brilliant! The climbing aspect is great, but the partnership aspect brings it to another level especially when combined with calling Tichu. And the passing of cards... this game is just phenomenal. Absolutely love it.
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2. Board Game: Chimera [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:2305]
Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 2014
First F2F Play: Sep-2014
Last F2F Play: Sep-2014
Total F2F Plays: 1

So, it's not Tichu, but it's as close as you can get with 3. I'm still not clear about how wise playing the Chimera is, but when you play it, you have the same feeling as when you call Tichu. Meanwhile the Hunters get a similar Tichu-partnership feeling.
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3. Board Game: Sticheln [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:805]
Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 1993
First F2F Play: Feb-2013
Last F2F Play: Sep-2013
Total F2F Plays: 5

What Tichu is to climbers, Sticheln is to trick-takers. It's a mind-bender where finishing with a positive score is an accomplishment.
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4. Board Game: Die Fugger [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:2756]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 2003
First F2F Play: Oct-2013
Last F2F Play: Apr-2014
Total F2F Plays: 3

This isn't a heavy brain-burny commodity speculation game, but it's amazing how much it packs into a small deck of cards. Simple, very interactive commodity speculation game that easy to teach and fairly short.
 
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5. Board Game: Elements [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:2861]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 2010
First F2F Play: Dec-2013
Last F2F Play: Jul-2014
Total F2F Plays: 7

It's so simple that you think it can't be good. Then you think, maybe it's good, but it can't have a lot of replayability. Then you sit down opposite the other guy and you just don't know what to do...

p.s. it's great as a PnP, but the actual cards add so much to the theme and the "feel" of it.
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6. Board Game: Court of the Medici [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:2186]
Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 2009
First F2F Play: Aug-2013
Last F2F Play: Dec-2013
Total F2F Plays: 5

Playable with a regular deck of cards, but with the CoM deck, somehow the theme of court intrigue comes out. Like all of the great card games, the rules are simple, the play is quick, but the strategy is deep. Mind-bendy 2-player card game.
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7. Board Game: Trick of the Rails [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:2232]
Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 2011
First F2F Play: Apr-2013
Last F2F Play: Jul-2013
Total F2F Plays: 5

Hard to believe that so much train-game comes through in this trick-taker. Players can use cards as either shares or company value, but of course, first they have to get them.
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8. Board Game: Red7 [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:543]
Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 2014
First F2F Play: Aug-2014
Last F2F Play: Nov-2014
Total F2F Plays: 25

A single hand is playable in just a couple of minutes but still gives the traditional card game "how can I play this hand to win" feel. Add in multiple hands and it just gets harder. Probably the only game that I like playing as much as a single hand as I do as a full game.
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9. Board Game: Was sticht? [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:2029]
Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 1994
First F2F Play: Aug-2014
Last F2F Play: Sep-2014
Total F2F Plays: 3

It's a boring trick-taker... except for trying to figure out what trump is (and if there is trump)... oh, and except for having to pick your goal before you draft your hand where you don't know what trump is... and when you have to try to do someone else's goal that you didn't even want... but, yeah, the trick-taker is straightforward.

Brain-burny, delicious game that's great with both 3 and 4.
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10. Board Game: Pala [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:4607]
Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 2012
First F2F Play: May-2013
Last F2F Play: Sep-2014
Total F2F Plays: 8

Another brain-burny trick-taker and this one works great with 5. Trick-taker where players use their knowledge of colors to change the suit mid-trick. Beautiful!
 
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11. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:50]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2007
First F2F Play: Oct-2010
Last F2F Play: Oct-2014
Total F2F Plays: 62 (suspect the number is much higher)

For me, RftG is a guilty pleasure. Amanda and I have played this 2-player well over 100 times. It's a game I play to relax. There's probably some meat in it, but after so many plays, it's just a nice relaxing game where we both look forward to see how it turns out in the end. Variable game pace, double-think, multiple viable strategies -- yep, it's got all that. But, in the end, it's a card game and we love it for that.
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12. Board Game: No Thanks! [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:391]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2004
First F2F Play: Dec-2011
Last F2F Play: Apr-2012
Total F2F Plays: 11

A great, light, quick filler. Schacht has employed this same mechanic in other games (including Mogul which pre-dates No Thanks) but I like the mechanic here the best. Pay a chip or take all the chips and drop out of the bidding. The rest is push-your-luck window dressing and No Thanks takes away most of the window dressing leaving a neat, quick filler.
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13. Board Game: Innovation [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:278]
Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2010
First F2F Play: Oct-2011
Last F2F Play: Oct-2013
Total F2F Plays: 19

I'm not a fan of special power card games... but this is an exception. Just crazy enough to enjoy despite the fact that usually the person who knows how to combine the cards best will win.
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14. Board Game: Pax Porfiriana [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:378]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2012
First F2F Play: Nov-2012
Last F2F Play: Mar-2013
Total F2F Plays: 9

Unlike every other Eklund I've played, this is actually a game where clever play is possible. But it's also an Eklund where the peaks and valleys of a simulation haven't been smoothed away in favor of more reasonable gameplay. One of the many games I wished I played more.
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15. Board Game: FlowerFall [Average Rating:6.05 Overall Rank:3846]
Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2012
First F2F Play: Aug-2012
Last F2F Play: Mar-2014
Total F2F Plays: 8

The first time you hear about this, you think it's just a gimmick... "the entire game is dropping cards on the floor (or table)?" But then you play. Yep, it's light for a light game, but it's still fun for silly laughs.
 
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16. Board Game: Hanabi [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:276]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2010
First F2F Play: May-2012
Last F2F Play: Jul-2014
Total F2F Plays: 8

I don't like cooperative games, but this is an exception. No alpha-player issues. I'm still waiting for a game that successfully takes this into a part of a game mechanic. In the meantime, Hanabi is great fun.
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17. Board Game: The Resistance [Average Rating:7.37 Overall Rank:177]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2009
First F2F Play: Apr-2011
Last F2F Play: Sep-2014
Total F2F Plays: 26

Although the rules are a little tough to teach to non-gamers, this is an amazing, compact, and fairly short traitor game.
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18. Board Game: Coloretto [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:481]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2003
First F2F Play: Jan-2014
Last F2F Play: Oct-2014
Total F2F Plays: 12

I keep thinking I'm done with this and then I play it again. I still need to try the advanced scoring variant.
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19. Board Game: Spot it! [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:860]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 2009
First F2F Play: Jul-2014
Last F2F Play: Aug-2014
Total F2F Plays: 3

Thanks, Martin, for reminding me of this. I've put this in my car so I always have it available to play with the kids when we're out, but that means I don't think of it when I'm home.

The math behind this excites me as much as the game itself. I can't believe how they've built the cards so it all works. That said, the game is outstanding! It's quick, simple, exciting, fun, and kids are as likely to win as adults.
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20. Board Game: Haggis [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:685]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2007
First F2F Play: Dec-2011
Last F2F Play: Oct-2014
Total F2F Plays: 3

Although I'm less enamored with this climbing game than with Tichu or Chimera, it's still a very good 2-player climbing game with a lot to think about.
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21. Board Game: Filipino Fruit Market [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:4447]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2009
First F2F Play: Aug-2014
Last F2F Play: Sep-2014
Total F2F Plays: 2

the only game whose rating changed from a "4" to an "8" during a single play. Although it's settled at a "7", it's still a very good trick-taking/area-control combination game that plays especially well with 5.
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22. Board Game: Masques [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:1962]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2010
First F2F Play: Oct-2013
Last F2F Play: Aug-2014
Total F2F Plays: 3

This could be a big board game but through the clever use of cards, it fits into a small box. This is all about flying under the radar while you point out why everyone else is a bigger threat than you.
 
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23. Board Game: Clubs [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:2429]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Year Published: 2013
First F2F Play: Jul-2013
Last F2F Play: Sep-2014
Total F2F Plays: 15

Although this won't set the world on fire, it's an easy to teach climbing game that still has enough to consider that it doesn't get old.
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24. Board Game: Cribbage [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:557]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 1630
First F2F Game: Oct-2014
Last F2F Game: Nov-2014
Total F2F Plays: 2

I only recently discovered Cribbage and, if it was a board game, I probably wouldn't put it into a permanent collection yet. However, after only a couple of F2F plays (and a bunch of phone app plays), I am very impressed. Although the rules are bit confusing, they can be internalized by the end of the first game (which is about 15 - 20 minutes). The game itself is simple and often feels like you're at the mercy of a good/bad deal (you're dealt 6 cards, discard 2 and make combinations with the remaining). If you get good cards, you can score lots of points and if you're not, you can't. The thing is, that since they're usually around 10 hands in a game, the deals usually balance out. The winner is the person who is able to consistently do just a little bit more with what he/she is dealt. A couple of points here or there add up and, usually, determine the winner.

I'm finding it fascinating and am caught in a conundrum. Do I start reading about and try to get better and then play online opponents? or do I try to restrict myself to just playing with my gf so that we can enjoy it casually?
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25. Board Game: Piquet [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:8732]
Jimmy Okolica
United States
Washington Township
Ohio
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Published: 1534
First F2F Play: Aug-2013
Last F2F Play: Oct-2013
Total F2F Plays: 2

Played with an ordinary deck of cards, it's like Cribbage in the sense that it's a 2-player game where players score for everything. It's the reverse of Cribbage in the sense that players first score points by having cards that make better combinations in several ways and after that, players play their cards in a trick-taking manner. So, in Piquet, players have to give their opponent some information prior to playing their tricks which may make it easier for their opponent to win tricks, but both people are doing it, so again, there's think and double-think and double-double-think and...

I still need to make a dedicated deck and double check my player aid so that I'm less hesitant about suggesting it.
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