The days have long gone when card games on a computer meant a boring bout of Solitaire.
Ascension: Deckbuilding Game
A deck-building card game in the vein of Magic: The Gathering, Ascension differs in that you build your deck while playing the game, rather than in your spare time beforehand - thus making the game more immediately accessible, while perhaps compromising a little on strategic depth.
You and your opponent(s) start with 10 cards, each of which give you a single white ‘rune’ point (to spend on buying new cards) or red ‘power’ point (to spend on killing monsters). Each turn you are dealt five of these, and you play them, then spend the points acquiring or killing the various cards that sit in the middle of the board.
There are tons of special cards, all of which demonstrate the unusual (but we think rather wonderful) art style this game offers. And best of all, Ascension is free - although if you love the game as much as we do, you may find yourself coughing up for IAPs to unlock expansion and promo cards. David Price
This game is what happens when solitaire collides with stealth. Nine cards are dealt as a three-by-three grid, and your aim is to draw a path through them that maximises the loot you snag, but minimises stealth point losses. Said losses can quickly rack up, if you attempt to tackle too many guards or monsters, or blunder about extinguishing torches.
As you get further into the game, new subtleties are unearthed. There are chests to ransack, and barrels to hide in that replenish your stealth points. Some enemies steal your gold, and others move around, as if the cards they’re housed in are alive. Collect enough swag and you can spend it on power-ups, giving you a fighting chance of higher scores during subsequent games.
With plenty of depth and superb visuals, even its slightly repetitive nature can’t take the edge off Card Thief. Start playing and it’s guaranteed to steal plenty of your time. Craig Grannell
Originally a real-life card game that was the most-backed ever (in terms of backer numbers) on Kickstarter, Exploding Kittens subsequently blasted its way on to mobile. The game is more or less Russian Roulette with cats. You play with two to four other people, drawing cards. If someone gets an exploding kitten, they’re out of the game - unless they can defuse it. Other cards enable a modicum of tactics: you can skip turns, peek at the top of the deck, shuffle and steal cards, and slap opponents so they take a turn.
The iOS version offers online play against random opponents or friends in private matches, secured with codes. Everything’s been cleverly tweaked for screen, such as with the addition of a ‘chance of kitten’ meter that starts going nuts when an exploding kitten is likely, and madcap audio and energetic animation that aligns nicely with co-creator Matthew Inman’s surreal oddball imagery. Craig Grannell
Basically Magic: The Gathering with Warcraft characters, Hearthstone is a card battle game. Build decks and strategies, summon minions and cast spells. The different classes and their specific cards and abilities add a nice level of variety, and a single-player mode means you don’t have to take your game online unless you want to.
As with all trading card games, Hearthstone hinges to some degree on IAP for new card packs, but the quest rewards for fulfilling various criteria (such as number of monsters summoned or points healed) minimise the necessity of paying for anything.
The turn-based set-up makes it a perfect game to play during odd moments, and seeing a long-term strategy pay off is very satisfying. Adam Shepherd
Mobile solitaire ends up using tiny cards to fit them all on the screen. Sage Solitaire’s solution: a three-by-three grid, quite a bit of poker, and a virtual trip to Vegas.
In the basic mode, you score by removing poker hands; the better the hand, the more points you get. Strategy comes from a limitation that forces you to use cards from multiple rows for each hand. With the stacks at the top of the screen being taller than those at the bottom, the latter’s cards are best used sparingly. In addition, a randomly allocated suit acts as a multiplier, bestowing double points when used in a hand, and two ‘trashes’ exist to remove individual cards.
The Vegas mode, unlocked on clearing the entire board three times, gives you a virtual bank account, awards cash prizes only when using the multiplier hand, and ups your overall payout multiplier on clearing piles from the top two rows. Subtly different strategies are required for success, hence the initial lockdown - it’s very easy to otherwise burn through your limited funds.
Crack Vegas and hit $800, and you can try your hand at True Grit. There, once your in-game money’s gone, it’s gone for good – there’s no IAP to refill your virtual coffers. In fact, the game’s sole £2.99 IAP exists purely to unlock two further modes (Double Deck and Fifteens), remove the ads, and give you achievements to aim for. Craig Grannell