Card games are super fun and usually easy to play, making them a solid choice for game nights or parties. But you can only play a card game so many times before it gets…boring. Like, really boring. That’s why card games that “live,” or are expandable over time, are such a smart investment.
While the specific term “Living Card Game” is trademarked by Fantasy Flight Games, it inspired a whole slew of other expandable card games that “live” in a similar way. And by “live,” I mean that these card games are never just a one-off experience because there’s always new content on the way.
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However, everything that lives must die eventually, and expandable card games are no different. Every expandable card game will inevitably reach a point where the fanbase isn’t as large or the game publisher simply wants to move on to other projects, and then expansions stop releasing.
It’s also worth mentioning that these expandable card games differ from trading card games because you always know what you’re going to get in an expansion pack for one of these games. It’s not like the Pokémon Trading Card Game, for example, where you have to constantly buy new packs just to have a random chance at a card you’re looking for. Though, this lack of random chance means that expansion packs for “living” card games are typically more expensive—but oh boy, they’re worth it.
There’s a reason Arkham Horror: The Card Game has often been dubbed the most popular Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games. The card game strikes the perfect balance between engaging story elements and game mechanics that feel intuitive and well thought out.
In the game, you and any other players choose an investigator to play as, grab your pre-built investigator deck, and then team up together in the town of Arkham, Massachusetts. Your mission? To stop the Ancient One from entering your reality and royally messing up the world. There are creepy, Lovecraftian horror elements throughout the game to keep things interesting, and you’ll have to be careful of your decisions because they’ll carry through not only this base game, but all future expansions you play as well.
Fully explaining how to play Arkham Horror: The Card Game would take its own post entirely, but here’s a super brief overview. After each player has chosen their investigator, you find and read the scenario instructions and grab the scenario cards for the particular campaign you’re playing. Then, you put any required location cards into play and set up all the decks in sequential order so that when you draw from them throughout the game, you’ll receive card 1a, then 2a, and so on in the proper order. Throughout the game, much of what you’ll do is based on the cards you draw, and the game will guide you along with printed instructions as you come across new things.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game can end in one of two ways: the investigators find and overcome the threat to the town, or they’re defeated by that threat. To win, you have to close the gates, seal the gates, or banish the Ancient One. Closing the gates means there are no more open gates on the board, sealing the gates occurs automatically whenever there are six or more elder sign tokens on the board, and banishing the Ancient One happens when they’re defeated. In all of these situations, when one investigator overcomes the threat, everyone wins.
With just the base set, there can be one to four players involved—with expansions or extra sets, you can have up to eight players, but the sweet spot is between three and five total players, ages 14 and up. Every playthrough takes about one to two hours, or roughly 30 to 60 minutes per player. As of right now, there are eight unique expansions for Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and new expansions are still being released.
Beginners, Start Here
In Crystal Clan Master Set, there are six unique clans to explore, each of which has its own hero and abilities. These six starter clans include the Water Clan, the Flower Clan, the Skull Clan, the Blood Clan, the Meteor Clan, or the Stone Clan. There are perks to every clan, but you’ll have to play a game with all of them to truly find a favorite, as with most board or card games.
Once you choose a clan, it’s your goal to win control over mysterious cystals. Every crystal you win causes a significant impact on the overall battle. To win crystals, you have to move your troops, strategically arrange your troop formations, and choose whether you want to use each card in your deck as a unit on the battlefield or as a battle card.
You’ll need exactly two people (ages 14+) to play Crystal Clan, and each game takes 30 to 60 minutes to complete. If you tire of the six clans that come with the Master Set, you can snag up to four expansions right now, each with a new clan.
Perfect For Two Players
Crystal Clan Master Set
Pick your favorite clan and someone to play against, and fight for control of mysterious crystals.
Scythe is a historical dystopian game set in an alternate version of Europa in the 1920s, following the first Great War. One of the worst, most involved players in the war was a capitalistic city-state known as “The Factory,” which has since closed its doors and emboldened unique factions to take up the role as leader of Eastern Europa.
In this base game, there’s a playable character—each representing a fallen leader—from five different factions, along with its own character and mech miniatures. Every player starts the game with different resources based on their faction, a hidden goal, and their choice of several faction-specific abilities. Using your cards and abilities, you’ll build mechs, work the farmland, enlist new recruits to your faction, gather more resources, construct buildings, and more—all in an effort to lead your faction to victory.
You can play Scythe with one to five players, ages 14 and up. The box says it’ll take exactly 115 minutes to finish a game, but if you want a broader estimate, you can expect a game to take 90 to 120 minutes—slightly longer if it’s your first playthrough. There are currently three expansions for the game.
Employ Your Strategy Skills
Take it back to an alternate-history 1920s with Scythe, and delve into a world of farming, war, and innovation.
This 2nd edition of Dominion includes updated cards, new artwork, and streamlined rules that are easier to follow, but the premise is still the same as the original game. You play as a monarch, ruling over a Kingdom full of rivers, evergreens, buildings, and a happy population. Unlike your parents—who ruled before you—you want the Kingdom to be a more pleasant place to live, for you and everyone else.
It’s up to you to spend your money and resources wisely throughout the game, all in the name of improving your Kingdom and racing against other monarchs to gain as much unclaimed land as possible. Your deck of cards contains resources, victory points, and actions—and the deck you end with won’t look the same as the one you started with. With every expansion, new cards add depth and complexity to the overall game, making the path to your ideal dominion even more interesting.
Dominion is recommended for anyone ages 14 and up, and you can play each game with two to four people. Each game takes about 30 minutes to finish, and there are a whopping 14 total expansions out right now to keep the fun going past the base game.
For Deckbuilding Fun
If you’ve ever wanted to run your own kingdom, Dominion is the perfect game for you to test out how you’d be as a ruler.
Android Netrunner is set in a dystopian, cyberpunk future where most human interests are owned by huge megacorporations. Their only potential downfall? Runners. In this game, a Runner—short for Netrunner—is a hacker, capable of stealing the Corporation’s agenda and foiling plans. One person plays as the Corporation, while the other player takes on the role of a Runner.
As the Corporation, you’re trying to earn points by advancing your agenda, while also guarding yourself and your property from hackers. On the other hand, Runners score points by stealing the Corporation’s agenda and preventing progress. Whoever has seven agenda points in their score area first is the winner.
While the win conditions are the same, each player has a unique way to lose as well. If the Runner flatlines from too much damage, the Corporation wins. Then, if the Corporation is forced to draw a card from the R&D deck when there are no more cards to draw, the Runner wins.
The expansions for this game were divided into categories: Cycles, Deluxe Expansions, and Narrative Campaign Expansions. Cycles for Android Netrunner contained six data packs with 60 cards each—typically with three copies of 20 cards—that were released every month. In between six-month cycles, players usually had a three- to four-month lull.
During these waiting periods between cycles, sometimes a Deluxe Expansion would release. The first three Deluxe Expansions focused on two factions—one Corporation and one Runner—and included three copies of 55 cards. The fourth and fifth Deluxe Expansion packs were slightly different, introducing Runner mini-factions. Then, there was only one Narrative Campaign expansion, which included new player cards with Runner and Corporation identities, printed player dashboards (or, PAD sheets), and packs of secret campaign cards and stickers.
Android Netrunner requires exactly two players: one to play as a Corporation and the other to play as a Runner. Anyone ages 14 and up can play, and each campaign playthrough should take between 30 and 60 minutes. Because the base game and all expansions are published and not being created anymore, it can be difficult to collect absolutely everything—and at a reasonable price.
All Possible Expansions Are Out
Android Netrunner is set in a dystopian future that’ll task you with either fighting off hackers or taking down a mega-corporation.
One of the biggest selling features of Exploding Kittens is that it takes two minutes to learn, and only 15 minutes to play, making it the perfect party game—even for people who have never played before. This quote from CNN, which is written on the back of the game box, sums Exploding Kittens up perfectly: ” It’s like UNO, except there are goats, magical enchiladas, and kittens that can kill you.”
This russian-roulette style card game ends when every player except one has drawn an exploding kitten from the deck. There are unique cards within the deck that can help you avoid drawing an exploding kitten or at least lower the risk. If you’re the last player standing, you win!
You can play Exploding Kittens with two to five players, or up to 10 players if you buy the Exploding Kittens Party Edition. The base game is appropriate for ages seven and up, but all the expansions have a separate age range, so be sure to check before you buy. There are currently three unique editions, which can be played with the base game, and then an expansion based on each of those editions.
An Easy Icebreaker For Parties
This is the perfect party game because it’s simple to learn, easy to play, and full of explosive fun.
One Deck Dungeon is pretty much a rogue-like video game in tabletop form, allowing you and a friend or just you to explore a dangerous dungeon and fight to survive the whole way through. There are four different ways you can use the cards in your deck—as an encounter, XP, a skill or a potion, or a stat-boosing item—and everything helps you fight dungeon-dwelling monsters that keep getting stronger the further you get.
Each of the five playable heroes—Mage, Warrior, Rogue, Archer, and Paladin—has unique stats for strength, agility, magic, and health. There are perks to playing each hero, and the only way to find your favorite is to simply play them all. Throughout the game, you’ll come across foes and obstacles you need to defeat to move on. Every time you win one of these encounters, you get loot and become more powerful for the next encounter—and eventually, the final boss.
You can play One Deck Dungeon by yourself or with one other person, ages 14 and up. If you combine two sets, up to four people can play. Each game takes 30 to 45 minutes to finish, or about 15-30 minutes per player. Right now, there’s only one expansion titled Forest Shadows and one mini expansion titled Abyssal Depths.
Get In on the Ground Floor
One Deck Dungeon
One Deck Dungeon is like a rogue-like video game, just in tabletop form, with unique heroes to play and dungeons to explore.
If you’re unsure about which expandable game you should start with, try picking one based on a popular franchise you already know and love. All of the expandable games listed below are made by Fantasy Flight Games, and trademarked as Living Card Games.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game: This is considered a favorite among many fans of the Living Card Games from Fantasy Flight Games, and also one of the longest-running series. Players control familiar heroes from the LOTR series, gather allies, acquire artifacts from Middle-earth, and work together to overcome obstacles drawn from the encounter card deck and ultimately complete the quest at hand. There can be one to four players (ages 14+) and each playthrough takes 30 to 120 minutes. Then, there are a ton of expansions, including eight main sets titled Deluxe Expansions.
- Marvel Champions: The Card Game: Put simply, this game lets you choose your favorite hero from the Marvel universe and stop iconic villains, either by yourself or with up to three other players (ages 14+). Each playthrough takes 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the number of players. There are three main types of expansions for Marvel Champions: Campaign Expansions with new heroes, villains, and encounter sets; Hero Packs with a prebuilt hero deck for one specific character; and Scenario Packs with a new villain and encounter sets. Currently, there are five Campaign Expansions, 28 Hero Packs, and five Scenario Packs.
- Star Wars: The Card Game: This game focuses on the original Star Wars trilogy, and lets you command legendary characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Leia Organa, and Boba Fett. In this two-player Living Card Game, one person is fighting with the Rebel Alliance and the other with the Galactic Empire. Anyone ages 10 and up can play, and each game takes about 30 to 60 minutes to complete. To go along with the base set, there are five Deluxe Expansions and six unique Cycles, each of which contains six Force Packs with unique cards.
- A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (2nd Edition): It’s important to note that the 2nd Edition isn’t backwards compatible with the 1st Edition, which never received any expansions. AGOT: The Card Game is set in the world of George R.R. Martin’s novel, A Song of Ice and Fire, and you’ll see references to the Seven Kingdoms, the Iron Throne, the Night’s Watch, and more. With two or more players (ages 14+), you’ll battle it out with your opponents through brute force, political savvy, or other skills specific to the House you choose. Each playthrough takes roughly one to two hours to finish, and there are plenty of expansions to continue the fun, including eight Deluxe Expansions and six Cycles, with six unique Chapter Packs per Cycle.