I’m a Sucker for Card Based Sub-Genres

On today’s episode of weird gaming habits, I wanted to dive in to the extremely niche world of card games. I’m not talking about card games like Texas Hold’em or Magic: The Gathering. I’m not even talking about card games like Hearthstone. Rather, card based games that are part of a larger genre.

If you have not idea what I’m talking about, first off, I’m sorry you have yet to experience these games. Second, I completely understand, because these games are pretty damn absurd and unheard of.

But for me, any game that incorporates collectible cards directly into the gameplay in meaningful way I’m all about.

Let’s go back in time to when this began. Way back to when the PlayStation 3 didn’t exist, Microsoft was just getting into the gaming console market, and a little game called Lost Kingdoms was released on the Nintendo Gamecube.

Lost Kingdoms is an action RPG by From Software. Yes, that From Software: the team that made the Souls/Bloodborne series of games! Before they were kicking your ass with devilishly difficult RPGs, they were dealing attack and spell cards to players on the GameCube.

In the game you would collect cards from shops, fallen foes, or from random chests, all of which would be used to pump up your deck of attack and spell cards. In hindsight it is pretty traditional card-based RPG gameplay. The allure of finding new cards and building an even stronger deck never got old. I found myself spending hours upon hours replaying the same levels, partly because I kind of sucked at the game, but mostly because I wanted more cards!

Naturally, I sought out other card RPGs to satisfy my itch for turn-based collectible combat. While there aren’t all that many games that fit the bill, there are a surprising number of entries to keep me entertained.

Ironically enough, the other big game I remember liking was also on the GameCube: Sega’s Phantasy Star Online: Episoe III: C.A.R.D. Revolution. A mouthful for sure, and not at all what I expected from the sequel to the beloved online role playing game. Gone were the real time battles and weapon drops. In their place were turn based cards to attack foes, and a kind of weird leveling system. While one could argue this change was entirely unnecessary, I would rebut the game still being fun, but in a wholly different way.

A few years back I picked up a used Neo Geo Pocket Color system. As the name implies, it is a handheld gaming console from the makers of Fatal Fury, King of FIghters, Metal Slug, and many more. While I never found one when the system first came out in the late 90s/early 00s, I always wanted one so I could play the venerable classic SNK vs. Capcom: Cardfighter’s Clash series.

Way before you could duke it out as Ryu and Terry, you were wheeling and dealing card-based attacks against the best each publisher had to offer. Cards had chibi representations of characters like Jill from Resident Evil as well as Haohmaru from Samurai Shodown, each with their own stats and attacks. Building decks to battle others was a mix of Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering with just the right amount of video gaming thrown in for good measure. The series was good enough to receive a not nearly as quality sequel on the more traditional Nintendo DS years later.

Looking back, I think these games appealed to me for two main reasons: I was already intrigued with actual card games like the Pokemon Trading Card game, and I was starting to get into Magic. Second, the games were part of a series I already enjoyed: some of my favorite game franchises are made by Capcom, I played tons of PSO on GameCube, and well… Lost Kingdoms was just a happy surprise.

As time would go on, I ended up playing a handful of other card based RPGs. I am sure I am in the huge minority in enjoying these games, but damn if they aren’t great! The entire CuldCept series is a good place to start. The oft-scoffed Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories isn’t my favorite in the series, but I think I enjoyed it way more than most. Hell, even a game like Castlevania: Circle of the Moon with its DSS card system hooked me before I even turned the game on!

Wacky sub-genres are usually niche. When you find one that strikes all the right notes, however, it’s like hitting a gold mine that only you know about. How many of you actually played Steam’s RuneSpell: Overture? I’m sure none, but it was a quality indie game with a fun mechanic! Every gamer has a type of game like this: a guilty pleasure of sorts that they like… just because they do.

Which oddball game genre do you enjoy the most? If you could see any genre pop up that doesn’t exist yet, what would you pick? Obviously I’d want more crossover card battles, but that’s just me.


DownStab has been a personal endeavor of mine for many years. Please enjoy the content and let me know if you have questions, comments, or just want to connect. And as always, game on.

– Jason J

Original blue and red Nintendo Switch controllers
Game Boy  •  Game Boy Advance  •  Game Cube  •  Nintendo DS  •  Nintendo 3DS  •  Switch  •  Virtual Boy  •  Wii  •  Wii U

Arcade  •  Article  •  Collecting  •  iOS  •  PC  •  Retro

Support Downstab