Are Card Games Considered Board Games?

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If a game only contains cards and no board, then is it still a board game?

Are card games considered board games? Card games are usually placed into the same category as board games even if they do not include a board. The table itself could be considered to form the board for card games.

However, the definition isn’t so clear cut…

Back of the cards from the Boss Monster card game
Back of the cards from the Boss Monster card game

Dictionaries, shops, the hobby games market and the board gaming community all have different answers. Not such an easy question to answer!

What is a card game?

I understand a card game to be a game which only contains cards. No board, no pawns, no dice. Just cards.

Everything from a traditional deck of 52 playing cards (ace to king in spades, clubs, heart and diamonds) through to Exploding Kittens and Cards Against Humanity is a card game.

In the same way that a board game comes with everything you need to play it in the box, I would expect a card game to have everything with it too. But not all of them do…

Collectable card games

Magic: The Gathering the collectable card game
Magic: The Gathering the collectable card game

Card games like Pokemon, Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! are different. They don’t come with all the cards in the box. Players buy a starter deck but then buy additional cards in booster packs trade with other players and to create cards decks with that they can play.

I would always refer to these games as Collectable Card Games, not ‘card games’.

Living card games

Living Card Game (LCG) is a term trademarked by the game publisher Fantasy Flight Games.

LCGs come with a base set of cards in the box and then releases expansions to the core game to add more cards. The cards in every base set and expansion are the same, not random like in the booster packs for collectable card games. Players use the cards to create card decks to play with.

Games such as Arkham Horror: The Card Game and Star Wars: The Card Game falls into this category.

Legacy card games

Legacy card games are games where the player’s decisions in one game permanently affect the game.

For example, players may add stickers to cards, open sealed envelopes and tear up and destroy cards. The games are usually set around an overarching campaign or story which is played through only once by the players. A famous legacy card game is the now out of print Android: Netrunner.

Are collectable, living and legacy card games still card games?

Yes, they are sub-categories of the card game genre.

As a board gamer, I would introduce these type of games to friends as a collectable card game or a legacy card game, not as a ‘card game’ because in the board gaming community, they mean different things.

What is the dictionary definition?

Looking at Oxford Dictionaries the definition of a card game is:

“A game in which playing cards are used.”

Oxford Dictionaries

I understand a ‘playing card’ to be a card that comes from a classic deck of 52 cards.

The Oxford Dictionaries definition of a board game is:

“A game that involves the movement of counters or other objects round a board.”

Oxford Dictionaries

So that definition doesn’t include cards at all. It seems like the dictionary definitions work for the traditional card and board games but not for modern ones.

How do shops classify card games?

Think about your typical high street store. They usually put the board games with the card games.

Friendly local games shops usually stock card games alongside board games too. They may have different areas in the shop for collectable card games like Magic: The Gathering and another area for living and legacy card games. But a card game like Unstable Unicorns will be kept with the other board games in the store.

Looking at Amazon, if you type in ‘board games’ the search will include card games in the list. Even though card games is a separate category to board games on their website.

When I looked into the Amazon search results, card games came up within the board game category but board game (with a board) didn’t tend to come up in the card games category.

How does the hobby games market classify card games?

The hobby games market is usually divided into five different types of game.

Collectable games

This includes collectable card games like Pokemon, collectable miniatures like D&D Fantasy miniatures and collectable dice games like Dragon Dice.

Board games

Games played using a board and other components like Small World and Catan.

Miniatures

For non-collectable miniature games like Warhammer 40k and Star Wars Legion.

Card and dice games

Card games like Exploding Kittens or Codenames and dice games like Zombie Dice fall into this category.

Role-playing games

Games like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder.

Looking at the hobby games market as a whole, card games are separated out into their own category. But only card games that come with all the cards for the game in the box. Collectable card games are in their own category.

What do board gamers think?

BoardGameGeek and the Boardgames subreddit are two enormous communities where millions of gamers discuss board games.

On both of these websites, you will see people discussing games which only contain cards. If the majority of board gamers consider card games to be in the same category as board games, then they are.

As a board gamer, what do I think?

Hobbyist board games on my bookcase
Hobbyist board games on my bookcase

I consider card games to be in the board game category.

You could argue that the table forms the board for card games. In Magic: The Gathering, cards are laid out in a specific way on the table and you can buy play mats with these areas marked on them.

If you had a board instead of a playmat with pre-marked areas for your Magic: The Gathering cards would that make Magic a board game?

A board game often contains cards as a core part of how it plays. So I am so used to using cards in board games that when a game includes only cards I still feel as though I’m playing a board game.

The classification of a board game is pretty fluid too. King of Tokyo is really a dice game. If you really wanted to, you could play it without the board. Betrayal at House on the Hill is a tile-placement game so doesn’t have a board, yet that is still considered to be a board game.

If these board games don’t contain a board but they are considered to be board games, then card games without a board can be too.

How are card games similar to board games?

  • Played with other people
  • Played on a tabletop
  • Cards are moved around just like board game components
  • Similar game mechanics and playstyles
  • Beautiful artwork and high-quality parts
  • Usually stored in a box
  • Sold in the same stores as board games

Conclusion – Card games are considered to be board games

Even though the dictionary definitions say that a card game is not technically a board game because it doesn’t include a board, the general consensus is that card games are considered to be board games.

I would say the only card games that aren’t called board games are those played with a classic deck of 52 cards containing hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades. I think that is because they have very different origins to modern card games.

But classifications are fluid and just a guide to help people talk about things.

After all, if the literal definition of card games was the only thing we used to classify types of games, I wouldn’t be exploring this question!

If you’re interested in how board games are defined and categorized, you might like my other post, Are Board Games Considered Toys?

Related questions

What is a tabletop game? A tabletop game is any game that is played on a table top. Tabletop games include board games, card games, dice games, collectable card games, war games and role-playing games.

What are board game pieces called? Collectively all the pieces in a board game are called components, or less commonly, equipment. Common pieces include chits, tiles, counters, chips, dice, cards, pawns, standees and miniatures. Individual pieces usually have names specific to each game.

See this article for more about board game pieces and what they are used for.

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Emily Sargeantson
Hi there, I’m Emily. I’ve loved tabletop games since 2008 when I was introduced to D&D. I started My Kind of Meeple to nerd out about tabletop!


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