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Whether you're looking for a fun activity with friends, a new way to pass the time on a group Zoom call, or a screen-free way to keep the kids entertained on a road trip, it makes sense to have a few card decks in your game collection. Although some popular decks have decidedly NSFW content that you'll want to skip if you're playing with children, many companies now make multiple versions of the same game for different audiences. You can also edit the deck a bit before playing, removing some of the cards they might find inappropriate (this is also a good idea if you're using one of these games as a team-building event for co-workers).
Here, the best card games available online.
Best Overall: Mattel Games Apples to Apples
This engaging game, which is meant for four to ten players, is flexible and fun. The deck is divided into red cards (which list people, places, things, and events) and green ones, which have adjectives. To play, the judge flips over the top green card, and the other players must put down a red card that best fits with the green one in play. For example, the adjective "risky" might get suggestions such as "The Bates Motel," "wood chippers," or "YMCA." The judge chooses the best suggestion, and that player earns a green card and gets to judge next. (To win the game, you must earn a certain number of green cards.) Note that it's okay if the cards don't fit perfectly together, since the point is to impress the judge, and that might mean creating a funny or outrageous combination. Players are also allowed to lobby for their choices, which can lead to lively banter.
The original Apples to Apples is recommended for kids ages 12 and up, but Mattel also makes an Apples to Apples Junior Edition for children ages 9 and older. Younger children can play if they have a parent or sibling to help them with reading.
Best for Families: Exploding Kittens LLC Exploding Kittens Card Game
There is no denying that people are serious about Exploding Kittens, which is recommended for children eight and older, but the concept is simple enough that younger kids will also be able to easily grasp it. At press time, this fast-paced game had nearly 28,000 mostly positive Amazon reviews. Families love it because it's simple to teach and not too much of a time commitment: Rounds take about 15 minutes each and can be played with two to five people. And as long as you steer clear of the NSFW expansion pack, the subject matter is fairly tame (but be prepared for some potty humor).
The game is similar to Russian roulette and players draw cards from a pile, hoping to avoid the exploding kitten card, which would get them knocked out. To keep things interesting, you can avoid this sudden death by playing cards such as defuse, relocate, or skip a turn. As one parent of a six-year-old said, "It took a little bit of explaining and coaching to get the kids up to speed, but after that, they ruled the table."
"The game’s creators recommend ages 7 and up, but age is less relevant than temperament."—Danielle Centoni, Product Tester
Best Two-Player: Artagia Talk Flirt Dare
Although many of the popular card deck games can be played with just two people, this one was specifically designed for couples. (Some swear it makes a great date-night replacement if you are social distancing.) The cards are split into three decks based on the level of closeness between players: Talk, flirt, and dare. The premise is simple: Players take turns choosing a card and asking their partner to either answer a question or complete a dare. The "talk" questions are more straightforward ("If you were a blogger, what would you write about?"), the "flirt" ones encourage intimacy ("Which of your partner's outfits is your favorite?"), and the "dare" deck offers suggestions for direct actions (like giving massages or snapping selfies). The talk cards can also be adapted as a party game to be played with couples who are close friends, giving each duo the chance to show off how well they know each other (think Newlywed Game).
Best for Kids: Chronicle Books Tarō Gomi Go Fish
For decades, this popular card game has been teaching children as young as four to take turns, play honestly (no lying about what you've got in your hand!), and practice graceful winning and losing. These cards from Chronicle Books are illustrated by beloved Japanese author Tarō Gomi and have whimsical sea creatures like a Shooting Starfish (which has a comet-like tail) and the Cutlery Crab (the claws are a knife and fork). The deck comes with 40 cards and a sturdy metal tin that will hold up much better than the typical plastic-coated box.
Best for Teens: TeeTurtle Unstable Unicorns Card Game
This eye-catching, beautifully illustrated game was designed for two to eight players. Your goal? Build an army of seven unicorns as you use action cards to block your opponents from making progress. Although it's been compared to Exploding Kittens (probably in part due to the playful animal theme), many reviewers felt that the game requires even more creative strategizing, since you're less likely to be rescued by luck. Although it's recommended for kids ages 14 and older, reviewers agreed that younger kids could also enjoy it as long as they understood the rules clearly. Expansion packs are sold separately and include similarly whimsical themes like dragons, rainbows, and llamas.
Best for Parties: Asmodee Dixit
Dixit is ideal for gatherings because it encourages guests to open up to one another as they create imaginative stories—it's also a flexible option that works if you've got a mix of kids and adults on the guest list. Players take turns telling short vignettes based on card images, and the others are supposed to guess which card inspired the tale. Each round takes about half an hour, and although Dixit is well-suited for two to six players, it can be scaled up if you create teams and add expansion packs. The gorgeous cards are ideal for storytelling because they have an enchanting, fine-art vibe created by illustrator and game designer Marie Cardouat. Images include a rabbit wearing a suit of armor, a castle attached to a hot-air balloon, and a traveler under a night sky.
Best Strategy: Gamewright Forbidden Desert
This challenging, enjoyable live-action card game from the designers of Forbidden Island also has elements of a board game, since the cards are laid out to resemble a desert. It's a cooperative experience where all players work together to escape the desert by finding a helicopter that's been buried under a sandstorm. Water and other resources are scarce, and the players each have different strengths they can bring to the mission. They must work together and plan ahead to collect water and different pieces of equipment, as the cards shift around like sand would in the real-life desert.
The overall design is refreshingly free from stereotypical male and female imagery: The character roles are described using text and a few icons, and even the game pieces are simply done in solid colors (picture a small chess pawn). Forbidden Desert is designed for two to five players and for kids ages 10 and older, although younger children will be able to follow along if they have an adult to help them, and the content is extremely family-friendly. Because the content is fairly neutral and players are expected to interact, it would also be a good fit for an icebreaker at a work event. Each round takes about 45 minutes, so it won't take up an entire evening.
For a card game that's flexible, fun, and easy to play, we recommend Apples to Apples (view at Amazon). It's meant for four to ten players, so it's a great option for larger groups. If you’re looking for a game that’s specifically meant for kids, Tarō Gomi Go Fish (view at Amazon) is a classic option that has colorful and whimsical designs on each card that little ones will love.