Card drafting was popularised by Magic: The Gathering in the competitive Draft format where players passed around packs of cards, choosing the ones they thought best for a deck they would construct and play on the spot. Drafting pushes the strategic thinking of players, forcing you to make snap decisions while considering synergies with the cards you’ve already chosen and even what the absence of certain types of cards tells you about your competitors’ tactics.
The card drafting mechanic has since expanded beyond collectible card games to board games, where you can really see its versatility. There are fast games that are entirely determined by drafting and playing cards, along with deeply complex board games where drafting cards is just one of many mechanics players need to keep track of. Drafting rewards encyclopedic knowledge of the game’s cards, which can help a player know what to pick first. You’ll also need to formulate ways to make the most of the mediocre cards no-one else wants.
Best card drafting games
- 7 Wonders
- Among the Stars
- Bargain Quest
- Bunny Kingdom
- It's a Wonderful World
- Point Salad
- Sushi Go!
- Tides of Madness
- Treasure Hunter
The cards in card drafting games can represent everything from pieces of sushi and friendly dogs to trade outposts, with choices made secretly or in full display. No matter the theme or the exact nature of the choice, players will have to pick carefully to improve their own game position while also considering the power of ‘hate drafting’ - picking a card mostly to spite another player who really needs it.
Looking to do some card drafting yourself? We’ve put together a pack of our top card drafting game picks so you can find something that suits your playstyle.
1. 7 Wonders
Guide an ancient civilisation to greatness
Antoine Bauza’s 7 Wonders received the Spiel des Jahres in 2011 and has been one of the leading card drafting games ever since. It’s a great pick for large groups since it plays up to seven people and doesn’t take that long to play because everyone is making their choices simultaneously.
Each player takes on the role of an ancient city, such as Alexandria or Rhodes, and must compete to build the greatest civilisation. This is done by drafting cards representing building materials, scientific innovations, military might, trade routes and other elements of a thriving city. Over the course of three ages, you’ll need to build up the infrastructure needed to construct the expensive buildings you can draft in the late game while always being conscious of the need to collect plenty of victory points.
No matter how many people are at your table, you mostly have to pay attention to the board state of the players to your immediate left and right, since they’ll be the ones you can buy resources from and the ones that will be fighting with your armies at the end of each age. Like in the real world, every city winds up with relative strengths depending on the player’s strategy and their neighbor’s goals, so one player might get rich as an exporter of manufactured goods while another focuses on earning points through military victories.
It’s hard to pinpoint the best strategy, especially if you integrate any of the game’s expansions. The best 7 Wonders expansion is Armada, which shakes up the relative value of different types of cards by using them to power a fleet that can be used to wage war on more distant opponents, steal money and explore islands offering random effects. 7 Wonders is a card drafting game that truly stands the test of time and multiple sessions.
2. Among the Stars
Compete to build the most efficient space station
Among the Stars puts each player in control of an alien race building a space station as part of a new galactic alliance. You’ll want plenty of table space, as you’re not just drafting cards but arranging them to produce the layout for a station that gets pretty big by the end of the game’s fourth round.
The placement of cards matters a great deal. They must always be set adjacent to another card, starting with the main reactor that serves at the heart of your station and provides nearby cards with energy. While the credits you use to buy most cards refresh every round, you can only get more energy by building additional power reactors. It’s an action you should always consider when you don’t have other good draft options.
That will happen often, as there are several locations that you can only have one of in your station - or that are conversely only worthwhile if you’ve already invested heavily in a specific card type, such as transportation platforms or turrets. Choose your layout carefully as some cards, like the holographic display area, are worth more points if they are surrounded by other cards. You also want to pay close attention to the objective cards randomly chosen at the start of the game because you can earn a huge edge on points if you meet the goals.
3. Bargain Quest
Sell equipment to aspiring adventurers to help them slay monsters
Having the right equipment is key in most tabletop RPGs, where heroes shop between excursions to stock up on the best gear and spend the coin they’ve earned slaying monsters. Rather than playing the adventurers, Jonathan and Victoria Ying’s Bargain Quest puts players in control of the shopkeepers competing to earn their business.
Each round starts with players drafting cards representing weapons, armour, potions and other useful gear that will make an adventurer tougher or more capable of damaging a monster. Every item has a set price tag and an appeal value rating indicating how likely it is to lure shoppers into your store if you put it in the display window. There’s a tradeoff, though, since you can’t sell the item you’re currently displaying.
Most heroes are limited in what they equip based on their class, and they won’t buy anything they can’t use. They also won’t visit a store displaying an item they can’t use unless there’s nowhere else for them to go. That means you have to think carefully about what you display and what you have in storage to make sure you get a visitor you can properly equip and make money from.
Once all the heroes have done their shopping, they go off to fight, earning victory points for their shop of choice if they’re successful. Coins are just as valuable, so you can focus on just selling useless or even cursed stuff to make easy money. However, if all the heroes are killed before all the monsters, everyone loses as the town is overrun. Unfettered capitalism is a dangerous game! (Read Sara's full Bargain Quest review.)
4. Bunny Kingdom
Conquer territory and build a thriving fief willed with farms and castles
Designed by Magic: The Gathering and King of Tokyo creator Richard Garfield, Bunny Kingdom combines card drafting with area-control elements, with two to four players competing to conquer territory and make it bountiful.
Each turn, players pick and play two exploration cards. These can correspond to spaces on the game’s grid, allowing you to place a tiny bunny settler there. Ideally you’ll want to connect as many spaces as possible to build a thriving fief with diverse resources. Scoring is done by multiplying the different goods you’re producing - like wood and fish - by the strength of your cities, which is indicated by the size of towers placed on the board.
Claiming space is just one component; you’ll also want to build up your territory by constructing cities and farms that allow you to grow different types of resources. There are also parchment cards that you play facedown, which can give you a static number of points at the end of the game based on a secret extra scoring objective, such as having the most territories. Figuring out the right balance of what to draft is key, and you’ll have to be constantly vigilant about what direction your opponents are expanding in to try to ensure your fiefs aren’t fragmented.
5. It’s a Wonderful World
Efficiently use resources to expand your futuristic empire
At first glance, It’s a Wonderful World might just seem like a science-fiction version of 7 Wonders. But while the card drafting games share some thematic and mechanical elements, It’s a Wonderful World puts a novel spin on resource generation and management that drives the game’s strategy.
Players control a futuristic empire that they build up by drafting cards representing everything from neuroscience to Blackbeard’s treasure. In early rounds, you’ll wind up scrapping most of these cards for their tiny resource reward, choosing a few cards to actually build so that you’ll earn their resources in future turns and be able to buy more cards. You’ll also want to gather plenty of cards that are worth points at the end of the game.
The trick is that rather than paying off all at once, there’s a set order to resource generation - you’ll always gather materials first followed by more complex resources like energy and science. You also have a construction zone featuring cards you’ve drafted but are stashing resources to build. The key to victory is setting off cascades so that in a single turn you can generate the resources you need to build a card that will then give you more resources to play more cards. It can be tough to plan things right, but it’s immensely satisfying when it works.
Prepare for cherry blossom season by building a beautiful zen garden
You might mess up your strategy on your first playthrough of Steffen Benndorf’s Ohanami, but that’s okay since the game only takes 20 minutes - you’ll quickly have a chance to try a new tactic. The goal of the game is to build a harmonious zen garden integrating rocks, greenery and water elements before the cherry blossoms bloom on the final round. But you can’t undo the work you’ve already done, so you need to draft and play cards carefully.
Players start by picking two of the 10 cards they’re initially dealt and passing the rest. Your best bet for the first turn is to pick two cards of the same colour whose numbers are as close together as possible. That’s because future cards in a column must be either lower or higher than the lowest or highest cards already in play. You can only have three columns, meaning your garden is going to entirely eschew one of the components.
Points are earned based on the number of each component you’ve played, but you’ll have three opportunities to score blue cards, two for green cards, and only one for grey and pink cards, though they’re worth more base points than the others. What you pick will be based on whether you prefer to guarantee points early or want to try a slower strategy by picking up cards other players won’t draft. You have to keep weighing the risks every turn as you decide whether to play a card and potentially cut yourself off from future cards by setting a new cap on a column or discard it and throw points away.
7. Point Salad
Fill your plate with veggies to earn points
Point Salad is the sole open drafting game on this list, meaning all the players know all the cards that are available when they make their choices, though the gameplay is still very fast and strategic. There are nine cards visible at any time - three that offer ways to score points, such as earning two points for every pepper you’ve collected - and a veggie market consisting of six vegetable cards.
Players alternate between picking one point card or two veggie cards to place in front of them in a tableau representing the composition of their salad. You add up all the points you’ve earned once all the cards have been drafted. You’ll want to keep careful track of what others are pulling because it’ll impact the value of some point cards - like one that provides a sizable 10 points if you have the most onions.
Luckily you have a free action on your turn you can use to flip one of your point cards into a veggie if it becomes clear that it’s not going to actually earn you anything but could help contribute to a set provided by a different scoring card. Choose carefully though, as you can never flip a vegetable card back to its point side!
8. Sushi Go!
Build a delicious feast of Japanese fare
Sushi Go! is an ideal starting point for the card drafting genre because it takes so little time to play and the cute art and concept makes it appropriate for all ages. Two to five players try to make a delicious meal by picking and passing cards representing tempura, maki, nigiri and other dishes in order to build synergistic combos.
You have to pay close attention to what your fellows are drafting since the value of some cards are determined by who has the most or least of that type. A lot of the game is based on picking cards that start worthless and hoping you get lucky enough to see more cards of the same type later to build sets. The risk-averse can try to nab cards that are always worth at least something or give you the chance to pick two cards out of a future hand.
You can play three rounds of Sushi Go! in about 15 minutes even with brand new players and it’s highly portable, making it a great game to take on a trip. If you want to play with more players and add a bit of extra variety to playthroughs, you should consider the spin-off Sushi Go Party!
9. Tides of Madness
Gather knowledge of the Old Ones - without losing your mind
Kristian Curla’s Tides of Madness gives you far more information and control than most card drafting games by virtue of being limited to two players and letting you preserve some cards over the course of three rounds. Two players take on the role of investigators gathering Lovecraftian lore by drafting cards representing parts of the Cthulhu mythos, such as Dagon and R’lyeh.
There are three cards for each of five suits, such as outer gods and manuscripts, and you’ll need to mix-and-match between them to score. For instance, Hastur is a Great Old One but he gives you three points for each manuscript you collect. At the end of each round, you score and choose one card to discard from the game permanently and one to keep in play, taking the rest back into a new draft hand along with two newly dealt cards.
That consistency lets you build towards some of the big objectives like Nyarlathotep, who provides 13 points if you can get one of each set. You’re unlikely to score him in the first round, but it can be worth drafting and keeping him anyway to earn big points later in the game. Some cards also force you to take madness tokens and you’ll lose the game if you ever have nine at the end of the round. The head-to-head nature and opportunity for sabotage make Tides of Madness a particularly competitive, fast-based drafting game.
10. Treasure Hunter
Nab the best treasure and protect your riches from goblins
Also designed by Richard Garfield, Treasure Hunter combines drafting and bidding mechanics for a fast-based game about competitive treasure hunting. Each of the game’s five rounds begin with treasures being laid out across three colour-coded locations: the Frosty Mountain, the Tangled Jungle and the Lava Cave. Two to six players then draft a hand of nine cards to help them either plunder or escape with their haul, which requires running through a gauntlet of goblins.
Every zone has a hard-to-find treasure, which will be picked up by the player with the highest total card value in the given colour, and an easy treasure that will be nabbed by the person with the lowest, though you need to play at least one card of the colour to be able to participate. Everyone else gets nothing for the cards they played in that zone.
Some treasures are cursed, penalising your point total if you pick them. You want to choose cards carefully to avoid getting stuck with treasures you don’t want while ideally fending off the competition for the ones you do. That can mean strategically drafting modifiers that can either pump up the value of the cards you played or totally negate them. Other treasures provide you with bonuses at the end of the game or an extra haul based on drafting cards of a specific colour or number in a future round. Picking up one can fundamentally impact your best strategy.
The last step of the round is facing a crew of goblins who have to either be bribed with coins, which are worth points at the end of the game, or fought off with the help of dog cards. Defeating goblins earn you extra points, so picking plenty of pups can be a cute and winning tactic.