In the cards: The best CCGs for your PC

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It's tough to find a quality customizable card game (CCG) on PC—there aren't a lot of them in existence, and only a few are worth playing. Thus, like a discriminate Lady Liberty, PC Gamer proclaims to the genre, “Give us only your best! Leave the refuse on your own shore and let the masses continue to huddle!”

I've plucked a select set of games, including one that weds Magic: The Gathering and StarCraft. But even the best of the best are only as good as those who play them with you. So to help you navigate these games' range of player communities, each is labeled according to my experiences with their online players, from non-existent (*), to welcoming (**) to downright terrifying (***).

PoxNora (***)

Released : August 2006

Cost : Free; cash shop

How's it work? It's a typical turn-based strategy model of capturing control points, squashing enemies and razing their strongholds. There are a lot of combinations (over 900 units and spells), but victory is usually decided by who has the bigger monster.

Is it fun? It scratched my itch for old-school Magic. The tabletop-style graphics are a nice touch.

Community: The bazaar is overflowing with rapid card-swapping and people willing to help out, to an extent. It's easy for players to buy their way to the top of multiplayer, so spend a few hours in the training grounds or single-player campaigns first.

Saga (**)

Released : March 2008

Cost : Free; cash shop

How's it work? Level your nation through real-time strategy battles fought by armies summoned from your customized deck. Augment your army by constructing buildings like churches and farms in your persistent hub base.

Is it fun? Huge battlefields and massive armies give Saga a Total War sense of grandeur. As your army marches forward, the fires that they started miles back still smolder in the distance.

Community : “Anyone need help?” a player asks in chat. When I say “I do,” I'm encouraged to do training missions first. Players are eager to help, and eager to help you help yourself.

Battleforge (**)

Released : March 2009

Cost : Free; cash shop

How's it work? It's real-time strategy where cards summon creatures and spells. Effects are straightforward, and resources are earned by holding control points.

Is it fun? Four-player PvE provides a light show of indiscriminate mayhem sweeping across a map in real time. The scene of my allies and I sieging the last bastion of a bandit army was particularly memorable: enormous dragons battle above masses of tiny infantry, while arrows and puffs of green, blue and yellow magical discharge fill the air between them. As I watch the kaleidoscopic scene unfold, I feel a familiar endorphin rush, and “Ode to Joy” begins playing in the back of my head. “Peggle!” I think, “it's card-based, strategy Peggle!” For only a smidge of input (waiting for my resources to accrue and clicking the monster I want to summon), I receive a spectacular display of enormous power—awesome.

Community : Players are highly active, making it easy to find good matches. The focus on cooperative PvE negates the unbalancing effects of the cash shop.

Mythoria (*)

Release : February 2010

Cost : $17

How's it work? Battle for control of seven tiles with seven of 73 surprisingly distinctive cards.

Is it fun? Matches last around 10 minutes, making it the perfect warm-up or cool-down for extended play sessions with friends. A short roster of cards makes each Wall of Souls or Manticore you unlock feel powerful and game-changing.

Community : Two guys made it, and only a few more currently play it. Pickup games are out of the question, so you'll have to bring a friend or settle for playing the pretty-good single-player campaign.