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Fight Like a Card Player

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Original comic by DaPanda.
Used with permission.

A Video Game trope where the game's setting (e.g. combat system) doesn't involve actual cards, but the mechanics the game uses to implement its system use cards anyway.

In other words, these cards exist outside the universe's Fourth Wall, and are invisible to the in-universe characters; who are still clashing swords and summoning spells, not slapping cards down on some table.

Expect to see one character with full Medium Awareness of the subject, solely to teach the player how the battle system works. After that, the card system is (almost) never explicitly mentioned again.

Now this doesn't always work just like a Collectible Card Game; as sometimes you have access to the entire deck at once and merely have to pick the best card for a given situation. Running out can cost you precious time (i.e. reloading your deck leaves you open to attack) or even cause a Game Over.


A Sister Trope to Card Battle Game. Not to be confused with Death Dealer, when a fighter uses the cards themselves as a weapon.


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    Tabletop Games 
  • Castle Falkenstein uses playing cards as the main mechanic. This is explained as the game having been created In-Universe, by a game designer who ended up in the Falkenstein universe, and the prejudices of that world mean that gaming with dice just isn't "proper".
  • Deadlands uses ordinary playing cards for a lot of mechanics including initiative, spellcasting and weird science gadgetry.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition had the Tome of Battle supplement come with online "maneuver cards", which could be printed out for quick reference of the effects of different martial techniques. Given that the Crusader class from said supplement had a limited pool of maneuvers which expanded randomly on each turn, it was extremely common for Crusader players to keep a deck of maneuver cards which they could draw from and shuffle.
  • Combat in Fury of Dracula is handled with a fairly basic card battle mechanic. Hunters have a few stock combat cards like Punch, Dodge and Escape, and can supplement these by finding & exchanging weapons, talismans and special abilities in the course of the game. Dracula has a more varied range of starting cards, including most of the classic vampire powers. All combat cards have various combinations of icons that interact based on a Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors mechanic, so the Hunters' main advantage is in Drac not knowing what other tricks they have up their sleeves, while they (usually) know exactly what he's capable of.
  • Lace & Steel features card-based dueling systems for swordfighting, sorcery, and repartee.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • In Battlemage. Between battles you select cards to your deck, including individuals who have agreed to join your side. Combats are fought in RTS style. Lands create a mana pool, that acts like traditional resource pool and units either attack towards the enemy or stand in front of you and defend. Your choice of actions is limited by your "hand", a selection of seven cards from your deck.
    • Inverted in Shandalar (part of the original MTG PC game). Instead of an RPG that used cards for the combat mechanics, it was a port of the card game with an RPG as the Framing Device.
    • This even applies in the proper card game, as the cards just represent wizards dueling with spells, summoning and attacking with monsters, and drawing power from the land.
  • The short-lived TSR SAGA system used special cards in place of dice, with unique decks for Dragonlance: The Fifth Age and Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game.

    Video Games 
  • Inverted in the SNES game Arcana. Cards figure heavily into the backstory and plot of the game, but when it comes to gameplay has almost nothing to do with cards other than a visual motif.
  • Averted in one the strangest ways possible in The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang. The main character fights using a variety of cards and said use of cards affects the progression of plot and puzzles. However, the actual gameplay is a top-down action game, the game has little to do with the traditional aspects of a collectible card game, functioning more like a glorified inventory.
  • Baten Kaitos mostly averts this trope. The story revolves around 5 cards containing an evil god. It's also implied that everyone in-universe uses Magnus cards to carry things around, as each of them can carry an item or an elemental essence, but they're not mentioned often by the people you meet probably in the same manner that you say you buy some pasta and not a box of pasta. They're so ubiquitous that their application is redundant in a conversation.
    • The battle system is less consistent with its universe, though. It has you drawing Magnus cards from your shuffled deck. These contain a weapon, an item, a piece of armor, or a special attack and selecting them makes your character use them once to attack, defend or heal. While having many different tools to fight with during battle is immensely useful, there's no reason why your characters would not just keep their best weapons and armor for the whole fight and even less justification for why your deck is shuffled, why you have to use cards for special attacks and how your items like potions and food always stay full after use.
    • The second game fits this trope straight-up, as weapons are instead replaced with generic attacks which can be used by everyone in your party. Magnus cards are not made to hold such things at all.
  • Sonic Battle used a card system to customize Emerl's moveset while playing like a typical fighter.
  • The boss battles in Kamen Ninja Hanamaru (Yo! Noid in the United States) were fought this way. The cards depicted either attacks or pizzas, depending on the version.
  • The Patience Pack has a game called Armor of God, in which the player tries to build his castle before the enemy can finish tunneling under the foundation. Your cards represent parts of the armor of God mentioned in Ephesians 6, and your opponent's cards represent Deception, Accusation, Hatred, Temptation and Death.
  • The Etherlords series. It's made a little weird when one of the playable characters in Etherlords II has glowing red eyes and holds a very large sword, yet battles are handled entirely through cards.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories zigzags this trope. Cards are present in the game's setting, as Sora is told that cards are used to progress in Castle Oblivion and he obtains World Cards used to generate new floors, but in most cutscenes no one is ever seen using cards to fight.
    • The Command Deck system in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Kingdom Hearts coded, and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Players build a Deck by collecting Commands through various means and equipping them; characters have a limited Deck capacity that increases over the course of the game, with stronger Commands taking up more space. By pushing a button, characters can instantly use a special attack or item, but upon doing so the Command must "reload" and can't be used for a period of time. There's no explanation as to why the characters can't just use all of their best moves whenever they want as much as they want.
  • Pocket Card Jockey has the player as a rookie horse racer who gets trampled to death in their first race. An angel takes pity on them and, upon learning that they're terribly naïve and have zero skill in even riding a horse, brings them back to life and gives them the ability to perceive horse racing as a literal game of golf solitaire. Of course, everyone else still sees horse racing as actual horse racing, and are either deeply confused when the player explains that they win by playing cards or see it as an odd metaphor.
  • Dead Rising 2 (and the related Case Zero prequel game) allows you to combine ordinary items to form super weapons (bat plus box of nails equals spiky bat; shotgun plus pitchfork equals boomstick). But your ability to use these to their fullest is goverened by whether you've collected the associated "combo card." If not, you gain less experience from using the weapon, and you are unable to use the weapon's "strong attack" variant. Combo cards are non-diegetic rewards — you earn them when you level up, defeat bosses, and do other plot-related things.
  • Not involving cards, but Puzzle Quest has the same idea; you and your enemies do damage and collect mana by matching stones on a puzzle board, even though you're just fighting monsters according to the storyline.
  • Delivery Missions, in Billy vs. SNAKEMAN.
    • And there are hints that the in-universe card games Mahongg (and even more so Flower Wars) are covers for something affecting reality on a deeper level. Although in this game it seems like everything is secretly affecting reality on a deeper level...
  • The entire Wrestle Angels series has you controlling female wrestlers with cards.
  • In Second Life, there is a popular card game called En Garde, which emulates a swordfight (complete with animations): only the players see the cards, spectators see a (slow-motion) duel.
  • Wizard101 has spells as cards, but there is no real 'collectible' element to making a spell deck. You unlock spells for your school as you advance in level, and the only limit to the number of copies of a particular spell is determined by your deck-box, a piece of equipment that you trade for better versions as usual. You do however get a limited number of 'training points' you can use to get spells from outside your school, but since you need to acquire them linearly you're usually just better off focusing on one extra school.
  • Mawlock from the Shining Force remake, Resurrection of the Dark Dragon, whose specialty lies in using character cards to change the tide of battle. Cards are obtained through various arbitrary methods, such as talking to a certain character a number of times at your home base, or using a certain character to deliver a killing blow on a boss.
  • The VS System video game had this in spades. The plot involved rather uninspired hero vs. villain comic book conflicts, just an excuse for an extended sequence of fight scenes. Every time there was a fight, you played cards. At least the computer's deck usually meshed well with the events of the plot, but, especially in the early phases of the game, it was impossible for you to construct a deck that meshed with what "you" were doing in the plot.
  • Bleach: Blade of Fate had a fairly tight card system, although the cards in question only gave a Status Buff.
  • Paper Mario: Sticker Star's stickers function like action cards: Any action Mario takes in a battle must be done using a sticker, including staples like jumping. Mario can also turn objects (or even living things) into stickers, which can then be summoned mid-battle when played.
  • Sticker Star's battling system extends to the next Paper Mario game, Paper Mario: Color Splash, only this time, Mario is directly using a deck of cards to battle with.
  • The Duelist class from 7th Dragon III: Code VFD fights using decks of playing cards, using different combinations of elemental cards to lay traps and summon monsters.
  • Endless Space uses cards to represent battle tactics.
  • Soukoku no Arterial which actually all the cast either has supernatural power, devil or angel but the combat is using card with quite complex rule. To be honest it was more close to SRPG as promoted by themselves, only using card.
  • In Guild of Dungeoneering, characters start out with a deck of cards based in their classes, and gain more based off what loot they collect.
  • Mobius Final Fantasy uses equippable 'cards' for your magic and attacks, but these do not act mechanically like cards. What does act like cards is the orb-drawing mechanic, which lets you 'draw' an orb for every attack you make and put it into your hand, which can then be used to pay for one of your 'card' abilities.
  • Paladins has three types of cards utilised in its gameplay. A "loadout" deck which provides extra power and cooldown reductions to a champion and their abilities (20 cards for each champion, 5 each for their main three abilities, and the last 5 for their main weapon and passive armor effects) which are unique for each hero, and 16 cards that are bought in-battle (Think like the equipment in a MOBA.) with four types: Defense, Utility, Healing, and Offence. There are also "Talent" cards, with one only available when a character comes out, but more unlock as you level them up. Talent cards compliment your loadout and massively change the gameplay style of the character.
  • Touhou 10.5 - Scarlet Weather Rhapsody requires each character to equip a 20-cards deck (each character has its own personal pool to choose from); you "draw" a card by filling a super meter. There are three kinds of cards: "System", relatively simple effects that can be used by all characters; "Skill", which can improve your current special attacks or swap them with other specials of the same category; and "Spell", super moves that almost always consume multiple cards at once.
  • In Fate/Grand Order, each Servant has five attack cards that fall into one of three different categories: Buster (red, inflicts extra damage), Quick (green, inflicts multiple hits and raises the rate at which you reap Critical Stars that are applied to the next turn), and Arts (blue, raises their Noble Phantasm gauge). In battle, all of your frontline Servants' (up to three) cards are placed into a deck of up to 15, five are dealt at a time, and you pick three cards that determine which Servants attack and what type of attacks they use. Picking three cards that belong to the same Servant grants them an Extra Attack, and picking three cards of the same type gives a bonus: three Buster cards grants additional damage, three Quick cards adds 10 Critical Stars, and three Arts cards gives instant NP gauge boosts to everyone whose cards were picked. Once the deck is emptied (1-3 turns, depending on how many Servants are in battle), the deck is refilled and reshuffled.
  • ShadowVerse is a straightforward Collectible Card Game, but the story mode shows no indication of cards being used in any way.
  • Slay the Spire revitalized the card-RPG genre with a generalized ruleset:
    • You have a deck, while your enemies have a pre-generated but powerful moveset.
    • Each turn, you draw cards from your draw pile and gain a specific number of action points (typically 3, which can then be modified based on the cards you play and any passive bonuses on your character). At the end of the turn, the cards you played and in your hand go to the discard pile, which is turned into the new draw pile once the old draw pile runs out of cards. Each card has an action point cost, with stronger cards requiring more action points or special conditions to play them, including exhaust which prevents the card from returning to the deck after reshuffling.
    • Card types typically consist of Attack, Block (decreases non armor-piercing damage and is removed after the enemy's turn), Tactics (buffs/debuffs), and Items (can only be used a limited number of times, then they're removed from the deck permanently).
    • All of the above are treated like skills you actually have instead of cards in a deck you hold.
    • Other examples include Griftlands, Night of the Full Moon,
  • Zig Zagged by Hearthstone. The game's meta-narrative is that it takes place in The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday where heroes and villains from across time and space come together to play Hearthstone (which is a card game that exists in World of Warcraft, albeit as a physical game rather than a digital one). However, Hearthstone's actual story missions ignore the card game aspect and instead are meant to represent physical battles taking place between heroes.