Way back in 1987, a short minigame found its way into Squaresoft’s seminal role-playing game, Final Fantasy.Today, minigames are ubiquitous (Final Fantasy VII had more than thirty, including snowboarding and basketball) but one particular kind of diversion has proven especially popular with gamers – cards. It’s no surprise; even offline, card games like Pokémon, blackjack, solitaire and Yu-Gi-Oh continue to attract players despite heavy competition from gaming consoles.
Accessible by boarding a ship, holding the NES controller’s “A” button and then pressing the “B” button 22 times, this sliding puzzle game rewarded the player with 100 gil (the game’s currency) for completion.
Maybe it’s due to an innate competitive streak (is there any greater thrill than beating a nameless, mute innkeeper at Tetra Master?) or maybe it’s just the fact that card games awaken the collector in every one of us; after all, many fought long and hard against an unfair ruleset to claim Alexander’s card from Piet in Final Fantasy VIII.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular card-based minigames:
Triple Triad (Final Fantasy VIII, XIV)
One of, if not the most famous card-based minigame, Final Fantasy VIII’s Triple Triad was based around placing cards on a 3x3 grid. The four sides of each card were given values (1, the lowest, to A, the highest) befitting the rarity of the character or monster depicted, and the objective was to place them so that as many sides as possible exceeded the values of their neighbours. The game was complicated by a range of different rulesets, which meant that even the direst situation could be flipped on its head with a single move but it’s arguably the huge range of different cards that made Triple Triad so interesting.
Poker (Red Dead Redemption)
Red Dead Redemption gets extra points for realism by letting gamers play poker; specifically, the kind carried by brands like 888 – Texas hold ‘em. The game’s popularity is testament to its simple ruleset but it’s not an easy game to master, as evidenced by the fact that 888poker has an extensive, interactive hold ‘em tutorial for players looking to get started with the game, as well as other variants like Omaha Hi/Lo and exclusive game, SNAP. With multiplayer functionality and a faithful recreation of the game’s ruleset (including betting, buy-ins, and even cheating), Rockstar’s seminal Western provided both a great introduction to poker and something for John Marston to do between duels.
Perhaps an obvious one, Gwent plays to the modern player’s love of card battle games like Hearthstone in providing a rich, multi-faceted gameplay experience, with weather cards, hero cards and leader cards, as well as a range of different decks. At its simplest though, Gwent is a game about two armies meeting in the field. Gwent’s main drawback is that it’s not very friendly to beginners but its popularity is evident in CD Projekt Red’s recent decision to release it in a standalone format.
Caravan (Fallout: New Vegas)
Other than retrieving your stolen brain from rogue robots and sending a nuclear weapon towards the post-apocalyptic version of the Roman Empire, there’s not much to do at the end of the world. And that’s where Caravan comes in. Based on blackjack, the objective of Caravan is to build stacks of cards with a combined value of 26. It’s not quite that straightforward – “face” cards, like Jacks and Kings, have unique abilities (removing a card and doubling values, respectively) – but Caravan is familiar enough to be almost immediately accessible.
As a closing point, here are a few honourable mentions: Tetra Master (Final Fantasy IX), Pazaak (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), and Fortune’s Tower (Fable II).