World-building is a critical and often overlooked part of game design, and making a world feel lived-in is an essential task that so many developers take for granted. In any world that even slightly resembles ours, it makes sense for the people in it to have the same comforts and activities as we might.
One thing that gets limited attention is the in-world entertainment, with only a handful of developers making the effort to add complementary mini-games to their titles. That being said, many titles that do feature in-world entertainment seem to opt for the inclusion of card games like poker.
We have to get the most famous game out of the way first, a game that became a meme as legendary as the game itself. Part of the Witcher universe, the game of Gwent is first playable in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt expansion and features heavily in the original novel series. It’s a fairly complex game with multiple special abilities and different deck types that all affect the flow of the game, although the game eventually boils down to having the highest total card value on the table at the end of the round.
Gwent as a game proved popular enough to get its own separate release complete with the industry standard season passes and microtransactions. There is a thriving esports scene with a sizeable prize pool and even spin-off games like Gwent: Rogue Mage.
We’re delving into gaming history for this one with the game that paved the way for things like Gwent. While the Final Fantasy series is far more famous for its storytelling, its visuals and its classic RPG gameplay, the Triple Triad mini-game from Final Fantasy VIII was as engrossing for some players as the main game.
The rules boil down to claiming cards on the 3×3 grid with higher-value cards and having the most owned cards on the board when all spaces are filled. It’s not really similar to any other card games out there, although claiming spaces and taking over the other player’s spaces does remind us a little of the Go board game.
Playable in the cult classic Knights of the Old Republic, Pazaak is the card game that most non-gamers would be more familiar with thanks to its resemblance to modern blackjack. The goal is to use one card from your hand and one card from the house to hit a target number without going over. Of course, with standard blackjack games, the objective for players is to reach the elusive 21. However, Pazaak keeps it at 20 thanks to no cards having a value of 11 like the Ace in blackjack.
What makes Pazaak more interesting is that some cards have negative values, so it is possible to fill your entire board with cards without even going above 0. It worked by being similar enough to blackjack to be familiar while still having something unique.
The list goes on with Fallout’s Caravan or Final Fantasy IX’s Tetra Master but it does show just how much a gaming world can really feel alive by having something as simple as a card game in it.