I’m generally a fan of longer heavier games but even I have a number of filler card games in my collection. Filler games are great for the start of game night, filling in the gap at the end of a night of games and for playing in between games.
In this article, I highlight some of my favourite filler card games and also talk a bit about why I think every gamer should have at least a small set of filler games in their collection.
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Why you should have some filler games in your collection:
We initially discussed this topic on Episode 129 of the Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast: Filling the Gap. That topic came from a question from Uncle Rico who wrote:
Hey Tabletop Bellhop; have any good filler card game recommendations? I just picked up Push and No Thanks and I’m looking for more games to play with the extended family.
Before I get into listing the filler card games we found for Uncle Rico I want to take a bit of time to talk about why I think everyone should have some filler games in their collection.
Filler games serve a few important purposes on game night. To start, I think they are a great icebreaker. These are the games you break out at the beginning of a game night to get everyone into the gaming mindset. Most filler games are great for chatting and hanging out while playing and a good way to catch up before moving on to heavier games that will require more focus.
Next up, I love having filler games on hand for game nights with large groups and especially for public play events. Their role here is to have something on hand for people to play while waiting for other games to finish up. They are great for when new people show up mid-event while almost everyone is already playing something, as well as for when a game at one table ends before any others and people want to swap up groups. I always make sure to have a couple of filler games with me when I head out to any public play event.
Filler games are also great for unwinding. After playing an epic three or four hour game, it’s common for players to want to take a bit of a rest by playing something more casual. Filling the gap at the end of a game night with a short, social and relaxing, filler game is the perfect way to unwind and end the night on a pleasant note.
Now getting back to Uncle Rico’s question, he isn’t just looking for filler games in general but for filler card games specifically. Along with this he mentions that he’s looking for games to play with his extended family who I assume are non-gamers. I think card-based fillers can be a great choice for getting non-gamers to the table.
Card games in particular are great because most non-gamers are familiar with multiple standard playing card games. This means convincing them to try a game with non-standard playing cards can be much easier than tossing down a score driven resource management game, even if it is a gateway game like say Catan.
What follows is going to be a list of card based filler games that I personally have enjoyed. This style of game is very popular on both the hobby side of things as well as on the mass market side. There are a ton of card-based filler games out there, so there’s no way this list should be considered all-inclusive as I know that I haven’t played all, or even most, of the games in this genre. The games mentioned in this article are simply the games that I’ve had the most fun playing and the games that I personally would consider bringing out to game night.
The best filler card games for a game night with non-gamer family and friends:
No Thanks – I want to start off with a game that Uncle Rico already mentioned, as I think I need to be on this list for anyone reading this who isn’t Uncle Rico.
My friend Jamie introduced me to this game back when I would have sworn that I didn’t like filler games at all. It is a very simple to learn game. Players are passed a numbered card and either have to take the card or toss one of their plastic chips on it, say “No, thanks!” and pass it along. Eventually, someone is either going to run out of chips and be forced to take the card or they will think the number of chips already on the card makes it worth taking.
This is one of those games where you don’t want points and the neat bit in No Thanks is that if you have a straight of any length only the lowest card counts for points at the end of the game.
Gorus Maximus – Many of the most popular traditional card games involve trick-taking. Gorus Maximus is a trick-taking game that works for up to eight players and plays well at all player counts.
This is a great game to start off a group game night with before people split off into smaller groups. It features some unique mechanics like being able to swap the trump suit mid-hand. For people who don’t like the blood-soaked artwork you can check out Sea Change which is a more recent re-theme of Gorus Maximus.
Learn more about this card game in my Gorus Maximus review.
Flip City – This is a small box deck-building game with a static market that plays up to four players. For a deck-builder, it’s very easy to teach and features a unique two-sided card system where you can upgrade the cards in your hand by flipping them to the other side. At two players this is a quick filler but if you go up to the full player count of four it does slow down and may take longer than you want for a filler.
While you do get plenty in the base game box there are a couple of expansions avaliable as well, with Flip City: Reuse being the most popular and highest rated.
Sushi Go Party! – Sushi Go! is one of the purest drafting games I’ve ever played. It is very simple to teach and easy to play. You get a hand of cards, pick one to play in front of you and pass the rest to a player next to you. I think the original version of Sushi Go! is a great game for non-gamers due to this simplicity and the very cute sushi artwork.
However, Sushi Go Party! edition is the version of the game that I would pick up. It costs more than the original but is quite the bargain as you get a lot more in this deluxe tin, including the full original game plus game varients and additional cards that let you play with up to eight players. While the game tends to be best with four or five players it’s still worth playing at both two and eight player counts.
Happy Salmon – I thought I would hate Happy Salmon, that is until a bribe of beer lured me into actually trying it. This is a very silly but quite fun card game where players flip up actions simultaneously while trying to find someone else doing the same action. You then both complete the action, flip your cards and draw a new one. The actions are silly things like high-fiving, swapping spots, fist-bumping, etc. The winner is the first one to go through all of their cards.
I will admit that I hate trying to play something else when there is another group in the same room playing Happy Salmon. This game is loud and raucous, so you may want to get permission from anyone else around before playing. If it’s just you and your game group though, have at it!
Monster Match – This is another game from North Star Games, the publisher behind Happy Salmon. Monster Match, however, is much calmer than Happy Salmon while still featuring lots of real-time, loud, and silly fun.
I prefer this game to Happy Salmon because you can actually sit at a table and don’t have to run around and swap spots.
This is a matching game where you fill a table with cards with pictures of silly-looking monsters on them. Someone rolls a pair of custom dice and you have to find a monster out on the table that matches what is shown on the dice. This will always be a number and a feature, so you may be looking for three-eyed monsters, six-leged monsters, etc.
Monster Match is great for young kids and non-gamers due to the simple rules and silly theme. It is also great for getting people to interact with each other. If you want to get people laughing and having fun together this is a great filler card game choice.
Codenames – Codenames is a great filler game for any size group, even just for two if you pick up the Codenames Duet version. With both versions of Codenames your group will split into two teams where players will be trying to get the members of their teams to pick out word cards based on one-word clues.
While playing Codenames it’s important to be careful to not have your team pick the other team’s words and watch out for the dreaded assassin word.
One of the great things about Codenames as a filler card game is that you can stop after any round. Depending on how your group is feeling, you can play just one round or you can keep playing the game all night.
This is also a good “get to know each other” game. Especially when the round ends and people start asking questions like, “What did clue X have to do with card Y?”
Find out more about my favourite version of Codenames in my Codenames: Duet Review.
The Mind – The Mind is another example of a filler card game that works great at all player counts and even works when you go above the recommended four players, I’ve personally played this with six people and it worked great, though I don’t think there are enough cards to get through all of the games official levels with six. Don’t worry, with that many players you probably won’t make it anyway.
In The Mind, players are trying to play numbered cards from their hands in sequential order starting with a hand of one card and increasing that hand size by one with each successful round. The trick, and what makes The Mind work, is that you can’t communicate with each other. To play The Mind all you need is the ability to count, which makes it great for non gamers.
The one problem with The Mind is that by banning communication during play it’s not a very social game, though I have seen plenty of talking happening after winning or losing a round.
For Sale – Next, I have a classic real estate based card game from Stefan Dorra. For Sale is great for introducing to those family members who have fond memories of Monopoly. For Sale does require at least three players but plays up to six.
A game of For Sale is broken down into two rounds. In the first round, properties are auctioned off to the players, and then in the second round, everyone sells their properties and hopefully makes a profit. The player with the most money at the end wins. In addition to being a solid filler card game, For Sale is also a great gateway game to heavier economic games.
Biblios – I wanted to talk about Biblios next because it actually reminds me a bit of For Sale due to the fact that it also has two phases.
These phases are somewhat like the opposite of For Sale. In the first phase, players will distribute the entire deck between the players and a draw deck in the centre of the table. After all of the cards are distributed you enter an auction phase where players will use cards in their hand to purchase cards from that draw deck.
The cards represent either coins for bidding in the auction or various book types. There are also some special cards that change the value of the books. End game scoring is based on having majorities in the different book types with points affected by the book’s value at the end of the game.
While it’s not heavy in any way, Biblios has a few more idiosyncrasies than most of the other games on this list and might be best reserved for playing with fellow gamers or for introducing your friends and family to after they’ve played some of the other games on this list.
Arboretum – Sticking with heavier games that may be best played by more experienced groups I’ve got Arboretum. This tree based card game is what I like to call a thinky-filler.
Using cards with beautiful artwork depicting different tree species on them, players are attempting to build the best arboretum. Points are awarded for having straights of trees, a.k.a. trees of the same type with consecutive numbers on them connected in orthogonal paths.
There’s some really cool stuff here that adds depth to this game, like being able to draw cards from other players’ discard piles and an area majority system for determining who gets to score what tree types. This one is actually quite the brain burner but we’ve found the theme and gorgeous artwork really draws people in and gets them wanting to take the time to learn it.
Bohnanza – Swapping back to some lighter fair I’ve got a game we like to call BEAN! Long time listeners of the show will know that Sean, Deanna and I are all big fans of Bohnanza.
This is a bean trading and planting game with one rule that is so hard to get people to follow at first — you can’t rearrange your hand of cards. You must always play cards from the front of your hand while newly drawn cards go to the back.
The one problem with putting Bohnanza into the filler category is that depending on how much players negotiate it can stretch the definition of filler game. If you want to guarantee a shorter game only go through the deck once or twice instead of the full three times stated in the rules.
In Parade, players are taking part in a parade to honour the Queen of Hearts and are playing cards into a growing row of cards. What you play may affect the cards in the row and you get rewarded by matching the colour of the last card played or by playing a card of a higher number than the current length of the parade.
While a lot of people love Guillotine and may wonder why it’s not on this list, I think Parade handles the variable card row mechanic better and in a more fun way. I feel I have more control of my destiny in Parade. Plus the theme is less gruesome.
Diamonds – If you have family members or non-hobby gamer friends that like traditional card games such as Spades or Hearts, Diamonds is the game for you.
In Diamonds, you are trying to collect the most diamonds. Note I don’t mean cards from the diamond suit but rather diamond tokens. This game plays like a traditional trick-taking game except that when you play off suit you will manipulate the diamonds in play by doing things like gaining diamonds from the bank, stealing diamonds from other players or putting them into your vault where they can’t be stolen.
One of the big advantages Diamonds have over traditional trick-taking games is that it plays with up to six players and plays well at the full player count.
Honshu – Honshu is one of the most unique games on this list. That is because it does something very unique with cards. Each card in Honshu is divided into six squares showing different terrain types including lakes, residential areas, deserts, forests, and resource generation spots, like mines and fishing spots, as well as buildings to consume these resources.
The neat bit here is that when you play a card in front of you it must go on or under your existing cards so that at least one square of the new card is still showing and you don’t completely cover up another card. Honshu is a game all about tucking cards under other cards in order to build a city.
Scoring is based on a variety of things like the biggest residential area, consuming resources, lake size and more.
There’s a follow up to this game called Hokkaido that I’ve heard is even better, but I haven’t had a chance to try it yet. If it’s half as good as Honshu I know I can easily recommend it as well.
Medium – Medium is a very cool, fairly recent party game. One of the things that makes Medium great is that it plays just as well with two as it does with eight. Now eight players may stretch this game out a bit longer than you want for a filler, but in that case, I just recommend playing until you are bored instead of following the actual end game condition.
In Medium, you and the player on your left each draw a card and read the card out loud. Then, on a count of three, you both simultaneously say the word that you think is the “medium” between those two words, a.k.s. something both cards have in common. If you say the same word you win and get points. If you fail, you get to try again but this time you have to find the “medium” between the words you just said, not what was on the original cards. If you don’t get a match on the second try you get one more chance, again using the words you just said. The points scored are based on how many tries it takes for you to make a match.
Learn more about this unique party game in my Medium review.
Ratuki – This is a classic card game that was recently reprinted by The Op. It’s a real-time ladder-climbing card game.
In Ratuki players are playing cards from their hands onto a number of growing piles in the centre of the table, each pile starts at the number one and each subsequent card must be one higher or one lower than the card currently on top of the deck. When you play the number five onto a stack you say “Ratuiki” and claim that entire stack of cards. After everyone has played all the cards that they can, players count up the cards they’ve claimed. To make things interesting while all of the cards are numbered one to five, this is represented in a number of different ways including dice pips, numbers, a hand holding up fingers, words and tick marks.
While the game includes a scoring system that will lead to a much longer game, a single round, or two, of Ratuki can be a perfect filler.
Learn more about this raucous game in my Ratuki the card game review where I explain why it was such a big hit with my extended family.
Skora – Skora is the newest game on this list. It’s a hidden gem that I really hope more people will take the time to discover.
This is a Viking themed, card based, set collection game with a fishing theme that features really striking artwork. Skora is an interesting mix of take-that, set collection and area control that plays lighting fast. It’s actually one of the shortest fillers on this list. Skora also manages to feature surprisingly deep gameplay for a game that plays so quickly.
Learn more about this near-unknown card game in my Skora game review.
Lotus – Lotus is another game with really striking card art. This is a card game about making flowers and it features some of the best-looking flower card art I’ve ever seen.
Each card in Lotus features one petal of a flower which you place on top of other cards already in play with the goal being to make complete flowers. Lotus is actually an area control game and the player with the most control points gains all the cards in a completed flower. What this means is that the person who gets the points might not be the person who played the last card.
While this one is heavier than some of the other games on this list, I’ve found that the theme and artwork draw in non-gamers like bees.
Kodama The Tree Spirits – Unintentionally I ended up with a string of games on this list that feature great artwork. Kodama The Tree Spirits is a game with artwork that looks like it was pulled out of a Studio Ghibli animation.
Kodama is a card drafting game where players are growing trees by adding branch cards to a central trunk. After each new branch is placed, players score points based on creating a string of matching elements such as fireflies, clouds, berries, worms, etc.
Players start a game of Kodama with a number of scoring cards and will be forced to choose one of them each season to score. Due to this Kodama offers a really high level of long term planning and strategy.
I’ve had mixed results with introducing this game to non-gamers, with the majority being willing to figure out it because of the unique theme and approachable artwork.
Dead Man’s Draw – Dead Man’s Draw is my all-time favourite push your luck game. In this game, players draw cards from a central deck and place them into a growing card row. Each type of card does something when played, things like letting you draw a set of cards and picking one of those to play, removing cards from the card row, taking cards into your personal tableau and stealing cards from other players.
After drawing and resolving a card you have the option to draw again or stop. If you stop, you get to collect all the cards in the row, but if, at any point, you draw a card that is already in the card row, you bust and get nothing. Along with this are character cards that give players special powers and a unique scoring system where only the highest card of each type you own gets you points.
If you or your group like push your luck games at all I strongly recommend Dead Man’s Draw.
Honourable Mentions for Quick Filler Card Games
These are filler card games that I either haven’t had a chance to play or that I didn’t personally enjoy. While I may not have liked them. I know many people love these games so I felt they needed to be called out. While they may not be right for me, they may still be perfect for your group.
Just One – My first honourable mention is the party game Just One. This word game takes the usual party game format of “one clue giver with everyone else guessing” and swaps it around completely.
In Just One one player is trying to guess a word based on the clues given by the other players. The trick is that if any of the players give the same clue they cancel each other out and can’t be used.
This game sounds just brilliant to me and the only reason it’s not on the main list is because I haven’t had a chance yet to try it myself.
Love Letter – My next honourable mention is Love Letter. This is an extremely popular card game that features just eighteen cards and some scoring tokens.
This micro card game spawned a number of variations and imitations some of which people seem to like more than others. The now out of print Love Letter: Batman is the one I hear people mention the most often as their favourite.
While it seems like the majority of people are in love with Love Letter, personally, I haven’t actually enjoyed any version of Love Letter all that much. I think the main thing I don’t like in this game is the amount of bluffing required to play well.
The Resistance – The bluffing needed in Love Letter leads me to my next honourable mention: The Resistance. I’ve said many times that I do not really enjoy social deduction games and that’s exactly what this is. Of all the social deduction games I’ve played The Resistance is definitely one of the best, but it’s still not for me.
The Resistance is a hidden role game where players select teams to go on missions. The problem is that some of the players are spies who are there to sabotage things. Can the non-spy players figure out who the spies are and manage to complete the required number of missions before the game ends? Or will the saboteurs remain undiscovered and the game instead end with a spy victory?
The Resistance is one of many games that spawned from the need for a game like Werewolf and Mafia only shorter and without the need for a moderator. Another popular social deduction game like this is Coup which is set in the same universe and there’s also Avalon which is a fantasy retheme of The Resistance.
Saboteur – The final game I want to mention is Saboteur. Based on what I just said about The Resistance and Love Letter you can easily guess why this game didn’t make the main list for me. Yep, it’s another hidden role game with a lot of backstabbing.
While it’s not a game that I personally enjoy I wanted to include it on this list due to its popularity, especially at local gaming events. I have some friends who very much love this game about dwarves exploring the gem mines and trying to suss out who’s the saboteur.
There you have a rather long list of card games that I think are great filler games including many games that are great for playing with extended family and non-gamers. I hope Uncle Rico was able to find a game or two to add to his collection.