In the trading card game, players draw cards from their respective decks and take turns playing cards onto "the field." Each player uses a deck containing forty to sixty cards, and an optional "Extra Deck" of up to fifteen cards. There is also an optional fifteen card side deck, which allows players to swap cards from their main deck and/or extra deck between games. Players are restricted to three of each card per deck and must follow the Forbidden/Limited card list, which restricts selected cards by Konami to be limited to two, one, or zero. Each player starts with 8,000 "Life Points", with the main aim of the game to use monster attacks and spells to reduce the opponent's Life Points. The game ends upon reaching one of the following conditions:
- A player loses if their Life Points reaches zero. If both players reach zero Life Points at the same time, the game ends in a draw.
- A player loses if they are required to draw a card, but has no more cards to draw in the Main Deck.
- Certain cards have special conditions which trigger an automatic win or loss when its conditions are met (e.g. having all five cards of Exodia the Forbidden One in the hand or all five letters of the Destiny Board on the field).