If you’ve been watching our very own TableTop, you’ll notice that over the summer, Wil Wheaton & company showcased a gamed called Legendary, a Marvel Comics-themed game that’s part of a broad spectrum of card games called Deck-building Games. These games are so called because you start out with a small deck of cards, then add to that deck of cards throughout the course of the game by spending resources in your hand to purchase more cards from a common pool, all with different costs. You then use your ever-changing deck to battle the opponent or out-point him or her before the game ends.
The great part about deck-building games is that you need only buy a boxed set, set up the rows and/or columns of cards and starting hands correctly and play. There’s no need to construct your own deck or buy randomized packs of cards, but the thrill and deep strategy of traditional trading-card games is still there.
If that style of game sounds familiar to you, you may have played a little game called Dominion. Considered the forerunner of deck-building games, Dominion premiered in 2008 and has become wildly popular amongst both serious gamers and the casual player. Not only is it an easy-to-play intro to resource-based games, but arguably, it’s a better introductory game than the classic Settlers of Catan.
Other than Dominion, which you may have already played, or Legendary, which you saw on Tabletop, what are some other great examples of deck-building games?
If Dominion is the cousin to resource board games like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Puerto Rico; Ascension is the cousin to dueling trading-card games like Magic the Gathering.
Ascension revolves around a center row of six cards that may include heroes or constructs to purchase or monsters to attack. Each player starts with a hand full of basic Apprentices and Militia that he or she can use to generate two resources, Runes and Power, which can be used to purchase cards and defeat monsters in the center row of cards between the players. These new purchased cards go into your discard pile at first. When your deck is empty, you shuffle your new cards back in, giving you much more powerful cards on further turns. Purchasing cards and defeating monsters gives you access to Honor, which represents the win condition of the game.
Dominion players will easily be able to jump right in here, though arguably Ascension builds on and improves Dominion by adding in alien races, factions, a storyline and much better card art. The initial game gives you four divine factions to choose from: The Enlightened, a clan of warrior monks; The Mechana, who are engineer robots; The Void, death worshippers, and The Lifebound, who believe in controlling fate. Each race has distinct advantages – for example, The Enlightened are good at drawing cards, and The Mechana can create Constructs that are good in multiples. Decks feature cards from all four factions, and further boxed sets add even more interesting cards to the game.
In the DC Comics Deck-Building Game, you’re dealt a super-hero at random and must use Punches and Kicks as resources to improve your hero as he fights villains in the Villain Stack. Heroes must always fight Ra’s Al Ghul first. When villains are first revealed, they get to use First Appearance abilities, which attack each player, and when villains are defeated, they go in your deck and their text can be used later on to help you win against tougher foes.
Heroes in the base game include Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Cyborg. Further boxed sets add new heroes and villains based on DC Comics storylines. Each hero has special powers that he or she can use throughout the course of the game. Once all the super-villains have been defeated, or no more cards can be added to the row of resources (called the Line-Up in this game), the game ends and the player with the most victory points wins.
Star Realms fills a much-needed niche in the deck-building game category, as it’s one of the few science-fiction games available. Star Realms has become wildly popular due to its single-deck nature and low cost. Players need to purchase one deck for two players to duel in space, or two decks for three or four players.
As in other deck-building games, players start with currency and basic units — in this case, starships. Players can then buy bigger ships and starbases, and on later turns, play those powerful ships and attack the opponent. At the end of a turn, ships and other cards are discarded, but starbases remain and, if they’re also outposts, can prevent a defending player from losing “authority” (health) until the starbase is destroyed.
Most of the cards in the set belong to one of four factions: The Trade Federation, The Blobs, The Star Empire and the Machine Cult. It’s often important to keep faction in mind when purchasing cards within the game, as you’ll get bonuses in combat, trade or authority with multiple cards in play of the same faction.
Without the setup time of other deck-building games like Dominion, Star Realms can be enjoyed at a fast pace in between more involved board games. It has enough strategic depth to become the main game of a game night as well, though you’ll be playing several games throughout the course of one evening.
Do you have a favorite deck-building game? Let us know in the comment section below!
Image Credits: Ascension/Stone Blade Entertainment; The DC Comic Deck Building Game/Cryptozoic; Star Realms/White Wizard Games
Feature Image Credit: Star Realms/White Wizard Games