Ever since Dominion came out in 2008 there have been an ever-growing number of games using the deck-building mechanism, or sometimes a variant such as bag-building. I enjoy the mechanism, but games utilising it have been hit or miss. Here’s my top 10 list of games using deck or bag building. Will Dominion make the top 10??
10) Heart of Crown
Heart of Crown uses anime-style artwork and a theme where the players are trying to get their candidate Princess to be the one who succeeds to the throne. It borrows from Dominion in most of the gameplay, but with a rotating market so that not all cards are available each turn. The early part of the game is building up your deck but at some point you nominate an available Princess and provide a ‘Realm’ for them. After that you need to obtain cards with succession points and get them scored under your princess, with the game over once someone gets to 20 succession points. It takes a well known system but adds an interesting requirement in needing a Princess and needing to score the succession cards.
Valletta is a game that flew under my radar initially but I discovered it a couple of years after it came out and have quite enjoyed my games of it. One of the different things about it is that you draw a hand of five cards but will only play three of them in a given turn. However, unplayed cards remain in your hand. Also, cards that are bought go straight into your hand and can be played immediately. There’s also a spatial element as the cards are laid out in a grid forming the city, and to obtain a card the player pays resources to build a building, add one of their houses there and take the card from the space. There are a few reasons for wanting to build in certain spots other than just to get the specific card, so it makes the decisions more interesting. I was pleasantly surprised by this game.
The gameplay in this game is quite simple, so I’m adding this one in as an option for a deck building game to play with children or family. Each player has a deck for one of the Tea Dragons and are then playing cards into their hold (tableau) or spending cards from their hold to acquire market items or make memories with their dragon to score points. The game is all about grooming, feeding and otherwise looking after your tea dragons, while trying to keep them out of mischief, to make memories throughout the four seasons of the game. The artwork is great and the game is based off the Tea Dragon Society graphic novel, which my daughter loves.
I admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for science themed games, so I’ve enjoyed and own a bunch of the stuff from Genius Games. The gameplay isn’t overly complicated, but there are still a few different decisions to make and directions a player can go in. Cards can be played for energy or for their subatomic particles, and players can spend those to obtain new cards or to complete element cards which are worth points. There are end game objectives to consider, and scientist cards that can be bought to give special bonuses as well. It’s a really solid game, and on top of that, all the Genius Games include information on the science behind the game, so they are great for educational purposes too.
6) Star Realms
Star Realms is a great game that comes in a small package. One deck is enough for 2 players, but you can play with more by adding a second deck (or more). Each player starts with 50 ‘life’ points and the objective is to reduce the other player(s) to zero. Cards come in one of four factions and often have additional abilities if you play other cards of their faction on a turn. The market is constantly shifting, so it’s often quite tactical more than strategic, but it just flows really well and plays very quickly.
In this game players start with a deck of tiles and are drafting additional tiles each round. It has a timed tile-laying phase, where players draw and place the tiles in their deck to form their Sorcerer City, with all tiles being shuffled up again each round, so you start from scratch. The timed element is perfect from preventing too much analysis paralysis and makes the game flow pretty quickly. After the time runs out players generate four different kinds of resource based on the layout of their city, before spending to buy new tiles, earning reward cards and victory points. I can’t think of another game that combines these mechanisms but everything just seems to work really well together.
The granddaddy of all deck-building games, and one that I still rate very highly. The expansions add a wide variety of new types of cards and new mechanisms, but at heart it’s a straightforward, if somewhat themeless, deck-builder. I like to play around and try out the different cards, and with so many kingdom cards available it really does offer huge variety. If you start with the base game or maybe just add in one expansion it’s simple to explain and introduce people to this kind of game. I’m still happy to go back to this game time and time again and i always enjoy it.
Clank! combines deck-building with a dungeon-delving theme of getting in, snatching the loot and getting out. The adventure card row is a rotating one, but there are always some generic cards available which can often be a good choice. I love this game. The push your luck element of the ever-growing dragon threat, the excitement of seeing what comes up in the card row, the minor and major secrets, the option of buying market items. It just all works so well and takes deck-building to the next level for me. If you add in some of the expansions with different maps or characters with asymmetrical abilities and starting decks it adds even more variety and cool options. The Space version is also great, but I prefer the fantasy theme myself.
Orleans is a bag-builder, where players buy different worker tokens and every round draw a certain number of them from their bag to spend doing a variety of actions. Some actions will get new workers, others will move their player piece on the map to earn resource tokens or add trading posts to earn points, or build buildings which provide abilities or new action spaces. Each round there is an event that can affect things, and as the game progresses players can send workers to the beneficial deeds board to earn bonuses or points and get them out of their pool. I love deck-building and worker placement and this combines both in a really great way. I’ve played this a lot with my wife and we both love it.
Wait, Clank again? Ok, it may be cheating to have this here, but I love it so much. Regular Clank is fantastic and I still play that often. But Clank Legacy is perfection. I admit that I didn’t know anything about the Acquisitions Incorporated Penny Arcade theming, but it works really well to add an overarching storyline. Clank is amazing. Legacy games with constantly changing rules, extra cards, additional board elements and more are amazing. Put them both together and it really is head and shoulders above all other deck-building and legacy games I’ve played. It’s so satisfying to get to read passages from the Book of Secrets, add stickers to the board or cards and unlock new rules. I don’t want to spoil anything but it also somewhat incentivizes the players to work together a little bit, rather than just straight up trying to hose each other. I love this game. I really hope a sequel is in the works.