Speak to me of Deckbuilding Games

Reynard

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A friend recently introduced me to Clank! and I am a huge fan. I like the whole game, but the deckbuilding element was something I happen to have managed to miss somehow*, at least in its immediacy as found in Clank! Another friend more recently showed me Star Realms which doesn't have the board game element of Clank! but is a really fun deckbuilder. I think I like Clank! better simply because it combines the elements, but even so deckbuilding is my new favorite mechanic.

What other great deck building games are out there, particularly ones that combine it with a board or other aspect? Which ones are must plays and which ones should be avoided? Thanks!

*Except, on reflection, I realize that in its way Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a legacy deckbuilder, but it feels very different.
 

Victim

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Dominion was basically the origin of the genre, it's very pure as a deck builder, but still worth checking out IMO. I have the Intrigue stand alone expansion and the base set, both are good but I give the slight edge to Intrigue. In fact, I vastly prefer the 10 cards fixed at the start of the game to the rotating buy pool used in Star Realms, Legendary, all the crytozoic (I think) licensed deckbuilders, etc because it makes for a more strategic game.

Mage Knight the board game is giant crunchy deckbuilder that plays out much more slowly than most as you explore the land, fight monsters, and conquer cities while leveling up and recruiting armies. You only get 6 cycles through your deck, unlike normal deckbuilders. Its like a 3 hour game, unlike most deckbuilders which can often be pretty fast.

I haven't played Thunderstone or Ascension, which are some of the other big deck building names that I recall.
 

Cannonball

So bouncy!
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As mentioned, Dominion is the grandfather of the genre, but instead of it I would recommend checking out Heart of Crown. Despite, perhaps, the aesthetic I think it improves on Dominion's formula in marked ways while remaining close enough to be the same 'type' of game.
 

SuperZero

Probably up to something.
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The Legendary series is nice. The original is Marvel-themed, and is mostly cooperative. There's a bunch of Legendary Encounters games based on various franchises, and I own too many of them; those are fully cooperative.

One thing to watch out for in many deck-building games is balancing buying cards that make your gameplay better with cards that are worth points.
That doesn't apply in Legendary (buying new cards and attacking villains to win the game use different sets of points) and not much in Clank (you can buy cards that are largely useless but worth points, but most of your points usually come from playing on the board), but it's something I always fail at in Dominion and others. I need more practice.
 

CarpeGuitarrem

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Clank! is pretty novel for how it integrates the board with the deckbuilding, so there's not a whole lot of games like it. As to other games with deckbuilding elements I've played...

Dominion: the original, but imo not without its issues. Often, it feels like the winner is the one who spent the most time thinking before the game started, and that your actions during gameplay don't affect the course of the game very much; you're just executing your engine, and hopefully you chose the right one.

Puzzle Strike: works to get rid of the above problem with Dominion by introducing asymmetric starting decks. Now, each character wants to do something different, and you have to figure out what strategy is best for your character. Also, it's an aggressive game where you're damaging opponents directly, knocking them out of the game. Downside is that the game doesn't end itself very quickly; it's reliant on the players being competent, or else it can drag on. I quite like the added twists, though.

Star Realms: tight, trim, fast, and action-packed. My favorite of the "randomized trade row" deckbuilders because of that punchiness. There's a lot to learn about the game, and about the value of different cards, and it definitely feels like it's possible to adapt your deck to respond to your opponents. It's also an aggressive deckbuilder where you deal damage to opponents.

Hardback: a novel (heh) take on deckbuilding that fuses it with Scrabble/word games. Your cards are all letters, and while you can use any of your cards facedown as a wild card, you only get the effects of cards that you play face-up, for their letter. So you're also managing the mixture of letters in your deck, with rarer letters like Z or Q giving you more powerful effects. I haven't played it enough to attest to the balance across cards, but the word-construction element is actually really fun.

Legendary: a fun, if somewhat fiddly, cooperative game (technically competitive, because you're "competing" to see who can take out the most villains, but you're all working together to survive the villains). Honestly, it's more fun as a solo game because you have total freedom to assemble combos into your deck, instead of hoping that the other players leave you the cards. you need for your deck.

Eminent Domain: it's not really a deck-builder, it's a lot more like Puerto Rico/Race for the Galaxy's role selection, but there's a deck-building element. Each player, on their turn, chooses one of the six main roles (Survey, Warfare, Colonize, Produce, Trade, Research), and then every other player chooses whether to follow that role. But here's where the deckbuilding comes in: when you lead or follow a role, the strength of that action depends on how many cards you play with symbols that match the role. And when you lead a role, you add the corresponding card to your hand (and therefore to your discard pile, and eventually back to your deck). So it uses deck-building to give you a sort of "memory" in the game, where you get more powerful at the roles that you consistently lead.

Friday: fun, cheap little solo game with a lot of tight decisions. Actions in this game are a lot riskier/costlier than in most deckbuilders; the only way to trash cards is to lose against obstacles, which costs health points, and the only way to get powerful cards is to fight against difficult obstacles. Expect to do a lot of card-tracking and tight math evaluation/probability calculation if you want to do well.

Ascension: the precursor to Star Realms, but I'm pretty meh on it. The game is very reliant on the flop of the Trade Row, and whether you get monsters/cards to buy, depending on what your deck wants to do. There's also balance issues in a lot of the sets, with either a super-swingy monster or intra-faction balance being screwy. I'm also not a big fan of having to count up point cards at the end of the game.

Codex: not really a deck-building game, but it's a Magic: the Gathering-inspired game that uses a deckbuilding mechanism to avoid the issue of bad topdecks and being hard-countered by your opponent's deck. You add cards to your discard pile as you play the game, discarding your hand and redrawing every turn. So you can start to gear up for a specific strategy turns in advance, so that you only draw the cards you need when you need them. The biggest impact of the deckbuilding mechanism is that you have to time your reshuffles very precisely, sometimes. Overall, it's a game with a ton of thinky elements that can be optimized heavily, and I really enjoy it, but it's not a good representative of the deck-building genre.
 

slickam

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A couple I've played that haven't been mentioned yet.

Aeon's End: A co-op deckbuilder of wizards defending a city from monsters. Each wizard has a different starting deck, but the rest of the cards available are set per game (in a similar way to Dominion). One of the most unusual things about it is you never shuffle your deck. When you've gone through your deck you just flip it over and start drawing again. This lets you stack the deck to get more money out at once, or get a group of attack spells ready at the same time.

Mystic Vale: A deck builder where you start with a deck of cards that are mostly blank. Instead of adding cards to your deck, you add new abilities to existing cards. Each turn you can buy up to 2 plastic sheets that slide into the card sleeves that the game comes with, which give new abilities to these cards. Each card have 3 different abilities.

Shadowrift: Another co-op game of defending a town from monsters. The cards let you specialize, so the players can decide that someone will focus on physical damage, another on magical damage, and someone else is a healer (for example).
 

CarpeGuitarrem

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Oh shoot yeah, I totally forgot about Mystic Vale! Really cool setup, and the customization aspect is fun, because you're able to build custom cards. Some of my friends thought certain components were overpowered, but I'm not 100% certain I agree. Overall, cool game, and expansions also spice it up really nicely.
 

SuperZero

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Mystic Vale is pretty different from other deckbuilding games. Which cards are in your deck doesn't actually change, you transform the cards themselves.
 

Chikahiro

Neo•Geo Fanboy
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I adore Puzzle Strike by Sirlin Games. It’s a board game “spiritual descendent” of Puzzle Fighter (classic Capcom game which I love so much more than Tetris, Columns, or even Puyo Puyo its not even funny) where you combine small gems into bigger ones, then "crash" them to the other side in an attempt to get them to getting crushed by all of them (ie, end their turn with 10 or more gems in their play area).

Each game has you choosing 10 different stacks of chips that players can buy (can be randomized, from a list, whatever), plus each player chooses a character they want to play as CarpeGuitarrem CarpeGuitarrem mentioned. Each character has a style that works best for them (there's a really nice strategy guide I bought that goes over it), so they're going to naturally want certain chips more than others.

Each turn you:
  • Ante 1 chip into your playing field. You start at 0, and if at the end of your turn you have 10 or more its game over. Its possible for the ante to increase over time.
  • Play an action chip. You can only play one unless that chip allows you to play another (indicated by a colored arrow). If a chip has an arrow, you can play an action with the same color band across the top UNLESS the arrow is black (ie, "all colors"), in which case you can play any one chip after. This can keep going, so its possible to come up with fun combos from there. You will want to COMBINE your ante chips (1+1 = 2, 1+2 = 3, up to 4) to make them bigger and more powerful when attacking your opponent. And of course, you'll eventually want to CRASH them to attack or counter-attack/defend.
  • Buying phase. You have to buy something to add to your chip bank, otherwise you gain a WOUND which is a junk chip you generally don't want (exceptions exist).
  • Cleanup phase. Discard what's left of your hand (unless you have the choice to save something), and draw up to X many chips, where X is dependent on how big your gem-pile is in the playing field. The higher your stack, the more chips you can draw. Its a comeback mechanic in some regards, and can be really quite exciting :)
Its pretty easy once you get it :)

http://www.sirlin.net/ps/rules - PDF rules
http://www.sirlin.net/pss/rules - PDF rules for the stand-alone game/expansion, Puzzle Fighter Shadows. New chips and new characters :)

I've played it one on one, 3 player, and 4 player. Its a great game. Fun thing with multiplayer is when somebody is knocked out? Determine winner then. Whoever has the lowest gem pile wins, so you have an incentive to prevent someone from going out - you might not be the winner! So you could opt to protect a losing player or attack someone who is far from losing!
 

Crumbs

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Helionox is probably a pretty close fit to Clank! It has deck building, worker placement granted it is very light worker placement, and pawn movement with pickup and delivery aspects.

SciFi theme plays solo, co-op and competative with a player cap of four. Currently the deluxe version sells for $45 but the deluxe gets you the base game and expansion.
 
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