Let us have a look today at pretty broad and varied category of boardgames – ones with deck-building mechanics. Unlike trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering, the process of deck construction is a game itself – so there is no need for tedious research and collection to make sure you have best tools in hand.
Of course, the deck-building itself is usually combined with other mechanics, which might include tactical combat (see Undaunted below), characters development (see Gloomhaven) or strategic forces redeployment (see Time of Crisis). This is like a tool to a broader concept of the game, which using that mechanics are very replayable, giving a new experience each time.
Disclaimer: I did not put here games I have not played. In that way I can support each and every from below recommendations. On the other hand, there are probably other titles in that category I am oblivious to. Do not hesitate to share them in comments section!
Other articles in the series:
Gloomhaven from Cephalofair Games
After playing over 50 Gloomhaven scenarios and finishing the whole campaign, you should not be surprised to see that title here. This is a great tactical combat boardgame where players will take on the role of a wandering adventurers with their own special set of skills and their own reasons for traveling to this dark corner of the world (personal goals allowing retirement!).
Players must work together out of necessity to clear out menacing dungeons and forgotten ruins (yes, this is cooperative game!). In the process, they will enhance their abilities with experience and loot, discover new locations to explore and plunder, and expand an ever-branching story fueled by the decisions they make (a fantastic, RPG element of the game). All of this while building their tailored card deck, which will get new possibilities with each level up.
There are so many things I like about that game that I will mention only few. First and foremost, thrill of developing and leveling-up your character – especially, getting two card choices where you need to decide on one and enhance your deck. Then the retirement mechanics – this is fundamental aspect of the game which is seamlessly incorporated into the whole adventure. And this is so much refreshing, intriguing and motivating to progress through the game.
We should not forgot about variable difficulty and resulting exciting sessions. After couple of initial sessions we learned it is too easy for us and started to play on Hard and Very Hard levels. Last but not least, the adventures not connected with main story line and random scenario generator. That gave our team so much additional fun, being able to do some very interesting and challenging side quests.
I spent more than 50 sessions over 3 years with that great game and I definitely feel this was a time well spent. It requires devotion from the team – as you can see in my summary of our campaign, only few of us played from the start till the conclusion. Still, this is the best part of it – the continued growth of your characters, their development, deck-building and how that interacts with the team and the world. Really, highly recommended!
More about game:
- My articles on the blog
- Full campaign statistical analysis
- Analysis for the most confusing rules and most often errors
- BGG page
Time of Crisis from GMT Games
Of course, I would not be myself if a wargame would not be present on that list. Let us talk about Time of Crisis, a game deeply rooted in ancient history which as you very well know, I am fan of!
Third century AD was not the happiest era for the Roman Empire. Actually, it was almost end of its might. Torn by internal squabbles as well as external barbarian invasions it was at the verge of collapse. The game uses of course well-established deck-building mechanics, as well as a hand management. It covers all important elements of the epoch: Praetorian Guard, civil wars, barbarian invasions, angry mobs, rival emperors, pretenders, etc.
Players take role of one of the Roman dynasties building – via influence cards – its power in military, political and public approval areas. They can construct huge public buildings, fight with other families (for glory) or with barbarians and foreign leaders (for even more glory!) Thanks to the superb expansion, there is also a possibility to play solitaire.
The game is easy to learn, can be played in 2-3 hours and is a great introduction – as a light option – to the world of wargames. On top, GMT stood to its reputation and made sure that the components of the highest quality were used.
Let me now tell you about some of the aspects I especially value in this game. First and foremost, the deck building mechanics – that is really great and interesting – a real puzzle within the game; from level 2 to 4 cards have not only more points to spent but also special event to use. And you need to be very careful not to buy too many of them – as you dilute your hand.
Then, the quality of components – GMT really shines in that area and I am very satisfied with the pieces created for the game. Probably something which will not be a surprise for you – The game is very thematic and you can really feel the Roman Empire being torn apart by internal and external dangers. And it has a fantastic expansion, giving access to new cards, emperors and bots!
In my humble opinion, Time of Crisis should find place on the shelf of every GMT Games fan. The game is really interesting, thematic and fast, has expansion extending its replayability, allows for play with intuitive and easy to learn bots. On top of this, the position has some nicely incorporated luck factors and events, which influence game in unpredictable way from time to time. Highly recommended!
More about game:
Undaunted from Osprey Games
Undaunted: Normandy is another deck-building game; this one places you and your opponent in command of American or German forces, fighting through a series of missions critical to the outcome of World War II. It is set-up mainly during the Normandy invasion, in June 1944.
You use your cards to seize the initiative, bolster your forces, or control your troops on the battlefield. The game mechanics quickly and effectively resolves move, scout or battle aspects. And each battle plays completely differently. What is more, the game is pretty open for modding and fan-made scenarios so we are getting endless number of possible set-up
In its rule simplicity, the game gives you huge potential for tweaking and constructing the winning deck. You can decide only on some types of troops, you may want to thin-out the deck or you can risk going all in into spamming Fog of War against your enemy, thus clogging his hand.
If you add to this very appealing theme of the World War II Normandy fighting (with expansions, also other theaters), decent components, multitude of scenarios and huge replayability – you are getting a great product in deck-building category. What is more, its reasonably low entry barrier, makes this title perfect for new adepts of wargaming, and this from very young age!
More about game:
Clank! from Renegade Game Studios
Clank! is of course a deck-building game. Each player has their own deck, and building yours up is part of playing the game – but only as a mean to achieve goals – gaining as much treasures as possible! You start each of your turns with five cards in your hand, and you’ll play them all in any order you choose. Most cards will generate resources, of which there are three different kinds:
- Skill, which is used to acquire new cards for your deck.
- Swords, which are used to fight the monsters that infest the dungeon.
- Boots, which are used to move around the board.
Each player starts with the same cards in their deck, but they’ll acquire different cards during their turns. Because cards can do many different things, each player’s deck (and strategy) will become more and more different as the game unfolds.
Now, as for the main game goals – there are two of them: Retrieve an Artifact token & escape the dragon by returning to the place you started, outside of the dungeon. At the same time, accumulate enough points / wealth with your Artifact and other loot to beat out your opponents and earn the title of Greatest Thief in the Realm!
The game definitely did not fail to satisfy my expectations. Couple of things I would like to underline:
- Very thematic game to play, with dragon, dungeons, monsters and other adventurers competing with you!
- Good replay value – we have two boards, each of them can be set-up in multiple ways due to hidden treasures. Not to mention different choice of cards each turn.
- Fantastic support from the publisher – clearly visible in amount of expansions and top-quality digital apps supporting the game; I would love to see more of such examples!
In essence, perfect position in the deckbuilding genre, which will give your fun for long hours!
More about the game:
- My articles on the blog
- Base game – first impressions
- Expeditions: Gold and Silk – first impressions
- The Mummy’s Curse – first impressions
Above I presented only a few titles from vast array of board and wargames. The deck-building mechanism is very popular, and widely used in all types of titles. I am glad to see it more and more introduced into the conflict-type positions, enhancing greatly the variety of game mechanics and experience.
Tell me, what are yours favorite deck-building titles?
I share your love for these (except Gloomhaven, which I haven’t played). Deck-building is an awesome mechanic!
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True, and I am so glad it entered the world of wargames!
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