In 2008, game designer Donald X. Vaccarino released a card game called Dominion upon the world. This box of 500 cards introduced gamers everywhere to the “deck building” mechanic, and it’s fair to say that the world loved it. Dominion went on to win a variety of different awards, including the coveted Spiel des Jahres in 2009. Since then, there have been many new games to take their shot at the deck building genre. But which game is the best?
We decided it was time to take a look, so we dug through the boxes of deck builders out there and picked out 10 favorites. It was really hard to pare this list down, and some good games didn’t even make the cut, but we were finally able to narrow it down to our (almost) ten favorites. Just for clarity’s sake, we are only considering deck building games (games that use the Dominion mechanic of adding cards to your play deck as the game progresses). We aren’t including “deck construction” games, or games where you build your deck before the game (Magic: The Gathering, Netrunner, Etc…). To go with that, we are only counting deck building games, not dice building games.
So with that out-of-the-way, I present our Top 10 Deck Building Games.
Top 10 Deck Building Games
Honorable Mention: Valley of the Kings
Just missing the cut is this clever little box game from AEG. Valley of the Kings has players competing for set collection in a thematic Egyptian game. With a neat pyramid mechanic for buying cards, Valley of the Kings forces players to make some hard decisions during the game. In addition, players only get points for the cards they stash in their tomb (making them inaccessible for the rest of the game). So if you want to use those cards during the game, then you won’t score points from them.
10. Friday (review)
A game for one, Friday is a great solo card game that has the player trying to survive on a desert island. Players will be challenged to overcome encounters and when they do, they will learn skills that will help them against future challenges. Friday has a neat risk vs reward mechanic that will have you constantly on your toes trying to make the best decision. There are not many solo games that I own, but this one tops on my list.
9. Star Realms (review)
If you’ve played Ascension, then you’ll have a good feel for Star Realms. This game takes the Ascension concept and adds in a SciFi feel and some direct conflict with your opponent. Designed by two Magic: The Gathering hall of famers, this enjoyable little card game is both easy to learn and fun to play. The best part about Star Realms is that a $15 deck of cards is all that’s required to play the game with 2 players. At that price point, it’s hard not to grab a copy.
8. A Few Acres of Snow
A Few Acres of Snow is an asymmetrical board game set during the colonial era of North America. One player controls the British while another the French in an area control battle for the continent. A Few Acres of Snow is a lot of fun and fairly unique as well. Players will have to manage their troops around the game board and all while trying to build up their deck with more efficient cards. History buffs and deck building fans will both want to check out this popular Martin Wallace title.
7. Core Worlds
Core Worlds is a deck building game where players control a space-faring empire and set out to conquer other planets. Players must build up ships and technology before the moving deeper into the galaxy on a mission of conquest. While Core Worlds is a great game in its own right, it is also incredibly improved with the Galactic Orders expansion that adds to the game in a variety of ways. If you pick up Core Worlds, consider Galactic Orders to be a must as well.
6. Legendary: Marvel Deck Building Game (review)
This semi-cooperative card game has players taking on the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents trying to assemble a team of super heroes to derail the evil mastermind’s scheme. Legendary is semi-cooperative because while all players are working together to defeat the mastermind, each enemy defeated is worth victory points for the player who takes him down. Once the mastermind is defeated, only the player with the most victory points wins. Of course if the mastermind succeeds in his scheme, then everybody loses. Legendary is a great game for anyone who is a fan of the Marvel Universe and also used to be my favorite game in the Legendary line…
5. Shadowrun: Crossfire
This cooperative card game set in the fantastic Shadowrun universe has players taking on a specific role in a team of runners, trying to accomplish the scenario’s mission. The game is fairly difficult to win and absolutely requires cooperation from all four players if you expect to survive. One of the best things about Shadowrun: Crossfire is that players can “level up” their runners between games by spending the karma they earn on upgrade stickers, making them just a little bit stronger. If you are looking for a campaign style card game, Shadowrun: Crossfire is a great candidate. With the addition of future expansions, I could easily see this game being played as a long running campaign.
4. Blood Bowl: Team Manager (review)
In Blood Bowl: Team Manager, players are managing a team of football (not soccer) players competing on the grid iron. Each player gets to control a unique team based around the different races in the Blood Bowl universe. As players win matches, they will be able to recruit star athletes into their deck, in addition to staff and team upgrades. These new athletes are much improved over what players start out the game with, making players want to quickly earn these cards. Great artwork, quick game play and highly interactive, this one is a must own for any Blood Bowl Fan.
3. Mage Knight: The Board Game
Probably the most complex game on this list, Mage Knight: The Board Game has players taking their Mage Knight across the unknown land, discovering new places, fighting enemies and powering up via the deck building mechanic. As a Mage Knight gains experience, they will add more powerful spells to their deck of cards. If you are looking for a fantasy themed deck builder with some deep game play and an epic feel, this one is for you. As an added bonus, Mage Knight: The Board Game works well both as a solo game or with other players.
2. Legendary: Alien Encounters
One of the newest offerings on this list, having only been released a Gen Con 2014, Legendary: Alien Encounters became an instant hit with our gaming group. Legendary: Alien Encounters takes some of the familiar mechanics of Marvel Legendary and turns it into a similar, but better game in my opinion. The game is now fully cooperative, but there is also a chance someone will turn traitor during the game. If a player gets infected with a “facehugger” card and doesn’t deal with it quick enough, it will put a “chest buster” card into their discard pile. If that cards is ever drawn, it bursts out of them and turns them into an Alien player (complete with their own deck of Alien cards). Legendary: Alien Encounters is easy to learn, highly thematic and also difficult to win. All these, combined with the fact that there are scenarios to allow the players to play through all the Aliens movies, help make Legendary: Alien Encounters one of the top games on our list.
1. Dominion (review)
The granddaddy of deck building games, Dominion is the one that started it all. With more expansions then you could ever want, Dominion has enough variety to keep you entertained for the long haul. While the theme may be clearly tacked on, its game play is rock solid, easy to learn and can still act as a gateway game to the other deck builders on this list. If you are looking for a great deck builder that can appeal to just about anyone, Dominion is it. For people who have never played a deck builder before, Dominion is probably the best place to start. After you’ve got a good feel for the mechanics of the game, you can scroll up on this list and find a theme that really appeals to you and jump in there with minimal effort. But for being the most flexible, most accessible and having the broadest appeal, Dominion earns the top spot in our Top 10 Deck Builders list.
So there you have it, our Top Ten Deck Building Games. There were many games we liked and they couldn’t all make the list. Games we enjoy, such as Galactic Strike Force or Ascension, were close but eventually got bumped by games we liked better. Deck building is quite the popular mechanic, so it’s no surprise there are so many games that utilize it, with more coming out all the time. Did we miss your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!