What is a Deckbuilding Game?

A Deckbuilding Game is a style of competitive / for-fun card game that, on the surface, looks pretty similar to the likes of collectible card games you might already be familiar with. But there’s a few key differences that end up making Deckbuilding games very different, and a lot less expensive than their collectible counterparts.

So what’s the difference? Pretty simple: In a collectible card game using constructed decks, players build their decks before the game starts. This is your Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, your Pokemon TCG, your Magic: The Gathering, your Yu-Gi-Oh!, and so on and so forth. In these games, players purchase either physical cards or digital cards individually or in packs, and then combine those cards in interesting and inventive ways to form decks. They then pit said decks against one another in games of two to (theoretically) ten hundred billion players, and whoever gets rid of the other guy’s life counter-thingy first is the winner.

But in a Deck Building game, such as the semi-popular Dominion and the less-popular Ascension, players construct their decks as part of the game.

The central loop goes like this:

Each player starts with an identical set of weak cards that they can play to gain resources usable during their turns. When their turn ends, all acquired resources reset to zero.

During a turn, they can then spend those resources to interact with a set of face-up cards in the center of the board, a set that is visible to and used by both players.

When a card disappears from the center in some way, whether through a player obtaining it or getting rid of it, it is replaced instantly. Some games keep their central pool cards in neat, identical stacks to ensure players always have the same choices available to them at all times, while others shuffle all options into a single deck, meaning the options in the pool at any one time are random and unpredictable.

In most cases, when a player interacts with a card in the center pool, it will be to “buy” that card and move it into their own discard pile. Players draw and play 5 cards from their draw pile each round, and starting decks are small enough so that the draw pile runs dry in about 2 turns.

But no worries: When this happens, players shuffle their discards face-down and use that to replace the draw pile. This means that cards players ‘buy’ will show up later as cards they can then play. Purchasable cards are almost always better than what players will start with, leading to a satisfying escalation as players buy increasingly powerful cards to gain increasingly numerous resources to buy even stronger cards, and so on.

Players don’t get to see each other’s hands, but do get to see what cards they buy from the center. This allows them to guess and build against the strategy of the other player, or determine what cards in the center their opponent wants and get rid of them or buy them first.

The mechanics by which victory is determined vary largely based on the game, but players usually don’t win by directly “defeating” one another.


Those are the basics.

With that explanation, you’ve got all you need to understand the meat of the two reviews, but if you need more information to decide whether a deckbuilding game sounds interesting to you, keep reading.

If you want to get back to the reviews, skip to the links at the bottom.

Still here? Cool. Moving on…

Both Collectible and Deckbuilding Card Games have their advantages and disadvantages versus the other. I’ll do my best to sum up some of the most important ones below:

Collectible Card Games usually have many more unique cards than Deck Building Games. The ability to build a deck before a game starts can allow players to express their own strategic interests in more specific and dramatic ways.

It can also allow players to consistently play the strategies they like most, whereas deck building games will force players to build and adapt their decks on the fly based on which options they can afford from the central “pool”. In addition, every new opponent a player goes up against in a Collectible Card Game has the ability to surprise that player and to expose new and unexpected strategies, once again due to the pre-constructed decks.

On the other hand, Deckbuilding Games are much cheaper and easier to get into than Collectible Card Games. While many Collectible Card Games offer some kind of pre-made “starter deck” for newbies, players are expected to adapt and build out of those decks fairly quickly through the purchase of either random packs or individual cards from third-party retailers.

In addition, while most Collectible Card Games aren’t directly “Pay To Win”, cards grow in value based on how useful they are, and more money can buy a more effective deck in a CCG. Deckbuilding Games don’t have playermade decks, so a person can’t actually buy themselves into an advantaged state. This reduces the “Arms Race” aspect of a lot of CCG’s.

Deckbuilding Games also require a greater commitment from the player to adapt their strategies on the fly. Collectible Card Game decks tend to center around a specific strategy, and if that strategy isn’t working, there’s often not much that can be done, at least not mid-game, to save yourself from the loss. But Deckbuilding games allow you to adapt your strategy on a turn-by-turn basis, investing in different options to beat out what your opponent has.

Assuming you made it through all this boring exposition, you’re now ready to move onto the meat and potatoes of either of the two reviews.

Return through these links:

Part 1 (Dominion)                                             Part 2 (Ascension)

 

Featured Image Via Flickr / Sang Valte

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I’m a nerd with a wild sense of humor. I’m very good at running tabletop games (Like Dungeons & Dragons), or at least that’s what my players would tell you. I spend about as much time writing new content for those games as I do working on jobs or internships, and love every second of it. I'm a lover of dogs and mint chocolate chip, and my favorite dinosaur is the ankylosaurus. I also play racquetball with friends at least four times a week, go to the gym six times a week, and go for jogs around the neighborhood when I have time, because health is important and stuff. Eat them greens, yo.
  • Alyssa

    That sounds fun