Slay the Spire piqued my curiosity in the finest deck-building board games. Slay the Spire’s card-drafting mechanics stood out amid the hordes of twin-stick shooters and dungeon crawlers that I’ve been playing recently.
I liked how I had to create my plan as I went along, making changes as each upgrade and relic came my way. Deck-building games soon rose to the top of my “to-play” list when I eventually got around to playing more board games.
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If you want to try out the deck-building genre (or if you just want to add a few more games to your library), check out our list of the top ten deck builder games below!
Deck-Building Board Games: What Are They?
The deck-building genre is a subset of the engine-building genre. Throughout the game, you’ll pull cards from a communal stack to build your own effective deck. Because the cards frequently specify your actions and resources, modifying your deck to meet your desired strategy (or vice versa) is an important component of gaming.
Deck-building games typically include any or all of the following mechanics:
Drafting is the process of selecting things (cards, tiles, dice, etc.) from a common pool.
Cooperative: working together with other players to tackle a common danger
Conclusion-of-Game Bonuses: gaining or losing extra points at the end of the game
Hand Management is collecting incentives for playing cards in a specific order.
Consider this: hindering the advancement of another player without eliminating them.
Variable Player Powers: Players have specific abilities that are only available to them.
Variable Setup: the starting game state may alter from one replay to the next.
Remember that deck-building games are not the same as collectable card games (CCGs) in that you do not utilise card packs to create your deck on your own time and you do not compete against opponents and their decks. Instead, during the game, you all utilise the same base deck and draw pile.
The Top 10 Deck-Building Board Games
Now that we’ve established what sort of games we’re searching for, here are our recommendations for the finest deck-building games.
Overall, the finest deck-building board game
Donald X. Vaccarino designed it | Players: 2-4 | Duration: 30min | Difficulty: 2/5
It is commonly understood that a single player with a few estate cards and a handful of copper pieces will need additional cards to establish his dominion. The purpose of Dominion is to claim new land for your kingdom by drawing and spending cards, accumulating enough points to be crowned the winner.
The original deck-building game, Dominion, influenced many of the other titles on this list. We rated it the greatest deck-building game overall because it continues to be one of the most popular alternatives, even as the genre has developed. If you want to get into the genre, this is a great place to start!
The End of Aeons
The greatest small-group deck-building board game
Kevin Riley designed it; players: 1-4; duration: 60 minutes; difficulty: 3/5
Aeon’s End is a cooperative game in which you and your fellow players must defend the city of Gravehold against monsters. Collect cards representing new spells and abilities and use them to beat your foe. You win when your opponent’s health reaches zero!
Aeon’s End employs flexible turn order to simulate war pandemonium, but it’s still a game best played in a small group. We think it’s the finest 2 person deck-building game since it has some strange mechanisms that slow down the tempo and bog down the game even more than a larger group would.
Alien Deck Building Game Legendary Encounters
The most enjoyable cooperative deck-building game
Ben Cichoski, Daniel Mandel | 1-5 players | 30-60 minutes | 3/5 difficulty
Legendary Encounters is an Alien-themed co-op deck-building game. You and your fellow players assume the roles of famous movie characters, recruiting cards and fighting Xenomorphs as they arise. You win after the alien danger has been removed!
The automobiles you collect will increase your chances of defeating Xenomorphs without losing any friends. While the aliens are your main worry, you’ll also want to work together to fulfil different objectives (based on movie events or your own script) and survive unexpected risks and incidents.
If you enjoy this game, you should try Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game for similar gameplay with a superhero twist!
The greatest deck-building game for experienced players
Vlaada Chvátil designed it | Players: 1-4 | Duration: 60-240min | Difficulty: 4/5
Mage Knight is a complex deck-building game that rewards careful preparation and study. You command one of four Mage Knights, and your turns are spent exploring the board and building your deck with army recruitment, potent spells, and game-changing actions. Your deck will aid you in conquering territory in the cause of your faction, so devise a plan that will provide the highest rewards at the conclusion of the game!
Mage Knight is a competitive, cooperative, or solitary game. Keep in mind that this is an extremely intricate and technically tough game; you might want to try a few other deck-building games first.
The greatest deck-building game for medium-sized groups
Paul Dennen designed it; players: 2-4; duration: 30-60 minutes; difficulty: 2/5
Explore treasure-filled dungeons in quest of gold. The deepest dungeons provide more valuable prizes, but only the most daring criminals dare to pursue such enticing riches. The dungeons are crawling with enemies, and rousing the dragon that sleeps in the darkest parts of the dungeon might mean that your riches and life are forfeit.
The aim is to steal an item and survive the dungeons, but you also want to acquire more treasure than any other players who escape. Create a deck that will boost your stealing powers while also ensuring you exit the dungeon with everything intact.
The finest novice deck-building game
Star Realms is a battle strategy game. You assume the role of a general, assembling an army from various space groups and gaining Authority as your troops expand. But be wary: your opponent is gathering their forces as well and intends to take you down. Attack your opponent and eliminate them until you’re the only one left standing.
Because of its fighting, we mentioned Star Realms in our list of the finest engine-building games. Fighting the opposing player is a hands-on experience that involves careful hand management and mastery of the various factions. It is critical to develop a plan and design your deck accordingly.
Thunderstone Quest 7
The most replayable deck-building game on the market
Mike Elliott, Bryan Reese, and Mark Wootton designed it. Players: 2-4 | Duration: 60-90 minutes | Difficulty: 3/5
Thunderstone Quest could be the game for you if you appreciate the notion of a fantasy adventure but found Mage Knight to be too difficult (and not exciting enough) for your tastes. Follow a plot of special missions and side quests, equipping your deck with heroes and equipment to keep them going as you journey into deadly dungeons for your prizes.
There are several ways to play this game because there are so many distinct tasks accessible (not to mention specific heroes, monsters, and equipment). Thunderstone Quest is the most replayable deck-building game on this list, since you can expect an exciting and unique experience every time you play.
The most enjoyable casual deck-building board game
Hisashi Hayashi | Players: 2-4 | Time: 45min | Difficulty: 2/5
Don’t be fooled by the simple packaging – Trains is an intriguing and casually strategic game that’s ideal for low-stakes entertainment. You play as a railroad business, acquiring lesser enterprises to expand your monopoly and stake your claim on the Japanese countryside. Purchase cards and build new stations and railways to increase your influence and keep up with your opponents.
If you like Ticket to Ride, you should check out this game. It offers all of the excitement of planning routes and buying trains, but with a somewhat more sophisticated strategy.
The greatest themed deck-building game
Designers: Mike Elliott, Rob Heinsoo, Jim Lin, Gregory Marques, Sean McCarthy, Jay Schneider, and Rob Watkins | Duration: 30-60 minutes | Difficulty: 3/5
Shadowrun: Crossfire is a game for everyone who like Cyberpunk 2077. You and your teammates will collaborate to complete objectives while avoiding the myriad perils that swarm the streets of the Sixth World. The game stands on the border between science fiction and fantasy, merging neon lights and magical mayhem for the ultimate genre style.
Building a strong deck and earning enough Karma to fund your next cybernetic upgrade are the keys to success. Each new game introduces new tasks and techniques, so teamwork is essential for overcoming the obstacles thrown your way.
The greatest large-group deck-building board game
Designer: Jeremy Anderson | Players: 1–6 | Time: 45–120 minutes | Difficulty: 3/5
Evils from beyond the Shadowrift are attacking Haven Town, and you and your fellow heroes must work together to defeat them. Purchase additional cards for your deck to arm yourself against the threat, gradually increasing your armament and reputation until you reach the status of full-fledged hero. However, certain creatures are more aggressive than others and will assault Haven Town when you least expect it. Balance your plan and collaborate closely with your colleagues to establish the best effective defence and permanently drive out the monsters.
Keep in mind that Shadowrift is a lengthy and demanding game. You’re settling in for an hour-long campaign, since the game doesn’t end until the final shadowrift is closed. If you prefer games like War of the Ring, Gloomhaven, or TTRPGs but want something a little more low-key, get a bunch of pals and try Shadowrift – it’s the finest of the greatest deck-building board games for bigger groups.