Deck-building games are a relatively new family of board games, having emerged as recently as 2008. By necessity, deck-building games are card games. Their core mechanic involves buying cards from a common supply and adding them to your deck (your personal stack of cards). On your turn, you will draw a hand of cards from your deck and use them to acquire more or better cards from the supply, building up your deck step by step.
Deck building games have their origin, as far as a single origin for any game mechanic can be determined, in trading card games (TCGs) like Magic – The Gathering. Here, building your deck is not strictly speaking part of the game: you assemble your deck before the match starts.Less strictly speaking, of course, deck building is the most important part of the game. Without a well-constructed deck, no amount of skill in the match will save you. For many players (yours truly included) creating the deck from literally thousands of possibilities turned out to be the more interesting part and playing with it was just to prove how good it was. It was only a matter of time before someone created a game that included the deck-building part as a core game mechanic.
That someone was Donald X. Vaccarino, author of Dominion. Dominion was the first deck-building game and is still one of the most popular ones and one of the most typical games for the genre: all you do is build your deck and use the cards in it to build it bigger and more valuable, nothing else comes into it.
Deck-building games don’t make you deal with thousands of cards like their trading card ancestors do – building a competitive deck from that vast selection of options can literally takes days, and at least around here few people want to take days off to finish a game. Slackers. Anyway, you’re more likely to deal with 5 to 20 cards at a time – still more than enough to find lots of clever interactions between the cards. There are different approaches to keep deck-building games from becoming boring after a few plays – a real risk if you were just building your deck from the same cards every time.
One thing that deck-building games inherited from TCGs is the ease with which they can be expanded: a box full of cards shuffled into the common supply and voila, your game is expanded. Accordingly, many expansion exist or are in planning. Dominion is currently awaiting it’s fifth expansion Cornucopia; Thundertone, another popular example of the genre is with three expansions, Arctic Scavengers has two.
And now you know about deck-building games.
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The photo of Arctic Scavengers in the middle of the collage was taken by Scott Everts and shared on BoardGameGeek with a CC-BY-NC-SA license. Thanks Scott! The Dominion photos are from our own review.