Deck building games have established themselves as one of the most strategic genre of board games. They require strategic planning in terms of which cards you want to buy so they’re in your deck later, and a lot of tactical skill to play the cards in your hand as effectively as possible. In this post we rank the top 5 best deck building games.
What Are Deck Building Games?
Deck building games are games in which players all have their own deck, and they can obtain new cards for their deck from a public card pool. Players try to improve their deck by gaining more and more powerful cards into their deck. Eventually their deck should meet some victory condition of the game so that they win.
Deck Building Games Vs. Collectible Card Games
Deck building games are similar to collectible card games but with a few key differences.
Firstly, in collectible card games, players usually bring a finished deck to the game with which they play. In deck building games, players build the majority of their deck during the game.
Secondly, in collectible card games it’s common for players to own their own collection of cards, which they try to curate with rare or powerful cards. Deck building games always come with all cards of that game so there’s no curating involved and players don’t need a private collection to play.
How To Choose The Best Deck Building Game
If you’re looking to get a deck building game, there’s a few things you need to look out for.
Are You A Beginner?
Deck building games quite often are made for ‘the geek gamer’. They often involve rather large and complicated rule sets that hardcore board gamers really enjoy. Therefore, a lot of deck building games are not beginner friendly at all.
In our reviews we’ll mention whether a deck building game is or isn’t beginner friendly.
Do You Like Cooperative Or Competitive Games?
Deck building games lend themselves to a cooperative game format, so a lot of them can be played co-op.
Co-op games can be refreshing but competitive games are generally still more popular, so you have to decide for yourself which kind you are interested in.
Does The Deck Builder Have Good Expansions?
Popular deck building games often get expansions, because making an expansion is as easy as creating an extra set of cards. Therefore, having many expansions is a marker of that deck building game being popular.
And more importantly, a big set of expansions means that if you fall in love with that game, you’ll be able to continue playing it for a very long time. So having great expansions is a huge plus for deck building games.
Will You Play With 2 Or More Players?
Designers of deck building games face some dilemmas. One is that not all cards that work great in groups also work great with 2 players.
Especially cards with an ‘all other players’ effect, such as ‘all other players must give you a card of such-and-such type’ are naturally stronger in games with more players.
Most good deck building games therefore have a large set of cards, with some of them being great for 2 player games and other being great for bigger groups. And some games are even specifically designed for duels, which is something to consider if you’re looking to buy a deck building game for 2 players.
1. Dominion - The Father Of Deck Building Games
Dominion is the first deck building game and it’s still our favorite. It just has everything. It has a fantastic theme and great artwork. There are amazingly strong card combinations yet the game as a whole remains balanced. It’s easy enough to learn but takes years to master. There’s a reason Dominion won pretty much all the board game awards when it came out.
Moreover, the long list of Dominion expansions that have came out over the years cement its number one spot in this ranking. These expansions also have fantastic themes and introduce interesting new game mechanics. And if you combine several different expansions you’ll keep finding cool new card combinations to play with.
There’s just no question about it: Dominion is number one in our ranking.
2. Ascension - For The Advanced Deck Builder
In Ascension players build their deck with powerful cards by spending runes. It’s a fast paced deck building game with incredibly solid and balanced game mechanics. This is not surprising, as its creators are professional Magic the Gathering players (among which Brian Kibler, a famous Hearthstone commentator).
The creators continually put out great expansions to the game. (Similarly to how collectible card games like Magic and Hearthstone put out expansions regularly.) So, Ascension is a game that you’ll be able to enjoy for a long time. And Ascensions and Aeon’s end are the only deck building games that can be played with 1 player.
We recommend Ascension for die hard deck building gamers especially. The designers just really put in a lot to be discovered and this will be best appreciated by equally dedicated players.
3. Star Realms - Deck Building For 2 Players
Star Realms is a space ship trading and combat game. Players use trade to acquire ships and bases, which they then use to trade more or to combat their opponents. The balance of trade and combat is at the core of this game.
Star Realms shines in its simplicity. It’s the quickest to learn deck building game in this list, and also the quickest to play. But, there’s still enough strategic depth in the game to want to master it by replaying it many times.
The base game was originally designed for 2 players, which is why it’s the best deck building game for duels. But, later expansions enable you to play the game with larger groups as well.
We recommend Star Realms to pretty much everyone because of its low price. But, it’s especially great if you’re looking to pick up a lighter deck builder gamer.
4. Aeon's End - Cooperative Deck Building
In Aeon’s end the players defend their forgotten underground city of Gravehold. They build their deck with relics, gems and minions in their attempt to defeat their Nameless assailants.
Aeon’s end is a unique deck building game because it’s cooperative. The players fight against the Nameless together. (Or by themselves with multiple characters, if they choose to play the game in solo mode.)
The game reminds one a lot of a D&D campaign, as it has random turn order and seemingly infinite options for the players. It’s also by far the most complex game in this list, and the hardest. In the beginning you’ll often lose quickly.
We recommend this game if you want to play a cooperative game with a great theme, and you’re able to keep up with its steep learning curve.
5. Clank! - Dungeon Deck Building
In Clank! the players are thieves robbing a dungeon. They must rob as many valuable items as possible, while avoiding getting caught by the dragon that guards the dungeon.
The game really drives off its adventure theme. The players continually decide whether they dare to push their luck for bigger rewards in face of the danger of the dragon ascending. The deck building mechanics of Clank! are relatively straightforward, but the adventure theme almost makes up for this.
If you’re looking for a cool combination of an adventure and deck building game, Clank! is for you. If you’re just looking for the best deck building game out there though, we recommend picking a different game in our list.
We hope that our ranking helps you to pick the best deck building game for you.
If you have any questions left after reading our post, please let us know through our contact form, so we can incorporate the answers to your questions in our post.