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 best deck building games on the market today!
Our Top 5 Deck Building Games
If you are impatient like me and just want to see our list of the best deck building games, use the quick links below to jump directly to our short review and breakdowns of each game.
We can argue back and forth all day about which of these games is the best deck building game and the rankings of anyone of these could be swapped and moved around, but all in all, these are the best deck building games out there right now and ultimately your taste in gameplay, genre, etc will be a huge deciding factor in which one you end up getting!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eminent Domain is an incredible deck building game where players are competing to build the best space empire! Acquiring planet cards by colonization or invasion, each player competes to acquire as many victory points as possible. The game mechanics and rules are simple enough to pick up after a couple of rounds and there is enough strategy to keep a more experienced deck building gamer interested.
If the base game isn’t quite “enough” for you, there are a bunch of expansions out there for Eminent Domain that take this from a good deck building game to a great one!
If Eminent Domain was just too approachable for you and you want to step up to the big leagues of space themed deck building games, then Race for the Galaxy is the game for you! There is definitely a steeper learning curve to this one but don’t let that deter you. Once you learn the symbols and the mechanics, Race for the Galaxy is a fast paced deck building game that is sure to become one of your favorites! Compete against your friends building galactic civilizations an dominating the universe. You can read more into the details of gameplay by clicking the link below, but this is a deck building game worth checking out!
Much like Eminent Domain, there are also a couple of really great expansions for Race for the Galaxy to keep the gameplay fresh and interesting (but honestly, there is enough depth and strategies in the base game to keep you busy for a while!)
Core Worlds provides yet another sci-fi, space themed deck building game experience much like the two examples above. Build your space empire. Earn victory points. Win. The pace of play is slower than Race for the Galaxy, but it is also easier to learn. There are a lot of actions a player can take like attacking planets and buying troops which leads to slower gameplay as decisions are made, but this also opens up some unique strategies to try. Some people swear by Core Worlds and really, you can’t go wrong with it. Like the other space deck building games above, there are a good number of expansions to keep adding fresh content to an already solid game.
If you thought playing deck building games with all your friends was fun, you haven’t lived! Friday is a deck building game built specifically to be played by yourself. You and Robinson Crusoe stranded on an island and teaming up to survive and fight off pirates! Sounds awesome doesn’t it? Dang right it is because one of the very few downsides of a lot of the deck building games on this list is that you not only have to find people to play with, you also have to teach them the rules.
Friday is a solitaire deck building game where you are building a strong deck of fight cards for Crusoe as you fight to survive the hazards of the island in order to best prepare him to fight the pirates at the end! Game night doesn’t have to end anymore when everyone goes home. Keep the fun going by breaking out Friday and helping your buddy Robinson Crusoe!
In a deck building game, you expect cards right? Wrong! Puzzle Strike is played with chips instead! Throw the chips in a bag and shake it up to shuffle. Puzzle Strike mixes deck building with Bejeweled with fighting video games. And it just works! It is quick and easy to play which is why it has so much appeal among the casual gamers, but with hundreds of millions of starting hand possibilities, the different strategies required to win consistently are enough to make an experienced gamer happy! Give it a try. It’s definitely different than most of the deck building games on this list. In the most awesome way!
18 Other Amazing Deck Building Games to Try
Pfew! That’s a lot of deck building games to choose from (and trust me, there are hundreds more out there). If you are just getting started in the great world of deck building games, stick with our top 10. If you are more experienced and looking for something new, check out some of the other options in this article. Any one of the deck building games listed are sure to bring the fun!