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Talking Tabletop: What’s a Deck-building Game?

One of this month’s featured tabletop games is Marvel Legendary. It’s a really good Deck Building card game but a lot of people hear Deck Building and think of Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokémon. So this week we’re looking to clear up any confusion on what exactly the Deck Building genre is.

Simply put, in Collectable Card Games or Trading Card Games there are huge amounts of cards to choose from, and you customise a deck before playing. Then, once you’ve collected the cards you want and you’ve crafted the perfect deck, you throw down with your opponent.

In Deck Building Games (DBGs) you build your deck as the game progresses. DBGs start with either all the cards in play, or certain cards for certain difficulty levels or gameplay choices. For example, in Marvel Legendary you choose a main villain, add their cards and some minion cards to then you’ll choose which superheroes to take and you’ll use their cards.

Over the course of a game cards will be made available to you and you’ll each have a turn to take cards from this shared float by spending that game’s resource – usually weaker cards. Once you then draw the cards you have chosen in previous rounds you’ll be faced with the choice of playing the card or using it as a resource to buy another, stronger card.

As the game progresses you’ll have widened the field and made more options available to you, making each time you play unique. The genre of DBGs is growing and, as with all other genres, each game tries to do something different to stand out. Some mess with the formula and end up incredibly popular, others crash and burn.

Here’s a run down of a few of the best in the class.

Dominion was released in 2008 and is heralded as the first DBG. It’s a really simple premise. You are the monarch of a small pleasant kingdom and you want to expand your kingdom so it’s bigger and more pleasant. Unfortunately everyone else playing is a monarch aiming to do exactly the same thing and so the race begins. Though some say that the theme is a little thin and adds little to the game, the mechanics are so strong it doesn’t matter.

The Dominion base game box is stuffed with almost five hundred cards and as with all DBGs set up does take a while as you have to pick out the cards you’ll be playing with but once you’re down and playing time just flies. This game is a gateway to the entire tabletop hobby for some and for others it opens the path to card games. There’s also 11 expansions for Dominion, so if you give it a go and like it, there are plenty of cards to keep it fresh for the next century or so.

Valley of the Kings is only from 2014, but often crops up when people mention the DBG genre. For starters it’s really cheap. You can often find it for less than fifteen quid so it’s a nice budget entry for those who want to take a punt on a new genre. Every player is an Egyptian noble in the time of the pharaohs. Morbidly, you’re preparing for death and burial so you want your tomb crammed with food, amulets and treasure. The available cards are laid out in a pyramid and as you draw from the bottom the cards filter down the pyramid adding a nice twist to the usual mechanic of blindly drawing cards each round. At the end of the game you’ll only score points for items in your tomb, so you’re always making the gamble of keeping a hold of something in your play area to get its unique effect.

The Legendary games are modern kings of this genre. Whenever you ask for a recommendation of a DBG someone is going to shout Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game, and they’re going to keep shouting until you buy it. They’re right to. Alien Legendary is a colossal game that captures the magic of the movies and drip feeds it to you as you play. The gorgeous playmat helps, too. As a fully co-op game, you and your fellow crew buy character cards from the character deck as the Xenomorphs close in and either attack you or attack your hand, forcing you to make tactical decisions instead of shrugging and noting hit points. Alien Legendary is a must have for any fans of the Alien series and fans of the DBG genre.

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