Any new player to the board game hobby will come across a number of new and innovative game mechanics, and among the first of those will be Deckbuilding. Here’s a solid breakdown of the genre, and some games you should keep an eye out for.
While deckbuilding has become one of the more prolific mechanics in recent years, there are many flavours and sub-types within the genre. At its core, the concept of deckbuilding is as such: players start with the same (generally meager) collection of cards, and throughout the game have the opportunity to improve their “deck” by acquiring other cards in an effort to build a better set and win the game. This same basic concept exists in all deckbuilding games, but as you’re about to see, game designers can take it in all sorts of directions.
Dominion is a classic example of deckbuilding and is often considered the “shining example” of the genre. Even 9 years later (being released in 2008) you’d be hard pressed to find a game that is as diverse or enjoyable. And it’s easy to teach to boot - a player’s turn consists of Action (playing an action card if you have one), Buy (acquiring a card from the “market”), and Cleanup (discarding your hand and drawing a new one).
One of the neatest things about Dominion is the realization that in buying victory cards (the cards that win you the game) you are also diluting the ratio of other action and purchasing cards in your deck. While you could go heavy into victory cards, you’ll soon be overtaken by other players that focus on increasing their available actions and buying power.
The base game of Dominion comes with 500 cards consisting of 25 different “sets”, of which you’ll only see a unique combination of 10 sets every game - that’s almost 3.3 million possible combinations. If, for some reason, you get bored with the base game (or if like others you crave more player interaction) there’s 10 expansions for Dominion adding anywhere from 10 to 25 new sets of cards each.
Legendary is an extremely successful series of games from Upper Deck - yes, the same company that used to sell you hockey cards. It all started with Legendary: Marvel featuring characters from all over the Marvel universe, and has since extended to the Alien, Predator, Firefly, and other franchises (even Big Trouble in Little China!).
The Legendary system is a leader in the “combat” type of deckbuilders; games where the deck you’re constructing is later used to combat threats from the main game board and possibly even other players. In these types of games it’s often important to balance cards used to acquire assets with cards that deal damage. Legendary Encounters is a co-operative game (based in the Alien cinematic universe) so players have to work together to tune their decks to combat the xenomorphs.
There are several map-based deckbuilders as well, but Lewis & Clark is probably one of the first. Among a bunch of other unique mechanics, in L&C you use your deck to traverse North America from the east cost to the Pacific. The path across the continent is wrought with difficult terrain which requires you to change your deck strategy mid-game a few times to successfully overcome.
There’s a few other map-based deckbuilders, notably the renown Mage Knight (currently #13 on board game geek) and the recently released Clank!. In all of these games the goal of your deck isn’t to gain victory points, but rather to put you in a more advantageous position on a shared board, usually to traverse specific types of terrain or face specific threats.
PACG is one of the first games to have a player’s deck of cards represent the player themselves; your health is equal to the number of cards in your deck, and the contents represent the items, armaments, and abilities of your character. This type of game is probably most similar to Magic: The Gathering and other Living Card Games where there is an amount of deck pre-construction before a session of the game, but in the Pathfinder card game you can acquire cards as you play through the location decks.
The Pathfinder Card Game has gone through a few iterations, now on their 4th iteration with Mummy’s Mask. The game also has a great app implementation. If you’re not a fan of the RPG fantasy theme, the newly released Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a similar game in the Lovecraft / Arkham Files universe worth looking into.
The last one I’d like to mention is Paperback, which many describe as a Scrabble killer. Paperback is a word-based game where instead of acquiring cards players acquire letters, which they used in later hands to spell larger and larger words to acquire even more cards and points. Another game with a killer app implementation, Paperback is a unique entry into the genre and definitely worth a look.