A deck builder game is one where building a deck of cards is the core mechanic of how one plays the game in play. This isn’t the same as a game where you build your own deck, like Magic: The Gathering, because in that case, building the deck is an experience you (usually) do on your own. In a deck builder game, you are typically doing something that builds the deck as part of the process of playing the game.
Deck builder games are great, because the mechanical structure of a deck builder lends itself to a lot of very satisfying things, while still being thematically really varied. Some deck builder games use the deck to represent short-term limited decisions and combat, some use them to represent the slow process of economic movement of kingdoms.
Deck builder games have a lot of room for variance. You can have games with a very rigid structure, like Dominion or games that do a lot with keeping things freewheeling like Star Realms. You can play with rarity or commonality, you can involve other elements like dice and boards. Deck building is really one of the easiest game types to approach as a designer who wants to make something really large without necessarily having the resources to make a big project.
Also deck builders, if balanced well, provide a lot of variance. If there’s no single best way to play, you can use a lot of things to make your play experience more varied and fun.
It is one of the most glutted formats of games right now.
What makes this glut worse is that most players don’t need a lot of deck builders in their collection. One good one will usually do the trick, and some players will be dedicated Dominion collectors or Legendary collector, or maybe they just want a single big-box experience like Arctic Scavengers. The point is, everyone’s deck builder of choice tends to have a thing that sets it apart.
The other thing is it’s very, very hard to make a small deck builder. You need a certain quantity of cards, even cards that are very similar, to get the mechanism of deck building to work.
So many! Here are just a few.
- Dominion helped to establish this archetype recently and it has a really large number of expansions. It’s also not the best-edited game in the world.
- A Few Acres of Snow uses its deckbuilding to represent military communication
- Legendary is a hugely expanded franchise game with a lot of high quality art and whole storage boxes and whatnot
- Star Realms is a head-to-head deckbuilder that uses its cards to represent space ships and space stations.
- Arctic Scavengers uses the deckbuilding to represent scarcity and garbage, and has elements of player interaction