Podcast #22: Deck Building Games

QuarriorsNew game genres come around more often than we seem to think. The most recent trend in board gaming is the deck building game – popularized by Dominion. These game design “revolutions” often lead to evolutionary games – like Quarriors – that twist the basic premise to give it a different appeal. In this podcast Jessica, Skaff, and Richard discuss this branch of game design as well as hand building games, bag building games, and chamber maids(?) And as a special treat, Richard gets us started with a little diddy.

LINKS: Dominion | Thunderstone | Nightfall | Heroes of Graxia | Fzzzt! | Innovation | Ascension | Puzzle Strike | Quarriors | Tanto Cuore |

EMAIL: info@threedonkeys.com



18 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Jeffrey Liu,

    Every day I’m shufflin’!

  2. Alex,

    Another deck building game which has been making the rounds in my local game groups is Eminent Domain.

  3. Torfi,

    Great podcast as usual. I would recommend looking at: A Few Acres Of Snow. It takes the genre in a very interesting direction and uses the inherent properties of deck building very thematically.

  4. Auroch,

    I second Eminent Domain. It’s central mechanic is a mix of deck-building and Race For the Galaxy, where you pick a role on your turn (which others may follow) and add one of the corresponding cards to your deck. It also shares the theme of Race.

    Supposedly Donald Vaccarino was quoted as saying it was the first truly original variation on the theme Dominion had set.

    • I did try eminent domain after this podcast, I really enjoyed the mechanics and the interaction. I don’t like that the research cards are all always available, it seems to make the game more formulaic and very difficult for the beginner – I prefer Ascensions randomly available cards, or Dominions varying preset cards.

  5. Willi B,

    I think Arctic Scavengers was the 2nd deck building game.

    Glad to see the podcast has returned!

  6. Glad the podcast is back! I will have to check out some of the games you’ve mentioned.

    I’m actually working on a computer game that uses a deck building mechanic – The Trouble With Robots – so podcast is particularly relevant to me.

  7. Jeremiah,

    Awesome show. Missed the podcast. So, uhm, what is it like to get kidnapped?

  8. I’ve got my creds as a show fan historically, so can I play contrarian and say this cast wasn’t my favorite? It just seemed a little list-y, which is a sure way to generate content but maybe not always the most insight-yielding process.

    Any update is always welcome, don’t get me wrong. I’d just rather hear riffing on the pros and cons of a mechanical approach than a genre survey.

    • You have earned your creds, and I appreciate the feedback. We have been having trouble finding the time and so chose the first topic that seemed pretty easy – and it was topical in that I have been watching the evolution of this genre with interest.

  9. Duncan,

    I’d be interested to know if you’ve ever tried a “deck building” variant of Magic? It certainly seems like the components could be there, and several existing games seem along those lines. This is just a untested rough draft, but something like:

    Setup: A random stack of Magic cards with the top 7 cards laid out face up next to it (The lineup) ; basic lands, sorted by color
    Starting decks: Each player begins with a deck of two of each basic land.
    Objective: Reduce all opponents from 20 life to 0.
    Game Play: Each player begins with a hand of four cards from their deck.
    Most of the game follows Magic rules, with the following turn structure: Upkeep, Main phase, Attack, Main phase, Cleanup, Draw

    During a players turn they may do the following:
    Discard a land for mana: Discard a land to produce one mana of the given color. Basic Land’s can’t be played to the battlefield unless a spell puts them there specifically (IE rampant growth)

    Trade in a land: You may return a land from your hand to the land pile. You may pick up another land of your choice and put it into your graveyard. This includes nonbasic lands that may be revealed in the lineup.

    Match lands: You may discard two of the same basic lands to draw three cards from your deck. You don’t get mana from this.

    Purchase a card: You may spend mana equal to a cards cost to take a nonland card from those revealed and put it into your graveyard. Replace the card from the line up with one from the deck. If that card was a creature card, you may put it onto the battlefield under your control instead.

    Play a nonland card from your hand: You may cast cards from your hand for free.
    Draw phase: at the end of the turn, that player draws two cards. There is no maximum hand size.

    Attack phase and Upkeep phase follow normal magic rules.
    Follow normal Magic rules otherwise.

    If at any time a player is unable to draw a card, shuffle all non-creature cards from that player’s graveyard into their library.

    This variant may be horribly broken, or depend on the right mix of random cards, but on the whole it seems like an interesting place to start. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

    • Of course in the broadest sense magic always was a deck building game, and in the last 20 years I have made many versions of play which explore that to varying degrees. In drafts you build your deck, and I have designed dozens of different interesting drafts. I have made different leagues where your deck changes from game to game based on a variety of different things ranging from ante, to regularly infused cards, to markets where players can exchange cards for in game currency. The closest I probably came was a board game in which you put any set of magic cards you want to play with and build their deck moving around the board, and periodically have duels with the cards they collected.

      However – I have not thought about this for a while and there are many new mechanics that the deckbuilding genre is bringing to the table, which may make solid additions to my thinking. All my games took far longer than the deckbuilding genre takes, which is okay if you think of the experience as a tournament or league, but probably less okay for a board game. Your stab at what it looks like is interesting, I look forward to hearing if someone can make it work well!


    • Funny you should mention that, Duncan. I tried making a dominion-style variant of Magic as well and it wasn’t entirely dissimilar from what you describe, with the primary difference being that you had to pay the mana to cast a creature from your hand rather than to get it into your deck. It also caused creatures to be discarded after their attack, as in Quarriors. My version did not test well at all, in no small part due to the difficulty of casting anything costing 3+, but the experience was discouraging enough that I wouldn’t look too far at other possible tweaks. That said, I think your first draft is much better than mine was.

  10. COOOOL our threedonkeys are alive ;-)

    I’m very glad you did this podcast on deck building games, that was clearly the most identifiable trend at Essen this year. And well, it’s been some years I’m working with some friends on a card game mixing strategy board games and deck building elements … To sum up, I think deck building games are coming back in a great way. I hope to the trend will grow up until we see what the next Magic is. But that can happen on paper as well as on digital support, there is room for a very succesful digital CCG right now. I know Richard has tried to bridge card games and digital with Spectromancer but I think it lacks some depth and really misses the deckbuild aspect. This is my personal feel about Spectromancer even though I enjoyed discovering and playing it.

    Speaking of the game we make, we have included a mechanic that originates from Netrunner and I think it deserves a bit of discussion : it’s the action points. You get 3 of them every turn and you can spend 1 action point to either draw a card or create money to play the cards you’ve drawn. There was a third way to spend your action points I think but what’s importabt is that these 2 abilities represent the engine of the game. I mean, you don’t have to play lands AND wait to draw cards to keep doing something in the game : drawing or making money has the same value/cost and is something you can repreat thrice in a trun.

    The reason we have included this mechanic in because it makes “mana dead” and “mana flood” impossible. Even though managing your land count becomes an interesting aspect of Magic when you’re experienced, the possibility to draw too few or too many lands is something about which any newcomer has complained.

    But now that we have played a lot with our game, and that mechanic being central, I’m afraid there’s something wrong about it. Like in fact, there is less room for some types of meaningful cards because 1 card and 1 gold have the exact same value (gold is like colorless mana in Magic). Thus imagine you have a card that makes you draw once each turn. This card is almost the same as one that produces one gold every turn, because you have 3 action points with which you can choose any combition of draw/gold. Most of the turn, you draw 0 or 1 card. Thus if a card gives you an extra card every turn, it will nullify the interest to spend your action points in draws. Thus if that extra card every turn would have been an extra gold, it would be almost the same.

    It feels like there is something to fix.
    If someone here has experienced that mechanic somewhere else, or if you have some thoughts to share on it, I’d be glad to hear! THANKS.

    Cheers from Belgium.

    • This sounds like a problem I have dealt with a number of times. Part of the issue would appear to be the player keeping gold from turn to turn (without knowing the details it is hard to say for sure). It is a natural way for gold to work but leads to some challenges as far as game design. Games like Dominion and Magic have a ‘use it or lose it’ economic system, you don’t generally get to apply your coins in Dominion to the next turn, or your mana in magic. One advantage this gives is the ability to easily make better and worse cards that are ‘balanced’ What I mean by this is that in Magic a Dragon is better than a goblin, but you can’t always play it, so it is potentially balanced. At the beginning of the game I wish I had a goblin. At the end I wish I had a dragon. If, instead, I accumulated mana from turn to turn a goblin might be a terrible thing at the beginning because it might keep me from getting my dragon, or perhaps the dragon is terrible since it keeps me from getting an army of goblins. If it is balanced it is much more likely to be a ‘wash’ than in magic.

      My apologies if this isn’t relevant – also, my apologies if it isn’t clear.

  11. Apologies to Skaff, for there was 2 designers on Spectromancer :-)

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