Continuing on my series of board game mechanics, we’re going to be looking at Engine Building games. This has nothing to do with motor vehicles but it is building together pieces to make it work. Engine building games can be fun because they are games …
Tag: deck building
The heroes of Ascension come to the board as miniatures in this new tactical fighting game. Pros Based off of a proven system Company has Kickstarter track record Deck building Cool looking minis Demo on Tabletop Simulator Cons Complexity versus simplicity of Deck Building game …
Welcome to a new series of Board Game articles. In this series I’m going to be looking at a number of different mechanics in board games, starting off with one of my favorites, deck building. I’m going to explain how the mechanic works and then give a few examples of games that are really focused on that and how they use deck building. This is really meant for newer people into board gaming to let them learn about a new type of game and how it works.
Most people are familiar with games that use decks of cards, from the kids game Candyland to something like Uno or Skip-bo to party games like Cards Against Humanity. All of these games use a communal deck of cards that players draw from to get their hand or to take an action and then they play those cards. It’s a very straight forward concept and you have a deck of cards that is consistent that you’ll be drawing the cards from and you’ll get whatever you get from that pool of cards.
A deck building game builds upon this idea of the deck of cards, but instead of having 108 cards in the Uno deck that everyone shares, instead you have your own deck of 10 or 12 or some number of cards. And when you start the game everyone’s decks are the same. But as the game goes on, you purchase more cards from a pool of cards that are face up to add to your deck. So when you have to reshuffle, now your deck is different than another persons deck.
A simple example of this is Ascension. In Ascension, you start with a deck of 10 cards, eight that give you points to purchase more cards, and two that let you fight monsters. The cards that you buy, some of them allow you to draw more cards when you play them, or get more points for purchasing more cards, or they’ll help you fight monsters. So by the time you shuffle again, you will have two or more different cards than the person you’re playing against, so the hand you’ll draw will be different from a hand of cards that they can draw. The further you get into the game and the more cards that you add to your deck, the more different your deck of cards will be from another players and the more different your strategy will be from another player. The deck building aspect of the game allows players to create a deck that matches how they want to play the game.
All deck building games give you a way to acquire more cards. In Ascension you purchase them, so a card that costs more will mean that you need more points to purchase it, so you might not be able to right away. This tends to be a core mechanic as well of a lot of deck building games is that they build up to you doing bigger and bigger things, but we’ll talk about what that mechanic is known as in a future article.
There are two main types of deck building games. The static market game or the changing market game. Ascension is an example of a changing market game. You have six cards to make your purchase from or to fight if they are monsters. When you purchase a card or defeat a monster, a new card is flipped down into the market form a draw pile and you don’t know what that card is going to be. So a card you want one turn might not be there the following turn, or might not be there at all again in a game. In a static market game you have a certain number of piles of cards, all the cards in those piles are identical so when you buy the top one, you know what the one underneath it is going to be. This allows you, from the start of the game, to determine a long term strategy throughout the game and to really dictate what your deck is going to be capable of doing. Dominion is an example of a static market deck building game. Now, it comes down to preference as to which one you like better. With the static deck it is going to more heavily favor the more experienced player or the player with better long term planning skills, because at the start of the game you can sit down, look at the static market and make your plan. If a changing market, you might come in with a plan but then need to adjust it on the fly, but it’ll keep the game more balanced between more and less experienced players. Neither is really a bad thing, it just comes down to personal preference.
Let’s talk about some deck building games that you might want to checkout if this sounds interesting.
Gateway/Intro To Deck Building Game
Ascension – For me, Ascension is the ideal deck building game, the changing market place means that a more experienced player doesn’t have a massive advantage and while there are some better strategies, it all depends on how the market comes out. It also works well because you are just doing two things with your cards, mainly, you are either buying with the purchasing power on the cards or you are fighting a monster with a fighting power on a the cards. A few cards do a few more things, like draw more cards from your deck but they are generally simple. The theme isn’t really there, but in most pure deck building games, which Ascension is, the theme will be missing or barely there anyways.
Medium Weight Deck Building Game
Clank! – Now, regular Clank! isn’t my favorite way to play Clank!. I like Clank! In! Space! better, but there’s just a little bit more going on than a medium weight deck building game. Clank! again has a variable market and monsters to fight, but you’ve added in some additional elements. It does more of one thing you see in Ascension, which is creating combos based off of who you’ve gotten, and it adds in more than just purchase and fight. You now have the ability to move and you are pushing your luck. Also, good cards might have negative consequences as well. It adds a bit more complexity and a bit more strategy to the game, even with a changing market place.
Heavy/Complex Deck Building Game
Aeon’s End: War Eternal – I had a few options to pick here, but I went with Aeon’s End: War Eternal. A lot of deck building games add to their complexity not so much the deck building aspect, but from additional pieces to the game play. Aeon’s End: War Eternal (or any of the Aeon’s End Games) are good examples of this. The deck building uses a static market, but you are presented with more choices. You have to cast spells at monsters, but to do that you have to purchase more spells, but with your money you also need to open breaches to cast those spells. Plus, all of the Aeon’s End games add in something else interesting, not only is there a lot of strategy to what you get from the market, you also don’t shuffle your deck, you just discard cards, so if you can plan it out correctly you can stack the deck in a particular order to get a lot of well balanced hands or maybe a hand with a lot of purchasing power in order to get a very strong spell. There’s just more to think about, though this game is cooperative so a more experienced player can help and teach a new player to the game.
Now, there are a lot of deck building games out there to choose from and some that fall into the category that I’d qualify as more deck construction games that work off of some of the same principles as a deck building game. Have you tried a deck building game before? Do they sound fun to you?
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So Monday was a Holiday, so my top 10 list has been delayed a day. Today we’re going with Top 10 card games. Now, these games are going to be card driven games, if there’s a big part of the game, set-up, pieces, whatever it might be, that isn’t cards, it won’t be on the list. So Gloomhaven, while the core mechanics are card driven as of what you play for your actions and the modifiers for your attacks, it still has a large table presence.
Here’s the list:
10 – Onirim
You are in a world of dreams in this solo game. You are trying to find some dream doors and avoid nightmares before your deck runs out. This is a solo abstract game, but one that plays pretty quickly and is a lot of fun. The biggest challenge of the game is figuring out how to deal with the nightmares. You have four different ways, you could use a key, but those are valuable resources because of what they can do and how unique they are, you could trash your hand, you could discard five cards from the deck, or you could get rid of a door. All of them are bad for you though, because they will cost you more cards. The game has a lot of shuffling, but it’s a lot of fun. A good solo game that can technically be played with two, but it’s mainly meant to be played solo.
9 – Not Alone
You are part of a crew who has crash landed on a planet. It would be fine, but one person is a monster on the island and that monster is out there trying to pick off the crew. So you have to plan out your turns in such a way that you don’t end up getting killed off and lose too much crew before the rescue ship can arrive. It’s a fun game of cat and mouse and one versus all as the crew can discuss strategy, but they have to do that so the monster and hear and understand. But the players could try and mislead, but if they go to a few spots to get the ship there faster, that could end up with them not using their turns that effectively, since those can only be done once per round. A lot of fun, and a good high tension game.
8 – Say Bye to the Villains
This is one of the hardest cooperative games that I’ve played. We’ve gotten close to winning several times, but we’ve never won. In this game, you and the other players are a group of samurai who are trying to take down a group of villains. You have ten days to play your attacks, increase your speed, and get more health. Because you need to defeat the villain that you’re facing off against. But with that, you also need to figure out what the villains are doing. it might be that they are going to be very fast and hit hard, but might not have much health, so if you can go faster than them, you don’t need to worry too much about damage or health because you’ll first. Or do you try and take the blow, but you can never find out everything you want, so you hope that you’ve planned it out well enough. It’s a slower game for being so small, but it’s a really fun challenge.
7 – The Lost Expedition
This cooperative game intentionally tries to take on the idea of alpha gaming by limiting your communication, but still has a lot of depth to the game play as compared to some that limit your communication. You’re trying to get to the lost city of Z, but to do that, you are playing down cards for a walk both in the morning and evening so that you can progress. But most cards have something bad on them. The trick is playing down these cards, you can’t discuss what you’re playing down or what would be best from the cards in your hand. You have to do that yourself and how you do that changes from morning to evening. And with the things that you have on the cards, most of them are not going to be good things, so can you balance your resources dwindling as well. A fun and fast cooperative game.
6 – Sushi Go Party!
First of back to back food related games, in this game, you’re drafting your best meal. This might be getting sashimi or nigiri or maybe you’re going after green tea ice cream. The game is played over three rounds, and whomever has the most points at the end of three rounds wins. What makes this game a ton of fun is that you change it up, so that might mean that you can create a lower scoring meaner version of the game where you’re worried about not getting that 3rd tofu and making your tofu worthless. Or maybe you’ll do on that gives everyone a ton of points, so there are lots of options to change it up. And once you’ve played one round, the game moves extremely fast and is a lot of fun.
5 – Point Salad
A quick little card game, a point salad game is one where you get points for basically everything that you do. Point Salad, the game, takes that concept and makes it about salad. So now you’re not just getting points, you are making a salad. To do this, you are either drafting two cards of vegetables, or picking up a scoring card. The game is very simple and limited number of cards so that it plays fast at most player counts. But it has a surprising amount of depth and variability because you have to know when to grab a scoring card or if you take a veggie it’ll change up the scoring cards, so you can block an opponent from getting what they might want for scoring? And do you diversify your veggies to scoring in a lot of ways across the board, or are you going to really target scoring for a couple of vegetables?
4 – Hanamikoji
In Hanamikoji you’re trying to win the favor of Geisha by giving them gifts. You do this by playing cards in a very interesting and clever way. Each round, each player has four different actions that they can take. But they can only take each action once. Some of them are simple, such as playing a gift face down that you’ll use to win favor at the end of the round, or discarding two face down. But some are much tougher to figure out, and add in so much depth to the game. Playing two groups of two cards and your opponent selects one of them, or playing three and your opponent gets one of them. It makes a lot of very difficult decisions in the game and what you’re trying to do so often is let your opponent make the tough decisions in place of you. The game also plays very fast, so it’s a great challenge to play a few times in a sitting.
3 – Arkham Horror: The Card Game
First of two living card game, Arkham Horror allows you to investigate strange goings on around Arkham and other locations. It’s based off of the Lovecraftian mythos, but while there are horror elements and monsters, it’s more about how good an investigator that you can be, can you fight off these monsters and investigate and solve the case. I really like that they can use the cards to create such different scenarios. Out of the base box, one of them has you fighting more monsters while you investigate in a house, the other has you out in the town looking for cultists, and they can do even more with it. The only things in this that aren’t cards are a few tokens that you use, which can be used to adjust how difficult the game is, so you can play it for the story, or you can make it nightmarishly hard depending on how you want to play.
2 – Aeon’s End: War Eternal
Another deckbuilding game, this one has a limited number of things that aren’t cards, and it’s basically just player boards and a few counters as you take your team of mages who fight against a monster that is coming through and attacking the city of Gravehold where you are from. It’s a good deck building game that does one very clever thing there you don’t ever shuffle your deck, so you can try and set-up how cards go into your discard pile and set-up future hands of cards to get the most optimal damage or buying power to build up your deck further. And with the number of different mages it works well and gives you a lot of variety as you take different mages up against different nemesis.
1 – Marvel Champions
This living card game allows you to play as your favorite superheroes, though that might be eventually. You build your deck of cards to create your hero and then take them up against some villain. You could fight as Spider-man against Rhino or Captain Marvel versus Ultron out of the base game. What I really love about the game is the way that you can flip back and forth between your alter-ego and super hero side of things. It feels like the comics in that while Spider-Man isn’t around the villains are out there scheming away, but when he’s there, they are going to be fighting him. It feels thematic and there are more and more villains and heroes out there that Fantasy Flight can add to the game, which means that the game will never feel tired.
There are a lot of great card games out there. Especially if you want to go down the deckbuilding route. There are games like Clank! In! Space! is another one that could have made the list, but has too much else going on. But games like Ascension or Dominion, for some that would make a lot of sense for checking out card games as well.
What is your favorite card game? Any from off my list you want to checkout?
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First, what’s a gateway game, before I get into my list? These can also be call introductory games or family weight games. Basically, these are games that you can pull out and play with mom and dad or your cousins or anyone who isn’t that familiar with gaming because the rules are easy enough and there’s something familiar about them and they can learn them. It’s what some people like to use to get people into heavier games over time, but I think that they also are games that have enough going on that they aren’t completely boring to a heavier gamer, but not so difficult that they can’t wrap their head around them. So let’s see the list.
10 – Ascension
Now, a lot of people would have Dominion on this list, but I have an issue with Dominion as an intro deck building game. An experienced player can look at the combination of cards and quickly see the best combo, a new player will not get that strategy for a while, and therefore can be stomped. In Ascension because there isn’t a fixed market of cards, I think it works better as an gateway game. And the fantasy theme is as interesting to new gamers as a middle ages theme, so either works for that. In Ascension you are building up your deck of cards and creating combos, and while Ascension’s combos can be complex if you chain things together or remember to play cards in a certain order, the game is also pretty forgiving with that, and someone can simply focus on combat and killing monsters if they don’t want to try a combo strategy and do just fine. That’s the other thing about this compared to Dominion that works better, you kill monsters, which is a mechanic that people can understand for gaining points instead of the more abstracted set-up of adding provinces to your deck that at the end of the game will give you points.
9 – Century: Golem Edition
An engine building hand management game, you could also do Century: Spice Road, but the Golem Edition is cuter and has more interesting artwork. In this game, you’re just buying cards that will help you get the gems you want, playing those cards to turn gems into other colored gems and hope to get the right combination of gems or plan to, to get a Golem, after someone has 5 Golems, the person with the most points from the Golem and coins wins. The game can have an advantage to someone who understands strategy better because you can customize your engine more so for being able to play cards to get the most gems possible and better colored gems, but a quick explanation or why some cards, especially ones that produce gems are really good, and everyone will be on a pretty even playing field. Plus, the game is fast, so after a play the strategy should make more sense and it’s one that people will probably want to play again.
8 – The Grimm Masquerade
A simple deduction game where you are all characters from Grimm Fairy Tales trying to get what you need, figure out who other people are, and be the last one standing to get points. It’s pretty simple, if you are a character you want to get three of one item, the rose of your The Beast from Beauty and The Beast or the slipper if you’re Cinderella, but then you also have something that you don’t want to get. If you get two of those you’re out of the round. The game works on two simple mechanics. You get two cards on a turn, drawing one you decide to keep it or give it away, then you draw another one and do the opposite thing. Then, if you have a pair of matching cards in front of you, you can spend those cards to take a special action, and the special actions are simple, and most of the time it’s accusing/guessing which character someone else is. If you get it right, you get points, if you’re the last one standing, you get points, and after three rounds, whomever has the most points wins. It’s a lot of fun, and you can accuse other people, which is fun, especially when you’re accusing them of being a fairy tale character.
7 – Homebrewers
The newest game, I think that’s going to be on the list. Homebrewers is a quick engine building game, but does some things that really work well. It gives you an easy mode where everyone is the same and you don’t have special powers. For brand new players, this would be how you teach it. The player board has player aides on it, so even though it’s symbols it’s pretty simple. And, the game has dice. Dice are oddly one of those things that make a game seem more familiar, and make it more gateway often because the dice are going to take away from the amount of decision making you have to do. In Homebrewers, it certainly does that as you roll your dice, and you can pay to change dice faces or trade dice, but you roll them once, unless you get 3 of the same side, then you can roll again, and that’s what you can do on your turn. Plus, for an engine building game, it plays very fast, and the theme is fun.
6 – Dice Throne (Season 1 and 2)
One of the classic games that people know well is Yahtzee. You roll three times keeping dice each time, and then whatever you end up with, you use that to score some points. Dice Throne is a slightly, very slightly, more complex version of that where it adds in some card play to it as well, very simple based off of combat points for how you play the cards, and has a nice cheat sheet. You’re going to see and probably have already seen me mention cheat sheets a lot. Dice Throne also works because while it does have a fantasy theme, which can be a turn off for some people, it’s a pretty quick game, and there’s good back and forth to it. Now, when introducing this to people, I’d probably either do teams or do 1 vs 1, because targeting becomes tricky otherwise, though, you can just do king of the hill style targeting for whom you fight. It’s also fun because they do a good job of laying out difficulty level for characters, so you can start off teaching and playing with simpler characters and then move to more complex.
5 – The Lost Expedition
The highest cooperative game on the list, and this one does have a fair number of symbols to keep track of. I try and keep that at a minimum because that can be tricky for some people. However, in The Lost Expedition, they have one of the best cheat sheets (player aides) out there, so it makes it much easier to teach. The only odd thing that can trip people up is hiking difference between morning and evening, basically when you put the cards in numerical order or not. But because cards are laid down from your hand without it being discussed, it’s just the person’s own choice, that means that you can correct how things are done if you are the person who knows the game. This is also nice because if you find out that one of the people you are teaching might be an alpha player, the lack of discussion of playing cards for the hike keeps everyone engaged in the game and the alpha player from being able to alpha game.
4 – Sushi Go Party!
A lot of drafting games on the list coming up, though not all of them card drafting. Sushi Go Party! is a great intro game because you can level up the difficulty as you go. There are some cards, especially in the specials, that are just more difficult to explain, so you can leave those out. But the game is extremely cute with the anthropomorphic foods, and it stands out on the table. The scoring, like I said, can be a little bit funky, but if you go with the base set of the game, what came in Sushi Go!, you’ll have a pretty easy to teach game. And the fact that everyone is playing at the same time is helpful because it means that for the people who aren’t the biggest game lovers they don’t have time to get bored between their turns.
3 – Point Salad
A simple little card game that plays fast, but plays differently and encourages people to think about their strategies and adjust them each game. But it’s a cute game, and that is part of what makes it a good gateway game. You’re making a salad, it’s a silly theme, but it’s one that people understand. And it teaches some card drafting. But, because, the cards rotate as much as they do, you can’t build the biggest strategy. It’s also one, with the concept of either taking a scoring card or taking two veggies, that people can understand how that works. The game play is as simple as that, and all the cards are up on the table, so there’s no hidden information that if someone doesn’t fully get something, it can’t be explained without giving the “expert” in the game an advantage.
2 – Welcome To…
This one is probably the most complex game that I’m putting on the list, and it’s not that complex. It’s mainly that the player aid for helping you know what cards do isn’t that great. But when you can teach it by using a city building, neighborhood building example, it’s again something that people recognize, and they can get the hang of it. In the game all you’re doing is putting house numbers in numerical order and then fencing off neighborhoods, building parks, and putting in pools. Again, all concepts that are pretty straight forward, and when you’re done, you have your little town. Now, some of the rest of them are a bit more complex, but overall, it’s not difficult to explain and play.
1 – Sagrada
This dice drafting game has one important thing going for it for being a good gateway game, it looks amazing on the table. The translucent dice just pop and turn what would be a good looking game into an amazing one. Why this one works well is that the rules are pretty simple, you grab out 5 dice (in a two player game) you roll them, you take one and put it on your board, the next person takes one and then it snakes back with one die being leftover at the end. You’re just trying to fill in a pattern that you’ve been given. Now, the powers can be a bit more difficult to explain, but there are some easy ones in there, and I start with those. And the scoring is simple, plus when you’re done, you have something that is familiar to most people, a stained glass window.
Now, I know this is a top 10 list, and I want to talk about why some games weren’t on here. Ticket to Ride, Catan, Carcassone, and Smallworld are all amazing gateway games, however, this is based off of the games that I like, and they just missed the list. There is also the fact that a lot of people have already played at least some of those games so they are somewhat familiar with them. These are other games that you can play to branch out from those slightly older though still good gateway games. You’ll also notice that as compared to my Top 10 games of all times or games that are showing up on a lot of other lists, most of these have more mundane themes. Stained glass windows, building a town, or food. And while that might not lend itself to that much story, it is something that doesn’t seem as nerdy to a lot of people and something that they can more easily grasp onto.
So what are some games that you’ve had success with as gateway games? Are there any that you’d really recommend?
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