Tag: Dominion

Top 5: Drafting Games

Top 5: Drafting Games

On to another list for my top 5 drafting games. Now, Board Game Geek only has card drafting for me to sort through, but I will be including a dice drafting game in my list as well (or two). So without any more clarification: 5. Roll […]

Top 5: Deck Building

Top 5: Deck Building

So I normally do a lot of top fives at the end of the year in bigger categories, but I wanted to break it down for a few specific categories within board games so you can see what I really enjoy in the various genres […]

The Evolution of Deck Building Games

The Evolution of Deck Building Games

Let me start by saying that Deck Building is one of my favorite game mechanics, and one that has been around for a while. Also, let me say that there are two different, distinct ways you can qualify deck building. I am not referring to the collectible card game method (or even living card game), where you can build a custom deck leading into the game. Yes, you do build a deck of cards to play with in those games, but the game itself isn’t about deck building. In some ways, they are the basis for modern deck building games, though.

Image Source: Wikipedia

In those games, you would build your deck of cards, however many that might be, from cards you had bought and collected. You were looking for interesting interactions and synergies between cards. That is something that still definitely exists in modern deck builders. But the modern deck builder doesn’t have you create your deck ahead of time. In fact, everyone starts out with the same cards and then you can build and expand your decks beyond that.

That is what makes the mechanic interesting, in a lot of the early deck builders, you would customize and try and develop your own strategy for the game based off of a set of cards that were available to everyone in the game. Dominion, the first popular deck builder, created an economy where you would search to combo cards to the point where you could buy victory point cards, in particular the high cost victory point cards which were one way to end the game.

While I do appreciate the mechanic in Dominion, Dominion does have one serious flaw to the game. There will always be a best strategy because everyone is purchasing from a static market of cards. This can lead to a run away leader problem in the game, or if the cards don’t synergize well, the strategy is then just to buy more money, so you don’t actually end up using the combinations. Also, the game has a medieval theme that could literally be any sort of economy, so it’s very very themeless. Toss in inconsistent art throughout the game and expansions, and I’ve moved on from my copy of Dominion.

Image Source: CMON

But Dominion was the one that started it for deck builders, maybe not the first, but the first big one. From there we’ve moved on to a few different ways of deck building.

The first big advancement is the rotating market. The game Marvel Legendary is a great example of this. While the market is limited more so than in Dominion, the market rotates as people buy a card, you flip a new card down. This means that the market is constantly changing and there isn’t a way to create a specific strategy as clearly that is going to be the best. This helps solve the run away leader problem. It also provides more strategy for creating your deck as the option of just buying money isn’t going to fix your problem in the game of figuring out card synergies.

In a cooperative game, like Marvel Legendary, you can still make your decks highly focused as you’re talking about what is out there and who might want what card when it comes around to their turn. But in Clanks! In! Space!, you are playing a competitive game with a rotating market. This means that someones you might buy a card that isn’t ideal for your deck, just because you don’t want anyone else to have it.

There are also interesting ways that they fixed the fixed market issue in Dominion in other games without it being a rotating market. Xenoshyft: Onslaught is a good example of this. In the game you are working together to defend your base, but I might have the role of the science department while someone else might have the barracks. Because we have different roles we have different powers that make our strategies unique. If you are the science department, you have the two unique cards in your deck from the start, and you can get a discounted buy on science cards each round. That means your deck is going to lean a certain direction because it’s easier for you to load up on a certain type of good card than it is for other people. Variable player powers cover over a lot of issues you can run into with deck builders by actively making people build their deck in different ways or they won’t be building it the most efficient way using their resources.

Image Source: Portal Games

Xenoshyft: Onslaught also has another interesting mechanic that helps. One issue with deck builders is that as the deck gets larger, you can either get a deck that is too big to really get the cards you want together, or gets too full of early game cards that you don’t get enough money at the same time to purchase more. Xenoshyft: Onslaught fixes both of these issues in unique but good ways. The first thing it does is you area always gaining money to your hand each round of the game, in the first three rounds, you get an extra xenostatham (money unit), in the next three, you get a three xenostatham card, and in the last three rounds, you get a six xenostatham. Now, this means you are never short money, but it adds bloat into your deck. Xenoshyft: Onslaught realizes this, so in the middle rounds, you can trade three one xenostatham cards for a three xenostatham card, and in the last three rounds, you can get your threes to sixes. This keeps the deck cleaner. It also allows you to use troops that you can buy in the first three rounds as discounts on troops in the later rounds, this helps keep the deck thin and focused.

One thing that all the games that I’ve mentioned thus far do better than Dominion as well is that they’ve added theme back into a deck builder. The cards that you are buying and using make sense in the game for the ultimate goal of the game. Wen you’re recruiting heroes to fight against a super villain in Legendary, it makes sense. When the cards have certain abilities on them, they make sense for the hero. That was a huge move forward from what we had been previously seeing in Dominion, and while Dominion might still be the most popular, it gave people a lot more options for games.

There are now some other interesting things that have been added into deck building that make certain deck builders unique.

A game like Cry Havoc, while not a pure deck builder, has some deck building in the game as you add in various terrain cards to your deck. It uses a draw two and pick one methodology of building up your deck. So depending on where you are locate don the board will determine what you want to take, and whom you might be fighting.

Aeon’s End (a game that I’ll have the legacy version of the game on it’s way, but this one does something unique as well. It’s interesting because instead of shuffling your deck like you do with every other deck building game I can think of, you literally just flip your discard pile. However, when you discard cards on your turn, you can sort the order that they go into your discard as long as they are used in the game time in the game. That means that you can stack your deck in an interesting way and specifically create hands, especially earlier in the game.

Deck building is definitely a mechanic that has been extremely popular and I think will remain popular, though we’re now seeing less pure deck building games. A game like Cry Havoc has deck building, but that’s fairly secondary in the game, and you’d actually be able to play the full game without doing any additional deck building if you wanted (if I remember correctly), but it’s fun to see a fairly familiar mechanic showing up in a diverse cross-section of games that wouldn’t always seem like deck building games. It’s also led to some interesting games that have hand building that can work similar to deck building, but you have access to all the cards from the start and then lose them as you play them.

Image Source: Board Game Geek

So, to wrap this up, if deck building seems like an interesting mechanic, where would I start?

That’s a tough question, Dominion is probably the purest deck builder out there, but there are a ton of expansions, so it might seem a bit intimidating to get into. It’s also not the easiest game to sell to people to play, because the theme is very bland. But if you are playing with less gamer-y people, I would start with Dominion.

If you’re playing with people who are used to playing games, just not deck builders, I’d probably start with Xenoshyft: Onslaught. The game has some very interesting choices in it, and it’s fun to face off against a bunch of alien bugs. Marvel Legendary is good as well, but there are so many expansions, I wouldn’t consider it a great starting deck builder. You could look at Legendary Encounters games and just pick the them that works best for you, whether that’s Alien, Big Trouble in Little China, Firefly, or one of the others. These games all offer more to do with your cards and a lot more depth of strategy than Dominion while still keeping the focus on deck building.

What are some of your favorite deck building games?

Mechanically Minded Board Games

Mechanically Minded Board Games

I mentioned the topic in the Kickstarter FOMO post, but I wanted to talk more about different game mechanics that you might here people talk about when it comes to describing a board game, this will be a bit more focused definitions than the Jargon […]

Board Game Movies We Don’t Want

Board Game Movies We Don’t Want

With the talks of a Mice and Mystics board game in the news the past few days I decided to look at what board games should get movies based off of them, and now I’m going to go with ones that really shouldn’t have a […]

The Jargon – Board Game Edition

The Jargon – Board Game Edition

I’m doing something that’s a bit different style, I realize that there can be a lot of terms for various nerdy hobbies that might be a bit confusing. So I wanted to, for board games, run through what some of these terms are, if they describe games, give an example of what sort of games are in that genre. It might give you a unique vocabulary to better talk about games, it might help you realize what the exact genre of game is that you like the best and what you want to get more of, and it might just be a long list of words, which isn’t all that exciting, but anyways. Here’s the jargon of board gaming, or at least some of it.

Image Source: How Stuff Works

Starting with the most popular

Roll and Write: This is a genre of board game where you are rolling dice and then filling in numbers, lines, areas, of a game board that is probably just your game board to try and get a higher score than other players. The original example of this game is Yahtzee. Yes, roll and write is that simple of a genre, but it’s having a huge moment now with the biggest game being a German game, Ganz Schong Clever. They’ve evolved past Yahtzee in their scoring, and while it’s a genre I haven’t gotten into, they tend to be a bit more clever in their game play versus Yahtzee which is just telling you the numbers.

Then moving to the classic

Euro Gaming: The next is also a genre of games, they can also often be called worker placement games, though that is a slightly separate genre. These games are the ones where the result of the game all comes down to math. You can figure out an optimal strategy and there isn’t going to be all that much that can be done to stop that strategy. They started to change that, as of late, with making the boards tighter so that you had to plan out things a bit more or taking it away from everyone having to do everything to score enough points to win.

Point Salad: I wanted to put this one next to Euro gaming as a lot of them can be point salads. What this means, is like a salad, you can have a ton of different things in there. So in a game, that means you are scoring points at the end of the game in six or seven different categories that make up your total score. Games like Five Tribes and Seven Wonders are two prime examples of those games. It allows you to customize your winning strategy based on another a things.

And now to one that’s more a favorite

Image Source: Days of Wonder

Card Drafting: Card drafting can be a mechanic in a game or the basis of some games. The idea is that you have a hand of cards, you are selecting one card from that hand to play and then passing it on to the next player who is selecting a card from that hand either until all the cards have been played, or there is one left in the hand. This can be done several hands during a game, or it can be a lesser part of the game, maybe just at the start of the game. Two games that use it as the basis of the game are Sushi Go! Party and Seven Wonders. In those games, drafting is the whole game as you’re trying to make sets and score points based off of different criteria. A game like Blood Rage uses it at the beginning of each age to help you strategize and then you play with those cards, it’s similar in Near and Far where you draft cards at the start of the game.

Hate Drafting: So, clearly tied into the one above. Normally when you are drafting, you want to draft cards that are best for you. But in games like Sushi Go! Party and Seven Wonders, you will have an idea of what the other players want or need, so you might draft a card that doesn’t really help you, but it stops other players. Generally, this isn’t a great strategy for the person doing it, unless all the cards are equally as bad for them, but sometimes you do it to stop a large number of points just to keep yourself in the game.

The another genre that was popular and still is going strong

Image Source: Wikipedia

Deck Building: It’s a genre that has cooled off a little bit, probably more so because there are fewer games coming out in the genre that are new, and more expansions instead for older games. In these games, you have a base deck, or some resources to start buying cards, that builds up your hand and your deck. So by the end of each game, the players deck is personalized to them. The biggest game in this genre is Dominion. It has a pasted on theme of medieval times and is really about quickly drawing cards, getting money, and buying victory points. There have been a lot of games since Dominion got the genre to take off that have come out like Marvel Legendary, Xenoshyft, Hogwarts Battle, Clank!, and many more. This also can include games like Arkham Horror LCG and Magic the Gathering. They take it a slightly different way in that you are building your deck before the game is played, but the deck can still be customized to what you want.

Abstract Game: These tend to be the logic based and puzzle based games. A game like Quoridor or Blokus fall into the abstract game. It’s about thinking through and figuring out the puzzle for your given game situation. They also tend to have little theme on them, or if there is theme, it’s pasted on and there is disconnect between the theme of the game and the mechanics of the game. Dominion is a solid example of a game that could be an abstract game without any theme and it would still function just as well, but the theme makes it a more visually appealing game.

That takes us to one of the last overarching genres

Ameri-trash/thrash: It’s really Ameri-trash, but Ameri-thrash is more fun to say. These games are all about theme, whereas a lot of Euro games, their big genre counterpart, focus in on a lot of minute details and figuring out logically how to win, Ameri-trash have more luck involved. They also tend to be a lot more steeped in theme and have theme tying into the mechanics of the board game. Games like Gloomhaven or Near and Far are two prime examples. Ameri-trash games also have more randomness in their games. While Gloomhaven doesn’t have too much randomness, for Near and Far, you are rolling a die quite often to find out if you can complete a skill challenge or win a fight. You see the randomness more so in dungeon crawl sorts of games, such as Star Wars: Imperial Assault.

Gloomhaven takes us into another genre of game as well

Image Source: Cephalofair Games

Cooperative or Coop: These games are as they sound, you are all playing together on the same team and playing against the game to see if you can beat it or not. There’s no special mechanical piece that is tied into this, beyond that you are all on the game team. The game that caused this genre to take off was Pandemic which has come out with a ton of version and variations on the base game. Gloomhaven and Star Wars: Imperial Assault are also games that fit this genre, but Imperial Assault only does because of an app, before it fit into another genre.

One versus All: This is the other genre. Classic RPG’s fall into this as well as dungeon crawl board games. In these games one player is playing the bad guys, or the antagonists, and everyone else is playing cooperatively against them. In an RPG, that is going to be the game or the dungeon master and it’s a similar situation in dungeon crawl games.  So Star Wars: Imperial Assasult, can be played as a dungeon crawl where one person plays the imperial characters and the other players play the heroes against the bad guys. The app changes that so that no one has to miss out on the story. There are also other games that don’t fit into either the RPG or dungeon crawl genres, like Not Alone where one person controls a monster that is trying to track down all the red shirts from a crashed alien ship.

I probably should define this category next

Dungeon Crawl: I’ve mentioned it a few times, so you probably have some idea what this is, so I’ll talk about it fast. This is a game where you are going through a scenario or going up against bad guys moving through a game board, exploring new areas, and trying to complete some objective(s). Games like Gloomhaven, Descent, and Star Wars: Imperial Assault fall into this genre. You might be thinking that you don’t remember any dungeons or many in Star Wars, but that’s more of a genre given name now that a specific.

Back to more coop games for a second

Semi-Cooperative Games (Hidden Traitor): This is a genre that is closely related to cooperative games and probably wouldn’t be as strong if it wasn’t for cooperative games. In these games you are basically playing a cooperative game where all the players have the same objective. That is, all of them but one (or more depending on the game). Those players are trying to sabotage the mission for the players or have their own objective. However, they are trying to not be found out. Games like Dead of Winter, Shadows over Camelot, and Battlestar Galactica are the biggest in the genre that really needs to get more games.

Social Deduction: This is the category that seems to be stealing a lot of the hidden traitor games. In these games, you have players who are in secret roles and you are trying to figure out who the werewolves, fascists, cannibals, or whatever the games theme says the bad guys are. It is similar in some ways to a hidden traitor game but there is one huge difference. These games are built around trying to draw out that information and all the mechanics are around that deduction piece. So games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf, The Resistance (Avalon), Donner Dinner Party, and Secret Hitler are all examples of this, but the best one, in my opinion, is Deception: Murder in Hong Kong as there is more game to it than games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf or The Resistance.

That brings me to one final trio of definitions. There are so  many more things that I could write about, and I might do a part two, but this will be enough for now.

Light Weight: Probably an area that I could have described games sooner, but games are generally put into three different categories of weight, though the last one you never really hear the weight added to it. A light weight game is going to be a game with fewer rules and fewer options in the game. There can still be more strategy to the game, but it’s simple to sit down and play that game. weight in game can refer to strategy, complexity of the rules, and length of set-up/number of fiddly bits, but generally mainly the first two. Games like Splendor and Ticket to Ride are light weight games to me. While they are a bit more complex than the standard of Monopoly, they don’t offer that much strategy and complexity. Interestingly enough, a strategy abstract game like Quoridor also falls into this category even though it has a lot of strategy and thinking too it, because the rules and game play are very simple.

Medium Weight: Medium weight games are, shockingly, a step up from light weight games. They are going to offer more complexity in their interactions. You have to think through more of what you are going to do, and you can plan out multiple turns, but are more apt to have to adjust on the fly. They still aren’t getting into the area where they are too mathy or too much strategy where you are having to plan out a lot of turns in advance. Five Tribes is a great example of this where you have a number of decisions and options that you can do, and someone can take your move from you but also might not. Century Road: Golem Edition, is another game that is a bit on the lighter side of medium weight games, but builds up good strategy in the game and gives you quite a number of options.

Heavy: Heavy games are steeped in strategy and complexity of the game. A game like Gloomhaven falls into their category. There are a lot of rules to keep track of, there are a lot of little fiddly bits, there’s a lot of set-up, and there’s a lot of strategy. A lot of larger Euro games also fall into this category because you have to figure out what is going to be your best possible turn to get the most possible points from the game. I do want to point out that these games don’t always have to be the hardest games to play, once you know how to play t hem but they can often be more difficult to learn and have strategy that you need to know to be able to play the game well.

There are a lot of definitions, are there some terms that I’ve missed (or haven’t gotten to yet), that you are curious about?


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Board Game Types: Deck-Building Games

Board Game Types: Deck-Building Games

Deck-building games are showing up a whole lot more on Kickstarter these days, and are becoming a more popular style of game. The best-known game of this type is Dominion, in which you build up a deck of cards to gain victory points. A lot of these […]

What’s Your Gamer Group?

What’s Your Gamer Group?

One topic that I wanted to spend more time on was talking about different types of games for different types of board game nights and board game groups. Depending on who you have coming, it is really going to make a difference in what type […]