The concept of deck building games originated with the release of a game called Dominion. A game built entirely on the concept of starting with a simple deck of basic cards which is progressively improved by purchasing more useful cards from a common market. Simple, engaging and addictive, the concept caught on and due to Dominion’s popularity, a plethora of deck building games followed, each with their own twist on that simple formula.
My first introduction to deck building games was courtesy of Clank! which my son and I tried at our local board game café. While we enjoyed it, it didn’t wow us and although it’s a popular game it certainly didn’t compel us to seek out more deck builders.
It wasn’t until a while later that we found a Marvel themed deck builder called Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game. Maybe it was our love of Marvel movies or the fact it was semi cooperative but for some reason Legendary just clicked for us. Over the following few months, we snapped up numerous expansions and began branching out to try more deck builders. In short, we had caught the deck building bug and deck builders became one of our favourite types of games.
Now deck builders have come a long way since Dominion, the game that started it all. There are an amazing variety of deck building games out there all with their own twists on the formula. But of all the deck building games I have tried, these are the ones that I like the most. If you liked this list and want to know what my favourite games are across all game types, then check out my Best Tabletop Games list.
What You Will Find in Our Best Deck Building Board Games Article
- 10.Arctic Scavengers
- 8.Ascension: Deck Building Game
- 7.Hero Realms
- 5.Lost Ruins of Arnak
- 4.Thunderstone Quest
- 3.Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
- 2.Aeon’s End
- 1.Dune: Imperium
Play Time: 20-40 Min / Players: 2-4 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 10+ / Publisher: Leder Games / Designer: Grant Rodiek
- The artwork really aligns to the theme nicely and looks great
- The theme is also supported well by the gameplay of collecting stuff, winning over friends and building a fort. It all just makes sense
- Fun and interesting twist on traditional deck building games
- Down time is kept low by allowing all players to follow public actions from cards played
- Some great player interaction.
- The deck building aspect lacks a bit of depth and can feel a little repetitive after a number of plays
- There are a lot of icons to learn which adds complexity and can make it challenging to learn.
Our list of the best deck building games opens with the light-hearted kid themed deck building game called Fort. In Fort you must gather your friends, accumulate toys and pizza, and ultimately do cool stuff to earn points. As the name suggests, part of what you need to be successful is to expand your fort to allow you to accumulate more resources and gain more points. The cards you need in this game are different kids you can attract to your gang that will enhance your deck. Beware though any friends that are not used on a turn may feel neglected and may be enticed to a competing gang.
Fort is a favourite for my oldest daughter, and we have had a lot of laughs playing this game. We just love the theme and the humorous artwork on the cards. The other great thing is the high level of player interaction. Most cards played will allow your competitors to follow an action and you must choose your played cards carefully as any un-played cards are fair game to be snapped up by your opponents. The base game is great, but the Cats and Dogs expansion elevates the fun factor a lot and we highly recommend it. A great deck builder if you want something a little light-hearted.
Check out our full Fort review.
10. Arctic Scavengers
Play Time: 45-60 Min / Players: 2-5 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 12+ / Publisher: Rio GRande Games / Designer: Robert K Gabhart
- Great theme that is well implemented
- Meaningful decisions and trade-offs due to multiple ways cards can be used
- Plenty of player interaction
- Incorporates an interesting bluffing aspect in skirmishes.
- Not much card variety for the market in core box
- Some early wins in the skirmish can make the leader hard to beat.
Next up on this list is Arctic Scavengers, a competitive deck building game which is set in a post-apocalyptic world. Your goal in Arctic Scavengers is to grow the largest tribe to win. To do this you will need to recruit new tribe members with useful skills, gather tools, scavenge, and skirmish with other tribes to gain an advantage.
I love how thematic Arctic Scavengers feels. The thing that sets it apart from many other deck builders though is that although deck building is a key part of the game how you play your cards is equally important. That’s because most cards give you a choice as to how you use them and there is also a tension between using your cards to improve your deck in the resource gathering phase or saving them for a possible big reward in the skirmish phase. This also provides an opportunity for a bit of bluffing, as one player each turn will get to peek at the card you are skirmishing for while everyone else doesn’t. The lead player may commit several potentially useless cards to the skirmish for something they don’t really want in the hopes that others commit heavily and waste cards. A great option if you are after a deck builder with plenty of interaction that has a strong theme.
Play Time: 45-75 Min / Players: 2-5 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 10+ / Publisher: AEG / Designer: David Short
- Easy to learn
- Interesting concept of balancing speed and wear on your cars
- Nice card variety and two track options provide good replay value
- Great theme
- Game length can be adjusted to suit your preferred play time.
- Some luck involved in drawing cubes from the bag.
Automobiles is the third in a series of games from AEG, first there was Trains, then there was Planes and now, unsurprisingly we have Automobiles. Automobiles is a little different to the other games on our list. You see the deck building is actually cube building. In automobiles you start with a bag of coloured cubes that represent how far your race car will travel around the track and other benefits. The cubes all correspond to one of the card abilities on the table and so as you draw your cubes, they can be used to trigger those abilities. The neat thing is that you can choose to save them and use them as currency to buy better cubes for your bag or use them to travel around the track. One of my favourite aspects of this game is that as you race around the track you will incur wear on your car in the form of useless brown cubes. The faster you go the more wear you get. It is such a clever concept and feels quite thematic.
There are so many deck building games out there it is cool to see that there are still fun and innovative design twists that can make a game feel quite unique. Automobiles is actually quite a simple game, you can teach it fairly quickly and the descriptions of what each cube does are right there on the table in front of players. There is quite a bit of skill in using your cubes wisely to balance between improving your bag of cubes or racing around the track. The racing theme is also quite nicely implemented here for such a simple game. A great deck builder for car racing fans.
8. Ascension: Deck Building Game
Play Time: 30 Min / Players: 1-4 / Complexity: Low / Age: 13+ / Publisher: Stone Blade Entertainment / Designer: John Fiorillo, Justin Gary, Brian M Kibler
- Easy to learn
- Quick to play
- Good replay value due wide variety of cards
- Game flows well and turns are generally snappy.
- The randomized market adds a bit of luck
- Can feel quite tactical.
Ascension is a competitive deck builder where your goal is to rack up the most points possible before the end of the game. You can gain points by buying cards which require runes or defeating monsters which require attack points. There are four different factions available that focus on a slightly different strength. Blue cards tend to have a lot of draw abilities, purple tends to thin out your deck and provide attack, brown tends to focus more on constructs which stay in play until destroyed, and green tends to have more focus on generating runes.
The thing I like best about Ascension is that it is no fuss and gives me that pure deck building hit I want in a short time frame. Although it can feel a little tactical at times due to the randomised market, it is still a lot of fun and there is plenty of card variety in the core set.
7. Hero Realms
Play Time: 20-30 Min / Players: 2-4 / Complexity: Low / Age: 12+ we think 8+ / Publisher: Wise Wizard Games / Designers: Robert Dougherty, Darwin Kastle
- Plays quickly with simple set up
- Great introduction to deck builders as it’s so easy to learn
- Lots of card variety presents varied opportunities each game
- Card synergies can be easily recognised thanks to clear iconography
- Plenty of interaction and direct competition
- Some nice improvements compared to star realms with more varied starting deck and support for up to 4 players in core box.
- There is some luck here due to random nature of cards appearing in the market
- The changes overall don’t make it different enough to warrant owning both games unless you are interested in the Hero Realms character packs.
Hero Realms is the follow up to the very popular Star Realms deck building game. I thought long and hard about which one to put on this list, I really enjoy both and ultimately, I like the sci fi theme better in Star Realms. But Hero Realms offers more in the core game due to it supporting up to 4 players instead of just 2 for Star Realms, so I included Hero Realms here.
Hero Realms is a competitive deck builder where your goal is to defeat the other player by reducing them down to zero health points. Players will start with a deck of basic cards and recruit more cards from a common market. Cards in the market belong to one of four factions and generally synergise well with cards from the same faction. There are also champions which remain in front of you once played until defeated and act as a defence from your opponent’s attacks.
I love Star Realms and Hero Realms, they are both ideal introductions to deck building and are very simple to teach. They also play quickly too. The thing I like best though is the high level of player interaction which keeps players engaged. For the short time factor there is a lot of fun packed in, a worthy entry to this list.
Check out our full Hero Realms review.
Play Time: 30 Mins / Players: 2-4 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 13+ / Publisher: Rio Grande Games / Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
- Innovative game that introduced the deck building mechanic
- Great replay value with a wide variety of cards in the base game
- Lots of strategic depth
- Cool trade-offs between accumulating points and keeping your deck efficient.
- Artwork on cards is not particularly striking
- Not very thematic.
Dominion is the game that started it all, at the time of it’s release it was incredibly innovative and sparked a plethora of games trying to repeat its success. Ironically this is a game I tried after most of the games on this list. In Dominion you are a monarch competing with other monarchs to expand your kingdom. To rise to dominance you will hire minions, construct buildings, increase your treasury and improve your castle all through effective deck building. The twist here is that the point cards you need to win the game have no other benefit, so by accumulating these you are also clogging your deck. This adds an interesting consideration as you try to balance improvements to your overall deck and time your accumulation of points well.
The core set of Dominion offers a large number of market cards to keep things interesting over many plays. The thing I really like about the game design here is that it is quite streamlined and focuses unsurprisingly on the deck building mechanic. There are some amazing combos you can string together in Dominion, but it requires careful consideration to balance your deck well. Unlike other deck builders you can’t simply play your whole hand, you must have cards that grant additional actions to enable you to play more than one action card in a turn. I love the tension that points cards provide, given they are the only way to secure victory but also clog your deck. In my view Dominion still holds up well and is a worthy entry on this list.
Check out our full Dominion review.
5. Lost Ruins of Arnak
Play Time: 30-120 Min / Players: 1-4 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 12+ / Publisher: Czech Games Edition / Designer: Min, Elwin
- Great theme
- Combination of worker placement and deck building integrates well
- Plenty of depth and options to explore
- Components and artwork look amazing
- High replay value.
- The number of options and board spaces can be a bit overwhelming at first for new players.
This is the part in my list where the decisions on ranking started to get tough, and on any given day they might change slightly. However, the next game on my list is Lost Ruins of Arnak and it’s the first of two worker placement/deck building games on my list. In Lost Ruins of Arnak players will have to use their workers and decks wisely to unlock worker spaces on the map, defeat guardians and find lost artefacts. The added layer of worker placement means you must consider not only the cards in your hand but also the optimal worker spaces you want to prioritise. There is also a cool mechanic relating to travel that constrains where you can place your workers.
I am a big fan of worker placement and deck building in games, so a game that combines both will always get me interested. Lost Ruins of Arnak integrates both mechanics well and has a cool theme to top it all off. Because of the additional worker placement layer, it offers some great depth which adds to the replay value. A great game for those wanting a twist on traditional deck building.
4. Thunderstone Quest
Play Time: 60-90 Min / Players: 2-4 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 14+ we think 10+ / Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) / Designer: Mike Elliot
- Lots of replay value
- Fantastic components
- Interesting tension between village and dungeon locations
- Use of light to travel through the dungeon is well implemented
- Great card synergies.
- Not really a lot of player interaction. At times it can feel a little like multiplayer solitaire.
In Thunderstone Quest you play the role of a mighty champion recruiting heroes to your band, casting spells and using powerful weapons to battle monsters through a dark dungeon. Light is your friend here and lets you delve further into the dungeon to fight more powerful foes and earn greater rewards. Your goal is to rack up the most points by the end of the game to win.
I love the dungeon crawling deck building combo in Thunderstone Quest. It feels great being able to build up towards the deeper parts of the dungeon and defeat more powerful monsters. There is also so much variety in the base set that it will keep you going for a long time before you feel like you need any more variety. Although it’s competitive there isn’t a lot of direct player interaction or sabotage here which is ideal if you are introducing this game to new players. A great option for those that like a fantasy theme and something less cutthroat.
Check out our full Thunderstone Quest review.
3. Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
Play Time: 30-60 Min / Players: 1-5 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 14+ we think 11+ / Publisher: Upper Deck Entertainment / Designer: Devin Low
- Lots of replay value through varying combinations of schemes, masterminds, and heroes
- Very satisfying discovering different card synergies
- Card abilities are well thought out and work well to differentiate each hero deck
- Has a very solid solo mode
- Implements marvel theme very well.
- Base game content may not be challenging enough at lower player counts however at 5 players the difficulty level ramps up a lot.
Our top 3 begins with the semi-cooperative deck builder Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game. In Legendary: Marvel you take on the role of a team of Marvel superheroes battling it out against an evil mastermind from the Marvel universe. To win you must successfully defeat the mastermind before they have achieved their scheme victory conditions. Conversely you lose the game if the mastermind can complete the stated scheme objectives before you can defeat them.
For those that aren’t fans of the Marvel theme, don’t worry Legendary comes in numerous different themes so It’s likely there will be one that will appeal. James Bond, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the X-Files and even Aliens have all been converted to the Legendary format so there are plenty of options out there.
This is the game that really ignited a passion for deck building games for my son and I. As big Marvel fans it gave us the opportunity to recreate our favourite Marvel stories and use some of our favourite characters all while working together to defeat an iconic mastermind. There are so many different combinations of heroes and card synergies to explore here, and the combos can be unreal. There is a good amount of variety in the core box, but it shines best with expansions to rachet up the difficulty level a bit, and there are so many different expansions available. Our favourite is X-Men as it allows you to add horrors to masterminds from any set to make them more challenging.
Check out our full Legendary: Marvel Deck Building Game review.
2. Aeon’s End
Play Time: 60 Min / Players: 1-4 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 14+ we think 12+ / Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards / Designer: Kevin Riley
- Challenging and interesting gameplay
- Wide variety of strategies to explore
- Great replay value due to diverse mages, supply cards and nemeses
- High degree of player interaction
- Great approach to premade decks for first game makes learning the game easy
- Wonderful back story and theme effectively incorporated into the game.
- We can’t fault this game other than the insert, but that’s nit picking really.
Our top 2 on this list both made it to my Best Tabletop Games list, and they are exceptional. Our second spot on this list goes to the cooperative deck builder Aeon’s end. In Aeon’s End each player selects a unique mage and together you battle a powerful nemesis and their minions. The catch is you are the last line of defence between these beasts and earth’s sole surviving city – Gravehold. Each game feels really tense as the nemesis will field more powerful cards as the game progresses creating a constant struggle to keep up with their ever more powerful attacks and abilities. Teamwork is key here as many abilities will interact with other players.
Aeon’s End is probably the most challenging game on this list and has a lot of strategic depth. The theme is also implemented so well here, with a great back story for the mages and nemesis on the back of each of their boards. My son and I love this game and have had so much fun playing it. It’s a game that has hit the mark each time I have introduced it to a new crowd. I think it’s because this game has a lot of player interaction to keep things social. Between the different mages, nemesis and loads of market cards there is a lot of replay value in the core box too. If you like a challenge and lots of player interaction Aeon’s End is an exceptional option.
Check out our full Aeon’s End review.
1. Dune Imperium
Play Time: 60-120 Min / Players: 1-4 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 13+ / Publisher: Dire Wolf / Designer: Paul Dennon
- Deck building, worker placement and smooth combat elements come together expertly
- Full of meaningful engaging choices
- Gameplay is streamlined and quick to learn
- Games are usually tense and close
- Great at all player counts due to a well implemented AI
- Replay value is excellent with 8 leaders to try, a large variety of cards on offer and depth of strategic choices.
- Theme is not as deeply implemented as I would like
- Those wanting a more traditional deck building experience may not like the way it’s implemented in Dune Imperium.
I had a lot of trouble choosing the best deck building game. On the one hand I think Aeon’s End has far more emphasis on deck building and so it was a contender for this spot. On the other hand, as a total package, I enjoy Dune: Imperium more. In the end, the number 1 spot on my best deck building games list has to go to Dune Imperium. It also occupies the number 1 spot on our best tabletop games list too, so it isn’t surprising I ranked it so highly.
Dune Imperium is a worker placement and deck building board game set on the desert planet of Arrakis. The artwork and theme draw heavily from the Dune movie reboot so if you have seen the film, you will recognise a lot of the illustrations here. In Dune Imperium players will take the helm of one of the great houses of the imperium in an effort to expand their influence over the desert planet of Dune.
To succeed you must utilise your agents and military wisely to gain the most points by the end of the game. The end game is triggered through one of the players reaching 10 points or the conflict deck running out. Points can be gathered through combat, gaining specific cards, or earning alliances with key factions. Don’t expect big margins here, games tend to be close.
Dune Imperium is just so consistently good across all player counts. Solo and multiplayer are both fantastic in this game. I think the main reason is because of the smooth, low admin bot that comes into use at two players to compete for board spaces, and in the case of solo to compete for the win. The other thing that sets Dune Imperium apart is how close and tense each game feels when we play. I often find the win can go to any player and often the margin is 1 or 2 points. Although the deck building is a lot more subtle in Dune Imperium, crafting a deck that enables your strategy is still an important part of the game. It is just a masterful blend of two mechanics I love, worker placement and deck building, wrapped in a sci-fi theme, it was always going to be a tough one to beat.
Check out our full Dune Imperium review.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the best deck building games. If you have any more questions or just want to share your thoughts on this game please leave a comment below, or get in touch through our contact page.
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