Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post, at no cost to you. Please read my disclosure for more info.
Our Top 3 Picks for the Best Deck-Building Games
Deck-building games have become popular in recent years. These games involve cards, and some have boardgame-style components like mats, tokens, playing pieces etc. too. They combine the strategy of a board game with the randomness and luck-based play of card games. Most are easy to learn and super fun to play!
If you’re new to deck-building games and are wondering which games might be right for your family, take a look at our picks for the best deck-building games, ranked from #10 to #1.
The Best Deck-Building Games
If you’ve heard of Magic: The Gathering, you’ll be impressed to discover that Ascension was created by the champions of the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour. In the centre of the table, you’ll have the Center Deck, which contains heroes, monsters and constructs, and six cards laid face up.
Each player has a hand of five cards and each card will either give you money, give you power for attack, allow you to draw other cards, allow you to stack it with similar cards to gain a tool, or let you clear cards that you don’t want. The goal is to gain “Honor Points” and this is done by gaining cards and killing monsters.
Ascension is fairly easy to teach and to learn thanks to the artwork on each card. The theme of the game itself doesn’t really hold up, but learning the different types of cards is made a bit easier as they each have distinct, detailed pictures. BoardGameGeek gives it a 2.15/5 on their complexity scale.
Each game takes about 30mins and can be played solo or with up to 4 players. The box says it’s best for ages 13 and up, but it’s probably fine for most 10-year-olds.
Word game lovers love this game’s unique combination of word-building and deck-building; it’s like Scrabble and cards all in one.
Imagine that you’re a paperback novelist in search of fame. Each player has a deck of cards that includes the letters RLNST as well as a few wild cards. You must use these cards, as well as the “common cards” and “offer” cards — which you must buy with accumulated points — to create words and gain fame points. Whoever has the most fame at the end of the game is the winner.
Play is similar to most other deck-building games, where players discard cards on each turn and then recycle their discard pile into their hand when they’ve run out of cards. Plus, everyone can buy and trade from the source (offer cards) in the middle of the table. Certain cards give you special abilities, such as adding an extra card to your hand or doubling your letter’s points.
Gamers who love Scrabble and the likes will love this word/deck-building combo game, and strategy game lovers will enjoy it just as much. There’s even a variant way to play it as a cooperative game. It’s really the perfect combination.
Each game takes about 45mins to play, and it’s designed for 2-4 players. Users say that kids as young as 8 can enjoy it, even though the box says 10 (a lot depends on whether or not they can spell!). It’s super easy to learn — BoardGameGeeks rates it 1.99/5 for complexity.
This one’s a little bit different. Technically, it’s a card-building game, not deck-building. The difference is that you end the game with the same 20 cards you started with. Another detail that sets Mystic Vale apart from similar games is that instead of holding a deck of typical cards, you’re actually holding a deck of plastic sleeves.
As with other deck-building games, you can buy cards or “advancements” from the market in the middle of the table. In this case though, you don’t just add these new cards to your discard pile. Instead, you slide the advancements into the sleeves in your play area. This changes the abilities of the original card/sleeve.
You’re not allowed to cover up any of the card’s other abilities with a new advancement in the sleeve. Once you’ve sleeved all your new advancements, the sleeves/cards are then put into the discard pile, and you can set up your playing field for the next round.
The initial setup for Mystic Vale will be slightly different depending on how many people are playing and how comfortable you are with the game — basic, intermediate, etc. This can add to the playing time, but it generally takes about 45mins to run through a game. It’s designed for 2-4 players of ages 14 and up – although users say it’s fine for 10-year-olds. It’s 2.26/5 on BoardGameGeek’s complexity scale.
If you’ve ever wished you could play football with a team of menacing monsters, this game is for you. You pick one of six different teams, each with their own special abilities and playing style, including passing, sprinting, cheating and tackling. Some players rely solely on cheating and tackling to get the job done. There are as many “matches” as there are players in the game, and matches include highlight games and tournament games. Each of these provides the winner with various prizes, including fan points.
For a match, you take a player from your hand, place him on the “field”, use his special abilities — which include cheating! — and face your opponent in a game of football. If your player tackles another, you roll the dice and hope for a double tackle for the win. The goal of the game is to earn the most fan points. The more matches you win, the more points you get until you’re eventually crowned the champion of the Blood Bowl.
As you can imagine, monsters playing football can take a while, so gameplay can be anywhere from 60-120mins. It’s also a game aimed at older players, preferably ages 14 and up, although users approve it for 12- and 13-year-olds too. It’s not overly difficult to learn and BoardGameGeek gives it a 2.33/5 complexity rating.
Your fellow Potterheads will be eager to play this cooperative game where the students of Hogwarts work together to protect the school from magical villains.
Each player chooses a character (Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville), beginning as a first-year Hogwarts student who progresses through their education, learning new spells and gaining tools and tricks as they go. Each character has specific cards and abilities for acquiring resources. You collect character, spell, and magical item cards to help fight the villains and prevent them from gaining power.
However, there’s also a “Dark Arts” deck that supplies the game with villain card effects, like a player losing all their health and adding skulls or Dark Marks to a certain location within Hogwarts. It’s when all locations on the board are filled with Dark Marks that you lose the game.
An important thing to note is that this game appeals to Harry Potter fans as well as strategy gamers. Its theme is fun enough to attract those who enjoy family-style or party games, but is also complex enough for serious gamers.
2-4 players can play at a time and it’s recommended for ages 11 and up — though your younger ones can likely enjoy it too, perhaps as young as 8. A game can take anywhere from 30-60mins and it’s pretty easy to learn. BoardGameGeek gives it 2.08/5 on their complexity scale.
This spaceship-themed card game is a big favorite among deck-building lovers. The point is to reduce your opponents’ Authority (their score) to zero before they reduce yours. Everyone begins the game with 8 cards that include six scouts and two vipers. There are two main actions you can take, using the cards in your hand: attack or trade.
Each attack card in your hand has a number on it that represents how many points of damage you can inflict on an opponent. To trade, you exchange one or more trading cards from your hand for one of the 5 random cards on display in the middle of the table. Your purchased cards go into your discard pile to be shuffled and used in your hand later, as with other deck-building games.
There are two big reasons why gamers love Star Realms. First, it’s super cheap! The base game is under $15, which is unusual for a game this good. Also, there are many, many options for expansion packs. Some expansions include Gambit, Colony Wars, Cosmic Gambit, four different United packs, and four Crisis packs. If you only have the base set, it’s a 2-player game only. Buy more than one base set, though, and you increase the number of possible players.
BoardGameGeek gives it a 1.94/5 on the complexity scale, meaning it’s super easy to learn, and each game takes approximately 20mins. Although it claims to be for ages 12 and up, users say even kids as young as 8 can enjoy it.
The selling feature of this game is its Marvel theme. Players are agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and must conquer the evil mastermind four times before he can complete his evil scheme. You get to choose which villain you’ll try to defeat: Magneto, Loki, Dr. Doom or Red Skull. It’s a cooperative game, but the player with the most victory points is the most heroic and wins the individual victory.
The deck consists of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiers. Agents can recruit powerful heroes and soldiers can attack villains and the mastermind. The cards in your hand are used to defeat bad guys and recruit new heroes. You go through and use cards as in most deck-building games — buying, playing, discarding, shuffling etc. — and must improve their recruitment and attack abilities.
Unfortunately, villains can sometimes escape or survive your attacks and then grow stronger. Be extra careful that no innocent bystanders are harmed during your encounters with villains!
There are plenty of expansions to go along with this game, including Legendary: Villains, where you get to be the villain! Although Legendary is a cooperative game, it does have a variant for solo play, and can therefore be enjoyed by 1-5 players. It takes anywhere from 30-60mins to play through, and its complexity rating from BoardGameGeek is 2.44/5, so it’s pretty easy to learn, but it might take a while before you master it. Anyone above age 10 can play, although the box advises it for ages 14 and up.
In Clank!, you’re trying to sneak into the dragon’s lair, steal an artifact, and make a safe escape. While the majority of deck-building games use only cards, Clank! is one of the few that also uses a game board. All movements are guided by the cards you have in your hand — the cards you start with, plus those you purchase during play. If you have a card that says “Clank!” then you’ve generated clank. You must add a cube from your supply to the clank section of the board.
Once you’ve gained an artifact from the dragon’s lair, make your way back to the door of the castle, and gain some serious bonuses. Instead of taking your regular turn now, you make your way across five spots at the top of the board or “upper level” of the castle, triggering dragon attacks. When you reach the fifth space, the game ends and you’ve won.
The tricky part comes when you find a card that causes the dragon to attack. Players then take all the Clank! tokens, put them in the Dragon Bag, and draw out a number of cubes (depends on the Rage Track). If a token of your color is drawn, you place it on your damage track.
The board and playing pieces are what sets this game apart from the others. Users say that kids as young as 8 can play, even though the box says 12, and BoardGameGeek gives it a complexity score of 2.21/5, which means it’s pretty easy to learn. 2-4 players can enjoy Clank! at once, and it can take anywhere from 30-60mins to finish the game.
The theme of this game is creepy and intense: Grotesque, powerful figures called The Nameless threaten the underground city of Gravehold. You and your fellow citizens must reduce your enemy’s health to zero in order to win.
You choose a character, select your nemesis, and place nine cards for the shared market in the center. These nine cards include four sets of spells, two relics, and three gems. Gems provide aether, the currency of the game, relics boost other effects, and spells can attack The Nameless. Use your gems/ether to buy things from the market.
One wacky feature of this game is that players take turns by drawing from the turns pile, so you never know if it’s going to be your turn, another player’s turn, or your enemy’s turn. Another unusual feature is that you can’t reshuffle your discard pile and reuse it, unlike other deck-building games.
Although you can play this game with 1-4 players, users say it’s definitely best with two. The box also says it’s aimed at players ages 14 and up, but users say 12-year-olds can manage it just fine. It takes approximately 1hr to play, and it isn’t that hard to learn. BoardGameGeek gives it a 2.75/5 complexity rating.
Dominion is the granddaddy of deck-building games — it was really the first “board” game that consisted solely of cards, the first deck-building game. Players collect different cards that give them various types of power and money. These cards can be traded for others, which then give you power, money, and points. You must accumulate the most Victory Points by the end of the game to win.
Unlike many deck-building games (or any board games, for that matter), the rules for setup and play can be different each time. There are 500 cards in the box, and you can choose 10 of the 25 Kingdom Cards to begin, and it can be any combination of 10. This means that the game can be set up completely different every time you play, making it a whole new experience.
2-4 players of ages 13 and up can play. You might have trouble catching on during the first run-through, but once you catch on, it’s a breeze. In fact, BoardGameGeek only gives it a 2.36/5 on the complexity scale. Although the box says that gameplay takes about 30mins, realistically it’s about 45mins for 2 players. Expect it to run longer with more players.
Dominion also makes our list of best 3-player board games.
Add some spice to your family game night by learning one of these fantastic deck-building games. Whether your family enjoys word games, party games, strategy games, or any other board games, you can easily find one that everyone will enjoy. Many deck-building games don’t require a lot of space either, making them very convenient for playing wherever. Plus, these card games mean there are far fewer pieces to set up, pack up, and lose!