Board Game Bites for New Gamers: Deck Building

by Mrs. Saint

We’ve placed our workers and drafted our dice, but now we have an architectural challenge, we must build a deck. No, not the kind of deck that you put your grill on and have hamburgers and hotdogs on! We’re talking about the board game mechanic known as Deck Building. In 2008, Rio Grande Games introduced the world to the deck building mechanic with their popular game, Dominion. Since that time, many different deck building games have been published.

The heart of most deck building is to gather the most valuable cards for end game scoring. This is typically done by using a type of in-game currency to purchase cards from the game’s market. For Dominion, the market is made up of the same seven types of cards, selected at the start of the game (also known as a static market). I have to confess, this is all I know about Dominion because I’ve never actually played the game, which is why I’m not going into much more detail other than the above information I’ve shared because I do not want to be disingenuous in the information I provide you in these posts, but I also feel that as the “first”, Dominion and it’s static market have to be mentioned. 

I was actually introduced to the deck building mechanic when I first started dating Mr. Saint. He took me up to his parent’s lake house to spend a weekend with his family and we played Ascension by Stone Blade Entertainment with his brother and his brother’s wife. I did horribly (no beginner’s luck) but fell immediately in love with the game and the deck building mechanic.  I was given a copy of Ascension as a birthday present later that same year by Mr. Saint. 

My husband always likes to say that Dominion launched deck building games and Ascension evolved the deck building genre. In Ascension, you’re trying to build the strongest deck to become the greatest champion of the mythical world of Vigil. You begin with your starting deck of 8 Apprentices and 2 Militias. These cards have no value to winning the game but they are what give you your starting Runes used for purchasing cards and Power used for defeating Monsters. In Ascension, there are only three basic cards that stay the same: Mystic and the Heavy Infantry, and the Cultist. The Center Row (aka: Market)  in Ascension is ever changing. As one card is bought or defeated, another is randomly drawn from the top of the Center deck to replace the missing card (also known as a variable market).

Ascension works with Runes and Power as currencies and Honor Tokens as points. In addition to the actual Honor Tokens, the cards you’re buying will have a star that indicates how much Honor they are worth for end game scoring. At the end of the game, you tally your Honor Tokens and add up the Honor on your cards. The person with the most Honor wins and is the greatest hero of Vigil. With this in mind as you play, like a contractor trying to select the best grade materials for a new project, you’re trying to determine what’s the best card to buy or defeat to ensure you build the strongest possible deck for each future round so that when scoring comes you have the most Honor. 

Dominion and Ascension are only two games in a very large genre of deck building games. Another one we just recently added to our collection is Clank! by Renegade Game Studios. Clank! is similar to Ascension in that it has a changing marketplace, but with Clank!, you’re also trying to navigate moving around the game board with the cards from your deck, so there’s a little more to balance, strategy-wise. We also noticed with our first couple games of Clank! that we did not see as many opportunities to purge cards from our deck as we are used to with Ascension. Purging cards is a strong mechanic for strengthening your deck. Typically, you try to quickly get rid of the starting hand you’re given at the beginning of the game because they’re weaker cards. For Clank!, you’re trying to get rid of those rotten Stumble cards as quickly as possible. 

Leave us a comment and tell us about your favorite deck building games, the ones on your wishlist, and what are some of your favorite memories playing deck building games. 

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