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Our Favourite Games with a Deck-Building Element

Deck-Building Games

Deck-Building Games

In many games, a personal deck of cards lets a player influence the direction of gameplay and a game’s overall outcome. (These games are distinct from “pure” deck-building games, where the cards themselves are the game.) Games with this mechanic are very popular among the Zatu Bloggers! Five have gone on their travels and shared their thoughts about a specific favourite game that contains a strong deck-building element.

Deck-Building Games: Taverns of Tiefenthal

Visiting the Taverns of Tiefenthal with Callum Price

We love deck building. We love it even more when it's part of a board game, and not a garden feature. You buy cards in order to use cards in order to buy cards – a wonderful, but unpredictable system. So, when we need a diluted deck builder (one that features deck-building among other mechanics)- our current “go to” is Taverns of Tiefenthal by Schmidt Spiele.

The game's premise is simple. You are all tavern owners, and you have your regulars. By the end of the game, you need to have amassed "quality guests" to score victory points and win. What makes this more than a pure deck builder is that you have the ability to upgrade your tavern's incomes and resources. Couple that with dice drafting and you've got a quality game! We’ll admin that, as a written concept, it sounds messy - but it's not. You draw cards and allocate them until all your tables are full. Then you draft a dice and pass them on the left until you have used four. Finally, claim resources and spend them. Rinse and repeat.

Taverns of Tiefenthal is an incredibly easy-to-access game, whether an experienced player is explaining it or your whole group is fresh to it. Pubs are identical, as are your starting guests. What differs is the dice that get drafted and the cards that get purchased. But this is the same in most games. Here is where this game gives more scope for tactics. All purchased cards go to the top of your deck, not the discard. It is a tiny change that actually allows you to control some of the cards drawn and, since you draw until tables are full, modifier cards can keep on coming! You can adjust elements to change difficulty too, allowing you to adapt the game for those who might be new to the many mechanics used.

We hadn't heard of Taverns of Tiefenthal until a friend turned up with it, and now we're in love! This comes highly recommended as your next game with a deck building mechanic.

Deck-Building Games: Lewis and Clark The Expedition

Lewis & Clark (and their) Expedition are joined by Tom Harrod

Lewis & Clark: The Expedition is a magnificent beast. Players must race westwards across the US in order to be the first to set up camp on the Pacific coast. There are so many facets to this game and they all dovetail together in marvellous fashion: worker placement (but once you place the worker, it is no longer yours), resource management and point-to-point movement. There is even deck building, too – this featured topic.

Each player begins with a hand of six basic cards. They comprise Native Americans and trappers, members of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s expedition team. Each provides an action when played. Some gain or convert resources. Others are spending resources for movement down the river or through the mountains. In clever fashion, a card needs to get powered by another card to function. Meaning you flip one sacrificial lamb – foregoing its ability right now – to boost another card’s action. Hand management- you’ve got to love it!

You place these cards in a personal tableau. Many cards’ actions feed off symbols present in your neighbours’ tableaux, as well as your own. It’s a wonderful feeling, taking advantage of your rival’s deck! Of course, you can buy unique, far more powerful cards, by spending resources. Each character has a “strength” value, as well as their unique ability. “Stronger” cards can power up another card by as much as three-fold.

At any time, you can camp, picking up your tableau back into your hand. But when you do, you need to ensure your boats aren’t overloaded with commodities (among other things). Otherwise, you stall when you want to head off again. And remember, Lewis & Clark is a race!

For a long time, Lewis & Clark was out of print. But rejoice! Ludonaute have printed a new edition, and it’s available at Zatu right now. With wonderful art by Vincent Dutrait, there’s so much to love about Lewis & Clark: The Expedition.

Deck-Building Games: Undaunted North Africa

Rob Wright remains Undaunted in the North African Campaign

When I first looked at Osprey Games’ Undaunted: North Africa, I was immediately reminded of those GDW games from the 80s with the hex-maps, tiny bits of cardboard that represented units and battalions and the tome-like instruction manual. Boy, was I blind-sided – this could not be further from those rather dry, rule-heavy games. It is a superb demonstration of how a war game can be done in such a different and dynamic way.

Undaunted: NA is a two-player game that sees one player controlling the Italian armed forces and the other the Allied LRDG. There are eleven scenarios in the box that follow the LRDG’s historic campaign in North Africa during WW2. So far, so war game. What makes this and its predecessor, Normandy, so different is that players control the units using a deck-builder system. You each draw four cards from a deck relating to your units and play one of them to determine who gets initiative (goes first). The highest value card takes the initiative. The three remaining cards allow your units to take actions. These range from simple moves and attacks to commands (drawing extra cards) and bolstering (adding cards from your supply to your deck). This means that your hand determines your move, which can allow for some pretty narrow escapes or daring charges.

As well as your unit cards, your deck also gains ‘fog of war’ cards as you scout the terrain. These are fairly useless bulk cards, so you may choose to have your units hang back while you use actions to ‘clear the fog’. Wounds are handled cleverly as well, with wounds received to a unit removing cards of that unit from your deck. When there are no more cards, the unit is MIA. There are vehicles and modular maps too. Though the pieces are made of card, the whole game has a really high-quality, elegant feel. The best thing is that Undaunted: North Africa has made me re-appraise my whole attitude towards war games whilst doing something different with the deck-builder format. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Deck-Building Games: Mage Knight

Mage Knight, Neil Bunker, goes down in search of dragons

Mage Knight is a titan – a true heavyweight in terms of both complexity and kilograms. Yet, for all of its exploration, its combat, and its pre-painted minis, it is, at its heart, a deck-building game. Starting with a deck of ‘basic’ action cards, players develop their character. As their character grows, through good deeds and bad, the deck grows with them.

“Basic” in Mage Knight is a relative term. Those initial cards can be played for their effect, boosted to a stronger effect through the use of Mana (the in-game magic currency), stacked with other cards of the same effect, or played sideways to boost to another effect. Effects are everything in Mage Knight. Effects power the game, driving your character forward, moulding them from a lowly level one monster hunter to a level ten behemoth, capable of levelling cities singlehandedly.

However, you can only do so much. Only a selection of those cards can be played during a turn and you must make the best of what you have. Need to cross the desert, assault a castle, and heal, all on the same turn? Good luck with that.

But wait…

Basic action cards are soon supplemented by Advanced Action cards, Spell Cards and Artefacts. Gradually, all those feats become possible and you are soon delving into catacombs and fighting dragons. Take care though. It is possible to have a hand filled with worthless cards that severely reduce your already limited options.

Then there are the wound cards, which you collect during the many encounters with creatures that stalk the land. Wounds are much easier to acquire than they are to remove.

Of course, a savvy Mage Knight might do well to recruit an army of mercenaries to fight on their behalf….. but that is another story.

These insights give you a taste of just some of many possible tales that await as you stand, cards in hand, with the Mage Knight world about to unfold before you.

Deck-Building Games: Sierra West

Matt Thomasson heads to the Sierra West

Sierra West is a 1-4 player action path-creation (at least that is what I am calling it), card-drafting game, set in the American West. The game is designed by Jonny Pac Cantin and published by Board&Dice. .

In Sierra West, players will select a specific module with which to play. Players will then draw three cards from their deck and create their own unique action path, overlapping and arranging cards in a specific manner. Then, players move their pioneers from left to right along the path, collecting resources and performing actions. One of the actions is to ascend a mountain of cards and place one of these cards into their deck, thereby making their deck stronger. So, although the action creation is the main mechanism in the game, there is an element of deck building present. Other actions include building cabins, advancing your wagon and module-specific actions such as harvesting apples, mining for gold, fishing and fighting outlaws.

Sierra West is a very interesting puzzle-type game. The main mechanism of creating your action path is brilliantly executed. I love the possibilities available to a player utilising only three cards. The deck-building part helps to improve the actions you have available and you still get that deck-building feeling of progression and making your deck stronger.

I do like this game, as it incorporates deck-building and action selection/creation in some unique and interesting ways. The modules change the game to some degree, but the core mechanisms of creating your actions and building your deck are present in each, offering a challenging and puzzly experience each time.

Ready to Dabble in Deck-Building?

And there you have it. 5 games which make brilliant use of deck-building. If you've got the deck-building bug, why not check out Our Favourite 'Pure' Deck-Building Games?