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The Ultimate Guide To Deck Bag and Pool Building Board Games

Pool building Feature

Hello reader. This is the third entry in my countdown series looking at gameplay mechanics. In each article I will discuss one mechanic, explain what it is and why I like it. I will also shine a light on five games I particularly enjoy that utilise the mechanic in an interesting way. For this article I've selected Deck, Bag, and Pool Building.

The rest of this series consists of Tile Placement, Worker Placement, Games with Momentum and Hand Management! Be sure to check them out.

What Is Deck, Bag, And Pool Building

This is a catch-all for a number of very similar (functionally) gameplay mechanics. Each player begins the game with an individual deck of cards, bag, or pool of resources. Throughout the game, the player will work through their deck, bag, or pool iteratively. The player can acquire new cards or add to their bag or pool, improving them over time.

Why Do I Like It In A Game

As far as Deck building goes, in games like Magic the Gathering and Final Fantasy TCG, I love the flexibility it gives you to customise your gaming experience. That carries over to board games that utilise deck, bag, or pool building. I enjoy the freedom to develop my own engine as the game progresses, according to how I feel like playing. I also enjoy watching how other players take a similar or identical starting deck (bag or pool) and adapt them in different ways. Seeing opposing strategies evolve during a game, as players adapt to find efficiencies and synergies, is something that interests me.

I also like the inherent luck element in this mechanic. It adds a level of uncertainty that keeps things interesting. It's something that players have an ability to influence, somewhat - by stacking their deck, bag, or pool with specific cards, resources, etc.

Games That Utilise Deck, Bag, And Pool Building

I have already mentioned one of my all time favourite games, Magic the Gathering. But for this article I want to stick to games in which all players start on a level playing field - in terms of resources, if not experience. There are many games I considered: Dominion, Clank!, Dice Masters, and Star Realms stand out in particular. But ultimately, I enjoy the following games even more:

The Quacks Of Quedlinburg

Player Count: 2 - 4 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2018

Quacks is a colourful, lightweight, push-your-luck style game with good replay value. The aim -produce potent potions to procure points!

Players each begin with an identical set of basic ingredients, a cauldron shaped gameboard, and a cloth bag. The ingredients are placed in the bag.

On a turn, players blindly select ingredients, one at a time, and add them to their pot. The goal is to add as many ingredients to your pot as possible, to progress around the ingredient track. The risk is that one ingredient is volatile. If a player pulls too many of this ingredient out of the bag in a turn, the potion explodes! This is where players push their luck. At the end of each round, players score points depending on how far along the ingredient track they got. They also gain purchasing points, which can immediately be spent on new ingredients. So you will want to progress as far as possible. However, if the potion explodes, the player can take only points or new ingredients, not both. This is not a huge disadvantage, but it's not ideal!

Quacks has become a lighter go-to in some of my gaming groups, and with my family. It's the type of game anyone can get involved with and have a bit of fun. The game itself supports the underdog. Players who are behind the high scorer get a small bonus at the beginning of each round. This does much to prevent a player falling so far behind that the game becomes a slog just to finish. In most games, every player will be in with a chance to win, right up to the last round.

This is a solid, fun, family game with a good replay value. Better still, the Herb Witches expansion offers more variation and supports up to six players. Quacks is now one of the gateway games I use to entice people into the hobby.

Century Spice Road

Player Count: 2 - 5 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2017

Spice Road really impresses me as an overall package. I don't consider it one of my favourite games, but I do really enjoy it, both for its gameplay and design. The gameplay is slick, satisfying, and easy to learn, and the component quality is high. The metal coins are particularly nice.

Thematically, players are merchants travelling the Silk Road, trading spices. There are four types of spice in the game (Turmeric, Saffron, Cardamom, and Cinnamon), represented by coloured wooden cubes.

Each player has a caravan, with space to hold ten spice cubes, and a starting hand of two cards. One card allows the player to take two Tumeric from the supply. The other card allows the player to upgrade two spice blocks in their caravan, or one spice block twice. Upgrading a spice allows the player to replace the target cube with one from the next level: Tumeric upgrades to Saffron, which upgrades to Cardamom etc.

On a game turn, the player can take one action: play a card from their hand, draft a merchant card from a common market, claim a point card, or rest.

When playing a card, the player takes the action and leaves the card in front of them. That card cannot be played until the player rests. At that time, the player takes back all cards previously played.

To draft a card, the player selects a merchant from the market and adds it to their hand. Merchant cards allow players to gain and trade spice cubes.

To claim a point card, the player selects the desired card and returns the required spice cubes to the supply. Depending on the position on the point card, the player may also gain a coin for additional points. When a player claims their fifth point card, the game round is completed and the game ends. The player with the most points wins. Like Quacks, Century Spice Road is a great gateway game for people new to the hobby!

DC Deckbuilding Game

Player Count: 2 - 5 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2012

Having read my introduction, the inclusion of an outright deck building game will not be a surprise. DC Deckbuilding game is one in a long line of many, games of this type, that followed in the wake Dominion’s success.

It follows the tried and true formula: Players start with small, identical decks of cards, and take turns purchasing new cards. The purchased cards eventually improve the player’s decks, allowing them to purchase yet more, better cards. The differences between the various games of this type are often cosmetic - or by way of a mechanic or feature tacked on to support the theme.

Its theme gains DC Deckbuilding game a spot on my list. Whilst I've never been a particularly big fan of DC (beyond Batman), I'm a big geek for the superhero genre. I like how the theme is applied to this game. Each player selects an oversized hero card, representing a member of the Justice League (in the base game). Every hero has abilities that synergise with different card types during the game.

During a turn, a player will play cards from their hand to generate power, which is the game’s currency. They can use power to purchase cards from a common market, made up of heroes, villains, equipment, superpowers, and locations. Ultimately, the player will be aiming to improve their deck, so they can generate enough power to purchase a super villain. The game ends when the last super villain has been purchased. Each card has a point value. Players total the points on the cards in their deck; the one with the most points wins.

It's a quick, simple game and I really enjoy it. Players can set the game up with as many, or as few, super villains as they wish, to adjust overall playtime. Expansions can also be picked up, to add more of the same content, and add a cooperative element.


Player Count: 2 - 4 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2014

Orléans is currently a favourite of mine. I like the way elements of bag/pool building, worker placement, and point-to-point movement are combined. It makes for some interesting gameplay.

In terms of theme, Orléans takes players to medieval France. The aim is to gain supremacy over your rivals through construction, trade, and science. To do so, you will need to amass a following of various professions (Craftsmen, Tradesmen, and Scholars etc.).

Players each begin with an identical set of followers in their bag. During a turn, players blindly draw a set number of followers from the bag and decide how to use them. Followers are allocated to action spaces on the player’s gameboard. A combination of (two or three) followers is required to complete any action. In turn order, players will then carry out a selected action, until all actions have been resolved.

Actions will enable a player to move their merchant around the map, build trading stations, and collect goods. They will also enable the player to acquire new followers and progress along a reward track. Six of the seven follower types have a reward track. Each time a player takes a follower, they move up the corresponding track and add the follower to their bag. Taking a Knight for example, moves the player up the Knight’s track. This enables them to draw more followers from their bag in future turns, and assign them to actions. Other followers will award coins, technology, buildings, goods, and increase your development level. Progressing far enough along some tracks awards Citizen tiles (for end game bonuses).

End game scoring takes into account coins, goods, trading stations, and Citizen tiles. Trading stations and Citizen tiles score according to your development level. Orléans requires some planning on the part of the players, if they are to overcome their rivals. I rate Orléans highly -  so much so that it's now a game I'll use to transition new gamers into a slightly more complex game.

Great Western Trail

Player Count: 2 - 4 | Complexity: Medium/High | Released: 2016

Last up is another particular favourite of mine. Great Western Trail (GWT) combines deck building, hand management, and point to point movement, for a really satisfying gaming experience.

In GWT you will take on the role of a rancher, repeatedly herding your cattle from Texas to Kansas City.  The aim is to arrive with the best possible herd to ship off and score points. Your herd is represented by a personal deck of cards; each one representing one of nine breeds of cattle. Players begin with identical decks, which will evolve differently over the course of the game.

The game flows quite naturally. Players draw a starting hand of cards and then take turns moving their cattleman meeple around the board. When landing on a building, the player can take the associated actions. Some actions will enable players to purchase new cattle, others will enable players to discard cards for money. Purchased cattle and discarded cards are added to the player’s discard pile and later shuffled into their deck. Players draw new cards to replace discarded ones.

This is an important mechanic. Your goal, whilst moving around the board, is to end up with a hand containing as many different cattle as possible. When you arrive in Kansas, any duplicate cards are ignored. Only one of each breed is counted for scoring.

I've focused on the deck building aspect of GWT in this short overview, but there is so much more to the game. Players can place buildings into play, altering the game board and providing more strategic options. There is also an important mechanic that influences where players can ship their herds to, which has an impact on scoring.

GWT is a really well designed game. It takes a little time to learn, and plays in around two hours, but don't be put off. GWT is a game I highly recommend.