A Bagbuilding Look at Orléans

Dominion (2008) kicked off a whole new genre of play: the deckbuilding games. But it’s also created a few spin-offs of its own, with Orléans (2014, 2015) being one of the more far-flung examples.


Styles of Building Play

Though Dominion is all about deckbuilding, a few variants of that core gameplay have appeared.

Deckbuilding. Dominion (2008) debuted the core idea of deckbuilding play. Players start with a deck of mediocre cards that allow them to undertake actions. Over the course of the game players add new, better cards to their deck and remove old, worse ones. Each turn, they’ll randomly draw some of those cards; hopefully they’ll be a coherent set that allows them to take great actions.

Dicebuilding. Quarriors (2011) was the first dicebuilding game. Here players instead start with a handful of dice and buy new ones to improve their dice pool over time. The randomness of the play is moved: where in a deckbuilding game, players draw random cards, in a dice building game, players instead roll random results. This somewhat constrains the randomness: where deckbuilding games tend to be binary (you get a result or not), dice building games tend to have more nuance (you get a result, but its level of effect varies). Dice building games are also theoretically simpler than deckbuilders, as you can’t fit complex effects on a dice face — but Quarriors fought against this limitation by linking dice to reference cards, which was a bit exhausting.

Of course Quarriers also involved a bag: you draw six dice from up to twelve in the bag each turn. But, it’s better to keep that aside for the moment, as the use of a bag defines the newest sort of *builder game … Continue reading

A Deckbuilding Look at Tyrants of the Underdark

Tyrants CoverClearly, deckbuilding games are still a going concern, as I’ve been able to write about two new designs this month: first Mystic Vale (2016) and now Tyrants of the Underdark (2016).

With that said, deckbuilders are growing more outré too. Both of this month’s designs have basic mechanics that you could have found in second-generation deckbuilders following Dominion (2008), but they also incorporate much weirder elements, like the plastic cards of Mystic Vale … and the plastic armies of Tyrants.

The Game

Tyrants of the Underdark (2016) is a game in two parts.

On the one hand, some cards give you Influence. That’s used to buy cards from a central tableau. The default cards can be used to generate influence or power, while a random array of six market cards can provide players with more varied powers.

On the other hand, some cards give you Power. That’s used to affect the game board. You can use your influence to deploy troops or to assassinate troops, slowly expanding across the Underdark and taking control of central locations, which are worth victory points.

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A Deckbuilding Look at Mystic Vale

Mystic Vale CoverIt’s now been almost eight years since Dominion changed the face of gaming by introducing a dominant new style of play. Long gone is the day when a semi-clone could be released that just moved Dominion into the dungeons or the scullery. Instead new deck builders must have dramatically different styles of gameplay … or even dramatically different styles of components.

And that’s an intro to Mystic Vale (2016) which features transparent cards made of plastic!

The Game

In many ways, Mystic Vale is a pretty traditional deckbuilding game. You buy cards that can generate money (mana), then use that money to buy new cards. The most valuable cards are worth victory points, while some cards also generate victory points when played.

The big innovation of the game is that the “cards” are actually plastic card sleeves that are used to hold transparent cards. You can slide up to three transparent cards into each sleeve, provided one shows its powers at the top, one at the middle, and one at the bottom. So, you’re not exactly “deck building”, but you’re “card crafting”, since you’re improving the cards already in your deck. But, it really amounts to the same thing — especially when you consider that some card sleeves are empty at the start of the game. Continue reading

A Mini-Deckbuilding Look at Lord of the Rings Deck-Building Game

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship BoxOver the Christmas holiday I was fortunate to play a new-to-me deckbuilder, the Lord of the Rings Deck-Building Game (2013). It’s based on the Cerberus Deckbuilding system, which is the same game engine used by DC Comics Deck-Building Game (2012). In fact, it seems likely that the two games were developed in parallel, as DC Comics appeared in December 2012, and Lord of the Rings appeared just a few months later, in April 2013. As such, the games are pretty similar.

I already covered the core of the simple and light DC Comics game in a previous article, but Lord of the Rings still deserves a bit of discussion for how it updates and adjusts the Cerberus system. Continue reading

A Deckbuilding Look at Flip City

Flip CityIn a year that was light on original deckbuilder releases, I’ve been pleased to finally take a look at some new ones as autumn deepens. This week I’m looking at TMG’s Flip City, which feels like a companion to their Cthulhu Realms because they’re both mini-deckbuilders, packing a whole game into a small, portable box. Flip City does that with just 86 cards, and more notably just 6 types of cards — but they’re double-sided, offering a total of 12 possibilities.

The Game

Flip City (2015) is a very unusual deckbuilder game that plays unlike anything else in my collection. That’s in large part because of the doubled-sided design of the cards. Not only can you pay to buy cards, but you can also pay to flip cards, which makes them better.

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A Deckbuilding Look at Cthulhu Realms

Cthulhu Realms BoxThe brand-new Darwin Kastle deckbuilding game Cthulhu Realms is a new iteration of his Star Realms system, which means that it’s another classic deckbuilder with a focus on interpersonal combat. Despite its origin as an iteration of an existing design, it still offers new innovation to the field.

With its Lovecraftian basis, it’s also a great game for the Halloween season!

The Game

The gameplay of Cthulhu Realms (2015) follows closely on the design of its predecessor, Star Realms (2014). This means that the deckbuilding play is pretty basic: you play cards that give you money (conjuration points), then you use that money to buy cards from a row of randomly selected cards. The cards then go into your discard pile, for use on future turns. This also means that the other play focuses player conflict: you play cards that do damage to your opponents, with the ultimate goal of killing everyone else off (well, driving them insane; it is a Cthulhu game, after all).

However, the cards of Cthulhu Realms are also heavily interdependent. Many have powers that only activate when you play a card of a certain color or a card of a certain type. Others only activate when you force a discard of a card or trash (abjure) a card. The result is both increased tactical play and increased emphasis on the deckbuilding. Continue reading

A Deckbuilding Look at Don’t Turn Your Back

Don't Turn Your BackI haven’t talked about a new deckbuilder all year. As I’ve previously written, I think that’s because the genre has peaked. So I was happy to get my Kickstarted copy of Don’t Turn Your Back (2015), by Eric B. Vogel, because it gives me a chance to return to a topic that has often filled this blog in recent years.

I talked with Eric about the game in February, but now that it’s out I can talk more about my own experience with the game — about how it expands the field and where it has troubles. I should note that Eric is a friend of mine, and I playtested the game several times in 2014, so take what I write with the appropriate amount of salt!


The Game

Don’t Turn Your Back is a deckbuilding/worker-placement game. You buy cards and filter cards like you’d expect, making the best deck that you can. However, the game’s use of those cards is unusual. Instead of just playing them and taking their effects, you instead place cards on specific areas of a game board, each of which has limited spaces. Doing so produces specific results: Continue reading