Though deckbuilding games have been around for a few years now, we haven’t seen many experienced eurogame designers dive into the category. Martin Wallace’s A Few Acres of Snow (2011) was a notable exception — and unsurprisingly one of the most distinct deckbuilder designs. Thus, I was very pleased to see Copycat (2012), by experienced euro designer Friedemann Friese.
Copycat is uniquely a game that combines worker placement mechanics and deckbuilder mechanics. After players have auctioned for initiative, they place workers on certain choice office spaces. Only afterward do they have the opportunity to purchase new cards and earn victory points.
The game works because its two parts are very symmetrical — a topic I’m going to return to shortly. The powers of the worker placement spaces and the powers of deckbuilt cards have a lot of overlap: either one can give a player money to spend, or let him draw cards, or earn him victory points. The worker placement spaces provide the unique ability to give players “buys” — which are required to actually make purchases — while the cards have several (slightly) more esoteric powers, and also offer the unique ability to give players more workers to place.
The entire goal of the game is to earn victory points. These show up whenever players place workers in victory point spaces, play victory point cards, or use worker placement spaces that were unpopular in recent rounds. At the end of the game, players may also get the opportunity to turn their last hand’s worth of money into victory points — though this can sometimes be blocked by other players.
No matter what sort of deck a player made, it’s the person who earned the most points over the course of the game who wins.
Deckbuilders have been appearing in many different forms in the last year or two, and the small-press Eaten by Zombies! (2011) by Mayday Games is another that pushes the genre in unique and new directions. That’s not just because it features a well-themed zombie apocalypse, but also because Eaten by Zombies! uses cards and currencies in new ways.
Eaten by Zombies! is a game of out-surviving your opponents, so that you’re the last (wo)man standing in the zombie apocalypse.
On a standard turn you choose to either fight zombies or flee, depending on the amount of fight or flee ability you have in your hand. If you flee at all or if you fail at fighting, then you’re wounded by zombies, which removes (trashes) cards from your deck. If you succeed at your fighting or fleeing, then you get to use your fight/flee ability to also buy new cards for your deck.
When a player dies, they become a zombie and get to start playing cards to make the zombies better. Eventually the last human standing wins (unless one of a couple of sudden-death victory conditions occur).
By now I’ve written a pretty extensive series of articles on deckbuilding games. In doing so I’ve always compared the games to Dominion — but I’ve never rally looked closely at the mechanics of Dominion on their own.
So this week — partially in honor of the 73rd Dominion supplement, Dark Ages — I’m going to consider Dominion as it was presented in the original release, talk about its mechanics, and also give my opinions on how central those mechanics are to the deckbuilding genre as a whole.
Increasingly, deckbuilder games come in all shapes and sizes. The subgenre no longer always equates to a big box containing 400 cards that’ll be supplemented every six months.
Instead, you can have a deckbuilder that features a small, fixed decks of cards packaged in a single small box. That’s the case with small-press Pergamemnon, by Bernd Eisenstein’s ironGames — which also offers a lot of additions to the deckbuilding field as well.
In my deckbuilding article on Eminent Domain, Jessey mentioned Martin Wallace’s A Few Acres of Snow as another game that integrated deckbuilding as part of a larger game. Now that I’ve played it, I agree — it goes even further than Eminent Domain in using deckbuilding as a mechanic rather than as a genre of game.
A Few Acres of Snow is on the one hand a wargame. Like Martin Wallace’s densest wargame, Waterloo, the most obvious victory requires the capture of specific villages. However from there it opens up into a more common Wallacian euro-warfare design, where the combat actually happens through the play of cards. There’s also a fair amount of additional resource management, as players build up their holdings of villages and towns. In some ways, it reminds me the most of Wallace’s Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, as both games center on the play of cards which are full of symbols that enable actions.
Penny Arcade has been released as two standalone deckbuilding games: Gamers vs Evil (2011) and Rumble in R’lyeh (2012). They’re both pretty basic deckbuilders, but they still offer some interesting ideas for the deckbuilding genre.
Though Penny Arcade is a much later release than most one-and-a-halfth generation deckbuilding games like Thunderstone (2009) and Tanto Cuore (2009), it nonetheless shares a lot of elements in common with Dominion. However, it also builds strongly on another deckbuilder, Ascension (2010), thus offering the first look at a third generation of deckbuilder games — which are influenced not just by Dominion, but also by other deckbuilder releases.
Alf Seegert, designer of the upcoming deckbuilder Fantastiqa was kind enough to give me this interview on the topic of deckbuilding games. He’s a six-time Hippodice game design competition finalist and the designer of the board games Bridge Troll, Trollhalla, The Road to Canterbury, and (now) Fantastiqa. You can find out more at alfseegert.com.
Fantastiqa itself is scheduled to be published by Gryphon Games in late 2012. It’s currently on Kickstarter.
With that intro out of the way, let me get to the actual interview …