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 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 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

Deckbuilding Expansion: Ascension, Part Two — From Vigil to Champions

Ascension Core GameTwo weeks ago I took a look at the first four Ascension sets, examining the mechanics of each.

In this article, I’m continuing that journey by looking at the most recent four sets — from Rise of Vigil through Dawn of the Champions. I’ll be examining how they influenced the Ascension game and deckbuilding in general. In doing so, I’ll be bringing Ascension up to date — and perhaps I can repeat this exercise in another 2-3 years.


Block Three: Vigil & Darkness (2013)

Ascension: Rise of VigilAscension fell into its scheduling stride with the release of the large-box Rise of Vigil (2013) and the small-box Darkness Unleashed (2013) which together form Block Three of the game.

These two sets also used a simple model for introducing new mechanics: a major mechanic appeared in Rise of Vigil (Energize), and then was ever-so-slightly adjusted in Darkness Unleashed, which also saw a new and related mechanic (Transformation). Continue reading

Deckbuilding Expansions: Ascension, Part One — From Chronicle to Heroes

In the last year-or-so, it seems like the surge of  deckbuilding games has finally slowed down. I’m certainly still looking forward to some upcoming releases like Don’t Turn Your Back, Cthulhu Realms, and Apocrypha — and I think some bag-building games deserve some crossover attention. However, in 2013 or 2014, I could expect to play 5-10 new deckbuilders a year, and that’s no longer the case.

Fortunately for us fans of deckbuilding, there’s still a lot of interesting innovation of the traditional deckbuilding form to be found — it’s just in expansions rather than new games. 


Ascension Core GameAscension (2010) kicked off its expansions with something very important: a plan. Rather than releasing expansions willy-nilly, the folks at Stoneblade Entertainment (or whatever the company’s name is this week) decided to arrange their supplements into “blocks”, following in the footsteps of Magic: The Gathering (1993).

Each of these blocks was to consist of just two sets: one big set and one small set. They’d have coherent mechanics, and thus they’d work well together. In fact, that’s the suggested way to play Ascension: only mix boxes from the same block.

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Return to Pathfinder Adventure Card Game — The Campaign

Pathfinder Adventure Card GameI’ve enjoyed watching the deckbuilding genre emerge over the last several years. However, only a few of the deckbuilders have caught my attention enough to become regular members of my gaming catalog. Dominion (2008) and Ascension (2010) were both early members of that club, racking up 100 and 21 plays to date respectively. However more recently another one has really caught my eye: the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (2013). Though I’ve only been playing it since last April, I’ve already recorded 23 plays of the game, which has put my group almost halfway through the Rise of the Runelords campaign.

When I first played Pathfinder ACG, I wrote extensively about its interesting elements. With many more plays under my belt, I’ve decided to return to the topic — to talk about what else makes the game fascinating (and very replayable).


A Revised Opinion

The Cards Quickly Become Manageable. When I wrote my original article, I said that you could easily get lost in your hand. Because the cards are all quite unique, it’s hard for a first-time player to track everything that they can do. However, I found that this problem resolved itself within several plays. Now I can sit down with my familiar deck of cards and instantly know what everything does. Continue reading

Dissecting Dominion, Part Two: What a Difference a Box Makes

Dominion BoxContinuing my look at the original Dominion deckbuilding game.


This past Christmas I got a very generous present from my long-time friend Christopher Allen: a beautiful wooden box for storing my Dominion cards, complete with labeled dividers showing which cards went where. It’s a thing of beauty — and also a solution for a few different problems that I’d had with Dominion over the years.

The Problem with Dominion Boxes

Previously, I had a mighty stack of square Dominion boxes atop one of my book cases, running from the original Dominion (2008) to Dark Ages (2012) — with a few of the smaller boxes located somewhat nearby. Unfortunately, I always found the individual boxing of Dominion supplements to be troublesome. It might seem a silly thing to complain about, but boxes can have real repercussions for how you collect and play games (as I’ve written about in the past), and I think that’s particularly true for Dominion.

Continue reading