deck builder card games

The 20 Best Deck Building Games for a More Exciting Game Night

Discover the 20 Best Deck Builder Games of 2021 to Keep You Entertained

Looking to try out the best deck building games of 2021? Whether you’re a causal or serious gamer, prefer solo or cooperative play, or want the most challenging heavyweight game you can find, you’ll find a new favorite among our best deck builder games. If you’re new to the genre but love strategy card games, prepare to fall in love with SO many new games!


Because deck building card games/board games have become wildly popular, I started this list with over 60 games. Narrowing down was insanely difficult, so I wanted to leave you with our top choices for deck builders as well as 20 or so outstanding runners ups that could easily have made the list.


Before we jump into the reviews, I want to clarify that I’m discussing deck builders where deck building is a mechanic of the game, though it includes games where it’s not the only or primary mechanic. This differs drastically from collectable/trading/living card games like Magic the Gathering, Netrunner, etc, where decks are crafted in advance (see more below).


Though I’d rather just help you discover a new game to love and enjoy instead of spending time arguing about what’s “the ultimate best deck builder,” I do have some top picks for you before we dive into the detailed reviews.

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Top Pick: Best Deck Building Game

Great Western Trail Board Game

Best Solo Deck Building Game

Sale WizKids Mage Knight Board Game: Ultimate Edition

Best Cooperative Deck Building Game

Aeons End 2nd Edition

Best Competitive Deck Building Game

Dungeons & Dragons - Tyrants of the Underdark Board Game

Best 2 Player Deck Building Game

Sale Star Realms: Deckbuilding Game

Best Casual Deck Building Game

Sale Renegade Game Studios Clank! A Deck Building Adventure!



Table of Contents

Top 20 Best Deck Building GamesAge & Difficulty Levels of Deck Building Games
20+ Runner-up Best Deck BuildersDeck Builders & Number of Players
What is a Deck Building Card Game?Deck Builders vs. Living/Collector Card Games
What is the Original Dominion Game?If you like Deck Builders, You Might Also Like…
Are there Different Types of Deck Builders?Final Thoughts & More Best Board Game Posts

20 Best Deck Builder Games

Get excited to find a new favorite deck builder! These games range from those that cling very closely to the standard deck builder style, created by Dominion, to those that utilize numerous mechanics, of which deck building is only a single part to everything in between. Some are almost purely strategy card games, using specialized decks/cards and a few other tokens, and some combine numerous elements of gameplay.


Ready to check out these amazing board games? Here we go!

20. DC Comics Deck Building

DC Deck-Building Game - Play as Members of DC's Justice League - Unique Abilities for Each Super Hero - Standalone, Compatible with Full DC Deck-Building Game Series
  • Players: 2-5
  • Playtime: 45 min
  • Complexity: Light
  • Company: Cryptozoic Entertainment
  • Style: deck building
  • Ages: 15+

Buy the DC Comics Deck Builder if: you’re a die hard DC comics fan looking for a simple, lightweight deck builder where you can be your favorite DC hero.

Overview
In the DC Deck-building game, using the Cerberus game engine, you’ll work to craft the most effective deck to defeat Super Villains and accumulate the most victory points, proving once and for all that you’re the most heroic hero.


Gameplay
Though countless expansions introduce other heroes, the base game includes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Cyborg. You’ll get the power of your chosen Justice League hero, and you’ll all start the game with the same base deck of 10 cards.


Improve your deck by gaining cards from the five-card “line up” each turn; you’ll encounter heroes, villains, super powers, locations, and equipment. Amass enough power to take on the current Super Villain, but prep your defense, too, as Super Villains attack everyone when they first appear. When you defeat a Super Villain, another takes its place.


The game ends when all Super Villains have been defeated or the Line Up can no longer be refilled; then, whoever has the most victory points in their deck wins! Fans of DC that want a lightweight, easy to learn strategy card game will love this. The DC Deck-building Game is always a popular lightweight deck builder for comic fans and a great family card game even with younger players (its simple gameplay often makes it accessible to players several years younger than the listed 15).

ProsCons
✅ very easy to pick up and learn🅧 not a ton of tension
✅ play with favorite DC characters🅧 luck element of what’s in the Line Up
✅ good for newcomers to the deck building world 🅧 not as much strategy as some may want
✅ competitive with a couple optional variations, including 2v2 teams🅧 need expansions for wider variety of cards
✅ fast gameplay🅧 not super complex (could be a pro!)
✅ tons of available expansions to get your favorite characters and more replayability
✅ fantastic comic art

A Few DC Deck Builder Expansions

Sale Cyrptozoic Entertainment DC Deck-Building Game: Teen Titans
Sale DC Deck-Building Game: Forever Evil - It’s Good to be Bad - Play as DC Universe Villains Harley Quinn,Deathstroke,Black Adam - 2 to 5 Players - Ages 15+
DC Deck-Building Game Crossover pack #4: Watchmen
Cryptozoic Entertainment DC Deck-Building Game Crossover Pack 3: Legion of Super-Heroes

19. Ascension

Sale Ascension: Deckbuilding Game
  • Players: 1-4
  • Playtime: 30-45 min
  • Complexity: Medium-light
  • Company: Stone Blade Entertainment
  • Style: deck building
  • Ages: 13+

Buy Ascension if: you’re looking for a lightweight fantasy themed deck building game with quick play, easy to learn rules, minimal player interaction, and some monster fighting.

Overview
Ascension: Deckbuilding Game (released initially as Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer) is another of the classic deck builder card games with its own twist on the genre. As one of the few warriors sufficiently powerful to defend your world of Vigil from the imminent attack of Samael and his army of Monsters, you must harness your resources to recruit heroes and constructs to aid you in your battles. Only the warrior with the most honor will claim victory and the title of Godslayer.


Gameplay
In Ascension, you’ll utilize two primary resources, Runes and Power, to augment your deck and kill monsters in your quest for Honor (victory points). Power allows you to kill monsters, which brings honor and rewards. Runes, on the other hand, allow you to purchase additional cards that will provide special abilities, actions, or resources.


Ascension approaches the genre with elements of combat and with a unique card set up. In each game, there are “always available” cards as well as cards in the Center Row, which changes each turn as players fight monsters and make purchases from it.


Many cards get discarded after play, as with most deck builders, but constructs are duration cards that remain in play, allowing you to use an ability each turn. Monsters return to the void when you defeat them, so you get the victory points (honor) but without cluttering your deck. Honor is earned through defeating monsters and by purchasing constructs and heroes.


With quick gameplay and clear instructions, Ascension is a very easy to learn deck builder with a combat twist and an ever changing row of available cards, either to defeat or add to your deck. While the theme/storyline may not feel deeply relevant, it’s there, with little references/quotes included on each card. Regardless of your thematic interest, the gameplay is great, and the artwork is wonderful and heavily fantasy based with a little bit of steampunk.


There are several expansions to increase variety and improve replayability, and while there isn’t a lot of player interaction (which I know some people love and others really miss), Ascension has a lot to offer gamers and deserves to be mentioned among the best deck building games.

ProsCons
✅ great classic deck builder with monster defeating element🅧 time between turns/ game length increases with more players
✅ solo play option🅧 higher amount of luck than some may like 
✅ several available expansions to increase replayability and add different flavors
🅧 little player interaction (could be a pro if that’s what you want): primary means of impacting others is through what you choose/leave for them on the center row
✅ fantastic fantasy artwork with some steampunk vibes🅧 luck involved with what cards come out in the center row and in hand
✅ lighter weight, simple mechanics for easy to learn and play games🅧 center row changes significantly between your turns with several players, making planning ahead difficult
✅ fast set up & quicker gameplay
✅ turn walkthrough on the board for easy reference

Ascension Expansions

Ascension: Storm of Souls Game
Ascension: Dawn of Champions Game
Ascension: Dreamscape Game
Sale Ascension: Gift of the Elements

18. Vikings Gone Wild

Sale Vikings Gone Wild: The Board Game
  • Players: 2-4
  • Playtime: 45-70 min
  • Complexity: Medium-light
  • Company: Lucky Duck Games
  • Style: deck building, resource management
  • Ages: 10+

Buy Vikings Gone Wild if: you want a light-hearted hilarious Viking themed game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and enjoy deck building, resource management, and attacking other players for victory points (but without actually damaging their stuff, so the table stays friendly!).

Overview
Based on the popular online real-time-strategy video game, Vikings Gone Wild the Board Game pits the heads of viking clans against each other. To win–and prove yourself the best and most powerful viking leader of all–you’ll need to upgrade your town, complete missions, and most importantly attack your opponents!


Gameplay
With a combination of deck building and resource management (gold bars and beer!), in Vikings Gone Wild, you all start with the same hand of beer, gold, and warriors. Then construct buildings, buy units or defenses, and purchase Odin’s Path cards. Consider your missions as well, and upgrading your town hall will also help you along the path to victory.


Most importantly, however, you need to attack the clans that oppose you and defend yourself from your enemies. You won’t actually attack other players directly; instead you’ll attack their buildings. Interestingly, the attack action involves a bit of potential bluffing and you won’t really do damage to your rival’s deck or cards or buildings. It’s just a means for victory point achievement. In the end, it’s up to you to balance building your army with growing your economy.


You’ll have actual gold and beer pieces, hence the resource management aspect, and buildings can produce resources, store them, or allow you to bolster your hand with an extra card or save one back for your next turn.


The artwork is fabulously quirky and fun and reminiscent of the video game. If you’re familiar with tabletop games, the rules will likely come quickly, and even newcomers to the board game world will feel comfortable after a game or two. Vikings Gone wild is a deck builder at its core but with integrated resource management and attack mechanisms. If you’re looking for lighthearted fun, Vikings Gone Wild is one of the best card games to play with friends and fans of deck builders!

ProsCons
✅ great combination of deck building, resource management, and attacks🅧 need expansions to ramp up replayability (not much card variety in base alone)
✅ great Viking theme🅧 board takes up a decent amount of space and isn’t really used beyond a scoring track
✅ nicely organized box with room for expansions🅧 can be some downtime as players attack each other if you’re not involved in the battle
✅ attacking is vital, but you won’t actually destroy each other’s cards or buildings, minimizing frustration between players while still having interaction🅧 while mechanically accessible to a younger audience (hence the 10+ rating), some parents may not like the beer references and beer resource aspect
✅ fun, quirky artwork
✅ several expansions available
✅ well made pieces

Vikings Gone Wild Expansions

Sale Vikings Gone Wild: It's a Kind of Magic
Sale Vikings Gone Wild: Ragnarok Expansion
Vikings Gone Wild: Masters of Elements Expansion
Vikings Gone Wild: Guild Wars Expansion

17. Paperback: Best Word Deck Building Game

  • Players: 2-5
  • Playtime: 45 min
  • Complexity: Light
  • Company: Fowers Games
  • Style: deck building, word game
  • Ages: 8+

Buy Paperback if: you want a deck builder approach to word-smithing games and enjoy games like Scrabble, Bananagrams, or Quiddler.

Overview
In Paperback, you’re each an aspiring writer working to complete your paperback novel, seeking Fame (victory points) along the way. Paperback combines deck building with word creation (think Dominion + Scrabble) in a fun, easy to learn and play game! It’s a great card game for couples, families, or to play with friends!


Gameplay
Everyone begins, a la classic deck builders, with the same hand letters and wild cards. During your turn, you’ll create words with the letters in your hand; some cards have specific abilities that will activate to give you extra cards or score a double letter, etc., and then you’ll score your word accordingly. You discard unused cards at the end of the hand and will shuffle your discard pile when your deck empties, just like you’d expect.


Buy letter cards to create a better deck, or buy fame cards to work towards victory. You’ll also want to work to create long enough words to get the common cards and move the game along. Paperback is light, endlessly replayable, and fun; because I love my word games, I had to include it on my list of best deck building games.


Expansions add new abilities, player powers, and attack cards for a little player interaction. While it’s usually a fairly quick, it can take longer with larger groups of people trying to create (or look up) the best possible words.

ProsCons
✅ Excellent word game unique with its deck building mechanic🅧 some feel like the novelist gaining fame theme isn’t the smoothest, but I don’t feel this detracts from gameplay
✅ very easy to learn and play🅧 early on, copying a previous player’s word is an easy as decks are similar; this changes as you build your deck
✅ small footprint and portable🅧 might be frustrating in a group with very different vocabularies (playing with young kids and cutthroat Scrabble aficionados, etc. Just be aware and/or adjust play styles accordingly)
✅ quick set up
✅ great intro to deck building
✅ appeals to strategy game pros and newcomers alike
✅ cooperative and solo rule variation
✅ expansion includes new abilities and common cards

Paperback Expansion & Sequel

16. Valley of the Kings: Premium Edition

Sale Valley of The Kings: Premium Edition
  • Players: 1-6
  • Playtime: 45-60+ min
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Company: AEG
  • Style: deck building, set collection
  • Ages: 14+

Buy Valley of the Kings: Premium Edition if you’re looking for an excellent deck builder card game with a gorgeous and well-integrated Ancient Egyptian theme in an edition that provides tremendous value.

Overview
Set in ancient Egypt, Valley of the Kings takes players to the time of the pharaohs, and players must fill their tombs with the best combination of goods and treasure. With an engaging theme and a few unique twists on the standard mechanics, Valley of Kings really shines.


Gameplay
You’ll all start with the same cards and will acquire more from a common pool. However, instead of setting all purchasable cards out at once, you’ll shuffle them and set up a small pyramid from which cards are drawn. You can only buy from the pyramid’s base, and when you do, the pyramid crumbles, leaving you to decide which card flows down to the bottom (and thus becomes available to opponents after you). With this mechanic the pyramid is always changing, and players won’t have constant access to every card.


Cards have actions or abilities on them, which you can use during your turn, but you’ll have to decide when to use your cards and when to entomb them. Only cards you entomb will count towards victory points at the end of the game, so choose wisely!


Valley of the Kings: Premium Edition includes the original Valley of the Kings game as well as the expansions Afterlife and The Last Rites. With all this content, the premium edition is an incredible value, especially if you’re looking for a solo deck builder or need a card game for six people, both of which become available with the expansions. Additionally, you’ll get randomizers to create themed assortments of cards as well as 6 cards unique to the premium edition. Premium also includes optional Pharaoh Cards with unique powers, which players can utilize each turn.


The artwork here is beautiful and detailed, pulling you easily into the theme, and the cards also provide historical text, so you learn as you play too. It’s a small element, but I find it very satisfying and appreciate the inclusion. A modern classic deck builder with a robust theme, The Valley of the Kings easily earns a place among the best deck building games.

ProsCons
✅ fantastic deck builder where you must choose to use cards or entomb them for points🅧 might take a round or two to get used to set up/gameplay
✅ unique twist on card acquisition with pyramid set up and crumbling mechanism🅧 luck involved with which cards come out for the pyramid and what you have in hand each round
✅ engaging theme🅧 Fewer card choices each round than in some deck builders
✅ excellent, detailed artwork
✅ learn historical facts from cards as you play
✅ Premium edition includes base and 2 expansion: excellent value
✅ adds Pharaoh cards for unique player powers
✅ well organized box with insert and file cards to organize
✅ comes with card sleeves
✅ many themed recommendations for card set-ups/combinations
✅ now with tarot sized cards (slightly larger than poker cards)
✅ lots of replayability with included expansions
✅ rules for solo play and longer play
✅ appeals to seasoned gamers and newcomers alike

15. Mystic Vale

Sale Mystic Vale
  • Players: 2-4 (5-6 with Conclave Expansion)
  • Playtime: 45+ min
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Company: AEG
  • Style: card-crafting deck builder
  • Ages: 14+

Buy Mystic Vale if: you’re interested in a unique card-crafting twist on the classic deck builder games with gorgeous artwork, high quality materials, and excellent expansions available.

Overview
With a curse lying heavy upon the Valley of Life, clans of druids come to the aid of the spirits of nature, seeking to heal the land and provide safety for the spirits. In this innovative card crafting game, players do not add new cards to their decks but instead craft their 20 cards, filling up to three slots on each card with unique and powerful advancements.


Gameplay
While classic deck builders follow the model of adding to your deck throughout the game and potentially culling cards from that deck to make it more effective, Mystic Vale instead allows you to purchase advancements each turn, which fill a top, middle, or bottom space of each card. This unique card crafting system allows for a different kind of strategy, as you look to link advancements on single cards in addition to having an overall strategy for your deck in mind.


You’ll earn victory points through advancements, actions in gameplay, and through the purchase of Vale Cards, which don’t add to your deck but can offer special actions or ongoing powers in addition to their victory point values. There’s also a push your luck element to Mystic Vale during the set up phase each turn, which can even become a strong part of your strategy, especially with certain expansions.


In addition to the excellent and unique gameplay, the artwork in Mystic Vale is simply gorgeous. If you’re a fan of druidic or nature heavy fantasy themes and artwork, Mystic Vale is right up your alley. Of course, the theme isn’t really heavily integrated (I play this all the time and forgot we were trying to heal the land/save the nature spirits), but the art sure is beautiful.


Regardless of your affinity for the art, the gameplay in Mystic Vale is excellent; there’s a tremendous amount of replayability, and there are many expansions that continue to add to the game. With its unique and creative twist on the deck builder genre and its push your luck possibilities, Mystic Vale absolutely deserves to be mentioned in any conversation about the best deck building games!


Mystic Vale is a card game you can play with up to six people with the Conclave Expansion (below), and our group likes the day/night mechanic that speeds up our 5 player games.

ProsCons
✅ unique and creative card crafting system🅧 set up/clean up takes time as you get cards together
✅ immense replayability🅧 theme may seem a bit detached (takes nothing away from gameplay)
✅ push your luck element adds some interesting possibilities🅧 minimal player interaction (could be a pro for you; also changes in expansions)
✅ beautiful artwork with nature/druid fantasy theme🅧 can get a little long with AP prone players in 4 player settings
✅ excellent gameplay
✅ many strategic possibilities, especially when you start including expansions
✅ expands to 5-6 players with Conclave Expansion (and has mechanic to speed down time between turns with 5/6 players!)
✅ comes with sleeves (and lots of extras) for cards
✅ high quality cards

Favorite Mystic Vale Expansions

Sale Mystic Vale: Conclave
Sale Mystic Vale: Harmony Expansion
Sale Alderac Entertainment Group Mystic Vale: Twilight Garden
Sale Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) Mystic Vale: Nemesis Expansion (ALD07074)

14. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle

Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle Cooperative Deck Building Card Game | Official Harry Potter Licensed Merchandise | Harry Potter Board Game | Great Gift for Harry Potter Fans | Harry Potter Movie artwork
  • Players: 2-4
  • Playtime: 30-60 min
  • Complexity: Medium Light
  • Company: USAOpoly
  • Style: cooperative deck building
  • Ages: 11+

Buy Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle if: You’re a devoted Harry Potter fan interested in a series of light to medium-light weight cooperative challenges as you keep Hogwarts safe from the forces of Voldemort.

Overview
Take on the role of your favorite Gryffindor characters and work as a team, venturing through 7 progressively challenging adventures, uncovering secrets along the way, as you seek to save beloved Hogwarts from the Dark Lord!


Gameplay
In Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, you play as Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville. You’ll need to gain influence to add character, spell, and magical item cards to your deck throughout the game, and you’ll use your combined strengths to battle the forces of You Know Who through seven separate adventures.


This is a cooperative deck building game where you’ll have to use your combined talents to protect various Locations from Villain control and defeat your enemies, who will use their knowledge of the Dark Arts against you and your friends. As you progress through the books/movies in each game set, you’ll open a new box, which adds components and new challenges!


Of course, you will need to enjoy the Harry Potter world to appreciate this game fully, but it’s a well designed co-op deck builder, and its overwhelming popularity in recent years has earned it a place as one of the best cooperative deck building games and one of the best card games for families in the genre.

ProsCons
✅ great Harry Potter theme🅧 some dislike repeating scenarios, limiting the replayability
✅ progressive scenarios playing through the 7 books/movies that get gradually more difficult🅧 occasional quality control issues
✅ well done deck building with beloved characters🅧 players looking for a deeper, more challenging strategy game may be disappointed with the simpler gameplay
✅ nice components
✅ easy to learn and great for families

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle Expansion

Hogwarts Battle - The Monster Box of Monsters Expansion Card Game
  • Expansion for Hogwarts Battle, the hit Harry Potter deck building game
  • Venture into the Forbidden Forest as you encounter creatures!
  • 4 more boxes to add to the base game, plus now play as Luna Lovegood to save Hogwarts
  • Work together to defeat the evil forces and protect iconic locations to make the Wizarding World safe once and for all!
  • 2-4 Players | Ages 11+ | 45-60+ Min Play Time

13. Thunderstone Quest

Sale Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) Thunderstone Quest, Multi-Colored
  • Players: 2-4
  • Playtime: 90+ minutes
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Company: AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group)
  • Style: Deck Building, Dungeon Crawler Adventure
  • Ages: 14+

Buy Thunderstone Quest if you’re interested in an easy to learn dungeon crawl adventure that uses classic deck building mechanics at its core –with some unique reimagining — and where player interaction is minimal.

Overview
In Thunderstone Quest, you play as a Champion, recruiting Heroes and venturing forth from the village to seek adventure and glory in the dungeons. With spells, weapons, items, and your faithful heroes, you’ll fight monsters, gain XP and treasure, and seek the four elusive Guardian Keys hidden in the dungeon’s depths.


Gameplay
As in typical classic deck building fashion, all players begin with the same cards, and you upgrade your deck as you progress, recruiting heroes and purchasing items in the Village then defeating monsters for rewards and XP in the dungeon rooms below. You’re not invincible, though, and your HP will determine the number of cards you draw at the end of each turn.


Designed with gamers in mind, AEG created several variations within the rules to allow for multiple styles of play, including Random Setups, Epic Thunderstone, and Campaign Mode. You can also adjust the number of Guardian Keys needed to trigger the game end based on you available time and depth preferences; if you want more time to develop and play your deck, you can simply increase the number of keys to find.


The rules provide an initial introductory game for easy learning and quicker set up, but once you’ve got the basics down, you can expand your play to include side quests, guild sponsorships, and legendary cards for the full experience. Within the “example game,” you’ll also get some rough strategy information and guidance.


While it’s a competitive deck builder, Thunderstone Quest isn’t cutthroat, and you can basically do your own thing in the dungeon without direct attack from or interaction with others. The Barricades expansion turns this into a cooperative deck building or a solo deck builder, giving you more options. Thunderstone Quest is a fun and fairly light deck building game that still cleaves close to the classic deck builder dynamic but with a dungeon crawling adventure theme.

ProsCons
✅ Fun deck building and dungeon crawl elements🅧 Some awkwardness of rule explanations in the rule book
✅ Easy to learn🅧 As with many games: with more players, time between turns will be longer
✅ Expansions offer more play, as well as solo and co-op options (Barricades)🅧 Game story is fairly light and is incomplete without expansions or kickstarter set, though not needed for gameplay
✅ Decently organized box🅧 Cards can really stick together at first
✅ Makes an especially great two player deck building game🅧 Campaign mode may not satisfy more experienced gamers
✅ This update of the original Thunderstone improves organization, deck building mechanic, and heroes🅧 Low player interaction (could be a positive if that’s what you like!)

Thunderstone Quest Expansions

Sale Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) Thunderstone Quest: Foundations of The World Board Game, Multi-Colored
Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) Thunderstone Quest: Barricades
Sale Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) Thunderstone Quest: What Lies Beneath
Sale Alderac Entertainment Group Thunderstone Quest: Ripples in Time

12. The Quest for El Dorado: Best Family Deck Building Game

Ravensburger The Quest for El Dorado: Golden Temples Adventure Family Game For Ages 10 & Up

  • Players: 2-4
  • Playtime: 60 min
  • Complexity: Light
  • Company: Ravensburger
  • Style: deck building, race to the finish
  • Ages: 10+

Buy The Quest for El Dorado if you’re looking for a quick and easy introduction to deck building for new gamers or families, (even with younger kids) that’s easy to learn and incorporates movement across a modular board as you race to the city gates!

Overview
A great family game, The Quest for El Dorado combines a core of deck building with a modular game board and meeple movement as you race your opponents to reach the Golden City first and claim its treasure. Play as the leader of a group of adventurers questing bravely for the city of gold, and be the first to reach the city of splendor!


Gameplay
Each turn, you can buy more cards and use your deck to navigate the winding paths to El Dorado. Use cards from your hand to move across the different landscapes of the board. To move to a certain hex, the card used must match the color/symbol of the hex and have a greater power value, so you may need to consider the path you wish to take when purchasing new cards for your deck!


With easy-to-learn rules, quick gameplay, and elements of standard board games, Quest for El Dorado is our choice for best deck builder for families (and young players).

ProsCons
✅ easy to learn, quick to set up and play🅧 elements of luck
✅ easy to adjust length and difficulty of play🅧 may feel repetitive after several plays due to limited number of cards (helped by expansions)
✅ deck building and game board race to the end🅧 lacks the depth and complexity of higher weight games (could be a pro, depending on desire!)
✅ modular board for varied setups
✅ great board game/card game for families

Quest for El Dorado Expansions

11. Legendary – Marvel: Best Comic Deck Builder

Sale Upper Deck Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
  • Players: 1-5
  • Playtime: 30-60+ min
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Company: Upper Deck Entertainment
  • Style: cooperative deck building
  • Ages: 14+

Buy Legendary – Marvel if: You’re a fan of Marvel comics and want a cooperative deck builder with lots of variety and expansion possibilities to allow you access to all your favorite heroes.

Overview
Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game is exactly what it sounds like: a fantastic deck builder set in the Marvel world. With heroes like Spidey, the Hulk, Wolverine, and Iron Man, you’ll prepare to do battle with mastermind Villains like Dr. Doom or Magneto and their henchmen, bent on destruction.


Gameplay
Perhaps the most well known of the Legendary deck building games, Legendary Marvel is a the best cooperative comic book deck builder experience, guaranteed to please any fan of Marvel comics. With different heroes and mastermind villains for every game, the replayability factor is significant, and when you consider the sheer number of expansions available for the Upper Deck classic, you’ll never lack for new content.


While this is a fully co-op card game, whoever has the most Victory Points from defeating enemies along the way wins an individual victory, crowning themselves the most legendary hero. Some groups ignore the individual victory and just focus on the cooperative win while others try to rack up the most points possible and enjoy a little inter-hero competition.


With a truly stunning number of expansions involving a tremendous number of Marvel characters, Legendary Marvel is easily the best deck building games for comic fans. With solo to 5-player options, you can play in many group sizes, though many find its a card game best for 3 players. The game also scales with multiple challenge modes, keeping you working together as a team to fight in ever more difficult scenarios.

ProsCons
✅ excellent Marvel artwork and theme🅧 can be confusing to set up/understand all rules initially, but you’ll pick it up quickly as you play
✅ lots of replayability with different schemes, villains, and heroes🅧 gets difficult to organize with lots of expansions
✅ tons of expansion options🅧 like many deck builders, set up/tear down takes a little bit sorting through decks and getting all the right cards together
✅ easy to learn as you play through a first game
✅ playable as a solo deck builder and cooperatively up to 5 players
✅ several difficulty level options

Some Legendary: Marvel Expansions

Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game - Paint The Town Red Expansion
Sale Legendary A Marvel Deck Building Deadpool Expansion Board Game
Sale Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game: World War Hulk Expansion
Sale Upper Deck UPD91758 2019 Legendary: Revelations, Multi

10. Star Realms: Best 2 Player Deck Building Game

Sale Star Realms: Deckbuilding Game
  • Players: 2 (up to 6 with more decks)
  • Playtime: 20 min
  • Complexity: Light
  • Company: White Wizard Games
  • Style: deck builder combat
  • Ages: 12+

Buy Star Realms if: You’re looking for an inexpensive, lightweight, very easy to learn deck building card game for two players with a small footprint and great space theme! It’s perfect for newer gamers or as a quick card game for couples on busy nights or between heavier games.

Overview
Star Realms is a lightweight space combat deck building game designed for two players. To expand up to six players, you simply need two sets of the base game (or Star Realms: Colony Wars) for every two people. With several multiplayer scenario options, this fast paced game can accommodate 3, 4, 5, or 6-player scenarios in a combination of styles, including fully competitive, team, and Boss vs. Raiders.


Gameplay
Acquire ships and bases from any combination of the four factions available, building your personal deck throughout the game. Ships get placed in your discard pile, and bases remain out, allowing you to use their abilities once per turn–until your opponent destroys them, that is!


This fun and easy to learn card game is our choice for best two player deck builder, especially for those in search of a super quick and simple combat game. With a wonderfully small footprint (it’s just a deck of cards) and easy to learn rules, this is a very accessible card game that tends to make even non strategy gamers want to play a few rounds! While there are several strategic options, especially as you get comfortable, there’s definitely a solid amount of luck involved.


Expansions are available if you want even more options and variety, but you don’t need them to love this game. This is a great light strategy card game for couples, families, or groups wanting a quick but fun game between more massive strategy games. While it still clings close to the classic/pure deck building style set by the original Dominion, the combat element between players adds a nice twist to the standard hand management play style.

ProsCons
✅ easy to learn & lightweight🅧 some players feel it’s too easy to see victories in place early on after playing through the game a few times
✅ very inexpensive🅧 too much luck for some players
✅ quick gameplay🅧 those looking for greater complexity and no/minimal luck may be disappointed
✅ fun space art (Hero Realms available for fantasy theme instead)🅧 Hardcore gamers may not find this one as engaging
✅ great light family, sibling, or couple game🅧 requires multiple decks/purchases for more than 2 players
✅ interesting combat twist to classic deck building
✅ expands to more players with multiple decks
✅ small footprint and very portable
✅ several multiplayer rule variations for 3+ players
✅lightweight best deck building game for 2 players

Star Realms Expansions

White Wizard Games Star Realms: Colony Wars
Star Realms: Frontiers
Star Realms: The Alignment, Alliance, Coalition, Pact, Union, Unity Command Deck Set

9. Dominion: The Original Deck Building Game

Sale Dominion: 2nd Edition
  • Players: 2-4 (becomes 5-6 with Intrigue Expansion)
  • Playtime: rated 30 minutes (can expect longer, especially with more players)
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Company: Rio Grande Games
  • Style: THE Classic Deck Builder
  • Ages: 13+

Buy Dominion if: You want an easy to learn deck building game that plays well with any group size, has tons of replay value, and allows for numerous strategies for victory.

Overview
The original Dominion game launched the genre of deck building; it is THE classic competitive deck builder and introduces the deck building style and mechanic easily to new players of any board game experience level. While it does have an element of luck and isn’t the most thematically engaging, Dominion has endless replay options with numerous expansions. You really can’t talk about best deck builders without Dominion coming up.


Gameplay
In Dominion, players are monarchs, each seeking to build the most vast and wealthy kingdom. Every player’s deck starts with a bit of copper and a few lowly estates. From these humble beginnings, players must purchase cards (treasure, action, attack, defense, victory, etc.) from the shared Kingdom supply to augment their deck, increasing their power and prowess along the way.


You play each hand starting with 5 cards drawn from your deck. As you purchase cards, your deck grows, and each time you deplete your deck, you shuffle in your discard pile and begin again. Once enough card stacks in the Kingdom have been depleted, the game ends, and the person with the most victory points in their deck wins. As Victory Point cards live in your deck, you must carefully consider how early and at what value you should purchase these game-winning cards, as they do weigh down your turns.


There is also a degree of luck in Dominion, as you try to link cards strategically; sometimes you just can’t get the right cards to come up in your hand together, which can be irritating. You won’t use every card in each game, so the replay value with Dominion is immense, especially when you begin to mix in the numerous quality expansions that introduce new card types (duration, night phase, event, etc.).


As you’ll notice in play, the theme isn’t particularly relevant. It’s the enjoyable gameplay that keeps Dominion on the list of best deck building games, especially with expansions. While there are many, many excellent deck builders these days, we believe Dominion will always earn its place as one of the best deck building games. It plays pretty well with most group sizes, though it’ll get definitely get longer with larger groups (we still like it as a 5-Player Game for our group though!)

ProsCons
✅ Easy to learn, simple to play🅧 Need expansions for full experience and variety
✅ Excellent replay value🅧 Luck element can be frustrating
✅ Many expansions with unique cards and new types🅧 Theme is lacking
✅ 2nd Edition streamlines rules and clarifies card wording🅧 With 5-6 players, time between turns feels longer and play time increases
✅ Expands to 5-6 players with Intrigue Expansion
✅ Many strategies for victory

Favorite Dominion Expansions

Rio Grande Games Dominion: Intrigue 2nd Edition Board Game
Rio Grande Games Dominion Prosperity
Sale Dominion Seaside
Sale Rio Grande Games Dominion Dark Ages Expansion, Brown

8. Taverns of Tiefenthal

North Star Games The Taverns of Tiefenthal | Can You Turn Your Tavern into The Talk of The Town?
  • Players: 2-4
  • Playtime: 60+ min
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Company: Schmidt Spiele, North Star Games
  • Style: deck building, dice drafting/placement, tableau building
  • Ages: 12+

Buy Taverns of Tiefenthal if: you’re looking for a thematically engaging game of tavern running with excellent deck building, tableau building, dice drafting mechanics.

Overview
Take on the role of a tavern host in the small village of Tiefenthal, where your reputation depends on your taverns ability to attract respectable noblemen to its doors. In this deck building and dice placement game of hops and hospitality, you’ll have to decide how best to expand your tavern to become the most popular.


Gameplay
With a wonderfully rendered medieval monastic tavern theme, relative newcomer to the board game scene Taverns of Tiefenthal (2019) quickly captured the hearts of gamers. It was nominated for at least seven board game awards between 2019 and 2020 alone, and won several, including the 2019 American Tabletop Award for Complex Games.


In order to upgrade your tavern, you must earn money from patrons, and then you’ll have to decide how best to spend it. With critical deck building mechanics as well as dice crafting and tableau building elements, you’re sure to enjoy your time at the tavern. Money allows you to purchase more tavern cards, while the ever-important beer wins you guests. You’ll keep drawing from your deck until you’ve got one guest per table, and of course adding more tables is one way to upgrade!


Gameplay is fairly quick, as several phases occur simultaneously for players. Also, with the “module” introductions in the rules, you can gradually learn greater complexities of the game, starting more simply and gradually adding challenges.


Taverns of Tiefenthal has excellent gaming mechanics with a wonderfully integrated theme and charming artwork. Though it’s a newcomer, we’re sure Taverns of Tiefenthal will keep its place among the best competitive deck builder games

ProsCons
✅ well integrated tavern theme🅧 some luck of the draw and dice
✅ great combination of deck building and dice drafting with some tableau building elements🅧 fairly low player interaction (could be a pro if that’s your desire) aside from “hate drafting”
✅ modules gradually introduce additional and more complex game elements🅧 some groups maintain that 4 player games drag on towards the end, but it largely depends on the group since many phases occur simultaneously
✅ charming, lovely artwork
✅ many strategic options

7. Undaunted: Normandy – Best Military/War Deck Builder Game

Sale Undaunted: Normandy
  • Players: 2
  • Playtime: 45-60 minutes
  • Complexity: Medium-Light
  • Company: Osprey Games
  • Style: War Game, Deck Building, Area Control
  • Ages: 14+

Buy Undaunted: Normandy if: You’re looking for an excellent war themed tactical combat deck builder for two players with elements of area control that’s fairly easy to learn and quick to play but with solid strategic depth.

Overview
Set in June, 1944, in the European theater of WWII, you and your opponent will control Allied and German forces, respectively, playing as commanders of rifle platoons tasked with moving your troops into strategic positions, winning decisive battles, and managing the inevitable casualties of war.


Gameplay
Using a modular game board where tiles create differing landscapes for your platoon, you’ll have to decide how to deploy your troops and outmaneuver your enemies. With a combination of deck building, troop movement for area control, and dice rolling for combat, this is one of the best deck builder war games.


Your deck consists of your various troops (rifleman, scouts, squad leaders, machine gunners, etc.), and how you command your soldiers determines your chances of success. In each game, you’ll set up one of 12 scenarios, and your win conditions include either capturing the objective or pinning your opponent’s force. While you do engage in battles, Undaunted: Normandy also very much about outthinking and outmaneuvering your opponent.


This is one of the best 2 player deck building games for fans of war games and area control. Due to quick set up and gameplay, this lighter war game is an excellent choice for new gamers or experienced gamers looking for a well-crafted but shorter strategy game. (Check out the sequel below too!)

Undaunted: Normandy

Sale Undaunted: Normandy

Undaunted: North Africa (sequel)

Sale Undaunted: North Africa: A sequel to the WWII deckbuilding game

ProsCons
✅ Excellent, engaging war theme (WWII)🅧 Some players dislike repeating scenarios, limiting replayability (12 scenarios included)
✅ Easy to learn and understand🅧 There’s always at least luck when dice get involved
✅ Quick gameplay
✅ Solid strategic depth despite lighter weight
✅ Balanced gameplay

6. Legendary Encounters: Alien

Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game
  • Players: 1-5
  • Playtime: 30-60+ min
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Company: Upper Deck
  • Style: cooperative (or co-op with traitor) deck building
  • Ages: 17+

Buy Legendary Encounters: Alien if: you’re a fan of the Alien™ movie franchise and want an immersive experience through a cooperative deck building game (or cooperative with secret traitor).

Overview
Get ready for an Alien extravaganza in this fantastically thematic co-op deck builder where players take on the roles of beloved characters like Riply and Hicks to survive the impending alien attack! While Legendary Encounters: Alien™ is in the same family as Legendary Marvel, they definitely feel like different games, and while they are somewhat compatible, they cannot be fully integrated.


Gameplay
During your first game, you’ll play through a specific set-up designed to simulate the movie Alien™; after that initial game, you can follow the set-ups to take you through Aliens™, Aliens 3™ and Aliens Resurrection™, or you can mix and match objectives, characters, and locations at will to create your own unique scenarios. Once you’re familiar with the game, you can shake it up and have one player secretly work against the others–perfect for fans of betrayal style co-op games.


Like the Marvel version, you’ll play cards to gain Attack and Recruit points, create combos with cards of the same class or crew, and fight enemies moving across the board. However, there are still major differences that come along with the theme, including the applicable roles, the alien players, the hidden enemy elements, etc.


Legendary Encounters: Alien™ is one of the best cooperative deck building games, but you really do need to be a fan of the franchise to enjoy the game fully.

ProsCons
✅ great Alien™ theme!🅧 not ready to play out of the box: you’ll need to organize those cards
✅ fully co-op or co-op with a traitor🅧 cards may seem too repetitive for some, especially without expansions
✅ work through the movies or create your own scenario for more replayability🅧 rules may feel a bit confusing at times and require a quick online check
✅ quick set up and break down (after initial card sorting)🅧 solo play feels a little on the easier side (but great to pick up mechanics of the game)
✅ challenging victories, especially with 4-5 players
✅ expansions available for more variety and improved replayability

Legendary: Alien Expansions & Organizer

Sale Upper Deck Legendary Encounters: an Alien Expansion Game
Upper Deck Legendary Encounters: Alien Covenant Expansion, Multi
The Broken Token Box Organizer for Legendary Encounters

5. Clank!: Best Casual Deck Building Game

Sale Renegade Game Studios Clank! A Deck Building Adventure!
  • Players: 2-4 (2-6 with Adventuring Party Expansion)
  • Playtime: 30-60 min.
  • Complexity: Medium-light
  • Company: Renegade Game Studios
  • Style: deck builder, dungeon crawler
  • Ages: 12+

Buy Clank! if: You’re looking for a quicker and lighter but super fun dungeon crawling deck building adventure. It’s one of the best card games to play with friends!

Overview
Venture into the dragon’s lair in search of plunder, but sneak quietly and steal carefully, as noises attract unwanted attention; dragons do not take kindly to thieves in their midst! To win in Clank!, you must successfully escape the dungeon and earn the most points from your Artifact and other loot.


Gameplay
As you build your deck, cards generate resources for you in the form of Skills, Swords, and Boots. Skills allow you to gain cards for your deck; Swords allow you to fight the fearsome monsters lurking in the dungeon, and Boots keep you moving.


You don’t have much for player interaction here; it’s every thief for himself, but you’re not actively attacking other players, which can be a pro or con depending on your group dynamic and preferences. There is definitely some luck involved in Clank!, and as with many deck builders, the expansions really ramp up the replayability factor here.


Clank! combines a dungeon adventure game style and deck building for an incredibly entertaining game that keeps gaming groups of all ages laughing and having a great time. It’s lighthearted, super fun, and tends to play best with 3-4 players. Clank is our pick for the best casual deck builder and is a great board/card game to play with friends anytime!

ProsCons
✅ very easy to learn🅧 need to incorporate expansions for much greater replayability
✅ lots of fun for gaming groups of any skill level🅧 not much for player interaction (could be a pro if that’s your preference)
✅ great deck building dungeon crawling mash-up🅧 can have too much luck for some players
✅ lighter weight and pretty quick to play
✅ has expansions available
(and spin-off Clank! In Space and Clank! Legacy too)

Clank! Expansions & Spin-offs

Sale Renegade Game Studios Clank! Adventuring Party
Renegade Game Studios Clank! The Mummy's Curse Plush Toy, Multicolor
Sale Renegade Game Studios, Clank! In! Space! A Deck-Building Adventure (RGS0594)
Sale Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated

4. Tyrants of the Underdark: Best Competitive Deck Building Game

Dungeons & Dragons - Tyrants of the Underdark Board Game
  • Players: 2-4
  • Playtime: 60+ min
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Company: Wizards of the Coast, Gale Force Nine
  • Style: deck building, area control
  • Ages: 14+

Buy Tyrants of the Underdark if you’re a fan of fantasy themed games, especially D&D, and like the idea of area control combined beautifully with deck building in a highly interactive and competitive multiplayer game.

Overview
In this competitive strategy game born from the world of Dungeons and Dragons (and from the design team of Lords of Waterdeep), each player acts as the leader of a Drow (dark elf) house seeking to amass power and glory by controlling the Underdark.


Gameplay
Players use the resources of power and influence in conjunction with their carefully built decks to take actions throughout the game, from assinanting an opponent’s troops to recruiting new followers to maneuvering troops through the Underdark. Recruit powerful minions and control territory to earn the most Victory Points.


One of the most intriguing elements of play in Tyrants of the Underdark is that the deck culling mechanism, where you intentionally remove cards from play, also impacts scoring. When you promote a card to your inner circle, you can no longer use this card in play, but you get greater victory points for that minion at the end of the game.


While most games on this list are competitive, Tyrants of the Underdark is our pick for best competitive deck building game due to its much higher level of player interaction. While you may appreciate the game more with some background knowledge of the Drow/D&D, you certainly don’t need it; the gameplay stands solidly on its own.

ProsCons
✅ well done combination of deck building and area control🅧 cards can be a little slick and thin feeling
✅ excellent fantasy theme🅧 box design and storage is frustrating with an insert that seems to make things worse instead of better
✅ quick and easy to learn
✅ lots of replayablility
✅ available expansion add variety
✅ Plays truly well with 4 players
✅ significant player interaction for best competitive deck builder

Tyrants of the Underdark Expansion

Dungeons & Dragons - Tyrants of the Underdark "Aberrations & Undead" Game Expansion
  • Decks can be paired with any of the game's existing half-decks and introduce new mechanics and playstyles
  • Twisted creatures like Beholders, Nothics, and Illithid are introduced in the Aberrations deck along with the ability to force your opponents to discard their precious cards
  • The Undead deck swarms with zombies, skeletons, and spirits, providing you with expendable minions that can be sacrificed for bursts of power
  • Not a standalone expansion. Requires base game to play

3. Aeon’s End: Best Cooperative Deck Building Game

Aeons End 2nd Edition
  • Players: 1-4
  • Playtime: 60+ minutes
  • Complexity: Medium
  • Company: Indie Boards & Cards
  • Style: Cooperative Deck Builder, Combat, some Dungeon Crawl feels
  • Ages: 14+

Buy Aeon’s End if: You want an exciting combat based co-op deck builder with unique twists on the deck building genre (like not shuffling your deck!) and fantastic fantasy/sci-fi artwork.

Overview
Aeon’s End is a brilliant example of an engaging and unique reimagining of genre and our overall choice for best co op deck building game. Instead of just buying new cards and managing your deck to victory, you’re working together with your gamemates to conquer the dreaded forces of the Nameless. It also gives a little bit of that dungeon crawler vibe as well due to the monster battles.


Gameplay
You’ll seek gems, relics, and spells to further your Breach Mage’s capabilities and track your own health as well as that of Gravehold–humanity’s last stronghold–and the Nameless. In stark contrast to many deck builders, you do not discard all cards at the end of each turn, nor can you choose to discard cards during your turn.


Also, while you can look through your discard pile at will, you cannot rearrange it, and –most intriguingly– you DO NOT shuffle your deck. This allows you far more control over your card arrangement than most deck builders. To more effectively mimic the disorder of combat, Aeon’s End employs a variable turn order system too.


You face a different nemesis each game, requiring you to adapt strategically, and your group wins when either all the nemesis cards are defeated or the Nameless health falls to zero. However, if all players become exhausted or Gravehold falls, you lose. Aeon’s End also has three difficulty levels: beginner, expert, and extinction, so you’ll never lack a challenge in this best deck builder. To add more interest and variety, you can combine this with multiple excellent expansions or pick up the legacy version as well.


With it’s gripping fantasy/sci-fi art style, unique combat system, and intriguing approach to deck building, Aeon’s End is the best co op deck building game. If you’re looking for the best card game to play with friends that both avoids competition and creates a challenge, this is it.

ProsCons
✅ Plays well in groups or alone (especially great card game for 2 players)🅧Set up does take time
✅ Reimagining of deck building mechanics (no shuffling of the deck or rampant discarding)🅧 2nd Edition has fixed most quality control issues, but some still occasionally occur. Just contact the company if this happens; they’ll take care of you.
✅ Unique approach to combat: variable turn order
✅ Fantasy/sci-fi art style
✅ Has multiple difficulty levels and expansions to keep game interesting and improve replayability
✅ Each game/battle requires different strategies to win
✅ Best cooperative deck building game (and one of the best team board games for adults of all time!)

Aeon’s End Expansions & More

Indie Boards and Cards Aeons End The Depths 2nd Edition
Indie Boards & Cards AEDN2IBC Aeons End The Nameless 2nd Edition Board Games
Aeons End Legacy
The Broken Token Box Organizer for Aeon's End

2. Mage Knight – Ultimate Edition: Best Solo Deck Building Game

Sale WizKids Mage Knight Board Game: Ultimate Edition
  • Players: 1-5
  • Playtime: 2+ hours (expect longer with more players)
  • Complexity: High
  • Company: Wiz Kids
  • Style: RPG, Deck Building, Tile Placement
  • Ages: 14+

Buy Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition if you’re an experienced gamer not intimidated by complex rules and interested in a truly exemplary game merging elements of RPG, deck building, and traditional board games that shines most brightly in thought-provoking solo play.

Overview
In Mage Knight, you play as a mage knight exploring the world wielding spells and artifacts in search of adventure and fame. You develop your character as you progress, gathering fame by overthrowing cities, defeating monsters, exploring the land, and influencing its denizens. Win conditions differ with each scenario (numerous scenarios available in this edition) and include cooperative, competitive, and truly excellent solo play choices.

Gameplay
First off, Mage Knight is a very hybrid game type, as many are in our modern world of gaming. Certainly not a pure deck builder (like the original, dominion), the deck building element of this game plays an important role. You need to add to your deck throughout the game, and your hand plays a significant part in how you interact with the game. If you’re a fan of the deck building mechanic but find pure deck builders too simplistic, this beautiful beast of a game might be perfect for you!


While it does accommodate 1-5 players, if you’re going to play with more (especially 4-5), be prepared to set aside several hours. You need a hard-core gaming group that enjoys complex, strategy heavy, deep-thinking games. Though it plays well 1-3 player (and can certainly work for a patient large group too), Mage Knight has done a truly spectacular job with its single player mode, which is why it earns our recommendation for best solo deck builder game.


The Ultimate Edition includes 3 popular expansions that further enrich your world and open your character(s) to more possibilities; however you can start with just Mage Knight if you’re not looking to spend as much upfront (it’ll only be 1-4 player, though). The game includes painted miniatures and numerous components, and while the box does fit them all, it could be better organized.


If you’re a fan of challenging, strategic games (especially solo) and love the idea of combining RPG and deck building elements, you should absolutely pick up Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition. Push forward through the intro scenario (it’s a starter – a tutorial), and don’t be afraid to take wounds in your adventures; after all, no risk, no reward! Be bold, be brave, and discover why Mage Knight earned a reputation as one of the best deck building games.

ProsCons
✅ Challenging, heavy strategy🅧 Rules take a solid amount of time to learn
✅ Excellent, rich solo play🅧 Box isn’t the best designed
✅ Cooperative, competitive, and solo scenarios: Best game for solo deck building🅧 Gets long with more players – can feel bogged down
✅ Contains 3 expansions 🅧 Expensive upfront (but great value for game + 3 expansions)
✅ Combines RPG, deck-building, exploration, combat, tile laying & more🅧 Set up/tear does take a while
✅ nice components and painted miniatures

1. Great Western Trail: Overall Best Deck Building Game

Great Western Trail Board Game
  • Players: 2-4
  • Playtime: 75-150 min
  • Complexity: Medium-High
  • Company: Eggertspiele
  • Style: Deck building, tile laying, point-to-point movement, set collection, tableau building
  • Ages: 12+

Buy Great Western Trail if you’re interested in a fantastically executed game with truly well designed gameplay that seamlessly integrates several gaming mechanics and provides multiple strategic paths to victory (even if the theme doesn’t pique your interest).

Overview
In Great Western Trail, you play as a rancher herding your cattle from Texas to Kansas City to be sold for victory points. Navigate the changing trails with each herd and learn to carefully manage and care for your cows, hiring competent help and utilizing the buildings along the way.


Gameplay
Nominated for over a dozen game awards world-wide (and winner of several), Great Western Trail seamlessly combines multiple mechanics, including deck building (hence it’s placement here as a best deck builder), point-to-point movement, set collection, and more. The mechanics work nicely with the theme, and while you may not find this particular theme riveting, the gameplay is so captivating that you honestly won’t mind.


With many paths to victory, GWT offers great replayability, and your strategy will deepen as you get the hang of the game and discover the different ways to earn victory points. It may take a round or two to get the hang of all your options and feel super comfortable, but then you’ll be hooked. You’ll quickly learn to decipher the game’s iconography, making things easy to understand and limiting the number of rule book references you need.


While the deck building component is only one mechanic, it is a vital one, and because it’s merges so beautifully with other elements of gameplay and makes such a fantastic all around game, Great Western Trail earns our recommendation for Overall Best Deck Builder. This is a game you truly need for group (do NOT let the theme deter you!).

ProsCons
✅ Truly excellent integration of multiple gaming mechanics – Best Overall Deck Building Game🅧 Theme may not appeal to all (it’s still worth it!!)
✅ Very fun but also strategic gameplay🅧 Occasional & very minor player complaints regarding a few less viable paths or objective cards
✅ Engaging variety and complexity but not overwhelming
✅ Many ways to earn victory points
✅ Helpful iconography for easy understanding of components

But wait!! There’s more

20+ Runner-up Best Deck Builders

Paring down my initial massive list of deck builders was painful, and individual preference certainly plays a roll in decision making. The games below could easily make their way into your personal best deck building game list, so do check them out.

Sale
Shadowrun Crossfire Prime Runner Edition
Shadowrun Crossfire Prime Runner Edition
Builds off the popularity of both the Shadowrun universe and the new Dragonfire game.
Sale
Rio Grande Games Friday
Rio Grande Games Friday
1-player game; Takes about 30 minutes to play; Unique and fun

There are a few other games we think join the ranks of best deck building games, but as they are often very difficult to find, we haven’t included them in the full write ups or the above list of best deck builder game runner-ups. If you can lay your hands on these, though, they’re also excellent deck builders:

  • Dale of Merchants
  • Lucky’s Misadventures
  • For the Crown (2nd Edition)
  • Pasaraya: Supermarket Manager
  • A Few Acres of Snow

What is a Deck Building Card Game?

If you’re looking for the best card games for adults or the best strategy card games, you’ll likely come across quite a few deck building games.

The Basics

Deck building card games, or deck builders, are a genre of strategy card games/board games in which players generally begin with the same set of cards and throughout the game add cards to improve and fine tune their deck. Players will generally be able to choose new cards, often purchasing them with whatever resource the game incorporates, from a collective pool.


Some deck builders also include deck thinning mechanisms, allowing you not only to add better cards but also to remove poorer starting cards or detrimental cards you might be forced to acquire along the way. Many games listed as deck builders also incorporate other game mechanics, making them a combination/hybrid deck building game. You’ll notice several of these in our list.


As with most games, you’ll be working towards amassing the most victory points (whatever they may be called) or fulfilling some predetermined win condition. As you can see from the best deck building games above, the genre has grown immensely since its inception with the original Dominion game, and we’ll talk more about the different types of deck builders below.

Versatility

Deck builders tend to be excellent game choices for those looking for great replayability because in most deck builders, you won’t actually use every card in each game, and you’ll have a tremendous number of set-up options with different card combinations available.


Deck builders also tend to be games with expansions, which add not only additional cards but also often entire new types of cards with brand new abilities or effects. Sometimes, as with many games, playing the base alone for a long time gets a little stale; I find it takes longer with deck builders due to the inherent variety, but thankfully most of the popular deck building games have several expansions to keep things interesting.

What is the Original Dominion Game?

The original Dominion game is the classic deck builder, created by Donald Vaccarino (a game designer you can ready more about at Board Game Geek) in 2008. It burst onto the board game scene, unique and wonderful, and launched the entire genre of deck building games. As the starter for this type of strategy card game/board game, the original Dominion, is a “pure deck builder,” meaning it doesn’t involve other mechanics.


When people talk about the original Dominion, they’re referring to the base game, now in its second edition, which cleans up the rules and clarifies some cards a bit. In addition to the base game, Dominion has many, many expansions that significantly improve the replayability by introducing not only new cards but entire new card classes/types. For more information of each expansion, check out our list of the Best Dominion Expansions.


Admittedly, just playing the original Dominion can get a bit stale after a while, but by utilizing the many recommended set ups for each expansion/combination of expansions, you’ll always have a fulfilling game. Read more about the deck building original, Dominion.

Are there Different Types of Deck Builders?

Classic & Similar

As you’ll note reading through the 20 best deck building games listed above, deck builders come in an array of styles and implementations these days. At the dawn of the genre with the original Dominion, we saw a new game mechanic where players built up unique decks from identical initial cards through the purchase of new cards each turn from a set of communal stacks. Choosing a variety of strategies, players used the combination of cards they’d accumulated to gain victory points.


Since those early days, deck building has exploded, hence the 20 best deck builders AND another 20 or so runner up games on this list. More importantly, though, the genre has evolved and shifted over the years. Game creators saw Dominion and its innovation and sought not only to recreate it but to add elements of uniqueness to their interpretations. You can see this in the combat mechanics of Star Realms, the card set up style and monster killing of Ascension, or the card-crafting of Mystic Vale.

Cooperative & Competitive Deck Building

The original style blossomed into a wide variety of competitive and co-op gaming variations. You have the fully cooperative Aeon’s End, the cooperative scenarios of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, and the optional cooperative with secret traitor of Legendary Encounters: Alien™. There’s also a wide range of competitive games now too, including those with minimal player interaction, like original Dominion, Clank!, Taverns of Tiefenthal, Mystic Vale (base), and Ascension.


On the other end of the spectrum, there are games like Vikings Gone Wild with higher player interaction but less destruction as well heavy player interaction games like Tyrants of the Underdark and the Undaunted games with their area control. Some groups and players LOVE high player interaction, whereas others don’t mind or even prefer games with minimal interaction (more of the “multiplayer solitaire” feel). Of course many games now have expansions that increase player interaction if it was lacking in the base game.

Additional Mechanics

Beyond co-op vs. competitive and adding unique twists to the initial concept of deck building, some of the best deck building games now add further mechanics and elements. You see this in smaller ways with the set collection element of Valley of the Kings or the Dungeon Crawl implementation of Clank!. These games are deck builders, for sure, but they involve some other elements too.


Then you start getting into games where deck building is one of several components, like Taverns of Tiefenthal with its dice drafting and Tyrants of the Underdark with its area control. In these games, deck building is essential but not the only thing happening; it’s part of a greater whole. You see this, perhaps to an even greater degree, in games like Great Western Trail and Mage Knight, too. I think the deck building genre has been a truly fascinating one to watch change over the years, and I love the myriad options now available to us! 


Whatever type of deck builder you like, you’re sure to find a game to pique your interest in our list. If you’re already familiar with our top 20 best deck builders, check out the runner ups, and if you already know those too… well then color me impressed and let me know of any I missed in the comments!

Age & Difficulty for Best Card Deck Builders

As with all genres, the appropriate age range and difficulty level of deck builders varies but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult to an ideal game! Just check a few statistics to get a feel for which of the best deck building games will be right for your group or your family:

Age

While ages are listed for every game, these recommendations come directly from the manufacturer, and we find that in most cases, younger players can grasp the rules and mechanics. You’ll also need to consider if the age listed has to do with the content included. For example, the Legendary Encounters: Alien™ game is listed at 17+; this is related to the content from the movies, which are rated R.


A younger player would absolutely be able to play Legendary Encounters: Alien™  from a gameplay standpoint; it’s just a matter of what you’re comfortable with regarding content. This is also true in Vikings Gone Wild, though on the opposite end. The game is rated 10+, and while that’s mechanically appropriate, some parents might not like the rampant beer references in the cards and components.

Complexity

This is our rating, and while it’s not a perfect, it’s our way of trying to help you determine the overall complexity level of a game: how many different elements the game involves, how difficult it will be to learn, etc. As a general rule, the lower the complexity rating, the easier it will be to pick up and play. Oftentimes, complexity coincides with length, too; light games tend to be faster to play than medium or high complexity games. Some light games from our best deck building games list include Quest for El Dorado (our best family deck builder), Star Realms, DC Comics Deck Builder, and Paperback.


If you’re new to modern board games, looking for a great family game with some younger kids involved, or wanting a quick, easier palette cleanser between heavier games, games rated “low complexity” or called “lightweight”would be a great option. Medium-light/medium complexity deck building games would be good choices too; they have just a little bit more going on than fully light games, but they’re still easy to pick up and learn.


As you move through medium, medium-high, and high complexity games, you’ll gradually see more rules, more elements of gameplay, and generally longer games. The majority of our best deck building games fall somewhere in the medium range: think Mystic Vale, Taverns of Tiefenthal, Aeon’s End, Tyrants of the Underdark, the Legendary: Marvel, etc.


If you’re a seasoned gamer, medium weight games won’t phase you at all, and you may like the added challenges that come with higher complexity ratings. If you’re looking for high complexity, check out Mage Knight, and if you want a medium-high, look at Great Western Trail.

Deck Builders & Number of Players

Deck builders can play well in a variety of gaming groups, but each deck builder has its strengths when it comes to gaming group sizes.

Deck Building in Larger Groups

As a general rule, you can expect deck building games with larger groups to move a little slower and take a little longer. Time between turns usually increases, giving players a greater sense of downtime. As the game itself lengthens, it can start to feel like a drag to some players.


However, it also depends on the group itself and how AP (analysis paralysis) prone your players are. You know if you’ve got players in your group that tend towards longer turn-taking and lengthy internal debates; you’ll just need to be prepared for the possibility of longer games in such groups. Several of the best deck builders listed, though, have mechanics in place that attempt to streamline some of this.


For example, Mystic Vale has the Day/Night card pools in games with 5 or 6 players (needs Conclave Expansion) to drastically speed up gameplay, and Taverns of Tiefenthal has multiple phases where players act simultaneously. 


While there are many gamers that maintain deck builders play best with only two or three players, I think there are excellent games that play well with more players, even if you don’t have quite the same level of impact on your opponent. Most importantly, I think it depends on preference. Our 5 player group still plays Dominion (with Intrigue and others), and while it can take a bit longer sometimes, we don’t mind that. We’ve got all the expansions as a group and know some of our favorite set ups by now, so it works well for us.


(For other strategy board game recommendations based on group size, check out our Best 5 Player Games, best 3 player board games, and best single player board games.)

Lighter Deck Builders for Faster Play in Any Group

Lighter games tend to play faster regardless of group size, so things like Paperback and Quest for El Dorado will move fairly quickly even with four players (though again, AP elements can affect Paperback).


2-4 & Solo Deck Building Games

The co-op Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle plays great 4 players, as does Tyrants of the Underdark (our choice for best competitive deck building game) with its heavy player interaction.

There are also games specifically designed for two players, like the Undaunted games and Star Realms (our choice for best 2 player deck builder), and games that really shine in their solo gameplay too, like Mage Knight, the clear winner for best single player deck builder.

If you play with 2-3 players, I’d say you’ll likely be satisfied with just about anything on this best deck building games list, but there are notes in the pros/cons section to take a look at regarding good player counts, too.

Other Elements to Consider

Consider also the luck elements, if that bothers you. As a general rule, there’s going to be some amount of luck in deck building games. However, some have more than others. For example, games with a changing element, like the Center Row of Ascension, can be frustrating for those looking for a heavily strategic game, given that what’s in the center row changes constantly making planning in advance extremely difficult, especially in larger groups.

Deck Building Games vs. Living/Collectible Card Games

Differences

When we talk about the “best deck building games,” we inevitably get questions about games like Magic the Gathering or Netrunner or Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Games. While yes, you’re using a deck in all these games, and you have to build that deck to be able to play, we don’t consider any of these “deck builder games” because the actual building of the deck does not take place during the game itself.


The deck building of these games is not a mechanic of gameplay but instead something you’re constantly working to improve and fine tune and tailor to your style OUTSIDE of gameplay itself. Then you’ll take your completed deck and compete with others to beat their completed and often completely different deck.


In what we consider deck building games, the building of the deck, whether the only, primary, or just one of the mechanics of the game, occurs within the game itself.

Other Terms

As for the varying terminology, you’ll hear terms like Expandable Card Game (XCG or ECG), Collectible Card Games (CCG), Trading Card Games (TCG), and Living Card Games (LCG). Living Card Games are specific to the Fantasy Flight company and differ in their distribution system.

Regardless of distribution methods, LCG/TCG/CCG/EXG games can be a money pit, as you’ll find yourself wanting to upgrade from those starter decks quickly. Also, if you play competitively (at tournaments, etc.), you’ll likely need to stay on top of new card releases to keep your deck competitive and relevant.

That’s not to say you can’t sink money into standard deckbuilders, with all their expansions, but it’s still very different. The expansions for any of the best deck building games on this list will add more cards, greater variety, new rules, etc, but they don’t change the core mechanic where the decks are built during the game. They just give you more variety!

If You Like Deck Builders…

To figure out what else you might like, I encourage you to think about what it is, precisely, in your favorite deck building games that you love so much. If it’s the basic building up of cards to create something greater than your starting elements that continues to build together, you might like Tableau Building games, as described here by Board Game Geek, (Splendor, Machi Koro, Valeria Card Kingdoms).


If you really like portable strategy card games, specifically, or want the best card games for adults, you might like other small-footprint card games. These can range from the lightweight and family friendly Sushi Go to Innovation with its multiple expansions to modern trick-taking games like Fox in the Forest, The Crew, or Wizard.


Many of the games listed here also have another style associated with them, beyond deck building, so if you find yourself loving one of those, look for other games involving that additional element. For example, if you love Clank! for the Dungeon Crawl aspect, you should check out Cory’s list of 25 Best Dungeon Crawler Games.

Final Thoughts on Best Deck Builders

Hopefully by now you’ve thoroughly perused these amazing strategy card game/board game choices and have decided which ones to add to your regular board game routine. If you’re still not sure, here’s a recap of some of our top deck builders, and if your favorite deck building game didn’t make the list, please let us know in the comments!

Top Pick: Best Deck Building Game

Great Western Trail Board Game

Best Solo Deck Building Game

Sale WizKids Mage Knight Board Game: Ultimate Edition

Best Cooperative Deck Building Game

Aeons End 2nd Edition

Best Competitive Deck Building Game

Dungeons & Dragons - Tyrants of the Underdark Board Game

Best Two Player Deck Building Game

Sale Star Realms: Deckbuilding Game

Best Casual Deck Building Game

Sale Renegade Game Studios Clank! A Deck Building Adventure!

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