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Mechanic Monday: Deck-Building

As a board gamer who has been in the hobby for a while, it can be easy to throw around lingo like "deck-building" or "worker placement" when describing a game to friends. While those terms make sense to me, I can see it be a little confusing for outsiders trying to figure out why I am adding a deck to my house and micromanaging where the workers are placed on the project. My goal with Mechanic Monday is to try and give a little overview/introduction to different core gameplay mechanics or frequent terminology that comes up in board games, while also offering different examples of games I've played that utilize said mechanic.

Deck-Building, while not related to wooden leisure structures in the board game sense, does have to do with constructing a deck of cards over the course of the game. In deck-building games, players usually start with identical decks of basic cards and then throughout the game they add (and sometimes remove) cards from their deck to build powerful combos. This is one of my favorite mechanics, as it adds a lot of replayability and randomness to the game, while also giving you a sense of progression and change over the course of the game. You know what cards you are putting into your deck, but due to frequent shuffling, you can never be quite sure that you'll get the cards you need.

One of the earliest examples of this is the game Dominion. The basic premise is that you are a royal vying for more land to add to your estate. All players start out with several low point cards and a few copper coins. While everyone starts with the same stuff, each game you pick 10 different cards that each has a small stack identical cards and add them to the game. You can pick different sets that interact and play off of each other or you can just pick 10 random cards and see what kind of game it makes. Using your sparse resources, you have to pick cards that give you more actions (cards to play), more buying opportunities, and better coins that help you have more wealth to buy better land cards, which are the points you need to win the game. The twist there is that the land cards don't have in game purpose, but you need them to win the game. If you get too many cheap ones too early, they will take up your whole hand and you won't be able to do anything with them, leading to an interesting balance and desire to get better cards worth more points if at all possible. With around 25 different cards in the base game and a wide variety of expansions, every game can be totally different, though some common strategies may work in most situations. I had Dominion in my collection for a while and like it, but I got a few other deck-builders that I enjoyed more, so I game to a family member, so I still play it on occasion.

Dominion was the first major deck-builder and it still holds up quite well. But others have come along and tweaked the formula in interesting ways. I'll touch on a few and mention what the differences are that I like.

Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building games was one of the first other varieties of deck-builder I tried. You are working with the other players to trying to defeat the mastermind before they complete their evil scheme. Starting off with basic S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents and Officers, you work to recruit heroes and defeat various henchmen and villains before they can work their way through the city and escape. I like this one because it is cooperative....mostly. If you don't defeat the mastermind, you all lose together. You have to work together to achieve victory, but whoever takes out the most villains wins overall. This can lead to working together at first, but getting more competitive towards the end, just like sometimes happens with teams of heroes.

A variety of Masterminds, villains, henchmen, and heroes leads to a lot of variety and combos. You can stick with a standard X-Men or Avengers group, or you can mix and match different groups in a cross-over they have yet to make a movie about. The only bad thing I have to say about this one is that it can take a while to get your deck running smoothly. The first few turns can be really difficult if you get a bad draw, and this is even worse as you have more players. Once you get a few decent heroes, things go a lot smoother.

I stumbled upon Super Motherload after getting another one of Roxley's games. It's actually based off an old flash computer game I had played, so I was curious what the board game would be like. You are a miner on Mars trying to mine valuable minerals and artifacts to improver your gear and abilities. This one combines deck-building with a few other elements like area control and money management. Each card you buy counts as points, and different achievements give you short term goals to aim towards. While deck-building is a more minor element in this one, it still uses it in an interesting way. What intrigues me most about this one is that while everyone starts with the same cards, everyone's cards they can by have different abilities and power, meaning that every player will be focusing and working on different things. The card's have different powers when you buy them AND when you play them, leading to some careful planning of when you buy certain cards and what minerals you mine. A great implementation of a classic flash game.

Moonrakers was one that popped up on my Instagram feed and I was instantly intrigued. A deck-builder with a space theme? I'm in! This one has you working to complete various contracts as you try to rise to the top of the Moonrakers, a group of space mercenaries. Your starting deck has a basic mix of cards, but as you go on you recruit different crew members and buy different ships parts that add new cards to you deck. The basic contracts are easy, but in order to pull of the bigger jobs, you'll have to work with one or more other players. That's where shrewd negotiations come in - divvying up the rewards to different contracts. It's a nice component, as it allows you to discards a not so great hand to help someone else on their turn, while still maybe getting a few credits or a new card. Add on secret objective cards and you have a recipe for a potent recipe as you race to become the new leader of the Moonrakers. Your deck doesn't change to much over the course of a game, but a large number of crew and different ship parts can alter how regular cards behave.

The starting decks of Legendary (top), Moonrakers (middle), and Super Motherload (bottom)
The starting decks of Legendary (top), Moonrakers (middle), and Super Motherload (bottom)

Deck-builders are an interesting game genre and games continue to tweak the formula. Just between the three in the Reroll collection, there is a lot of differences, from overall gameplay to deck composition (as you can see above). Hope you enjoyed a bit of a deep dive into the world of board games. Be sure to check out the games above in our collection, along with many more! Have a game mechanic you're curious about or want to know more? Comment below and perhaps I'll cover it on a future Monday.

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