Deck builders are played with cards, but all too often, they’re lumped into core card games like Magic: The Gathering, Hearthstone, Legends of Runeterra, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or others. While certainly there are some awesome competitive tabletop deck builders to check out (Dominion rules, folks), in games today they’re often roguelike dungeon crawls, allowing players to unlock new options, distill their decks down to only the best cards, and try out a wealth of strategies. In fact, you don’t have to like card games at all to enjoy a good deck builder, as they’re more akin to a mechanics-focused turn-based RPG in style and spirit. Anyway, do yourself a favor and check out one of these titles for a great look at what the genre has to offer.
Slay the Spire
While not the first deckbuilding game by any means, Slay the Spire has been a huge contributor to the genre’s popularity in recent years. Slay the Spire features near-infinite replayability, which is nice, but the gameplay is stellar and sublime.
As you lose dozens of hours to Spire crawling, you’ll unlock all kinds of new strategies to experiment with. Whether it’s by brute force, the incremental tick of poison, or with tons of lightning, there are hundreds of ways to take on the monsters and bosses in Slay the Spire. Creating a perfect cyclical deck is a pleasure, and random elements each run create interesting variables that make each attempt different and special. If you haven’t played this deck builder yet, you’re missing out.
Imagine taking a trip to Hell… To reclaim it for your horrifying legions! Monster Train is an excellent choice for folks who like to command giant monsters. Instead of controlling a single hero character like Slay the Spire, players must command and position various troops from complex factions.
Sure, you can play with basic hard-hitting demon spawn, but things get exciting as you attempt to make your way through the gauntlet with more nuanced factions, like a collection of candle creatures that possess immense power – but burn out over time. Players must also manage careful positioning for each unit placed on the train and augment battles with spells. This ride is an awesome one and one I highly recommend getting a ticket for as soon as possible.
If you’re looking for all the core mechanics of the deck builder with a dash of story and the ability to talk your way out of a mess, Griftlands might be the right fit for you. In Griftlands, while it’s likely you’ll specialize in either combat or chatter, you command two different decks – one for direct combat and one for negotiation.
Winning an argument by infuriating the opponent and browbeating them into submission or by persuading them through savvy social skills is an offbeat choice for a roguelike deck builder, but it works well here. Recruit allies, experiment with different characters, and make your way through the lively days and nights of the Griftlands!
Across the Obelisk
Currently in Early Access, Across the Obelisk tasks you with forming a group of adventurers to head out into lands teeming with dangers. Experimenting with different takes on classic archetypes like healers, tanks, hunters, and rogues, assembling the perfect mix of abilities, equipment, and skills is super satisfying, even in this pre-release stage. While deck builders are everywhere these days, Across the Obelisk is brimming with promise and panache and is worth a look.
Inscryption is one of those games that it’s best not to talk too much about before playing, as much of the game’s discovery, exploration, and bizarre curiosities can be easily spoiled. However, I’m comfortable saying that the deck-building aspect of the game is fun and exciting, even if it’s not as in-depth as many other genre offerings. It’s a blast to break the rules by moving abilities from card to card, and there’s no shortage of atmosphere and style as you battle in the confines of a dimly-lit cabin.