From the iconic Slay the Spire to newer releases like Griftlands and Signs of the Sojourner, these are some of the best recent deck-builders.
By Christian Meffert
Published 7 hours ago
The world of gaming?is vast and saturated with creativity and charm. As of late, it has been drawn to one particular style of play: the deck-builder. Inspired by board games such as Dominion and Ascension, a deck-builder is a game where the player develops their deck over the course of the adventure,?instead of the traditional method where pre-determined cards available from?the beginning of the game are used throughout (as in CCGs like?Magic: the Gathering, where decks have already been built prior to play).?
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This framework has been the foundation for many games within the last few years, especially early access games. Some stick to the formula that inspired them, others take what came before and put their own twist upon it.
Manage a spaceship and handle encounters with hostile factions in this turn-based deck-builder. Combat is standard for the genre. However, outside of combat, the player will make choices in random encounters and gather fuel to keep their ship on the move across a gridded map. It becomes just as much about where the spacecraft goes as what it does?once it gets there.
For The Warp’s?simple structure makes for easy play and quick games. Not to mention a stunning pixel art style?reminiscent of Cross Blitz?that adheres to the sci-fi setting seamlessly. What holds it back is a lack of complexity and originality, elements that can really help pull together a good deck-builder.
Besides a beautiful art style and relaxing atmosphere, what helps?Signs of the Sojourner?stand out is its concepts. In this game, decks aren’t built to conquer enemies or to defend the player from damage. The goal here is to have a successful conversation with another person, trying to connect with them via careful use of cards.
As the player progresses, their deck will change, making it easier to converse with some people but harder to converse with others. Unfortunately, each character encountered over the course of the journey?only requires a few conversations before that particular NPC’s arc is complete, leaving a slight feeling of lost potential.
There is no shortage of 2D city builders, but what?Ratropolis?does differently is add deck-building elements to the mix. Face off against waves of zombies?and build a?humble rat kingdom by balancing a deck of cards. The player must not only manage their gold to get new cards and to play other cards, but also their time. It’s possible to?use all the cards in a given hand and be left with nothing until a timer goes off and allows a?new hand to be drawn (unless gold is paid).
While the game is its own unique combination of ideas, no individual concept or mechanic?really helps it to stand out. This fun and creative title can feel just a little bit ‘busy’ as a result.
While still in Steam Early Access?at the time of writing,?Banners Of Ruin?has proven to be a highly competent deck-builder with its own ambitions. Build up to a party of six anthropomorphized animals all with their own strengths and weaknesses. Navigate the medieval-inspired world by choosing between the?three cards that have been drawn, influencing the?encounters that come next.
While the player’s party members maintain their defense between turns, the enemies also deal more damage. The promise of what this game could be once it leaves Early Access elevates it from what it still lacks in quantity of content.
All the familiar mechanics are present here, but what helps?Kyvir: Rebirth?stand out is its two-deck system. In this game, the player has a main hand of cards and an off-hand. Having a healthy selection in both decks is key to performing well.
On top of that, RPG elements are also included and need to be taken into account, such as equipping items?and boosting character attributes. World traversal plays out like a game of?Minesweeper, with adventurers breaking blocks on a grid until stumbling upon the next event. Equipped skills can be a huge boon?in combat, and are most effective when used in tandem with the deck’s cards. While this title offers great ideas that more deck-builders should perhaps learn from, there is a slight lack of?complexity that risks some runs blending into others.
One Step From Eden involves real-time strategy, as the player actively avoids their enemies’ attacks. At the same time, of course,?they need to deal as much damage right back as they can,?all while darting around on an?8×4 battleground.
Cards are abilities that use?a slowly-building pool of mana. However, only two abilities can be accessed at a time. It’s a hectic title that does well to blur the sometimes-complex line between roguelike and roguelite. Ability cards work in a queue here: ?play one card, get the next. Add to that a hefty list of varied characters and what is left is a solid action game with interesting deck-building mechanics, bringing a wealth of strategy into the mix. The sheer breadth of content and adrenaline-pumping action is worth the price alone.
In this game, the player’s cards act more like buffs and curses. After the?available energy is spent?on whichever cards are drawn, control is?relinquished momentarily as the party?clash with the enemies on the field. Time passes before the game pauses again and that precious?energy is restored, alongside a new assigned hand of cards.
It’s all about understanding the needs of the?party after every round of fighting. The more passive role the player takes really helps the game to stand out amongst its peers, while still being an engaging experience.
Griftlands?reinvents the deck-builder genre. It’s?narrative driven, for one thing, with three unique characters and their respective campaigns. This game also boasts two separate battle systems driven by their own decks, combat and negotiation. Be wary, though, as putting too much focus on one deck may leave the other too weak to deal with an unavoidable encounter. It’s even possible to train up a pet.
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To upgrade cards, the player must use them in battle. They will then?be able to choose the upgrade the card takes on. ?Managing relationships also affects gameplay, as people’s opinions of the main character will grant the protagonist buffs and debuffs (as will the Grafts). A truly unique experience, though its slightly longer campaigns and narrative focus may not suit all deck-builder fans.
The current surge in popularity of deck-builders owes much to?Slay The Spire. It’s still a genre highlight,?despite all that came after it. Its mechanics are tight, its synergies are easy to grasp, and its characters are all distinct from one another. As with most examples of the ever-addictive roguelike genre, games are quick and extremely replayable.
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Every encounter is tense and every decision the player makes will determine whether the run ends in triumph over the final boss or catastrophic defeat. Is there a more refined deck-builder out there? Perhaps.
In Monster Train, the objective is to?aid demonic forces in their train-bound quest to reignite the flame that powers the underworld. There are two distinct card types to play: monster cards and action cards. Monsters are the first line of defense in stopping the forces of good?moving up the train and attacking its?power source. Action cards, meanwhile, affect enemies and allies.
This game that forces?the player to push their synergies to the extreme, as they develop their deck against an onslaught of increasingly difficult fights. It stands out as?a true evolution of the deck-building experience. It’s brash and brilliant, and genre fans shouldn’t miss it.
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About The Author
(2 Articles Published)
Christian Meffert is a writer and video game lover from Hurricane, West Virginia. After graduating from West Virginia University with a Bachelors in Journalism, Christian now finds himself writing lists for Game Rant. He was the Vice President of his universities Game Development Club and has done research for stories about game developers in his region. He also enjoys in his spare time reading, movies, and of course video games.
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