Deck-building board games are a perfect pick for players that like to devise strategies and think ahead. There’s something very satisfying about building a powerful and unique deck of cards by yourself, and then discovering that you’ve just scratched the surface of the tactical gameplay these games offer.
Furthermore, playing with wonderfully designed cards featuring artworks from many talented artists is just the cherry on top of the best deck-building games.
That’s why here at Boar Gamer we have created a list of these fantastic titles that will fit you even if you are an experienced player or someone new to board games or this particular genre. We plan on expanding our list in the future, so be sure to come back from time to time and see if we found something another interesting board game with deck-building elements.
Our Top Picks of Best Deck-Building Board Games
- Dune: Imperium
- Lost Ruins of Arnak
- Great Western Trail
- Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
- Star Realms
- Aeon’s End
- Undaunted: Normandy
- Tyrants of the Underdark
- Legendary: Marvel Deck Building Game
Why We’re Keeping It in the Box
As you can see we really like our cards and what deckbuilders have to offer. However, you might notice that a few well-known names like Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Pokémon are absent from our list. Let us explain.
These games are categorized under the ‘collectible card games’ (CCG) or ‘trading card games’ (TCG), where the gameplay is indeed intriguing and complex strategical thinking is required. However, these games encourage players to continually purchase booster packs, trade cards, and hunt for that one “gotcha!” elusive card to have the most competitive deck.
This aspect of continuous investment, while exciting for many isn’t that appealing to an audience that includes both newcomers and seasoned players that like the challenge these games offer but would prefer a more contained gaming experience.
Therefore, with this list, we aim to celebrate deck-building games that offer an immersive, strategic experience straight out of the box. These games provide you with all the cards and components needed to play and fully enjoy the game from your very first session. There’s no need to chase after rare cards or invest in a constant stream of new packs.
Keep in mind that many of these games in the deck-building genre offer optional expansions, which can introduce new mechanics, cards, and strategies to keep the game fresh and exciting. But the beauty is, these expansions are entirely optional, and even without them, the base game is often enough to give you countless hours of board gaming fun.
So, whether you’re dipping your toes into the deck-building genre for the first time, or you’re an experienced gamer looking for your next tabletop adventure, our list of best deck-building board games promises a fantastic, ready-to-play experience for everyone, right out of the box.
1. Dune: Imperium – A Melange of Intrigue and Strategy
|Number of players:||1 to 4|
|Play time:||60 – 120 minutes|
Dune: Imperium is a remarkable game that masterfully combines the tactical depth of deck-building with the strategic intricacy of worker placement and eurogame elements. The game plunges you into the captivating and beloved world of Frank Herbert’s Dune. As a leader of one of the great houses, you vie for control over the universe’s most valuable resource – the Spice Melange.
What truly sets this game apart and makes it a must-have in every self-respecting board gamer’s collection is its seamless fusion of different gameplay mechanics (and Dune of course!). As you navigate the political machinations, military conflicts, and economic complexities of Dune, you’ll find every decision critical, requiring continual adaptation of your strategy to the current situation on the board.
You’ll constantly have to think about ways of improving your own deck, plan where to send your agents next, and mobilize your forces for the next conflict.
The only drawback lies in the somewhat basic components, such as cubes representing your house’s warriors on the board. However, this simplicity is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it contributes to the game’s reasonable price for the richness it brings to the tabletop – a trait we can’t grumble about. On the other hand, it ensures players’ focus remains firmly on the wealth of tactical options presented to them by the game.
- A brilliant adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune
- Great deckbuilder that combines several fun game mechanics
- Immersive and fun gameplay
- The game board and components can be underwhelming (cards are still looking great)
2. Dominion (2nd Edition) – The Crown Jewel of Deck-Building Games
|Number of players:||2 to 4|
|Play time:||30 minutes|
Dominion is widely recognized as the board game that launched the deck-building game genre. It has only gotten better with its second edition and presents one of the best games of its type for both new and experienced players.
One of the notable improvements in the second edition is the revamping of about half a dozen cards from the original game that were less frequently used by players. This refresh has brought a greater balance and variety to the gameplay, ensuring that every card has its moment to shine. Keep an eye on the Poacher before the deck runs out!
Dominion’s strength lies in its remarkable diversity. With 500 cards in the box, including a varied setup of 10 different kingdom card decks in each game, you’ll have plenty of variety for each game.
The second edition of Dominion takes what was already great about the original game and fine-tunes it to create an even more engaging and balanced gameplay experience.
Whether you’re constructing your kingdom for the first time or returning as a seasoned ruler, Dominion continues to deliver an unrivaled deck-building adventure. However, sleeving 500 cards can be a pain, we can’t recommend it enough since you’ll be constantly shuffling your cards.
- The standalone game is a must-have for players that like deck-building games
- Numerous expansions can further customize the game to your liking and a specific theme
- Very easy to learn and start playing enthusiastically
- Depending on kingdom card decks can be played with less player interaction
3. Lost Ruins of Arnak – An Adventure in Deck-Building
|Number of players:||1 to 4|
|Play time:||30 – 120 minutes|
CGE’s Lost Ruins of Arnak is a compelling blend of deck-building and worker placement, inviting players on an unforgettable journey of exploration and discovery.
This game transports you into a world reminiscent of an Indiana Jones adventure, complete with uncharted islands, hidden artifacts, and mysterious ancient civilizations. The immersive theme is enhanced by top-notch quality components, with beautifully designed cards and tokens that make the gaming experience even more captivating. Throughout the game, you’ll collect arrowheads, gems, ancient tablets, and artifacts, while researching the enigmatic civilization, managing your crew of explorers, and overcoming the island’s guardians.
The deck-building aspect of the game is cleverly interwoven with its exploration mechanics. Cards are primarily used to explore locations and gather resources. The whip and revolver are a must-have for any self-respecting archaeologist out there.
Lost Ruins of Arnak is the complete package: a fantastic deck-building, worker-placement adventure. Each playthrough offers a new and unique challenge with a variety of cards and two different islands you can explore at your leisure.
- Great components and a lot of game for an affordable price.
- Deckbuilding is fun and satisfying.
- Plenty of decisions and ways to victory you can make.
- The multitude of possible actions each turn can lead some new players to analysis paralysis
4. Great Western Trail (2nd Edition) – A Cattle-Driving, Deck-Building Delight
|Number of players:||1 to 4|
|Play time:||75 – 150 minutes|
Embrace your inner cowboy with the second edition of “Great Western Trail,” a game that seamlessly merges deck-building with route-building, and strategic planning. Published by Eggertspiele, this game takes players on a riveting journey through the American frontier.
At the heart of this game is a unique deck-building mechanic involving, of all things, cows! Players build a herd (or a deck of cow cards) that they’ll manage throughout the game. The greater the variety of your herd, the more profitable your cattle deliveries become.
However, that’s just one aspect of the game, and you’ll have a whole lot of other factors to manage. You’re tasked with building infrastructure, expanding your workforce, and improving your train engine to travel further from Kansas City, all while dealing with various hazards and other players along the way.
The second edition of this game refreshed artwork and components. The game still offers a multitude of strategies to employ, ensuring that every playthrough presents a fresh challenge. So, saddle up and prepare for a thrilling ride through the Great Western Trail. You’re in for a moo-ving experience!
- Many tactical choices as the game progresses
- Lots of player agency
- Great value
- Learning the game for the first time can be overwhelming
5. Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure – Stealth, Strategy, and the Occasional Dragon
|Number of players:||2 to 4|
|Play time:||30 – 60 minutes|
Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure invites you into a thrilling world of danger, daring, and dragons! This game is a delightful blend of deck-building and dungeon delving that delivers a heart-pounding experience with a touch of humor.
The name of the game is to sneak into the dragon’s lair, steal its precious artifacts, and escape before you awaken the fiery beast. Sounds simple, right? Well, the ‘Clank!’ in the title refers to the noise you make while creeping around carrying your precious loot, and too much of it will attract the attention of our dragon friend.
The deck-building aspect is key, as you need to build a deck that balances movement, combat, and special abilities. The right mix of cards can mean the difference between escaping with your loot or becoming the dragon’s dinner.
Clank! challenges you to manage risk and reward with every move. It’s a game that keeps you on the edge of your seat, with the constant threat of the dragon looming. So, do you have what it takes to steal from a dragon and live to tell the tale? Remember, silence is golden, especially when you’re trying to avoid becoming dragon chow!
- Exciting gameplay of balancing risk and reward
- Lots of cards for trying out different strategies
- The game will challenge you in a fun way
- Minimal player interaction
6. Star Realms – A Stellar Deck-Building Journey
|Number of players:||2, 3, 4, and 6-player modes|
|Play time:||20 minutes|
Star Realms is a fast-paced, deck-building card game set in the vast expanses of the cosmos. Despite its compact size and quick playtime, it boasts a depth of strategy that rivals its larger counterparts, making it a standout in the deck-building genre.
The game starts with a basic deck but quickly goes into hyperdrive as you acquire new cards representing spaceships and bases. But it’s not just about adding cards; it’s about creating synergies. Combining cards from the same faction can trigger powerful chain reactions, transforming your gameplay from a simple space flight to a warp-speed adventure.
At the core of Star Realms is its faction system. The cards you buy belong to one of four factions, each with unique abilities. When played together, cards of the same faction can unleash powerful combos, adding a level of strategic depth to your deck-building decisions.
Star Realms is the perfect deckbuilder for beginners and a great game you can take with you on your travels. The base game has plenty of replay value and is very affordable. Should you ever tire of the base deck, there’s a universe of expansions available that won’t require the budget of a Death Star construction project.
- Quick gameplay and plenty of replayability
- Great entry point for the deck builder genre
- Affordable game and expansions
- Rules could have been more detailed to cover certain outlier situations
7. Aeon’s End – Team Up, Deck Up, and Defend the World
|Number of players:||1 to 4|
|Play time:||60 minutes|
Aeon’s End is a unique cooperative deck-building game where players unite to defend their city from The Nameless, monstrous beings intent on devouring what’s left of the world.
Reminiscent of Dominion in its market setup, players purchase new cards to enhance their decks. However, Aeon’s End introduces a refreshing twist: your deck isn’t shuffled, making the order in which you discard cards a critical part of your strategy.
The game is also characterized by its innovative spell-casting system. Spells aren’t cast immediately, instead, they must be prepped on a future turn, adding a compelling layer of strategy and anticipation.
Adding to its replay value, Aeon’s End features different nemeses, each with its deck and set of powers, ensuring every game provides a new, challenging experience. The immersive, apocalyptic theme further enhances the tense, last-stand atmosphere.
If we had to nitpick, the art and design choices of the game aren’t as captivating as they could have been, and this is one area where the game could see improvements. However, if you’re looking for a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat cooperative experience that requires tactical deck management and true teamwork, Aeon’s End is a must-play.
- Unique deckbuilder where you don’t shuffle your cards
- Cooperative experience with high replayability
- Fun spellcasting system
- Uninspired design and artwork
8. Undaunted: Normandy – A Tactical Dance in the Heart of Battle
|Number of players:||2|
|Play time:||45 – 60 minutes|
March your way into the heart of World War II with Undaunted: Normandy, an engaging deck-building wargame that will have you both strategizing and ducking for cover.
At its core, Undaunted: Normandy is about the tug-of-war for control points on the battlefield. However, this isn’t your grandpa’s game of Risk! Your deck represents your platoon, and the cards you draw each turn dictate which units you can command. This deck-building mechanic offers a captivating blend of strategy and uncertainty, mimicking the unpredictable nature of warfare.
Each game presents a new scenario with a different map layout and cards you can use, providing fresh tactical challenges. You might find yourself sneaking through hedgerows, gunning down enemy soldiers, or praying your scout team uncovers that crucial control point.
Undaunted: Normandy shines in its ability to evoke a narrative while keeping gameplay tight and tactical. It’s more than just moving pieces on a board; it’s about telling the untold stories of the brave individuals who fought for every inch of land. So, lace up your boots, soldier, and prepare for a thrilling tour of duty!
- A fantastic mix of tactical and deck-building gameplay
- Multiple missions make each game a unique challenge
- Brilliant if you’re a history and warfare buff…
- …but the WW2 theme isn’t fun for everyone
9. Legendary: Marvel Deck Building Game – Assemble Your Heroes and Save the Day!
|Number of players:||1 to 5|
|Play time:||30 – 60 minutes|
If you’ve ever dreamed of teaming up with the likes of Spider-Man, Wolverine, or Black Widow to take down Loki, Magneto, or the Red Skull, then “Legendary: Marvel Deck Building Game” is your ticket to superhero glory!
The board game is all about recruiting a powerful team of Marvel superheroes and coordinating their unique abilities to thwart the mastermind villain’s nefarious scheme.
It’s a blend of cooperative gameplay and personal triumph – while you must work together to defeat the villain, only one player can claim the most victory points and be named the most legendary hero.
Every game is a thrilling comic book adventure brought to life on your tabletop. The joy of the game lies not just in the strategic deck-building and the push-your-luck combat but also in the dynamic interactions between characters. As your deck evolves, so does your superhero team, creating combos and heroic moments worthy of the comic panels.
Even if you are not a fan of the Marvel Universe, the tight gameplay and deck-building aspect of the game will certainly draw you to this game. So, suit up, recruit your heroes, and get ready to save the day!
- One of the most thematic deck-builders on our list
- Comfortable play session time for such a big game
- Really easy for beginners to pick up
- The setup can be tedious
10. Tyrants of the Underdark – Drow-ning in Choice
|Number of players:||2 to 4|
|Play time:||60 minutes|
Welcome to the world of Tyrants of the Underdark, where cutthroat strategy meets immersive fantasy in a thrilling contest for power and influence in the dark elf society of the Forgotten Realms.
You take on the role of dark elf matriarch leading your house in the battle for control and supremacy over the gloomy Underdark. The game’s deck-building mechanic is clever and intuitive; you’ll recruit minions, deploy troops, assassinate rivals, and spread your influence across the Underdark.
The cards in your deck represent your house’s resources – spies, soldiers, priests, and even monsters. But here’s the catch: your deck isn’t just about power, but also about the cunning and guile befitting a true drow.
The double-sided game board and multiple houses and monster decks ensure no two games are alike, providing for different-feeling playthroughs of the game. Each turn is a deliciously agonizing choice between strengthening your deck or exploiting its current power to extend your control. No one said that ruling the Underdark is easy.
So if the game sounds like a darkly delightful dance of power and deceit, it’s because it is. You don’t have to be a beholder to see why the game is a perfect choice for players that like backstabbing gameplay.
- Maintains good balance in two, three, and four-player games
- Great area control mechanics augmented with the use of spies
- Fast gameplay and interesting decision-making in each turn
- Not the best quality cards so we recommend sleeving this one
Why These Deckbuilder Board Games Made the Cut
When picking a board game to play (regardless of the genre), you want something fun, that will challenge you, but not make you feel like you are studying for an exam.
We are also visual creatures, and a game with beautiful artwork or unique style will always be more appealing than a game that even doesn’t try to attract your attention. These are just some of the factors we considered when we made our list.
However, even with classic card games, there needs to be some strategy, thinking, and engaging gameplay to make you want to play “just one more round” which can turn into a whole evening. Games with cards need to have enough replayability and tactics while having enough depth to pull you in and try another combination of cards in another playthrough.
We always want to include games that will feel like a warm welcome to anyone not familiar with or experienced in playing that particular genre. Deckbuilders are no exception for us, and that’s why we included some games that beginners will be able to easily pick up and start playing.
Now it’s time to dive into the games themselves and see why we’re giddy about some of these titles.
Dominion is credited with popularizing and pioneering the genre of deck-building mechanics. The first edition of the game launched in October 2008 and has since inspired countless other titles within the genre.
Some of these successors have been included on our list, while others represent a natural evolution of the game mechanic. However, “Dominion,” with its second edition released in 2016, remains a standout title worth playing and deserving of a spot on all deck-builder lists.
A deck-building or deckbuilding game (you may see both spellings in the industry) is a type of card or board game where constructing a deck of cards is a central aspect of gameplay.
Each player begins with a basic set of cards and, throughout the game, uses these to acquire new and more powerful ones, all while striving to discard less effective cards.
The objectives of each deck-building game can vary greatly, from defeating a villain in the Marvel universe to establishing the most prosperous kingdom or even gaining control of the planet Dune. This board game genre offers a delightful blend of strategy and adaptability, all seasoned with a pinch of luck that you’ll sometimes need to tip the scales.
Yes, some of the best deckbuilding games are inherently strategic. They require careful planning and decision-making, as players must optimally use their resources and adapt their strategies based on the evolving game state and, most importantly, their opponents’ actions.