Deck Building Games: the Lifespan of a Genre

It was two years ago when I first played a deck building game.  The game was Dominion, and while I now know that others made their way to the market first, at the time I was completely unaware of this.  Over the past two years they seem to be popping up all over the place.  Six of them have come to my attention and are what I would consider “Leaders of the Industry”:  Dominion, Ascension, Nightfall, Thunderstone, Race for the Galaxy, and Resident Evil.

I love deck building games.  They are a style of game that I use to pay top bucks to do with Magic the Gathering a couple of times a week.  By the time you are finished reading this, my goal is for you to know just how we got here, and hopefully have some idea as to what game might be right for you.

Of the six games that I listed, it all began with “Race for the Galaxy”.  This was a game published in 2007 by Rio Grande Games.  It was a deck building game that in my opinion plays very much like solitaire.  It’s you against the game, and you measure your success by how many victory points you have by the end.  The game features a row of cards that you can purchase from, that for the purpose of this article, we will refer to as an “alley”.  This alley continually changes, adding quite a bit of luck to the game, as you can never be sure what will be available to purchase on your turn.  If you read my previous review of the game, you’ll remember well that I didn’t think too much of this one.  For me, the combination of a lot of luck, combined with lack of interaction, was a big turn off.  So what does this game have going for it in my opinion?  Pretty artwork and a strong space theme, if thats your thing, but it was also quite complicated taking more than a few minutes to figure out the basic rules.

A year later, in 2008, we see the release of “Dominion” from Rio Grande Games.  This game took out the random alley of cards, thus decreasing the elements of luck.  Instead of the alley we got a bank of cards to buy from.  Each turn you have the same options (unless a given option was sold out, but that was something you could plan for).  However, we still don’t see very much interaction between players.  There is a minimal amount of interfering that can be done, but it is heavily limited.  The game also is more streamlined then it’s predecessor.  A turn could be broken down into the ABC’s: Action, Buy, Clean up, and Draw.


A chronological listing of how deck building games have evolved over time.

The following year, in 2009, we see the complexity of the deck building genre ramp up with the publication of “Thunderstone” by AEG.  This is the first game to introduce a heavy combat element, where you are not only trying to make your deck effecient, but deadly.  We also see the reintroduction of the alley, but this time mixed with the concept of a bank of cards. Monsters are released in an alley, slowly shambling towards the surface from the depths of the dungeon, in whatever order they were shuffled in.  However, the player can purchase items and other action cards from a bank.  This seemed to marry the two concepts beautifully, keeping the game highly strategic, while making each game unique.  This game also brought with it the idea that cards must be played logically together.  Even if you have a dagger in your hand, you can’t use it’s effects unless you have a hero card in your hand that can wield it.  Other games used arbitrary means of limiting card plays, but this was the first one to do so logically. The price of this complexity was a higher learning curve however, forcing players to dig through a rule book of 20+ pages before beginning.

With the success of “Race for the Galaxy”, “Dominion”, and “Thunderstone”, 2010 saw the addition of two deck building games to the market.  Each one seemed to be going backwards however, not forward with progress.

“Ascension”, by Arclight, was published early in 2010.  This game went right back to the concept of an alley.  To a gamer unfamiliar with “Race for the Galaxy”, this appeared to be new and innovative concept.  In reality, this was at best a reinventing of the wheel, and at worst a cloning of “Race for the Galaxy”.  However, in creating this, Arclight tweaked the focus of the game.  The heavy theme was gone and replaced with a much more loose theme, and solitaire play was laxed slightly.  It now had interaction on par with that found in Dominion. The complexity of the game was also streamedlined slightly, making learning the game a much more simple process.  However the elements of luck associated with an alley certainly remained unscathed.

Late in 2010 “Resident Evil: The Deck Building Game” was released by Bandai.  We were back to a bank of cards!  Hurray!  But gone was the masterfully crafted game play we saw present in Dominion and Thunderstone.  The game was pretty simple to learn and used the logical card limitations introduced by it’s predecessor (minus some of the stats and other intricacies).  It seemed like it should be the best of all worlds.  And maybe for a die hard Resident Evil fan, it was.  For the average gamer however, the game just didn’t hold up.  It seemed much more like a money grab by Bandai, then an honest attempt to put out a great themed game.  A little bit of play testing showed the lack of foresight that the creators had.

And that brings us up to 2011, which has just seen the release of “Nightfall” by AEG.  Gone is the alley, and gone is the solitaire style of play. Nightfall features a bank of cards, a drafting mechanic, and an all out assault on each other (similar to what is seen by collectible card games).  Card play limitations were not logical, but nor were they the traditional arbitrary means either.  Nightfall introduced the “chaining” mechanic, dictating what kinds of cards can be played next in line.  Mix with that a beautifully illustrated theme, and I’d say AEG has learned by watching the market place.  It’s unfortunant to say that gamers have not learned nearly as quickly.  Many seemed to struggle with the rules and new elements of the game, requiring a lot of coaching to get rolling.

Which kind of deck building game is right for you? Click here to follow the chart and see for yourself.

From the infancy of this genre to the present, we have seen the mechanics employed by creaters grow and mature.  We hope that, as has been seen in the past, others will continue to build upon the success of these games and produce innovative mechanics to delight gamers for many years to come.  However, we are also at a critical point in this genres development, the copy cat phase.  As we have seen with Ascension and Resident Evil, where the changes were minimal or the game simply wasn’t thought through well, clones and subpar games are beginning to trickle into the market place.  If the market floods with these, we could see this interesting genre die a painful death.

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Saturday, May 14th, 2011 at 11:50 pm and is filed under Random Things that Fall out of my head . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


  1. My brother suggested I might like this web site.
    He was totally right. This post truly made my day.
    You can not imagine simply how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  2. Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Taking the time and actual effort to produce a
    very good article… but what can I say… I
    procrastinate a whole lot and never manage to get anything done.

  3. Gidget says:

    Hey are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m
    trying to get started and create my own. Do you need
    any coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  4. I am sure this article has touched all the internet
    visitors, its really really nice article on building up new web site.

  5. It’s going to be end of mine day, but before end I am reading this wonderful article to improve my experience.

  6. First off I would like to say great blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your
    thoughts prior to writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my mind in getting
    my ideas out there. I truly do take pleasure in writing however it
    just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally lost just trying to figure out
    how to begin. Any recommendations or tips? Appreciate it!

  7. tv cable says:

    Hi colleagues, its impressive paragraph regarding educationand fully explained, keep it up all
    the time.

  8. There’s definately a great deal to know about this topic.
    I love all of the points you have made.

  9. Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Opera.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something
    to do with internet browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know.
    The layout look great though! Hope you get the problem resolved soon. Kudos

  10. Hi, I do believe this is a great site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I’m going to revisit once again since i have saved
    as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the best way to change,
    may you be rich and continue to guide others.

  11. I blog quite often and I genuinely thank you for your information. This great article has really peaked my interest.
    I’m going to book mark your blog and keep checking for new information about once per week.

    I subscribed to your Feed as well.

  12. Hello there! This blog post could not be written much better!
    Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept preaching about this. I most certainly
    will send this information to him. Fairly certain he will have
    a very good read. Thank you for sharing!

  13. Howdy just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know
    a few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.

    I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the
    same results.

  14. What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of
    valuable familiarity regarding unpredicted feelings.

  15. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts.
    After all I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  16. I blog often and I really thank you for your content.
    The article has truly peaked my interest.
    I am going to bookmark your blog and keep checking for new information about once a week.

    I opted in for your Feed as well.

  17. I know this web page provides quality based articles and extra
    material, is there any other web site which provides these
    information in quality?

  18. door riding says:

    If you wish for to improve your familiarity just keep visiting this site and be updated with the most recent gossip posted

  19. cool Tattoos says:

    Hurrah! In the end I got a weblog from where I can in fact take valuable data
    regarding my study and knowledge.

  20. Wow, this piece of writing is pleasant, my sister is analyzing such things, therefore I am going to inform her.

  21. Outstanding quest there. What happened after? Thanks!

  22. I do not know whether it’s just me or if everybody else experiencing problems with
    your website. It looks like some of the written text on your content are running off the screen. Can somebody else please comment
    and let me know if this is happening to them as well?

    This may be a problem with my browser because I’ve had this happen before.

  23. Hi, i think that i saw you visited my website thus i came to “return the favor”.I am attempting to find things
    to enhance my web site!I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!!

  24. Great info. Lucky me I found your site by chance (stumbleupon).
    I have saved as a favorite for later!

  25. My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find most of your
    post’s to be what precisely I’m looking for. Do you offer guest writers to
    write content available for you? I wouldn’t mind writing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write in relation to here.

    Again, awesome weblog!

  26. You actually make it seem so easy together with your presentation but
    I to find this matter to be actually something which I feel I
    would never understand. It sort of feels too complex and very extensive for me.
    I am taking a look ahead in your subsequent put up,
    I will try to get the cling of it!

  27. My relatives every time say that I am wasting my time here at web, but I know I am
    getting knowledge everyday by reading thes pleasant content.

  28. Hello everyone, it’s my first pay a visit at this web page, and article is genuinely
    fruitful in favor of me, keep up posting these content.

  29. Excellent website you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any user discussion forums that cover the same topics talked
    about here? I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get advice from other experienced
    individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
    Thanks a lot!

  30. Thank you for every other great article. The place else
    could anybody get that kind of information in such an ideal means of
    writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the search for such info.

  31. advice says:

    982831 646402Good post. It does shed some light on the issue. By the for those interested in binary options can get an exclusive binary options bonus. 157364

  32. Simply want to say your article is as surprising.
    The clarity to your publish is simply spectacular and that i
    could assume you’re knowledgeable on this subject.
    Fine with your permission let me to take hold of your RSS feed to stay updated with drawing close post.
    Thank you 1,000,000 and please continue the rewarding work.

  33. says:

    Wow, awesome blog structure! How long have you ever been blogging for?

    you make running a blog glance easy. The whole glance of your site is great, as well as the content!

  34. I was suggested this website through my cousin. I’m not sure whether or not this publish is written by him as no one else know such particular about my difficulty.
    You’re incredible! Thank you!

  35. Hi! Do you know if they make any plugins to safeguard against hackers?
    I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on.
    Any suggestions?

  36. Do you have a spam issue on this blog; I also am a blogger,
    and I was curious about your situation; many of us have developed some nice methods and
    we are looking to exchange methods with other folks, why not shoot
    me an e-mail if interested.

  37. I got this website from my friend who told me about this website and at the moment this time I am visiting this website and reading very informative articles or reviews at this time.

  38. Having read this I thought it was rather enlightening.

    I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this article together.
    I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and
    posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

  39. I got this website from my friend who told me on the topic
    of this web site and now this time I am visiting this web site and reading very informative articles here.

  40. Normally I do not learn post on blogs, however I wish to
    say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do
    it! Your writing taste has been surprised
    me. Thank you, quite great post.

  41. My partner and I stumbled over here different website and thought I may as well check things out.
    I like what I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to checking
    out your web page repeatedly.

Leave a Reply