What Are Deck Building Games?


Jumping into the world of card gaming can be an overwhelming experience. The card gaming community has an incredible amount of vernacular that, to a newbie, might sound like elvish put through a Dothraki translator. You’ve got your CCGs, TCGs, LCGs, PTQs, FNMs, foils, holos, rares, commons, uncommons, super short prints, ultra rares, ghost rares, alternate arts, full arts… you get the picture. 

The purpose of this series of articles is to break down a few of these terms so you are better equipped to understand the differences between the three main types of card games, how rarity is utilized in each, and what kind of monetary investment they typically require. For the purpose of these articles, I will not be discussing Digital Card Games (DCGs) like Hearthstone or Eternal. While an entire series could be written on that topic, we are most interested in traditional tabletop cards, and so will focus on those.

Today, we’re taking a look at Deck Building Card Games (DBGs).


Deck Building Card Games offer a unique, exciting gaming experience, unlike their Trading and Living Card Game counterparts. Whereas in the TCG and LCG arena players bring their decks to the table at the beginning of the game, usually with a set strategy in mind and goal for how to win, deck building games create a dynamic experience in which players construct their decks during gameplay, usually to acquire a certain amount of victory points counted at the end of the game to determine the winner.

While all card games inherently have near-infinite gameplay possibilities as thousands of cards interact in different ways during each game, DBGs require a different type of gameplay acumen. Since you don’t know what kind of deck you’re going to get during the course of gameplay, players must think on their toes, see what cards become available, and strategize accordingly.

The Original

The original deck-building card game is Dominion, published by Rio Grande Games. Most other DBGs follow the model laid out by Dominion, in which players “buy” cards from a common pool available to all players. Since everyone can see what cards you’re purchasing, it becomes apparent what your strategy is, and other players can try to interfere by buying those cards before you have the opportunity.

DBGs play similarly to board games in that they come in self-contained boxes that can be returned at the end of the game and taken off the shelf to play again any time. Expansions are released regularly but aren’t needed to play. Promotional cards, too, are released from time to time, but, again aren’t required. Expansions are usually fixed sets, meaning every box is the same and can come with booster packs or boxes. Foil cards are rare, but certain games, such as Stone Blade Entertainment’s popular Ascension deck-building game, release anniversary editions with all-foil cards.

Core sets for DBGs range in price from $50 or more to as low as $15, depending on the game. The DBG genre has flourished since Dominion’s release in 2008, with new games covering a wide array of topics. Star Realms, DC Deck Building Game, Shadowrun, and Legendary: Marvel Deck Building Game are all popular examples with unique twists on the Dominion’s foundation.

Tournaments for DBGs are frequent, particularly at bigger conventions like Gen Con with prize pools that can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Another common feature of deck-building card games is electronic companions. Dominion, Star Realms, and Ascension, among others, have apps available so you can play anytime, anywhere.


In conclusion, deck-building games are incredibly fun alternatives to trading or living card games. For those that want the card game experience without the regular cost or need to pay attention to a competitive scene, deck-building games might be for you.

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