Deck-building games are those where each run requires you to assemble a fresh deck of cards to help you progress through a series of increasingly challenging battles or encounters.
Such games owe a strong (and quite often direct) debt to the vibrant world of physical card and board games, but with an extra dose of convenience and visual polish that only the video game format can provide.
If that all sounds rather niche and forbidding, don’t worry. While there’s plenty of depth and nuance to be found among the following selection, they also serve to show that deck-building games can be extremely accessible and fun.
Slay the Spire is so good, it has fundamentally changed the way deck-building games are perceived and indeed made. In this roguelite tactical card game you embark on a series of turn-based battles set in a fantastical world, collecting and playing unique playing cards to launch and fend off attacks. It’s the vast tactical possibilities contained within this ostensibly simple card-based system that gives Slay the Spire its edge, ensuring almost endless replayability and considerable variety.
Monster Train arrived in the wave of games that were directly inspired by Slay the Spire, and is widely held to be one of the best examples. While its card-based battle system and basic roguelite structure will be familiar to fans of StS, though, its multi-lane battlefield adds a whole new tactical dimension. You’ll need to be aware of the positioning of your units as well as the makeup of your ever expanding deck, which adds a visceral edge to proceedings.
Dicey Dungeons might be set in a wacky world of anthropomorphised dice, and its turn-based battles might hinge on the roll of said six-sided playing pieces, but it’s still very much a deck-building game. Each run sees you assembling a tight roster of bespoke colour-coded abilities, each tied to your chosen character’s unique attributes, as you descend through the floors of an increasingly perilous dungeon. Don’t let its bright aesthetic and intuitive gameplay fool you – this one’s multi-faceted.
Another appealing entry point to the deck-building sub-genre, Void Tyrant initially manifests itself as a first person dungeon crawler with a distinctly old school sensibility. Aside from is bright sci-fi aesthetic, the most inviting part of the game is its accessible battle system, which is loosely based on the classic card game of Blackjack. As you tempt fate by ‘twisting’ until you attain an accumulated score as close to 12 as you dare get without ‘sticking’, your deck of ability cards serves to tilt the odds in your favor.
One of the biggest digital card battlers out there, Hearthstone’s bread and butter gameplay involves collecting cards and pitting them against other people around the world. Though fun, it can be expensive to keep up with the best players as you contend with real-money card packs and a constantly changing meta-game. But Hearthstone also has several completely free-to-play single-player modes, with rogue-like elements similar to the entries above. Each has a fantastical visual sheen and plenty of interesting new dynamics at play, and we reckon those modes alone are worth a download.