Game mechanics explained: Deck Builder

Game mechanics

If you come to our website as a playmaker, you can learn a lot about everything that comes with releasing a game yourself. Testing your game, conversations with a production company, publishing your game via Kickstarter, all important topics. But what if you are still stuck with what kind of game you want to make. That is why we start with this new series in which we want to highlight different game mechanics and give examples of which games use them. We start with the Deck Builder game mechanics. Of course you don't have to limit yourself to existing game mechanics, but they can help to gain inspiration.

Deck builder
What should you consider when creating a Deck Builder?
Have something to do every turn

Deck builder

The first game mechanic we want to highlight is the Deck Builder. A Deck Builder is a game in which you have a selection of cards (your deck) and throughout the game try to supplement that selection with new cards that help you to achieve a certain goal. The most classic example of this is Dominion. In Dominion you start with a deck of 10 cards. 7 coins with a value of 1 and 3 victory points. Each turn you take the top 5 cards of your deck and try to fill your deck with those 5 cards, making your deck bigger and containing better cards.

You play Dominion by using the coin cards from your hand to buy new cards that improve your deck, for example by giving you extra actions that allow you to earn more coins and thus buy better cards. The nice thing about Dominion is that you can't just focus on the best cards for your deck. You win the game by obtaining as many victory points as possible. You also have to buy victory points, but they have no added value in your deck. If you start buying victory points early, your deck will slowly deteriorate, making it more and more difficult to get new victory points. So it's all about the timing when you start buying victory points. Are you starting as late as possible and are you playing high risk - high reward because you may have been late? Or do you start earlier, at the risk of your deck getting worse and getting stuck?

Dominion was released in 2008. In the meantime the market has exploded and many more Deck Builder games have been added such as: Clank, Aeon's end, Marvel Legendary.

Clank Kopen

Aeon's end kopen

What should you consider when creating a Deck Builder?

If you look at the number of expansions Dominion has, you can see that Deck Builders are very popular games. The strength of a Deck Builder lies in the good balance between luck, timing and simply building your own deck. Many games have a form of luck in them. With Deck Builders, luck is often determined by the cards you take. However, unlike dice games, it is much more predictable. If you roll a die, you can theoretically roll 6 100 times in a row. If you have a deck of cards, and there is one very good card in it, you can be sure to take it at most once before the deck is out. Luck still plays a role, but it will be less likely to determine the game.

Have something to do every turn

It is important that as a player you can do something every turn. Even if you take the worst cards from your deck, you don't want to have a turn where your only option is to discard your hand and wait for your next turn. With Dominion, for example, you always have the option in the market to buy a copper piece. This one has a value of 0. It doesn't add much to your deck either, but you always have the choice.

In addition, you want the good cards you have bought to actually come around now and then. This means that you must be able to get through your deck quickly. Imagine that in dominion you didn't have to take 5 new cards every turn, but you had to keep replenishing your hand. Then you went through your deck much slower, so it takes much longer before you will notice the impact of your new cards.


Deck Builders are often fairly solo games in that you are mainly concerned with your own realm (deck). Interaction is possible and can even be used a lot, but there is always an underlying layer in which you are only concerned with yourself. This often keeps the game fun even if you go badly because many players are less concerned with winning, but more concerned with finishing as good as possible.

What do you think are the best Deck Builder games?

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