Deck-building games are a fast-paced, real-time alternative to trading card games. They allow you to create different combos of cards that can be played to achieve a goal and win the game.
I like Great Western Trail’s excellent deck-building aspect. It works really well, has exceptional balance, and can be played repeatedly.
With that said, there may be other deck-building games that appeal to your preferences. No matter what you’re looking for, there are deck-building board games for you. I’ve reviewed several of the best deck-building games so you can make the best decision.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!
- 1 Best Deck Builders: At a Glance
- 2 Best Deck Building Games Review
- 2.1 Great Western Trail: Best Overall
- 2.2 Legendary: Best Marvel-Themed Game
- 2.3 Star Wars: Best Head-to-Head Deck Builder
- 2.4 DC Deck Building Game: Best Game for DC Fans
- 2.5 Star Realms: Best Classic Game
- 2.6 Hogwarts Battle: Best Cooperative Deck Builder
- 2.7 Aeons End 2nd Edition: Best Solo Mode
- 2.8 Dune Imperium Rise of Ix: Best Deck-Building Expansion
- 2.9 El Dorado: Best Family Game
- 2.10 Boss Monster: Best Multiplayer Mode
- 2.11 Animals and Legends: Best for Younger Players
- 3 Deck Builder Buying Guide
- 4 Best Deck Building Game: Final Verdict
Best Deck Builders: At a Glance
If you like deck builders based on movies, comics, or video games, there are plenty of games that might appeal to you. Legendary, DC Deck-Building Game, Star Wars Deck-Building, Dune Imperium Rise of IX, and Hogwarts Battle are great choices.
Best Deck Building Games Review
Great Western Trail: Best Overall
Playing time: 75-150 minutes
What happens when you combine a good deck builder with the wild west? You get Great Western Trail, a deck-building game set on a cattle trail in 19th-century America.
Take on the role of a cattle rancher, driving your herd from Texas to Kansas City, where you send them off by train. Shipping your cattle earns you money and victory points. You must hire cowboys to improve your herd, craftsmen to build your cattle posts, and engineers for the railroad line.
The winner is the player with the most victory points. Earn points by managing your herd the best and use good timing in taking advantage of opportunities and avoiding pitfalls along the western trail.
On each player’s turn, they can move their cowboy meeple to a tile on the board, which has certain actions the player can take. Then, the player refills their hand with cattle cards up to the limit.
The game components are solid. They don’t have stunning artwork, but each and every component serves a purpose to the game. It’s function over form.
The game mechanics is where Great Western Trail shines. Not only does this game have deck-building mechanics, but it also has elements of engine-building and even worker placement.
The mechanics work together beautifully, making this game highly entertaining. Even players who aren’t fans of the Western theme rave about how fun this deck-building game is. This is at the top of the list in terms of deck-building board games.
- Multiple paths to victory
- High replay value
- Mechanics are seamless
- Thematic play
- Steep learning curve
Legendary: Best Marvel-Themed Game
Playing time: 30-60 minutes
Legendary is a Marvel deck-building game set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It comes with almost 400 playing cards, including 12 new villains and a new Iron Monger Mastermind, all from the Phase 1 movies (Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, The First Avenger, Avengers).
In this deck-building game, each player starts with their own deck of basic Hero cards. At the start of your turn, play the top card of the Villain deck, showing how Villains invade the city, capture bystanders, and create special events.
Play Hero cards from your hand to generate Attack, Recruit Points, and special abilities. Use your Heroes to attack the Villains and the Recruit Points to draft better Heroes to add to your deck.
After you run out of cards, shuffle your discard pile to make a new deck. Your deck should get increasingly stronger over time. Build your deck with powerful cards so you can defeat the Mastermind. But you’re in a race against time. If you can’t defeat the Mastermind soon enough, evil will win the game.
The cards feature your favorite movie heroes, from Black Widow and Iron Man to Captain America and the Incredible Hulk. Together, they face off against the Villains of the first six movies, including Loki and Red Skull. The set comes with a full-color rulebook and an updated play mat.
One note of warning. If you are a fan of Marvel comic books and want comic book art, you’ll be disappointed. It features movie screenshots on the cards. Just know that going in. Also, there are no X-men cards in this version.
- Great for Marvel movie fans
- Includes updated play mat
- New cards (Villains and Mastermind)
- Updated cards
- Some redundancy from original game
Star Wars: Best Head-to-Head Deck Builder
Playing time: 30 minutes
The Star Wars Deck Building Game is a head-to-head deck builder set in the Star Wars Universe. This game reimagines the conflict between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance in exciting gameplay.
You and your opponent choose a side, playing as either the Empire or the Rebels. Strengthen the power of your deck and work to destroy your opponent’s deck. The first player to destroy three of their opponent’s bases wins the game.
To begin, both players start with a unique ten-card deck. Seven of the cards provide only resources to acquire new cards. Six cards from a galaxy deck are always on display, with Rebel cards facing the Rebel player and Empire cards facing the Empire player. The neutral cards are turned sideways.
Spend resources to acquire cards in the galaxy row that don’t belong to your opponent. You can use attack power to take out cards that belong to your opponent and earn a reward as a result.
Over 50 different cards allow players to take command of their favorite Star Wars characters, vehicles, and starships. Each replacement base has its own special ability, and capital ships can deflect damage from your base.
Extend the fun by using five planets instead of three. This game is easy to learn but requires strategic planning to win. Players were pleased with the artwork, theme, and unique experience in this Star Wars Deck Building Game.
- Head-to-head gaming
- Exciting & thematic
- Easy to learn and play
- Balances depth with simplicity
- Only suits two players
DC Deck Building Game: Best Game for DC Fans
Playing time: 30-45 minutes
The DC Deck-Building Game brings the Justice League right to your table. Take on the role of your favorite DC characters as you struggle against the forces of super-villainy!
This game includes more than 50 of your favorite characters, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and more. All the cards fall into one of five categories: heroes, villains and super-villains, equipment, superpowers, and locations.
To start the game, each player chooses one of the seven hero cards, each with their own special power. Players have a deck of ten cards. On their turn, players start with a hand of five cards. They can acquire new cards or defeat villains using their powers.
One thing this deck-building game does really well is match the special abilities to the characters on all the cards. For instance, Batman gives you power for using different equipment, whereas The Flash helps you quickly go through your deck.
The creators were thoughtful in making connections between the game and the characters, which just adds to the fun. The asymmetrical powers and Locations add a nice variety to the game.
DC Deck-Building Game has a high replay value. Plus, even though it’s a standalone game, it’s compatible with the many expansions in the DC Series of deck-building games. Many players say this deck builder visits the table time and time again.
- Highly thematic
- Compatible with expansions
- Good replay value
- Nice variation in gameplay
- Easy to learn
- Does have some randomness
Star Realms: Best Classic Game
Playing time: 20 minutes
Star Realms is a head-to-head spaceship combat game designed by Magic hall of famers Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty, the co-designer of Ascension.
This fast-paced deck-building game also combines elements of trading card games and combat to bring you a multi-faceted gaming experience. As you play, you can trade to add new ships and bases to your deck.
Use the ships and bases to generate more trade or attack your opponent and their bases. Your goal is to reduce your opponent’s Authority (score) to zero. At that point, you win the game.
This game is specifically designed for two players, but you can add one to two players by using an additional deck. This is not suitable for single players.
This deck-building game has rich, full-color artwork that brings the sci-fi theme to life. Each box comes with 128 cards. Star Realms is a thrilling game with a unique game experience each time.
Star Realms is easy to learn but difficult to master. It will require strategic planning for you to stay the course and defeat your opponent. There’s plenty of decision-making, as you’ll be faced with weighty choices throughout the game.
- Incorporates strategy
- Fast-paced gameplay
- High replayability
- Beautiful art style
- Can be combined with additional decks
- Only supports two players (without expansions)
Hogwarts Battle: Best Cooperative Deck Builder
Playing time: 30-60 minutes
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a cooperative deck-building game that puts you in the middle of a battle between good and evil.
The dark forces are threatening to overrun Hogwarts Castle, and it’s up to four students to keep the school safe by defeating the villains and gathering their defenses. Players take on the role of their favorite Hogwarts students: Harry, Ron, Hermione, or Neville. Each character has their own personal deck of cards that are used to acquire resources.
By gaining influence, players build their decks in the form of characters, spells, and magical items. Other cards allow them to regain health or fight against villains and prevent them from acquiring power.
The villains attack players and set them back with the Dark Arts. Players must work together to be able to defeat the villains and secure the Castle from the evil forces. With over 140 cards, you have plenty of chances to enhance your abilities.
The game evolves as you play through the seven chapters. Each game adventure offers increasing difficulty, revealing progressively more challenging adventures. There is no player elimination, though, so you don’t have to worry about making it through to the last chapter only to die and have to sit out the ending.
Each round takes 30-60 minutes, but there are seven rounds total. Expect to spend hours playing the game all the way through to the end. Some of the higher levels can be punishing, especially with four players. This game is better balanced for two players.
You don’t have to be a Harry Potter fan to enjoy this deck-building game, but it certainly adds to the fun!
- Fun cooperative experience
- Great player interaction
- Expansion available
- No player elimination
- Simple rules
- Unbalanced with four players
Aeons End 2nd Edition: Best Solo Mode
Playing time: 60 minutes
Aeon’s End is a cooperative game in the deck-builder genre that blends fantasy and sci-fi with strategy and excitement.
The game takes place in the fictional underground city of Gravehold, where the survivors of a long-ago invasion have taken refuge. There, the desperate remnants of society have learned that they can repurpose the energy used against them and turn them into beneficial spells and weapons to aid them in their last line of defense, the breach mages.
Buy better spells from the market place. Players must use their unique abilities, powerful spells, and collective strategy to defend Gravehold from The Nameless and their hordes.
Aeon’s End, like other deck-building games, incorporates other mechanisms for a richer game experience. The variable turn order system simulates the chaos of an attack, while the deck management rules require careful planning with every discarded card.
This is a deck builder that you can play again and again. It has high-quality game components and built-in variation that makes it exciting. Setup is quite a pain with so many cards, and some instructions are vague. But if you enjoy cooperative deck-building games, Aeon’s End is a great choice.
- Cooperative gameplay
- Solo player option
- Plenty of replayability
- Multiple expansions available
- Some instructions are vague
- Set up takes a while
Dune Imperium Rise of Ix: Best Deck-Building Expansion
Playing time: 60-120 minutes
Dune Imperium: Rise of Ix is an expansion to the Dune: Imperium board game inspired by the film by Legendary Entertainment. Deck-building meets worker placement in this exciting board game.
In the world of Arrakis–Dune, the desert planet, you will take on the role of leader of one of the Great Houses of the Landsraad. Raise your banner above the vast wasteland before you and marshal your forces and spies.
Will you seek political allies or rely upon military might? Economic strength or subtle intrigues? A council seat or a sharpened blade? The choice is yours. The Imperium awaits!
You start with a unique leader card, as well as a deck identical to those of your opponents. As you gain cards and build your deck, your choices will define your strengths and weaknesses.
Cards allow you to send your Agents to certain spaces on the game board, so how your deck evolves affects your strategy. You might become more powerful militarily and able to deploy more troops than your opponents.
Or you might acquire cards that give you an edge with the four political factions represented in the game: the Emperor, the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit, and the Fremen. Whom will you influence, and whom will you betray?
In this Dune Imperium: Rise of Ix expansion, you enter the fray as one of three new Great Houses with unique leader abilities. Your job is to acquire technological innovations from the planet Ix for a strategic advantage.
This game is exciting and adds more cards. The new Epic game mode creates a more intense, high-stakes challenge. You do need the Dune Imperium base game to play this expansion, but it’s a good choice if you enjoyed deck-building games.
- Highly thematic
- Adds cards to base deck builder
- New intrigue cards
- Intense gameplay
- Requires base game to play
El Dorado: Best Family Game
Playing time: 60 minutes
El Dorado, the Golden City, awaits! In this deck building game, you will assemble your expedition and lead it through the jungles of South America. You need a good plan, expert explorers, and the right equipment.
Choose Scout, the Photographer, or the Prop Plane. You and your team must find the best route through the wilderness to win the race to El Dorado. Every route is a new challenge, so every game needs a new strategy.
Each player starts with the same combination of cards – his or her deck. Use the cards to move your expedition and to purchase new and better cards. Add those new cards to your deck to improve it.
El Dorado is quick to play, easy to learn, and accessible for all ages and experience levels. It’s a great entry point for those looking to explore deck-building board games.
- Easy to understand
- Great replay value
- Suited for families
- Lighter deck builder
- Not as challenging
Boss Monster: Best Multiplayer Mode
Playing time: 30 minutes
Inspired by a love of classic video games, Boss Monster pits two to four players in a competition to build the ultimate side-scrolling dungeon.
In this deck-building game, players compete to lure and destroy hapless adventurers, racing to outbid one another to see who can build the most enticing, treasure-filled dungeon.
Be the first Boss to lure and defeat Heroes to amass 10 souls. If a player’s Boss takes five wounds from Heroes, that player loses the game. You must balance the need to lure Heroes faster than your opponents while needing to kill the Heroes before they reach your Boss.
Players build one room per turn, each with its own damage and treasure value. Players interact with each other by building rooms and playing Spells. Every building phase becomes a bidding war for an exciting competition. Spells are instant-speed effects that can give players advantages or disrupt enemies.
- Easy to learn
- Quick to play
- Requires strategy
- Lightweight deck-building mechanics
- Better with more than two players
Animals and Legends: Best for Younger Players
Playing time: 15 minutes
Created by a father and son, Animals and Legends is a great deck builder to play with family and friends. With a quick game time of just 15 minutes, it’s perfect for killing time in a waiting room, at a restaurant, or after dinner.
The objective of Animals and Legends is to create a team of animals and mythical creatures and then pit them against your opponent in battle. Destroy or steal your opponents’ animals to be the last one standing with your own deck.
Battle with your animal cards or use legend cards to allow tricks or abilities outside a battle which may include stealing or destroying animal cards, manipulating a deck, or interfering with the actions of your opponent.
This is a great first deck-building game for younger players you want to introduce to the world of deck-building games.
- Quick games
- Easy to learn and play
- Ideal for families
- Amusing animal theme
- May lack strategic depth for veteran gamers
Deck Builder Buying Guide
The best deck-building games have solid deck-building mechanics. With so many games in that genre, however, it can be tough to differentiate between them. Card games that have powerful cards, immersive core worlds, and multiple paths to victory are the best deck builders.
Best Deck Building Game: Final Verdict
When it comes to the best deck-building games, which one comes out on top? My top recommendation is Great Western Trail.