Matt Carlson: GenCon 2013 – The Deckbuilders


We’ve seen a number of deckbuilders come out over the years after the first reveal of Dominion.  They continue to pack the dealer hall at GenCon.  No matter where you are in the hall there are typically at least 2 or 3 deckbuilders within a stone’s throw (or should I say a die’s throw?)  I’m positive I will not be covering them all (I just got home and a friend showed me his Zombie deckbuilder he bought that I totally missed) here is a wide selection of deckbuilders available (or soon available) and displayed at the show. 

AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group)



AEG had several demo tables of their Train game/deckbuilder hybrid, Trains, going all weekend.  Players buy cards for their deck while planning out routes on the game board.  Cards also allow placement of stations to increase one’s end score.  In one fun feature, most construction also adds completely useless pollution cards to one’s deck.  Of course, there was also the obligatory expansion, Thunderstone: Numenera for purchase.

Catalyst Game Labs


Completely by chance, I happened upon a game of Shadowrun Crossfire, while walking through the Catalyst Game Labs booth.  It is a 2-4 player cooperative deckbuilder, due to be released in a few months.  Each player is one of 5 races and takes on one of 4 roles to play one of three missions (game scenarios).  Monsters/obstacles appear as you play and while anyone can fight them, they are placed in front of a specific player who suffers the brunt of the card’s attack.  Defeated obstacles provide money which can be accumulated to purchase cards.  I’m a little concerned that there are four colors (categories) of cards in the game and they seemed to border on resources to be managed.  However,  I’m willing to wait and see the final game before making a judgement.  Taking a cue from Risk: Legacy, each character can gain karma points at the end of a scenario.  These karma points can then be cashed in to earn extra abilities for that character in future games (yes, you even put stickers on the character cards.)  The game takes this evolution of characters into account, as the last scenario “Deal with the Dragon” will be extremely difficult to complete without a bit of character boosts.



DC Heroes Deckbuilder Expansion

Cryptozoic had several deckbuilders going on at the show.  An expansion to the DC Comic Deck-Building Game was on display with new heroes, powers, etc…   Nothing particularly new in terms of gameplay, however there are some new combinations of powers that were not previously present.  In December, be looking for an expansion based around the Rings of Power (the various colors of Green Lanterns, etc..  also known as “Skittles in space” by me…).  While each expansion can, in theory, be combined with the base game, it is recommended to mix them by category (ex: take heroes from one, powers from another, equipment from one, etc…)


Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Deck-Building Game

Cryptozoic’s Lord of the Rings Deck-Builder line uses the basic “Cerberus” (their label) style of play found in the DC game, but is targeted at a slightly more advanced audience.  In the co-op LotR games, players start with similar decks, but also one powerful hero card to keeps things a bit different.  Players buy from a common tableau of cards, but the tableau doesn’t refill until the end of one’s turn.  Players attempt to defeat a stream of enemies the the archenemy deck, with the cards progressively getting more difficult.  (The deck is comprised of a series of 1/3/3/1 cards of increasing levels of difficulty.)  The new Two Towers version of the game is similar to the previous title, but it also contains a “wall deck” that comes into play.  Running out of “wall” cards is an additional trigger for a game loss.  Finally, there is a “One Ring” card (not sure if it was present in the previous game) that has a beneficial effect, but can also be stolen away.

Game Salute


Heroes of Metro City (3Some Games)

Heroes of Metro City attempts to push the envelope of the superhero theme.  Players even get to write their own superhero name on their card using a dry erase marker.  (While not particularly powerful, there are cards in the game that grant bonuses to players if their name is animal themed, contains an adjective(?), etc…)  Each player begins with a slightly customized deck of cards and during the game players may purchase from 7  (out of 20 different) super powers and 3 (out of 7) energy sources which typically modify the power cards.  Players attempt to defeat enemies – which are are then flipped upside down and added to one’s deck to become a source of plot points (money for cards).  There are three villain decks consisting of minions, villains, and an arch enemy.  Deplete all three stacks to “win” the game with the option to declare the person with the most points an overall winner.  The game can be lost, however due to villains’ effects on the available cards for purchase.  Most villains will destroy specific types of cards, if there is ever a destroy effect that no longer has a valid target (all those cards are gone) the game ends as a loss.


Pixel Lincoln the Deckbuilding Game (Island Officials)

Apologies to all involved but all I got out of Pixel Lincoln was this photograph.  I gave the game a look-over while four players tried to muddle through the rules by themselves.  (It wasn’t going too smoothly.)  However,  I can tell you it is a deckbuilder based around the theme of old-school 2-D platforming video games (cheat codes, end level bosses, etc…)  One player was running the lane of bad guys and successfully “leaped over” one or more of them to some useful effect.  There was enough to it (and the theme) that I made a note to investigate the game further when I returned home.

Greater Than Games


Galactic Strike Force prototype

Galactic Strike Force is a deckbuilder coming out from the makers of the popular superhero (non-deckbuilder) game,  Sentinels of the Multiverse.  This is also a cooperative game with players attempting to fend off incoming fighters (eventually a flagship) as they try to take over central sector locations.  The came starts with 3 sectors (chosen from 10) and players get a single ship (chosen from 10 ships – two ships of 5 different races, some abilities key of specific races.)  Players complete the same phases together, all travelling to new locations, acquiring new ship upgrades (to their own ship) from the base at their location, and ending with installation (use cards from your hand to improve your current ship.)  After players end their round, players engaged with enemy fighters will resolve combat while unengaged enemies will attack bases (by discarding available upgrade cards from the stacks.)  Meanwhile, the enemy “flagship” (one is chosen for the game out of 5 different ones) will have reoccurring effects on the game and when specific conditions are met, it shows up in earnest (by flipping the card to its back side.)  Players win by managing to clear out all the fighters on the board at any given time (rare) or by defeating the flagship when it appears.  They lose as soon as all three central bases are “overrun” by fighters or if all the player ships are defeated.  Contrasting the game with Sentinels, most of the players’ information is shown on the board, and rather than have used cards placed into a trash and discarded, all cards are placed at the bottom of a player’s deck.  Thus, players can slightly plan for the future by purchasing cards or placing used cards back underneath in a specific order.   Expect the game in time for next year’s GenCon.

Paizo Publishing


Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Paizo’s Pathfinder Adventure Card Game arguably had the hit of the show, at least in terms new game sales (not expansions), though Firefly would also be a contender.  In  brief, the game seems to be the deckbuilder closest in scope to a traditional role playing game.  Players start with a character and a random inventory of items – although the number and type of each “class” of items depends on one’s character.  Combat and skill checks also involve dice, and players lose cards when taking damage.  Thus, one’s deck of cards also serves as one’s health / hit points.  The players cooperatively attempt a series of scenarios (about 45 min game sessions) to form a coherent adventure provided in the box.   Each scenario consists of several locations, each represented by a deck of monster/obstacle cards.  The goal is typically to find and defeat the “big bad boss” within each scenario.  However, the “boss” monster can move around to escape defeat.  Thus, players close down each location to limit where the “boss” can hide, hopefully cornering it and defeating it.  The game plays 2-4 players and there is an expansion out that increases the player count up to 6 players.  The adventure included in the box has a theme based on the first module in Paizo’s popular Rise of the Runelords series of adventures.  Expect to see an expansion based on the second module of the series appearing in October.  Since the adventure cards fit nicely in a double-deck tuckbox, they shouldn’t run quite as expensive as many typical deckbuilder expansions.

In writing up the deckbuilders, I realized I had skipped over the upcoming Pathfinder Dice Arena game.  This is partially due to my lack of a photo of the game (I don’t think it was even around in prototype form) and partially my lack of information.  From my notes, it seems to be a Pathfinder themed player vs player combat game, using the dice mechanics from a recent Kickstarter.  (No, I do not know.  Either I wasn’t told or I failed to write it down. :(

Privateer Press


High Command: Warmachine

Known best for their Warmachine line of miniature wargames, Privateer Press has taken their setting and added it to a deckbuilder.  In High Command:Warmachine, players pre-build their own tableau of 4 card types from which to purchase during the game.  The game involves fighting for central territories with command cards (representing actions and various other effects) and war cards (essentially representations of the mecha-like Warjacks of the setting.)  Slightly unique mechanics to the setting involve the ability to keep 1 card back each hand (and still draw one’s full allotment of cards – essentially being “up” one card next round) and the option to trash a card every time one shuffles one’s deck.

Upper Deck

Upper Deck was present running two different $5000 cash prize tournaments for their Marvel superhero deckbuilder, Legendary.  There wasn’t much on display for new things other than a box showing an upcoming Fantastic 4 expansion.  Most gamers were checking out the somewhat recent Dark City expansion to the game.  Dark City has 17 new heroes (up from the base set of 14), with a focus on X-force, Marvel Knights, and more X-Men characters.  Villains include Apocalypse, Kingpin, Mephisto, Strife, and Mr. Sinister.  Three new mechanics are of note:  Versitile – some hero cards can be used for combat or for purchasing (not both), Teleport – some heroes can be set aside to add to the next hand of cards (increasing the hand size), and Bribery – some villains can be defeated by spending fame instead of purchasing with it.  The big news from Upper Deck was Saturday evening where the next expansion was announced (Spiderman/Carnage-themed) for February as well as a new deckbuilder Legendary: Aliens (using the Aliens movie license) some time in 2014.

White Wizard Games


Star Realms

When evaluated for economical size or price point, an upcoming deckbuilder from Rob Dougherty (codesigner of several Ascension expansions) rises to the top of the pile.  Star Realms is a compact game of 128 cards and should be available for $15 by Christmas.  In this two player game (could go to 4 players with 2 copies), players use their ships and bases in order to deplete their opponent’s health.  First player to zero health loses.  Purchases are taken from a tableau of 5 cards (immediately replaced from a common deck) and consist of ships an bases of four different colors (races/empires).  Bases stay in play (placed in landscape position) while ships are one-shot deals (played in portrait position).  Cards of both types can have up to three abilities.  Each card has a basic ability and some have a bonus ability if a similar have another ability if another card of that color is also on the player’s field.  Finally, many cards have an additional ability that triggers their owner decides to remove them from the game.   Bases are either outposts (which must be attacked before a player can be “damaged” or regular (which may be attacked if the opponent wishes.)  One interesting note pointed out by the designer, since cards in the deck are useless at the end of the game (no points are scored), early and/or cheap cards can still be fairly powerful without unbalancing the game.  As I mentioned, I’m impressed with the small size of the game (even health points are simply tracked with a few double-sided cards: showing 5/1, 10/20, etc…) and its inexpensive price.  While I think I would choose a larger, bulkier game if I wanted a really “meaty” deckbuilder, this seems to be a fairly good effort at creating a sort of minimal/filler deckbuilder that still has a decent amount of strategy.  Once could see it as a slightly refined/faster version of Ascension.


Not mentioned in Tuesday’s main article, Wizkids is coming out not with a deckbuilder, but a new dicebuilding game.  The Marvel Dicebuilding Game (might not be the final name) is NOT based on the popular Quarriors dicebuilding line.  It is a two player game of Avengers and X-men.  Each player brings their own set of 20 dice of 8 types for their personal dice pool – and then stuff happens.    If you want to know more, watch for it to come out in November.

About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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5 Responses to Matt Carlson: GenCon 2013 – The Deckbuilders

  1. Jeffary Sonnentag says:

    Nice re-cap. I was there and missed the zombie builder also. Hey, didn’t TSR put out a Marvel dice builder 20 or so years ago?

  2. Peter says:

    Thunderstone: Numenara is actually a brand new set. It can be mixed w/ Thunderstone Advanced, but came about through the Numenara Kickstarter campaign. I’m intrigued by the concept, but will wait to see it in person.

    I’m interested in the Shadowrun game, but not as interested in putting stickers on my cards. Someone else mentioned possibly sleeving the cards and buying more stickers. That seems like a better long-term scenario and could allow for more replayability.

    I appreciate the roundup. Deckbuilding is probably one of my favorite genres for games. I’m looking forward to a chance to play Trains. That looks like it would go over well with our gaming friends. Pathfinder seemed a little interesting, but wouldn’t get a lot of playtime around here.

  3. W. Eric Martin says:

    Matt, in the Cryptozoic section you wrote the following: “In December, be looking for an expansion based around the Rings of Power…” The “Rings of Power” cards are actually in the DC Comics Heroes Unite expansion/standalone game that you reference in the previous line, not a separate third game. Just wanted to clarify that in case anyone else thought you were talking about two new DC Comics sets instead of one (as I did).

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      Ah, that wasn’t clear to me at all. In my interview, it sounded like there was an imminent expansion (the ones in the photo), and then there is the expansion in December that includes the rings of power. From what you’re saying, they’re one and the same… (As I read it, it sounds like I was extremely vague so I’m good on accuracy, if not helpfulness…)

      • W. Eric Martin says:

        Yes, the “keep things vague if you’re not entirely sure” trick is one of the hallmarks of reporting.

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