Deck Building

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Gameplay where players acquire cards to their decks during gameplay in order for these to be used later in the same game instance.

Some games allow players to have their own decks of cards. Those that allow players to increase the size of their deck through gameplay actions have Deck Building as a mechanic.

Note: This pattern follows the distinction made in BoardGameGeek that Deck Building refers to constructions of decks during gameplay. See Pre-Customized Decks for constructions of decks before gameplay.


A Few Acres of Snow, Dominion, and Thunderstone are all games with Deck Building as a core mechanic. So is Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game but this show that Deck Building games can be co-operative. A Study in Emerald provides a team-based example even if players initially do not know which other players are on their team while Airborne Commander shows that Deck Building games can be solitaire games.


Magic: The Gathering and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game have players build their decks before gameplay begins, so these games use the pattern Pre-Customized Decks rather than Deck Building. Mystic Vale provides an alternative to Deck Building in that players of this game build Cards through inserting transparent upgrades to sleeved cards.

Using the pattern

Normally, Deck Building is used in games to let players have agency on which Cards should be in Decks. Players typically use this to affect the Randomness of their potential Hands by getting Cards that increase their chances of Combos and Gameplay Engines. One specific example possible through the combination of Cards and Drawing Stacks are Cycle Deck Engines. Most games using Deck Building have new Cards put in Discard Piles, which create a form of Cooldown for new Cards.

The design choices related to Deck Building mostly concern which actions should be available for getting new Cards, what effects these Cards have, and from where the Cards can be gotten. Typically this also means determining price for Cards to make more powerful Cards more difficult to get into one's Deck. These effect of new Cards tend to be either Improved or New Abilities. Dominion lets players see all Cards that are purchasable from the beginning while Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game provides a limited number of Cards at any time through the use of a Drafting Spread. While most design choices may relate to how new Cards are provided there are also design possibilities concerning how Cards can be modified or removed from Decks. Modifying Cards typically means making use of Card Building while providing means for players to remove Cards (Dominion does this through Cards players need to acquire) leads to Deck Slimming. Letting Decks be modified between game instances create Meta Games while performing permanent changes in the form of physically modifying or destroying cards create Legacy Games.

In many cases, Deck Building games use Cards to provide actions. This means that players typically need a starting deck which allows them to perform the actions of acquiring other cards through Deck Building.

Players' Deck Building is typically helped by Strategic Knowledge, so the possibility of having this (about Cards and their Combos) in a game is likely to affect this pattern. Bag Building can be an alternative to Deck Building if not the design possibilities of Cards (compared to Tokens) are need. Pre-Customized Decks is another alternative where players build their decks before gameplay begins.


Deck Building modulates how Decks are constructed by letting individual Cards be added to them over time through Drafting. Game Element Insertion is a consequence of using Deck Building since the Cards introduce into Decks by Deck Building are typically not in play before this happens. However, this is not a strong case of Game Element Insertion as the Cards typically already play a role as Limited Resources before being part of a Deck.

Further, Deck Building allows for Construction and Abstract Player Construct Development, and by doing so gives players a Freedom of Choice of what should be in their Decks. These new Cards are Investments and often associated with Risk/Reward speculations since uncertainty exist both in Cards will be gotten into players' Hands at the right times and if other Cards which work well together with the ones gotten will be available to get in the future. The patterns supports Varied Gameplay since players are unlikely to get the same Deck in different game instances if there is a big enough variety of Cards.

Building Decks often result in players having Gain Competence goals and achieving these cause Stimulated Planning and Strategic Planning. Deck Building games often have Complex Gameplay since they make use of many different types of Cards whose effects combine in different ways, and being able to handle this is a way to show Gameplay Mastery.

Deck Building does not support Closed Economies since it introduces new Cards into Decks. It can support Faucet/Drain system although removing Cards tends to be less available as actions than introducing new ones.


Can Instantiate

Complex Gameplay, Construction, Deck Slimming, Drafting, Faucet/Drain, Freedom of Choice, Gain Competence, Game Element Insertion, Gameplay Mastery, Improved Abilities, Investments, Legacy Games, Meta Games, New Abilities, Risk/Reward, Stimulated Planning, Strategic Planning, Varied Gameplay

with Abstract Player Constructs

Abstract Player Construct Development

with Cards and Drawing Stacks

Cycle Deck Engines

with Discard Piles


Can Modulate

Combos, Decks, Discard Piles, Gameplay Engines, Hands, Randomness

Can Be Instantiated By

Card Building

Can Be Modulated By

Drafting Spreads, Strategic Knowledge

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Closed Economies


New pattern created in this wiki.