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Fate is in your hand! The appeal of deck building video games.

A look at how and why, games like Hands of Fate and Slay the Spire are so fun.

Collectable card games(CCG's) have an obvious appeal. Collect cards, use them to create a deck with a winning strategy and try that strategy by playing against an opponent.

However, with every new game, comes new mechanics. One of which created a genre.

Original box art for Dominion — by Lyubomir Atanasov
Original box art for Dominion — by Lyubomir Atanasov

In October 2008, the physical card game Dominion was released, introducing “deck building” mechanic. The idea is that you start with a basic deck, but as the game goes on players get more cards to add to their roster. This made gameplay for some more fun than a standard CCG since strategies are made on the fly, rather than having them ready before the start of the game.

This mechanic, soon turns into their own genre, as more and more card and board games come out using that style of play.

But what about video games? Though digital versions of the physical games did come out, game developers soon saw the similarity between deck builders and popular genre of gaming. That being the rogue-like(or rogue-lite) types of games.

Coming from the classic game Rogue. these game are a sort of dungeon crawlers, where players start off weak and in the course of the run they find items, levels etc. However, if the player character dies, he begins the game again at starting zone again at the weakest.

It does not take much too see how similar this game flow to deck building. So slowly but surely more games mixing the two, started to get developed, most of which getting positive responses from both critics and the general public.

And it's interesting how different games take different approaches to these types of games. To show what I mean, here are two popular titles, that mixes video game and card mechanics differently.

The game is not the best looker, but it is fun. — by Lyubomir Atanasov
The game is not the best looker, but it is fun. — by Lyubomir Atanasov

First, there games like Slay the Spire. These games focused the cards to be used only in combat. In StS you have a several stage dungeon crawler with a node type progression. Aka, on this point you will have a battle encounter, and once you beat it, you move on to the next point which is connected to this one. There are shops and events that help you gain items, money and of course cards. And the cards are only used in combat, which is turned based. Each card is a type of attack, defense or special. And of course, you have an energy mechanic, which limits how many cards you can play. Which results in players building combat strategies, often focused on big combination to end an enemy quickly.

This is a looker. And yet it draws similarities to another popular dungeon crawler. — by Lyubomir Atanasov
This is a looker. And yet it draws similarities to another popular dungeon crawler. — by Lyubomir Atanasov

And there are other games with a similar approach. Such as Deep Sky Derelicts, again a dungeon crawler with a turn-based combat system. However, the deck building part is very lite. Again, cards are action to be used during combat, but unlike others, the cards you get is depended on the characters level and equipment. The only reason for action being cards seemingly only being so, just to be different.

Hand of Fate 2 nails the feeling of playing a board game with so many mechanics, that the table gets super messy. — by Lyubomir Atanasov
Hand of Fate 2 nails the feeling of playing a board game with so many mechanics, that the table gets super messy. — by Lyubomir Atanasov

On the other hand, we have a game series that took this but did the opposite. The Hand of Fate series took deck building mechanics and made it focused entirely on story and dungeon building. Yes, you still have cards that represent items, equipment, and character upgrades. But the main purpose of the cards is that they represent encounters and events. Which means that in essence, players build the parts of their own runs. Not only that, but almost all cards lead to the unlocking of other cards, often offering better versions or continuing story events. Combat encounters and events are tackled with minigames and a not very polished, Arkham-like combat system. But deck building is still the main foundation for the game.

And to my knowledge, Hand of Fate series are the only games that do this type of genre, this way. Sure there are smaller titles that have players literally build their dungeons layouts with tile set cards, but never made the importance of what the cards are, the way HoF does.

Overall, there you have it. The appeal of games where deck building mixes in with an aspect of gameplay gives the same fun factor of having each run never be the same as the standard rogue-like (or rouge-lite) games. It does not matter if the cards tale a story or just say “Punch Hard”, they are still fun to use in a planned out game run.

Happy building.

This article was originally published on @thetubich