Deckbuilding and Deckfighting

Battletech CCGLast week, Phil Reed mentioned on Twitter and Tumblr that he’d been thinking about the Battletech CCG from the mid-90s. I recall it perfectly well; I was working at Hobbytown USA at the time and sold it, as well as played it a bit. I like Battletech a lot, and I agree that the CCG was a fun way to engage in the game without the need to have minis and terrain and all that. But then as now, I greatly disliked the collectible aspect. So my reply to Phil on Twitter was, “That’s one game I’d like to see in a complete set, not collectible. Maybe deckbuilding?”

Deckbuilding is a type of card game that appeared recently with the game Dominion. In it, instead of starting with a deck of cards and then playing, the object of the game is to build your deck from a common pool. Effects and exceptions make up the rest of the basic idea of this type of game. I played Dominion a couple of times last Gen Con and overall liked it. Since then, there’s been a few more deckbuilding games published and now the deckbuilding idea is being applied to dice and other bits as well.

As I said, I liked Dominion just well, but it left me wanting more. When I heard “deckbuilding,” the impression that I got was that we’d build the deck then fight it out. Not the case. Dominion, at least the version we played that night, had very little interaction between the players, if at all. It was like a game of 3-way solitaire. I want more. I want conflict in my deckbuilding game.

I’d like to see the idea of deckbuilding combined with deckfighting. I mentioned it to Phil in relation to what form a Battletech deckbuilding game would take, and he said that it might get too long, like two games in one. He’s right, considering how long a game of Dominion took to play, but I can’t shake the idea that it would be a good combination.

Perhaps the idea here is to design the deckfighting into the deckbuilding. I’m not talking about cards that affect what cards other players may or may not be able to take into their decks, but outright fighting another player’s deck. Think Magic: The Gathering meets Dominion (which, honestly, is what I thought of when I first heard the word “deckbuilding”). In that context, a game that’s designed from the ground up to support both deckbuilding and deckfighting as the game progresses (not as two distinct phases) could work for a Battletech theme, or really, for any kind of army-like combat scenario.

Is there anything like this already out there and I just don’t know about it?

I don’t know that I have time to think about this too much right now, and honestly, having never done any kind of non-RPG game design I wouldn’t really know where to start, but this intrigues me enough that I want to record it here for later reference.


  1. Got a couple of comments via Twitter that I am linking here for my own reference:

    @philipjreed One concern for me is the number of words on the cards. You’ll need rules for building and fighting with the cards.
    My reply: reduced art size, and really specific language. Also use of icons.

    @mcnutcase For building and fighting, you probably want to check out Nightfall. Combines them in a really fun way.

    @cartoonlad You would want to have icons be dual-purpose, something like the +1 buy is +1 defense in the deckfighting phase.


  2. I went to check Nightfall, and it seems AEG’s upcoming game will do precisely what I’m asking for:

    Nightfall is the deck-building game of modern horror action from Alderac Entertainment Group. Designed by David Gregg, Nightfall puts players in control of minions of the night, fighting one another for control of an Earth shrouded in eternal night. Werewolves, vampires, ghouls, and those who fight them see no need to hide from the public, waging their war in the streets. Featuring direct head-to-head game play, card drafting, and the unique “chain” mechanic, Nightfall is unlike any other deckbuilding game on the market.—hyperagressive-deck-building/

    And it releases this week, on March 30.


  3. There are a number of Attack cards in Dominion—cards that allow you to steal cards from the other players, cards that make them discard or trash cards, that allow you to manipulate their draw decks, etc.—but you are correct that this is not a focus of the game.

    Yours is a common complaint about Dominion. And I too like games with conflict.

    But I also like Dominion just the way it is.


  4. @David
    Right, I remember you mentioning this to me when we played, which I’m guessing came about as a response to a perceived want out of the player base and maybe even the designer.

    I enjoyed Dominion as it was, actually. What I’m thinking out loud here about is “like Dominion, but with open conflict between decks,” which isn’t to say Dominion is wrong at all (and I’m not sure that came across above).

    Have you played other deckbuilding games? If so, can you talk about them?


  5. I’ve played Thunderstone and Ascension once each. I didn’t like either of them much, but those single plays were a while ago, so I may have the details wrong.

    I remember Ascension having more player-on-player conflict than Dominion. That aspect I could take or leave. But otherwise I found the game too random for my tastes. In all these games, the cards you draw from your deck are random. In Ascension, though, the cards that are available to purchase each turn are also random.

    I don’t recall any player-on-player conflict in Thunderstone. This game is a lot more thematic (a monster-killing dungeon crawl). This is, I think, what a lot of people like about the game. In order to achieve that thematic feel, though, Thunderstone has a lot more structure to the selection of cards. And that’s what I didn’t like. I enjoy the simplicity of the core rules of Dominion.


  6. How about a Living Card Game such as the new Fantasy Flight LOTR game with small expansions each month?

    I could see Battletech and Deadlands coming back in that format if they took an interest. They already re-released call of Cthulhu in that revised format. I hope Fantasy Flight, FASA or someone else does this.


  7. @Iain
    You know, I haven’t played the LCG titles, so I’ll see if I can fix that at Gen Con. But yeah, that format would work, I think. Small sets with semi-regular expansions, all packaged fully in a box.


  8. I just saw your blog post, am trying to get back into Battletech CCG with a friend, and collecting the missing cards from my set (headache).

    Was just wishing this had been re-released as an LCG.

    PS. LOTR card game by Fantasy Flight highly recommended, even solo it’s great! First expansion out next month. I like how the card pool grows in small steps so everyone has the same cards at the same time (even though this game is only marginally competitive since it’s a co-op game).

    If this were Deadlands, say, a competitive deck building game, it just seems a lot more reasonable to collect the expansion mini set each month than buy 180-300+ cards that are randomized. Nuts.

    I am wondering now if Battletech CCG Commanders Edition was intended to replace the first two core sets? Searching… I know they revised it heavily.


  9. Nightfall certainly fits. You are building decks of minions and attack cards. You do damage to minions health, or to inflict sounds on players. It’s fun once you grasp the chain rules.

    Resident Evil also has a deck builder that seems to have a combat mode too

    But I would buy a Battletech deck builder in a heartbeat. Twice.


  10. Yeah, David, thanks for teaching us Dominion!

    I found Thunderstone more engaging than Dominion with its theme and with having a purpose for the deck other than itself. I’ve only played once, though, so I can’t comment on its variety or structure much.

    Nightfall sounds interesting, even though a BT theme sounds cooler.


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