Three “Compact” Deck Builders
When it comes to games, I tend to lean towards deck builders. Deck builders are games where players start with a small deck of simple cards. Over the course of the game, players purchase new cards to add to their decks, building it from the low powered starter deck to a formidable one. Deck building games appear in many genres, from fantasy (Thunderstone Advance, Ascension) to comics (DC Deck Builder, Marvel Legendary) to even video games (Resident Evil, Street Fighter). The full mechanics may be different from game to game. Dominion limits your actions and buys each hand, while Ascension has players buy from a central row that changes with each purchase. But one thing is the same: players start with a small low powered deck, and increase their deck’s power over the course of the game.
Well, there is one other thing about these games. Many of them take up a lot of space. Most play with a multitude of cards, even if they do not use all of them at once. And many others also play with large boards like Thunderstone Advance and Legendary. And, they can be quite expensive as well. Even if you do not pick up expansion packs, the base game of Marvel Legendary can run you close to $60 or more.
Thankfully, there are a few options out there for people who want to dabble in deck builders without dedicating the space or the money to try a deck builder out.
Star Realms is a science fiction themed deck builder. Players command a basic fleet of fighter and commerce starships. Using these ships, they build their fleet from buying ships and bases from a central trade row while attacking their opponents.
The nice thing about Star Realms is that one box has everything that two players need to player a match. And I mean everything. The box contains two basic decks consisting of 8 scouts (commerce) and 2 vipers (attack), along with a number of explorer ships (added commerce) and 80 more cards which make up the trade deck (the cards that player will buy). In addition, the box also contains a number of numbered cards. These cards act as score keepers, eliminating the need to keep pen and paper available to keep score.
Oh, Star Realms also retails between $10 and $15. And if you want to play more than 2 players, simply add a second set.
If horror is more your forte, then you might want to look into Eaten by Zombies: In Cahoots. This set can be either an expansion to the Eaten By Zombies game, or played separately as a stand alone 2 player game. Like other deck builders, players work to build their decks by buying more powerful cards from a number of cards made available. The twist to this game is that players face off against zombies, which often force players to either fight or flee. Fail to defeat the zombies, or flee from the flight, and players lose cards from their decks. The winner is the player who still has cards left to draw from their decks.
Scoring is obvious: lose all the cards in your deck and you lose. Eaten by Zombies: In Cahoots costs roughly $11 to $17.
Finally, we have Ascension: Apprentice Edition. This is a drasticly pared down version of the Ascension deck builder. The rules are the same as with the standard Ascension games. Players start with a deck of militia and apprentices. With this deck, they can buy better cards from the central row or from the two ever present Mystic and Heavy Infantry piles, while looking to defeat monsters in the central row (the the Cultist, also ever present) for honor. The player with the most honor, accumulated from purchases and victories against monsters, wins.
Ascension: The Apprentice Edition is a gateway to the bigger world that is Ascension. This one pack, which will run you $10 to $15, is enough to get you started playing Ascension. If you like the game, then you can move onto other sets like Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, or Ascension: Immortal Heroes. Most of the main sets play either 2 players for the smaller sets, or up to 4 for the larger sets, and the Apprentice Edition can be folded into the larger sets, or kept separate.