Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

The world of gaming has seen a surge of popularity in recent years, with new and exciting games emerging from all corners of the globe. One genre that has particularly captured the imagination of gamers is deck-building games. These games require players to build their own decks of cards, which they then use to compete against other players. But the question remains, which game can lay claim to being the first deck-building game? In this article, we’ll explore the history of deck-building games and ask the question, is Dominion the first deck-building game? Let’s dive in and find out.

The Origins of Deck-Building Games

The Roots of Deck-Building Games

The roots of deck-building games can be traced back to collectible card games (CCGs) and strategic board games. CCGs, such as Magic: The Gathering, introduced the concept of building a customized deck of cards to achieve a specific goal. In contrast, strategic board games like chess and Go emphasized the importance of resource management and strategic decision-making.

Deck-building games emerged as a hybrid of these two genres, incorporating elements of both CCGs and strategic board games. Players are given a starting deck of cards and are able to customize their deck throughout the game by purchasing new cards from a central pool. The objective of the game is to build a deck that is optimized to achieve a specific goal, such as defeating an opponent or completing a set of objectives.

The popularity of deck-building games has continued to grow, with games like Dominion and Thunderstone leading the way. These games have proven that the deck-building genre has a unique appeal to gamers, blending the depth of strategy found in board games with the customization and replayability of CCGs.

Despite the popularity of Dominion and other early deck-building games, it is important to note that the concept of deck-building is not new. CCGs like Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon introduced the idea of building a customized deck of cards, and strategic board games like chess and Go emphasized the importance of resource management and strategic decision-making. Deck-building games represent a natural evolution of these genres, combining the best elements of both to create a unique and engaging gaming experience.

The Early Deck-Building Games

  • **The first commercially successful deck-building game: The Deck-Building Game**
    • Background: The Deck-Building Game was created by the renowned game designer, Robert J. Klahn, in 1977. It was originally intended as a way to help students learn about card game mechanics.
    • Gameplay: The game involved players building their own decks by selecting cards from a shared pool of cards. Players could trade cards with each other, and the game ended when one player had successfully built their deck.
    • Significance: The Deck-Building Game was a significant milestone in the development of deck-building games, as it was the first game to introduce the concept of building a deck through a combination of luck and strategy.
  • The emergence of deck-building mechanics in other board games
    • Background: The popularity of The Deck-Building Game led to the incorporation of deck-building mechanics in other board games. One notable example is the game “Magic: The Gathering,” which was released in 1993 and featured deck-building as a central gameplay mechanic.
    • Gameplay: In “Magic: The Gathering,” players started with a small deck of cards and used resources gained during gameplay to purchase additional cards from a central pool. The game’s success led to the creation of numerous other deck-building games, each with their own unique twists on the mechanic.
    • Significance: The inclusion of deck-building mechanics in “Magic: The Gathering” helped to popularize the concept of deck-building games and paved the way for the development of later deck-building games, including Dominion.

Dominion: The Game That Started It All

Key takeaway: Deck-building games have emerged as a popular genre, combining elements of collectible card games and strategic board games. Dominion, designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, is considered the game that started it all, introducing innovations such as victory points and action cards. The game’s success led to the creation of numerous other deck-building games, each with their own unique twists on the mechanic.

The Creation of Dominion

The origins of Dominion can be traced back to the mind of Donald X. Vaccarino, a math professor and game designer. In an interview, Vaccarino explained that he was inspired by a conversation with a friend about the idea of a game where players would start with a weak deck and improve it over time. This simple idea sparked Vaccarino’s imagination, and he began to design a game that would incorporate this concept.

Vaccarino’s design process for Dominion was meticulous and thorough. He sought to create a game that was both strategic and accessible, with simple rules that would allow players to quickly understand the gameplay. Vaccarino played around with different mechanics, such as the use of treasure cards and the concept of “duchy” cards, before finally settling on the core mechanics of the game.

Dominion’s initial prototype was created in 2008, and Vaccarino began playtesting the game with friends and family. The feedback he received was overwhelmingly positive, and he quickly realized that he had created something special. In 2009, Vaccarino founded the game publisher, Rio Grande Games, and released Dominion to the public.

The success of Dominion was immediate, and it quickly became a hit among both casual and experienced gamers. The game’s unique deck-building mechanic and strategic gameplay set it apart from other card games on the market, and it has since spawned numerous expansions and imitators. Today, Dominion is considered the progenitor of the deck-building game genre, and its impact on the board game industry cannot be overstated.

The Impact of Dominion on Deck-Building Games

Dominion, designed by Donald X. Vaccarino and published in 2008, was a revolutionary game that set the stage for the deck-building genre. Its impact on the genre was significant, and it introduced several innovations that have become staples in deck-building games.

One of the most notable impacts of Dominion was its contribution to the popularity of deck-building games. Dominion’s unique gameplay and engaging mechanics quickly captured the attention of gamers worldwide, leading to a surge in popularity for deck-building games. As a result, many other deck-building games were developed and released in the following years, further fueling the genre’s growth.

Apart from its contribution to the genre’s popularity, Dominion also introduced several innovations that have become hallmarks of deck-building games. Some of these innovations include:

  • The concept of a “deck” as a resource that players can build and modify throughout the game.
  • The use of cards with unique abilities and effects that can be acquired and combined to create powerful decks.
  • The idea of “victory points” as the objective of the game, rather than simply defeating opponents.
  • The use of “action” cards that allow players to perform various actions, such as drawing cards, playing cards, and gaining resources.

These innovations not only set Dominion apart from other card games but also paved the way for future deck-building games to explore new mechanics and ideas. As a result, many deck-building games that followed in Dominion’s footsteps incorporated these innovations, creating a distinct genre of card games that has captivated gamers worldwide.

In conclusion, Dominion’s impact on deck-building games cannot be overstated. Its innovations and unique gameplay mechanics have inspired countless other games in the genre, making it the game that started it all.

The Legacy of Dominion

The lasting appeal of Dominion

Dominion has continued to be a popular game among gamers for several reasons. Firstly, the game’s simple yet strategic gameplay makes it accessible to both casual and experienced players. The game’s mechanics are easy to learn, but the strategic depth keeps players engaged and coming back for more.

Additionally, the game’s variety of expansions and the ability to mix and match cards from different sets adds a level of replayability that keeps the game feeling fresh. This allows players to constantly try new strategies and combinations, keeping the gameplay experience dynamic and exciting.

Furthermore, the game’s modular design and scalability make it an excellent choice for both solo and multiplayer gaming sessions. The game can be played with anywhere from two to six players, making it perfect for a range of gaming groups and social gatherings.

The enduring popularity of Dominion among gamers

Since its release in 2008, Dominion has remained a staple in the gaming community. The game has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award in 2011, and has been recognized as one of the best board games of all time.

The game’s continued popularity is also reflected in its consistent presence in the top 100 games on websites like BoardGameGeek, where it has held a spot since its release. Additionally, the game’s strong online community and active forums provide a platform for players to share strategies, discuss variants, and connect with other fans of the game.

In conclusion, Dominion’s lasting appeal and enduring popularity among gamers are a testament to the game’s innovative design, strategic depth, and versatility. These factors have made Dominion a classic game that continues to be enjoyed by players around the world.

Other Early Deck-Building Games

Ascension: The Deck-Building Game

Ascension: The Deck-Building Game is a cooperative living card game that was first released in 2010. It was designed by Justin Kemppainen, John C. Lange, and Jody Giltspur, and published by Stone Blade Entertainment. The game is set in a fantasy world where players take on the role of heroes, each with their own unique abilities and strengths, working together to defeat monsters and complete quests.

The gameplay of Ascension is similar to Dominion in that players start with a small deck of cards and use their resources to purchase more powerful cards from a central row of cards. However, Ascension differs from Dominion in that it has a central deck of cards that is shared by all players, and players can purchase cards from this central deck instead of their own personal decks. Additionally, Ascension includes a set of unique mechanics, such as the use of “energy” to power cards, and the ability to “level up” cards to make them more powerful.

Ascension was well-received by both players and critics, and it quickly gained a dedicated following. It was praised for its accessible gameplay, high replayability, and strategic depth. The game also won several awards, including the International Gamers Award for Best Card Game and the Golden Geek Award for Best Card Game.

Despite its success, Ascension faced stiff competition from other deck-building games that were released around the same time, such as Thunderstone and Star Realms. However, Ascension remains a popular game in the deck-building genre, and it has spawned several expansions and spin-offs, including Ascension: Return of the Fallen and Ascension: War of Shadows.


The Origins of Thunderstone

Thunderstone, a deck-building game designed by Mike Elliott and published by Stone Blade Entertainment in 2009, has a rich history of its own. It shares similarities with Dominion, as both games employ the deck-building mechanic. However, Thunderstone distinguishes itself from Dominion through its unique gameplay elements and theme.

Similarities and Differences between Dominion and Thunderstone

Thunderstone, like Dominion, is a deck-building game that revolves around card drafting and resource management. Players begin with a small deck of cards and, throughout the game, will draft new cards to further customize their deck. This mechanic of deck-building is the foundation of both games.

However, Thunderstone introduces an element of deck-destroying, where players can choose to discard their entire deck and start anew. This adds a layer of risk and strategy, as players must weigh the benefits of maintaining a strong deck against the potential rewards of a fresh start. Additionally, Thunderstone incorporates a variable player power system, with each player having a unique set of abilities that change throughout the game, adding to the strategic depth.

While both games share the deck-building mechanic, Thunderstone’s additional features create a distinct gaming experience. Thunderstone’s unique gameplay elements and its focus on variable player powers set it apart from Dominion, showcasing the versatility and potential for growth in the deck-building game genre.

The Deck-Building Game by Game Factory

  • Origins of The Deck-Building Game
    • The Deck-Building Game was first released in 2008 by Game Factory, a Canadian game publisher.
    • The game was designed by Ryan Courtney and Paul Peterson, who were both experienced game designers at the time.
    • The game was inspired by a desire to create a deck-building game that was accessible to both casual and experienced players.
  • Similarities and Differences between Dominion and The Deck-Building Game
    • Both games feature a deck-building mechanic, where players start with a small deck of cards and gradually build up their deck over the course of the game.
    • Both games also feature a central “market” or “row” of cards that players can purchase cards from.
    • However, The Deck-Building Game has a number of unique mechanics that differentiate it from Dominion.
      • One key difference is that The Deck-Building Game has a “squad” mechanic, where players can create groups of cards that work together for a turn.
      • Another difference is that The Deck-Building Game has a “reward” system, where players can earn points for certain actions they take during the game.
      • Finally, The Deck-Building Game has a more streamlined card drafting system, where players draft cards one at a time rather than using a separate drafting phase.

The Evolution of Deck-Building Games

The Growth of the Deck-Building Game Genre

The proliferation of deck-building games in the 2000s marked a significant turning point in the evolution of the genre. The release of games such as Dominion, Thunderstone, and Ascension brought deck-building mechanics to the forefront of the board game industry, sparking a surge in popularity for these types of games.

One of the key factors contributing to the growth of the deck-building game genre was the rise of digital deck-building games. With the advent of online gaming and mobile devices, players were now able to experience deck-building games in a more accessible and convenient format. Games like Hearthstone and Shadowverse brought deck-building mechanics to a wider audience, and helped to fuel the continued growth of the genre.

Additionally, the growth of the deck-building game genre was also driven by the innovative designs and mechanics of new games. Games like Carcassonne: The Castle, Dungeon Command, and Star Realms introduced new twists on the deck-building formula, providing players with fresh and exciting experiences. These new games continued to push the boundaries of what was possible in the deck-building genre, further fueling its growth and popularity.

In conclusion, the growth of the deck-building game genre in the 2000s was driven by a combination of factors, including the proliferation of digital deck-building games, the introduction of innovative new designs, and the continued popularity of games like Dominion. As the genre continues to evolve and expand, it will be interesting to see where it goes next and what new innovations it will bring to the world of board games.

The Innovations in Deck-Building Games

The Introduction of New Mechanics and Themes in Deck-Building Games

  • Deck-building games have seen a variety of innovations in terms of mechanics and themes.
  • These innovations have allowed deck-building games to evolve and expand their appeal to different types of players.
  • Some examples of new mechanics include:
    • Variable player powers: where each player has a unique ability or set of abilities that they can use during the game.
    • Drafting: where players select cards from a pool of available cards to build their deck.
    • Bidding: where players bid on cards to determine which ones they will get to add to their deck.
  • Some examples of new themes include:
    • Fantasy: with games like Magic: The Gathering and The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.
    • Science fiction: with games like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Ascension.
    • Historical: with games like Rise of Empires and Age of Empires.

The Evolution of Deck-Building Games towards More Complex and Strategic Gameplay

  • Deck-building games have also evolved towards more complex and strategic gameplay.
  • This has been achieved through the introduction of new mechanics and themes, as well as the refinement of existing mechanics.
  • Some examples of this evolution include:
    • Legacy-style deck-building games, such as Dominion and Trains, which feature persistent deck building across multiple games.
    • Deck-building games with asymmetric gameplay, such as Fury of Dracula and Dune: Imperium, where each player has a unique set of abilities and objectives.
    • Deck-building games with multi-stage gameplay, such as Gloomhaven and Between Two Cities, which feature different stages of gameplay with different mechanics and strategies.
  • These evolutions have made deck-building games more complex and strategic, providing players with more depth and replayability.

The Future of Deck-Building Games

The Current State of Deck-Building Games

  • The continued popularity of deck-building games
  • The rise of crowdfunding and small-press deck-building games

The deck-building game genre has seen a significant increase in popularity over the past few years. With the rise of digital platforms and online communities, players can now easily access and share information about their favorite deck-building games. This has led to a surge in interest, as well as an influx of new players and designers entering the market.

Another notable trend in the current state of deck-building games is the rise of crowdfunding and small-press games. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have become increasingly popular for deck-building game designers looking to fund their projects. These platforms allow designers to reach a wider audience and gain support from fans of the genre, enabling them to produce and distribute their games more easily.

In addition to crowdfunding, small-press deck-building games have also gained traction in recent years. These games are typically produced by smaller, independent studios or designers who may not have the resources to publish their games through traditional means. However, thanks to digital printing and distribution networks, small-press games can now reach a global audience, giving players access to a wider variety of deck-building experiences.

Despite these advancements, the deck-building game genre remains highly competitive, with many established games vying for players’ attention. As a result, designers must constantly innovate and evolve their games to stay relevant and engaging for players. With new games and trends emerging all the time, the future of deck-building games looks bright and full of exciting possibilities.

The Trends in Deck-Building Games

The emergence of cooperative deck-building games

One of the most notable trends in deck-building games is the emergence of cooperative deck-building games. These games have become increasingly popular in recent years, as players seek out more collaborative and social gaming experiences. In a cooperative deck-building game, players work together to build a deck and defeat a common enemy or achieve a shared goal. This type of gameplay encourages communication and teamwork, making it a popular choice for family and group game nights.

An example of a popular cooperative deck-building game is Dead Men Tell No Tales, published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2017. In this game, players take on the roles of pirate captains, working together to loot treasure and defend their ships from other pirate crews. The game features a unique shared deck-building mechanic, where players draw from a central pool of cards and must work together to craft the best strategy to achieve their goals.

The increasing complexity and strategic depth of deck-building games

Another trend in deck-building games is the increasing complexity and strategic depth of these games. As the genre has evolved, designers have sought to create more sophisticated and challenging gameplay experiences that appeal to experienced gamers. These games often feature more intricate card abilities, deeper strategy, and more complex rules than earlier deck-building games.

One example of a game that exemplifies this trend is Cape Town, designed by Martin Wallace and published by Oxyron in 2016. In this game, players take on the role of real estate developers in Cape Town, South Africa, attempting to build the most valuable portfolio of properties. The game features a unique dual-deck mechanic, where players must manage both a public market deck and a personal hand of cards to build their portfolio. The game also includes a complex set of rules and strategic options, including the ability to influence property values and manipulate the market to gain an advantage over other players.

Overall, the trends in deck-building games suggest a growing interest in more collaborative and strategic gameplay experiences. As the genre continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see how designers continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in deck-building games.

The Challenges Facing Deck-Building Games

  • The saturation of the market

As the popularity of deck-building games continues to grow, the market has become increasingly saturated with new releases. This has made it more challenging for game designers to create unique and innovative deck-building games that stand out from the crowd. The competition is fierce, and game designers must work hard to create games that offer something new and exciting to players.

  • The challenge of innovating within the genre

In addition to the saturation of the market, deck-building games also face the challenge of innovating within the genre. Because deck-building games rely on a specific set of mechanics, it can be difficult to introduce new ideas that don’t feel like rehashes of existing games. Game designers must be creative and think outside the box to come up with new ways to make deck-building games feel fresh and exciting.

Another challenge facing deck-building games is balancing the power of different cards and decks. In order to create a fair and competitive game, game designers must carefully balance the strengths and weaknesses of different cards and decks. This can be a difficult task, as different players may have different preferences and play styles. Game designers must also consider the potential for abuse or exploitation of certain cards or strategies, and take steps to prevent these from dominating the game.

Despite these challenges, deck-building games continue to be popular among gamers. As long as game designers are able to come up with new and innovative ways to approach the genre, deck-building games will continue to thrive and evolve.


1. What is a deck-building game?

A deck-building game is a type of board game where players start with a small deck of cards and use in-game actions to acquire more cards to further customize their deck. These games often involve strategic decisions and resource management.

2. What is Dominion?

Dominion is a deck-building game designed by Donald X. Vaccarino and published in 2008. In Dominion, players use actions to acquire cards that give them various abilities and points, with the goal of having the most points at the end of the game.

3. Is Dominion the first deck-building game?

No, Dominion is not the first deck-building game. While Dominion popularized the genre and is often credited with starting the deck-building game craze, it was actually preceded by several other deck-building games, such as Culdcept (1998) and The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (2001).

4. What makes Dominion unique among deck-building games?

Dominion is unique among deck-building games for its simplicity and accessibility. The game’s mechanics are easy to learn, yet provide deep strategic gameplay. Dominion also features a large number of expansions, which add new cards and mechanics to the base game, allowing for endless replayability.

5. How has Dominion influenced the deck-building game genre?

Dominion has had a significant influence on the deck-building game genre. Its success led to a surge of interest in deck-building games, with many games released in its wake trying to capture the magic of Dominion. The game’s design has also been studied and analyzed by game designers, who have used its mechanics as inspiration for their own games.

A Beginner’s Guide To Dominion (for Magic: The Gathering Players)

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