Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilding Games

The prototypical deckbuilder game, Dominion, started a revolution! It started a new type of game: the deckbuilder.  The deckbuilding mechanism, where you buy, cull, and build your deck has become a gaming staple.   In cooperative gaming circles, there used to be a dearth of games with this mechanism.  Now, there are a myriad of cooperative deckbuilding games!  Here’s our top 10 favorite cooperative deckbuilding games (or cooperative games where the deckbuilding mechanic is central to the game).

Notes

A surprising number of cooperative deckbuilders have a very similar theme: “Protect something that has XX hit points”.  As we go through our favorite games, we will point out when we have this theme.  We will also point out if the game have a viable solo mode (Saunders’ Law) and what makes the game unique and interesting.

10. Rebirth or DC Deckbuilding Game (with Crisis expansion)

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, built-in: you control your main Superhero and an Ally.
  • Protect Something?  Yes.  Each Location in the city has 5 hit points, but each game has a very different winning/losing condition (as it is a campaign).
  • What makes it unique?  The DC art and the movement mechanism.
  • Expansions?  Tons for the original game (Teen Titans, Multiverse, etc) , and I they are all compatible with the new Rebirth game.

This entry is shared by Rebirth (a brand new implementation of the DC Deckbuilding game) with the original DC Deckbuilding game (with the the Crisis expansion).   The original DC game was a very simple deckbuilder that was very easy (some say too easy) to play.  The Crisis expansion (see below) added some rules to make the game cooperative, but it was a little clunky.  (You built some crisis decks and had to get through them).

The Rebirth reboot (what? Comic books rebooting?  That never happens!) kept the same simple mechanics of the DC Deckbuilding game and added some movement and some interesting choices about attacking and buying and moving.

Players work together and move around the city (see the circular city above) and you can only buy cards for your deck from your current location.  It added some new ideas and rejuvenated the DC Deckbuilding game.

9. Xenoshyft

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, built-in.  This game probably works better with more players
  • Protect Something?  Yes, all players are protecting the home base (which has a number of hit points based on the number of players)
  • What makes it unique?  Each player has a battlefield where their marines fight the bugs (aliens), and the marines stay active on the battlefield even after the turn is over.
  • Expansions?  Yes, quite a few expansions that add extra cards, plus a full standalone game called Xenoshyft:Dreadmore (which adds a weather mechanic).

This game would probably be higher if it wasn’t so hard.  It’s a bit lucky, and you absolutely have to cull your deck hard to make any progress.  Even if you play just perfectly, there is a very good chance you will lose.

  I didn’t like this game at first, but then I realized I was playing wrong!  Each player has a battlefield (see above: the red area is where the bugs come in and the blue area is where the marines comes) and the main rule I missed was that marines STAY ON the battlefield, even after your turn is over.  So, there is some troops that stay between turns.   Probably the best part of the game is that you can play play cards to your compatriots area!!  Is your buddy getting overrun with bugs?   Help him out!  This game really encourage communication and fosters cooperation.

8. Legendary

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, but surprisingly not built in.  You can try linearly scaling the set-up (for one player) or just play two characters.
  • Protect Something?  Depends on the Scheme.
  • What makes it unique?  Villains move across the city, and the Schemes really change up how the game plays out (and there are SOOO many expansions that add new schemes).
  • Expansions?  There are so many expansions, you almost can’t name them all.  There is a LOT of content for this game if you like it.

We must be careful here because STRICTLY SPEAKING, this is not a cooperative game: it’s a semi-coop (as all players can lose if they don’t work together a little) and whosoever has the most points at the end of the game, wins.  I know of no one who plays like this.  Every time I have played this game, we simply ignore the points.

 

This gaming system has a lot of versions to it: Aliens, Predator, Firefly, 007, X-files, to name a few.  If the Superhero theme doesn’t speak to you, probably one of those themes will.  For me, I do love the Superhero theme, which is why this is on my list.

I will say that this isn’t higher because the theme is a little lost in the deck building mechanism.  I want to BE a superhero, but in this game, I am really just “buying a team of superheroes” as a I build a deck of Superheroes.  Super fun, but not super thematic.

7. Venom Assault

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, but unclear.  The rulebook says the game plays 1-5, but the set-up doesn’t describe a solo game anywhere (only 2-5).   Just play a single player “as-if” it’s a 2 player game. See here for more discussion of the solo game.
  • Protect Something?  No.
  • What makes it unique?  This game feels a lot like  Legendary (see above) with a GI Joe theme, but it adds some dice mechanics
  • Expansions?  There is one expansion called Villains and Valor which should be available in Q1 2020.

This game feels a lot like Legendary, but it seems to embrace the GI Joe theme pretty well and seems to integrate the theme into the game pretty well.

I picked this game up because I loved the art (by Phil Cho) but I was surprised how good the game actually was!  I feel this is an overlooked gem.  Luckily, an expansion is coming soon to give us more content.

6. Hero Realms: Ruin of Thandar

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, built-in and very clear.
  • Protect Something? No (well, yourself)
  • What makes it unique?  This has the very simple deckbuilding mechanics of Hero Realms with a cooperative adventure on top!
  • Expansions?  There is one expansion called Village of Thandar coming out in Q1 2020.

This one surprised me!  I play the Star Realms app on my iPad all the time and really fell in love with the simplicity of the Star Realms deckbuilding.   Hero Realms is just Star Realms rethemed into a fantasy universe, but it also adds character specific abilities!

To be clear: this is an expansion for Hero Realms.  You need (a) the original Hero Realms box and (b) some character packs (there are 5 total: Cleric, Ranger, Wizard, Fighter, and Thief).  Once you have these, this expansion adds cooperative rules and a campaign!

This is fun, moves quickly (especially of you know Hero Realms or Star Realms already), and tells a nice story.  I was surprised how much this expansion captivated me.  The only real problems were (a) how small the text in the rulebook/adventure books are (b) the lack of replayability.  Once you have played through the scenario, you can replay it a different path (there is some branching in the game), but there’s not too much branching total.  I like it, I’ll play it all through again, and I look forward to the next expansion: the Village of Thandar.

5. The Big Book of Madness

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, but not in the rulebook.  Just play 2 characters.
  • Protect Something?  No, just survive to the end of the book!
  • What makes it unique?  Lots of little touches: a book that you must close, previews of the badness coming, a particularly great rule for allowing someone else to go
  • Expansions?  There is one expansion coming out in 2020 called The Vth Element.

This game surprised me on how popular it was in my gaming circles.  Many of my friends have bought the game after playing my copy!  The game, in the wake of so many games, still comes out fairly regularly with my friends.  I think the Harry Potter theme (I know, not REALLY Harry Potter, but, c’mon) and the little touches really sell the game.

It’s been quite some time, but this is getting an expansion (The Vth Element) in 2020.

4. The Red Dragon Inn: Battle for Grayport

  • Viable Solo Mode?  No.  You can play two characters, but it’s kind of kludgy.
  • Protect Something?  Yes!  Some Location in town has Hit Points, and you have to protect that Location in the City!
  • What makes it unique?  The idea that only one character in your hand can act, but it can also be “your main character” is interesting.
  • Expansions?  There is one expansion called Pirates that’s already out

This game might seem like “it’s like everything else” now, but it was the first game I knew of where you had to protect the city (well, sorta … see later)!  I love the art, there is a ton of content and scenarios, and it has some really original ideas: For example: you can only play items (cards in your deck) on a character, but you can ALWAYS use your character (as well as other characters in your deck)!

This is one that has fallen under the radar, but I love this game!  I just wish it had a better solo mode.

3. Thunderstone Quest (with Barricades Expansion)

img_4421.jpg

  • Viable Solo Mode? Yes. Built-in with Barricades Expansion
  • Protect Something?  Yes!   Each Location in the town has essentially 4 hit points. But it can be protected by a barricade! If all city Locations are destroyed, you lose!
  • What makes it unique? The mix of dungeon mode and town mode
  • Expansions?  There are lots of expansions for Thunderstone Quest! What Lies Beneath, Ripples in Time, At The Foundations of the World, Vengeful Sands, Clockwork Destiny

To be clear, the base game is Thunderstone Quest AND YOU NEED THE Barricades Expansion to make it cooperative (and solo).  This is a big game with lots of rules (especially for the cooperative mode).  Take a look at my review here, here, and here.

IMG_4401

This is definitely a deckbuilder, it’s definitely complicated, it’s definitely beautiful (and has amazing production values), but it’s definitely fun.   Players go back and forth to the town (to refresh) and the dungeon (to level-up and fight monsters).   At the end of the day, this is a race against time: every turn, monsters are swarming the city and ruining parts of it.  At some point they will overwhelm the town unless you take out the Big Bad at the bottom of the dungeon.

IMG_4413
My first solo game: I’m just about to lose!

Even though it’s main mechanism is deck-building, there’s a lot to it: the game feels very thematic.

2. Shadow Rift

  • Viable Solo Mode? Sort of?  The game contains one Shadow Rift per player, so it scales.  (But the cover says it only works 2-6: I’ve played solo and it seems ok).
  • Protect Something?  Sort of?  You are protecting a city, but you are trying to prevent bad cards from coming into the city (as opposed to hit points of most deckbuilder games).
  • What makes it unique? The town is handled differently than other “protect the town” deckbuilder.
  • Expansions?  There are expansions, but it depends on whether you have the First Edition (cover above) or the Second Edition.   The Second Edition has more content.

This game has had surprising legs in my game groups.  It still comes out pretty frequently, even though it is probably the oldest game on this list.  It is the first cooperative deckbuilder that I know of!    It’s kind of a unique game:  it doesn’t really feel like any of the other deckbuilders on this list.

1. Aeon’s End (any of them)

  • Viable Solo Mode? Yes.  Built-in and works great.
  • Protect Something?  Yes.  You are protecting Gravehold from destruction (it has hit points).
  • What makes it unique? Cards ARE NOT SHUFFLED!  You have control over the order they come out in your deck!
  • Expansions?  There is a lot of content and expansions for this game.  There are straight-up expansions,
    Aeon’s End: The Depths [2nd Edition]
    Aeon’s End: The Nameless [2nd Edition]
    Aeon’s End: The Void [2nd Edition]
    Aeon’s End: The Outer Dark [2nd Edition]and
    and 4 standalone games.

One of my LEAST favorite elements of Dominion was the shuffling. Oy!  You’d watch and wait as the people next to you shuffled to get through the deck, then you’d have to shuffle your deck. …. Wouldn’t it be great if a game didn’t make you shuffle?  And that’s where Aeon’s End shines:  you do not shuffle your deck!

Depending on the mood you are in, there are really 4 different flavors of Aeon’s End.   They are all just variants on the base idea:  This is a cooperative deckbuilder where each player takes the role of a Mage who can cast spells out of breaches.   All players work together to take out the Bad Guy. There is no shuffling of cards, so you can exert control on the order that cards.

Aeon’s End: the original

IMG_3656

This is the original game and the simplest.  It’s a standalone game with a few scenarios and Bad Guys, but each game is standalone and doesn’t relate to previous games.

Aeon’s End: War Eternal

IMG_3657

This is standalone expansion (i.e., you can play the game with just this box). It really just adds more content, but it has a different feel with different characters.

Aeon’s End: Legacy

This is a legacy game where you add stickers, add new rules, and uncover a story.  If you and a group of friends are in the mood for an ongoing adventure where things really change, give this a try!   The game can be replayed, but only if you buy the recharge pack.

Aeon’s End: The New Age

This is a campaign game: new content is revealed as you play, but unlike the legacy game, you don’t add stickers or change the game.  You can always reset.  It includes a story, but it can always be reset.


 

At the end of the day, Aeon’s End is just a great deck-builder that has so much content and replayability you can play as much as you want!   There’s also a lot of new ideas that I haven’t seen elsewhere (even though it’s still a deckbuilder):

  1. Each player has a special ability that can be “charged”
  2. The decks don’t get shuffled
  3. Each mage has a bunch “breaches” where spells get cast from
  4. Players can go out of order if you have the spells

The game flows smooothly at the beginning as people are moving quickly, but at the end of the game, play slows down as players work together to make agonizing decisions.  The game really brings out the cooperation.  It’s a great time with lots (maybe too much) content!

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s