Deckbuilders – The Blooming Beauty of Cards

Written by Lyn Kyoumei

June 1, 2024

I’m always wondering how florists have been able to select and combine different types of flowers to create bouquets that are simple yet beautiful to look at. Do azaleas go well with
heaths? Does the vase make the flowers look better or worse? Should you replace the common rose with a more uncommon flower like violet when you want to surprise your loved one? Things like this make the result better since you’ve already sweated over the little things that make the bigger picture all the better.

Deck builders can be compared to bouquets, so let’s use bouquets as a proxy for decks, when you get a bouquet it usually has a meaning, like roses are associated with love, passion and romance and are usually given to those you love, whereas lilies are given to the dead, symbolizing rebirth. So if you combine a bouquet of roses and lilies, you could use it for more than one occasion, couldn’t you? Mixing and matching flowers can make the bouquet versatile. First, you have the bouquet make you suddenly give off a princely/princessly aura, or have the bouquet compliment your facial features and give the onlookers some eye candy with your cute grins, or have the bouquet steal your crush’s attention and give it suddenly to them like, “These flowers reminded me of you.~”

Though playing cards has been seen as an antiquated form of entertainment in this age, its entry into the foray of video games turns it into an ace in the hole through the competition as it evolves into what we know now as deck builders. If we were to compare it to a flower, Morning Glories could represent it as it can easily integrate itself into each and almost every
genre.

 

Each Card in a Deck is Unique

A great deckbuilder can completely change how a game is played if you happen to hold a different set of cards.

Whenever you pick flowers, you sometimes do some research into the meaning of the flower in floriography (The Language of Flowers). Sometimes the same flower with different colors can mean a completely different thing to what you’re trying to convey; a white rose means they want to be seen as worthy of you, while a yellow rose means they’re adulterous. Deck builders are the same as each card has a unique element that’s going for them.

Archetypes, Effects, Gimmicks – these elements are what makes the cards in a deck builder much more unique and exciting. Just as different flowers can carry different messages and meanings, each card in a deck builder offers a variety of strategic options and possibilities. This variety and depth is what makes both floriography and deck building so compelling.

Enter One Step From Eden, a game that dons its own style in the deckbuilding genre by reviving the grid battle system akin to Megaman Battle Network, you are placed in an 8×4 grid where half of which is your area to dodge and weave yourself through enemy attacks to position yourself to make use of your space effectively. However, where it shines and breaks free from its Megaman coat of paint is with its archetype system called “Brand”. Brands are akin to archetypes in which each Brand focuses on a different aspect of the game. In each world, each zone in that world may give you a set of 3 spell cards to choose from after completing the objective given.

 

 

The cards you are to pick from will have a “Brand” attached to them, these include Miseri, Convergence, Glimmer, etc. Each “Brand”/archetype focuses on one thing and does that specific thing well, if you want to focus on manipulating your mana and spell power, Convergence will let you do that. Do you want to see your enemies slowly die as you drain them of their HP? Miseri will fit you nicely. Do you just want to be a faux Avatar? Pick Anima and master the elements of fire, ice and lightning. The beauty of the game lies in the forced adaptation as you can’t control what Brands are given to you. Though therein lies the thrill, each zone you walk through will become a test of how the random assortment of spells with different brands can help you win. The longer you last, the more the game expects you to become creative and promotes on-the-spot thinking as you aren’t only casting spells, but also dodging stage hazards and enemy attacks. However, I believe this is where the brilliance in the game also shines through as each spell, each brand, can intertwine with one another.

 

The Pile Keeps Getting Higher

A great deckbuilder makes you think about refining your tools, even as you progress through a game.

When you make a bouquet you have the choice of dried flowers or fresh flowers, of course many people would gravitate towards the fresh flowers as they look nicer, but the dried flowers will last longer without too much care. The same can be said for deckbuilders, like bouquets, two deckbuilders may have the same flowers/theme, but how they’re processed/executed can make all the difference between them.

Although deck builders are becoming increasingly diverse, sometimes their themes and stories overlap. Star Realms and Faster than Light are great examples of this, as they are both
deckbuilding games set in space. Faster than Light is a very hard roguelike, the difficulty coming from the fact that you have to guide the crew of your fragile and very spontaneous ship through the vast emptiness of space with only your limited resources and the constant reminder that a game end is just around the corner. Although it’s not a deck builder in the traditional sense, Faster than Light contains elements that can be likened to deck-building mechanics.

In FTL, you don’t build a deck of cards, you build a strategic arsenal of resources, upgrades and crew members. Your decisions about what to buy, upgrade, or repair are similar to choosing which cards to keep, discard, and upgrade in a deck builder. Whereas, Star Realms, on the other hand, leans more into the traditional deck-building sense. Being a tabletop deck builder before going digital, it has its roots firmly planted in the core mechanics of deck construction and strategic card play.

Both Star Realms and Faster than Light are based on the idea of building a deck of cards to beat your opponent. Star Realms is more traditional, while Faster than Light mixes elements of roguelike games with resource management. The games share similar ideas and ways of playing, showing how creative and diverse the genre can be. Even with more games being made, there’s always room for new ideas and experiences.

 

Decks with Depth: Drawing from RPG Elements

A great deckbuilder can synthesize its mechanics into all sorts of contexts.

As the deck-building genre keeps evolving, it’s nice to see how developers push boundaries and incorporate new elements to keep the gameplay fresh and engaging. One of the most exciting trends is the integration of character-driven narratives and role-playing game (RPG) mechanics into deck builders.

 

 

Children of Zodiarcs is a great example of this type of hybrid approach as it combines both the traditional deck-building mechanics with tactical RPG elements, creating a unique gameplay experience. In this game, each character has their deck of cards, which represent their abilities and actions. As you progress through the story, you can tweak and upgrade these decks, giving you more freedom to plan and personalize your strategy.
The game’s story is linked to the way you play. Each character’s deck shows their personality and backstory. This makes the game more immersive. You’re not just managing cards, but also the characters’ development and the plot. Dice-rolling adds a chance element, so you have to adapt your strategies. This keeps the game dynamic and unpredictable, so you can play it again and again.

 

 

Slay the Spire is another great example of how RPG elements can be integrated into deck building. While the game is mainly about card-based combat, players can choose from different characters with their unique starting conditions, cards, and relics. This choice has a big impact on how you play and the strategies you concoct throughout your run-through.
As the player climbs the spire, they must choose which cards to add to their deck, upgrade them, and collect relics. This process is like in traditional RPGs, where your choices
define your playthrough. The game generates different encounters, events and rewards each time, so the player must adapt and change their strategies. This new game is the best in the genre because it has a roguelike element and a deck-building core.

Whereas the game Griftlands takes the character-driven approach even further by integrating deep narrative choices and branching storylines. In Griftlands, players get to explore a world full of intrigue, betrayal, and negotiation. Each character’s deck isn’t just a tool for combat; it’s also for social interactions and negotiations.
The game has a whole host of different characters to play as, each with their own story and decks. This not only provides lots of different ways to play but also encourages you to play again and again to explore different paths in the story. The negotiation mechanics are a great new twist on the deck-building formula, as players have to balance their aggression and diplomacy. The outcome of these negotiations can have a big impact on the story, making each decision and card played feel important.

 

Conclusion

 

 

Just like how a beautiful bouquet is set, a deck builder is a harmonious blend of diverse elements in which each element contributes to a greater whole. The intricacies of balancing
mechanics, themes and the narrative as a whole is what makes the genre compelling to most. Seeing the unique, grid-based combat of One Step from Eden then hopping aboard the strategic depth of Star Realms before landing in the broken-down sci-fi world of Griftlands, deckbuilders continuously reinvent how they look and feel, always bringing something new that can captivate even those who have not played any card games beforehand. As the pile of games keep getting higher, so too does the potential for innovation within this small genre. It’s always quite exciting to hear about a deck builder breakthrough and hit the mainstream, seeing how the developers charted their course within the landscape to create an experience that can be just as complex and beautiful as the most exquisite bouquets. Just like how florists select and combine flowers to evoke specific emotions and create lasting impressions, game developers craft their decks to offer players a mix of strategy, challenge and narrative depth. In the end, it’s simply just all about the little things, whether it be a strategic hand of cards or a stunning arrangement of flowers, it’s the watchful attention to detail that makes the experience so special and keeps us coming back for more.

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