10 Top Deck-Building Games with a Board as of 2021

Here we will take a look at the 10 top deck-building games with a board based on popularity. This is a series to take a look at a specific board game mechanic or category and out of every game ever released in the space, what are the most popular as of right now, the middle of 2021. We will give some information on each title, as well as, some insight into why it might have landed at its particular spot on the list.

Yes, Deck-Building Games with a Board is a bit of a mouthful, but that little sub category has its own special Allstars and it is nice to take a look at them. They all may have different things to offer, because the criteria is vague, but its about those titles that have busted out of the old card only genre that was popularized with games like #Dominion and #Ascension: Deckbuilding Game, and are trying to do something fresh and new. 

Warning, if it has a Mat with spaces that are guides for where to put cards, that is NOT a game board so get that #Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game argument out of here. Modular tile games also unfortunately do not make the cut.

UPDATE: Based on feedback of what constitutes a "deck-building game with a board" this list has been revised. put it well as something having a "secondary playing surface". This means that #Mage Knight and #The Quest for El Dorado, which were previously excluded, should in fact be on the list. They are popular according to the data, so they will push other titles off the list. It was also well said by that #Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle has a mat (guides for cards) and not a board, so that was removed.

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#10 Altiplano

At a 2017 release, this game is not new or old. Altiplano has rode a steady wave. It is a solid product but didn't necessarily have an explosive release. This is a very approachable title and most people that like it really like it. It gives you something interesting in play but it also has this great theme which ties in perfectly.

Each player starts with a unique role tile, giving them access to different goods and methods of production. Players have limited access to production at the start, but they can acquire additional production sites during the game that open up new options. Aside from building up an effective production, players must fulfill their orders at the right time, develop the road in good time and store their goods cleverly enough to fill their warehouses in the most valuable way.

See More at the Altiplano Game Page

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#09 Fort

Fort is one of those titles that is still relatively new (2019), has never really gotten its full due, but has been a solid performer in popularity. Fort is lighter and smaller than other Leder Games titles, like #Root and #Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile, so it as an easy one to push aside. Even though it is light, it is fun, very thematic and incredibly successful at what it sets out to do. This one is going to keep climbing over time in this category as more people play. Another helpful boost is that the first expansion, #Fort: Cats & Dogs Expansion, was just announced.

You’re a kid! And like many kids, you want to grow your circle of friends, collect pizza and toys, and build the coolest fort. By doing this cool stuff, you’ll score victory points, and at the end of the game, the player with the most victory points wins! Your cards not only let you take actions on your own turn but also let you follow the other players’ actions on their turns.

See More at the Fort Game Page

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#08 Mombasa

Mombasa came out back in 2015. It quickly established itself as this top notch deep and heavy euro with tons going on, but backed by incredibly balance, and just never went away. If you are looking for a very strategic deck building plus game, this is very likely the answer you are going to get. People know it and they respect it. This is one of those titles that is going to hold on because everyone knows it is legit and it is going to stay that way.

Players acquire shares of chartered companies based in Mombasa, Cape Town, Saint-Louis, and Cairo and propagate trading posts of these companies throughout the African continent in order to earn the most money. Each round players choose action cards from their hand, then reveal them simultaneously and carry out the actions. These cards are then placed in a discard pile, and the previously played cards recovered for the subsequent round.

See More at the Mombasa Game Page

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#07 Dune: Imperium

Dune: Imperium is a newer title that has taken the community by storm. It is a medium weight game that is both not too complex but has a lot going on. It hits the perfect sweet spot and it does it well. Not only does this do the IP justice, but it managed to create a very special game that is such a great experience. The word of mouth on this one is through the roof, everyone is talking about it.

Based on the classic novel and film, you are a leader of one of the Great Houses of the Landsraad. You will need to raise your banner and marshal your forces and spies. War is coming, and at the center of the conflict is Arrakis – Dune, the desert planet. You start with a unique leader card, as well as deck identical to those of your opponents. As you acquire cards and build your deck, your choices will define your strengths and weaknesses. Cards allow you to send your Agents to certain spaces on the game board, so how your deck evolves affects your strategy.

See More at the Dune Imperium Game Page

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#06 Lewis & Clark: The Expedition

Whenever a game is at the top of what it does, it is going to succeed. Lewis and Clark is one of those games. It is this interesting worker placement meets deck building game that is proper up against a journey that is moving forward. This interesting mix and great experience has helped set this one apart and give fans something to be excited about. This is by no means a new game, originally coming out in 2014, so it has held its own for awhile.

Lewis & Clark is a board game in which each player manages an expedition intended to cross the North American continent. Your goal is to be the first to reach the Pacific. You have your own crew that will be padded by the Native Americans and the trappers met along the way. You have to cleverly manage your characters and the resources you find. 

See More at the Lewis and Clark The Expedition Game Page

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#05 Lost Ruins of Arnak

This one is only going to keep climbing. Czech Games has put out a good product. It was even nominated for the Kennerspiel, but unfortunately it lost to #Paleo. The only reason it is not higher is because the two titles above this one are long-standing favorites that are going to be very difficult to dethrone. If anyone can do it, this can.

On an uninhabited island in uncharted seas, explorers have found traces of a great civilization. Now you will lead an expedition to explore the island, find lost artifacts, and face fearsome guardians, all in a quest to learn the island’s secrets. In addition to traditional deck-builder effects, cards can also be used to place workers, and new worker actions become available as players explore the island. Some of these actions require resources instead of workers, so building a solid resource base will be essential. You are limited to only one action per turn, so make your choice carefully. 

See More at the Lost Ruins of Arnak Game Page

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#04 The Quest for El Dorado

Board Game Reviewer and content creator Richard Ham of Rahdo Runs Through said it best, "An absolutely fantastic race game. Should have won the Spiel des Jahres. So fast, clean, fun from start to finish, elegant and with no fat. It is a perfect deck-building race that does exactly what it sets out to do. Players getting to make their own maps is phenomenal." This game has been out since 2017 and it continues to go strong and not fade even one bit in its run.

Players take the roles of expedition leaders who have embarked on a search for the legendary land of gold in the dense jungles of South America. Each player assembles and equips their own team, hiring various helpers from the scout to the scientist to the aborigine. All of them have one goal in mind: Reaching the golden border first and winning all of the riches for themselves.

See More at The Quest for El Dorado Game Page

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#03 Mage Knight

Tom Vasel, Founder of The Dice Tower, gave this one a 95 out of 100, one of his best scores ever, stating, "This has an overwhelming amount to it but is worth it and one of the best games of the year. In the current field, none give you the control that this does. Mages are powerful, the night/day is cool, combat is great, tons of scenarios exist and the reputation system is strong." That is absolutely true. This has been out for over a decade and no one can touch it in it's particular space.

You are in control of one of four powerful Mage Knights as you explore a land under the control of the Atlantean Empire. As a Mage Knight you must control your reputation and walk the line - or embrace the role of benevolent leader or brutal dictator. Accumulate Fame and experience to acquire powerful Spells and abilities, then use your power to influence units to join your ranks. Featuring a variety of campaign options allowing you to play both competitively or cooperatively.

See More at the Mage Knight Game Page 

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#02 Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure

Clank is not just #2, it is also #3 with the standalone #Clank! In! Space!, but you came here to discover variety, so we will keep it to one list spot, but certainly wanted to acknowledge that accomplishment. Clank is just a well-oiled machine that is tons of fun and a fantastic package that is unlike anything else. This is another older title that sticks around because people love it and it is very highly recommended. That word of mouth has gone a long way.

You must sneak into an angry dragon’s mountain lair to steal precious artifacts. Delve deeper to find more valuable loot. Acquire cards for your deck and watch your thievish abilities grow. Be quick and be quiet (“clank” refers to the noise you make). Each careless sound draws the attention of the dragon, and each artifact stolen increases its rage. You need to make it out so how much will you push your luck. 

See More at the Clank! Game Page

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#01 Great Western Trail

It is no surprise that Great Western Trail sits atop the list of the top deck-building games with a board. It is an incredibly popular game that is consistently one of the top games and shows no sign of wavering, even after being out since 2016. There has been lots of new content announced so this remains at top of mind. This is a great example of deck building plus. It uses the mechanic well but mashes it up with other things that make for a unique experience 

You are a rancher and constantly herd your cattle from Texas to Kansas City, where you send them off by train. Each time you arrive in KC, you want to have your most valuable cattle in tow. However, the trail not only requires that you keep your herd in good shape, but also that you wisely use the various buildings along the trail and hire the right staff such as herders or craftsman.

See More at the Great Western Trail Game Page

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What do you think are the best deck-building games with a board?



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3 months ago

Came here to cheer for #The Quest for El Dorado. I can only assume you haven't played it.

Owner3 months ago

In my personal list, I'd have it on there too :D

Partner3 months ago

#The Quest for El Dorado is in the modular tiles category so it got excluded from "deck builders with a board". Would you call the tile pieces a board or tiles? They are larger than one cell tiles so I could go either way.

3 months ago

Oh, well, it certainly has a modular board. But I think that it may be overdoing it. I  think that Deck Builders with a board presence (whether it is a regular board or a modular board) could be a single category. There are hundreds of discussions arguing whether Clank! is better than El Dorado, which probably means that many players think of them as similar enough to be comparable.

Besides, doing too many subcategories has the disadvantadge of making it more difficult to compare games among them. Like for example, now we won't know whether you think that Mage Knight is better or worse than Lost Ruins of Arnak.

Partner3 months ago

All good points . The motivation behind the subcategory is that if you go with the main category, you are seeing the same titles over and over again. By eliminating the Dominions, Ascensions, Star Realms, Aeon's End, etc from the mix, it provides an opportunity for people to discover something new.

Also, with this one in particular, the idea behind this is that these games took something (straight deck building) and tried to improve upon it. And after 's spot on commentary, it looks like #Mage Knight and #The Quest for El Dorado need to come in. They were on the list of the top deck builders overall but were excluded do to the board grey area which I am not reversing coarse on.

And these lists look at the data, no decisions are made about bringing in titles that are not ranked in popularity on Board Game Atlas. So, unfortunately, these are never going to get at which is better Clank or Lost Ruins. It is about shining a light on what is popular so maybe you can find something you might like and see what all the fuss is about.

3 months ago

I see! I understand now the reasoning behind this very granular categories in order to showcase more obscure games.

Partner2 months ago

I hope you will be pleased to see that after redefining what a "deck builder with a board" is, #The Quest for El Dorado does qualify for the list. And yes I have personally have played it and think it is a great game.

2 months ago

Indeed! Now I need to play that pesky #Great Western Trail that claims to be more popular that my beloved trio of awesome deckbuilders (El Dorado, Clank! and Mage Knight).

2 months ago

LOVE this post. It is so specific and yet exactly the content I wanted!
BIG THANKS!

Partner2 months ago

Thanks for the feedback!

3 months ago

No Mage Knight?! A travesty.

Partner3 months ago

#Mage Knight is in the modular tiles category so it got excluded from "deck builders with a board". Would you call the tile pieces a board or tiles? Do you think a game where you put tiles together in a formation is a game with a board? Interested in hearing feedback on the subject.

3 months ago

I didn't realize the categories were that granular. There's no correct answer but in the context of deckbuilders I think the distinction between no secondary playing surface and having one is probably most significant.

Partner2 months ago

Thanks again for the feedback . You made a good point on the definition of what a "deck builder with a board" is and because of that #Mage Knight does not qualify and is on the updated version. I couldn't agree more that it is a fantastic one!

Partner3 months ago

I think "secondary playing surface" is a fantastic way to draw the line.

Yes very granular! There is just a lot of grey area on this one, because I certainly wouldn't call a mat that has guides for where to put the cards a game board.

I should also note that these are not chosen, they are based on the data. So it was not necessarily about what to bring in but what to exclude and leave off the list if it didn't necessarily meet the acceptance criteria. You are right though, Mage Knight is on the list, it was just excluded because it is hard to classify that as a game board, though you are right with your description and it looks like edits need to be made.

Supporter2 months ago

These kinds of games are a big hit with my group. I really enjoy deckbuilding as a component of games. 

2 months ago

Lots of good titles here I very much agree with. The only one I think is missing, but should definitely be on this list, is Tyrants of the Underdark.

3 months ago

Excellent list. I have several and realize I love this type of game. I need to try more. 

Partner2 months ago

That is the dream so thank you for saying that!

3 months ago

I'd delete #Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (the board is really just an organizer for card stacks). Then we get into a gray area...

Things like #Mage Knight, #Concordia, #Time of Crisis: The Roman Empire in Turmoil, 235-284 AD, and #Great Western Trail are great games, but they feel like "games with deckbuilding" rather than deckbuilding games.

#Trains, #A Few Acres of Snow, #Undaunted: Normandy, and #Lost Ruins of Arnak fall on the "deckbuilders, but with a board" side of the line.

Partner3 months ago

Thanks , you are absolutely right about Harry Potter, that is not a board but a Mat, which means it should not be on that list. Need to remove that, and add Mage Knight and The Quest for El Dorado based on the excellent points made by and .

This may be an unpopular opinion but it is where I stand - Deck building is just a mechanic like anything else. People seem to put it on a pedestal like it is different. A deck building game to me is one that contains the mechanic, just like a set collection game is anything that contains that mechanic or a worker placement game is anything that contains that mechanism. I think across any mechanic you can talk about "pure" versus "Multifaceted" but just because a game like #Great Western Trail is trying to do something new and have lots going on, I do not think it should be disqualified from being part of that genre.

You are definitely not wrong, the presence of how much deck building is central to the core mechanic of the game does affect how much you want to label it by that name, but I think it should be looked at with a wider brush.


 

3 months ago

I agree mostly, but the problem is that some very popular games (Mage Knight, Gloomhaven, Root, Terraforming Mars, Concordia, Scythe, Great Western Trail, Through the Ages) have many mechanics, so, if you are not taking into account only the two or three main mechanics of these games, they are going to appear in and dominate many of the lists.

3 months ago

It's absolutely reasonable to take a more expansive view. Makes it harder to cut to just 10, though! :)

Premium User3 months ago

Fun list! Of these I've only played #Dune: Imperium (which would be my #1), #Lost Ruins of Arnak, and #Fort. I personally find Fort to be a stretch for this list...the boards don't have a ton to do with the gameplay, they basically just hold resources and track the Fort level and score...things that could easily be done without a board, and I don't see it as much different than a board with spaces for cards, which was excluded from the list.

#Cry Havoc sounds awesome. I know is a fan.

Partner3 months ago

All good choices , I do not know if I could choose a top choice from those three options, they are all so good.

In regards to #Fort, the initial qualifications for "deck builders with a board" was more than a mat with guides to put card and more than just a score track. The Fort central board maybe be score track + guide, which alone wouldn't do it, but with the personal player tableau boards as part of that, the whole package together makes the cut.

After MarcTTG put it so well, the new criteria is "secondary playing surface".