I love deck builders. All kinds of deck builders. If there is a deck building mechanic in a game, I’m there…with bells on. One of my sons also loves deck building games. So, you might say that I have handed the deck building gene to the next generation of gamer.

What is it about a sliver a cardboard that gets my motor running? Why is it that a deck builder’s theme doesn’t matter one iota to me? Why is it if a game starts with a small deck, which then builds into a larger, more powerful stack of cardboard slivers right before my eyes, I start feeling an inexorable pull on my wallet to make that box of cards mine; to make it come home to live with me and to join the other deck builders in a happy little family of cardboard slivers?

I think it’s the fact that I actually can watch my power grow. I can see my deck mature and become stronger. I can strategize on the fly; modify the deck to fit the scenario without having to go back and spend hours on end trying to build individual sets of perfect decks that meet any possible circumstance or threat.

I could care less about CCGs (Collectible Card Games for those newbies fortunate enough to read this rambling rant), those games rightfully described as cardboard crack that take inexorable amounts of money in order to competitively keep up. Nope. Those games with a never-ending flood of updates that has made (in some cases) a penny’s worth of layered paper become more valuable than all the gold in Fort Knox do nothing for me. First, it’s the fact that you never know what you’re going to get when you purchase a foil packet (or 500 foil packets). I don’t play the lottery, so CCGs, which are much like the lottery to me, don’t scratch my proverbial gamers’ itch. I also don’t have the time or inclination to sit for hours on end studying each and every card (of which there could be thousands), comparing and contrasting in order to build a more perfect union of characters and weapons and defenses. To me, this is tedium taken to its ultimate level after said tedium has ingested a ton of steroids.

LCGs (Living Card Games) pique my interest a little more although they, too, have an almost seemingly unending flow of scheduled updates.  Those updates, however, aren’t random and fraught with the peril of buying a dozen duplicates at a time. Nope. Those good ol’ LCGs come in non-randomized booster packs, so I know what I’m buying. They’re the FDA-approved brand of card games, listing their ingredients for all to see. However, to get started and become truly competitive, I would have to buy two copies of the starter boxes, then those booster packs, and spend time cogitating how to best build decks to whip the bejeesus outta my competition. So, ultimately, the LCGs turn into CCGs in order to be competitive. Again, too much work.

With a deck builder (Dominion, Resident Evil, Lord of the Rings, Legendary, DC Deckbuilding Game, Star Trek TOS and Next Gen, Rune Age, Eaten by Zombies, Salmon Run, A Few Acres of Snow, and my favorites: Fantasiqa and Thunderstone), it’s strategy on the fly. No long, drawn-out solo sessions of ‘what ifs’, but an on the fly visceral experience where I pit my strategic chops against one or more people who are also building their strategies on the fly. There’s something fascinating about that. There’s also something nice about not having to spend hours playing that aforementioned What If game. I want to try a different strategy to see how that might work out? I reset the game and buy/play different cards to see what happens. Instant gratification.

So, that’s why I like deck building games so much. No collecting and uber-duplication of unwanted or weak cards in order to get one ultra-powerful card or sets of cards. No long, lonely hours of blind strategizing, building individual decks that have one sole purpose and, if I choose incorrectly when going into competition I’m screwed. Just a truly free-flowing set of cards that let me be a frontline commander reacting to whatever the enemy is throwing at me as that enemy is throwing it at me. And both of us have to use the same card sets, so one doesn’t necessarily have the ability to overpower the other due to super strong cards the other might not have access to. Yeah, I know. All’s fair in love and war. But there’s nothing more frustrating to me as a gamer than knowing I’m going to lose and still have at least an hour to go in the game knowing I have no chance whatsoever to make a comeback.

Yep, for my son’s and my style of gaming, deck building games are the way to go. On-the-fly strategizing with some fun and maturing rule sets (some of those games I listed are actually board games with a deck building mechanic added in) that add diversity and interest. To me, at least.

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OK. First, the name is unwieldy: Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Dual at Mount Skullzfyre. Yikes!

But, looking past that, Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre is one of the most fun, most laugh-inducing games to come out in some time, drawing the players in quickly with its simple ruleset, fairly fast gameplay and pure tongue-in-cheek playability.

The game: You have a hand of eight cards. From those cards, you can choose 1, 2 or 3 of them to combine into a spell designed to totally eviscerate your opponents. A spell can be made up of a single Source (the magician who came up with the spell and is being lauded for it), Quality (a portion that inflicts some traumatic effect on the target(s)), and the Delivery (which determines the damage the target(s) will take). You can only have one of each in your attack unless you have a card that says you can do otherwise. The object is to be the last wizard standing – twice.

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Regarding strategy, it’s pretty much limited to whether you should perform a 1, 2 or 3 part spell. Whoever uses the least number of cards in their attack gets to play first. So, if you’re low on health or you have opponents who are about to be destroyed, you will want to play fewer cards in the hope of attacking the others before they have the chance to attack you. Otherwise, the strategic element of the game is coming up with card combos that will quickly and brutally destroy your competition. For instance, I ended up going last on the opening round of the second turn of the game I was teaching at my FLGS the other night. By the time it came to my turn, I was down to one hit point left (out of 20). I was out of the game so fast it made my head spin (of course the spinning was caused by the death-dealing, soul-crushing, spell cast upon me by my “student”).

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But boy did we have fun and have a good laugh over the combos created that wreaked so much havoc on my hapless and utterly ganged-up-upon wizard!

Pros:
Quick and easy to learn (one round should be all that’s necessary for anyone to learn the game mechanics)
Fast gameplay (games won’t last more than 40 minutes for the most part – see the last paragraph for a caveat on this)
Comical, whimsical artwork that has a cartoonish goriness

Cons:
Some teenage hormonal sexual innuendo/play on words text on the cards
EXTREMELY adult language in the rule book (a couple of F-bombs are in there).
Comical, whimsical artwork that has a cartoonish goriness

If you’re looking for a light filler game, one that can be enjoyed by a fun-loving, albeit more mature (age-wise – 15 or above) group, you should definitely check out ESWOTBW:DAMS. If you like tongue-in-cheek card games, you should definitely check out ESWOTBW:DAMS. Actually….just check out this game. You won’t regret it.

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NOTE: We have played this game numerous times now and have found that it’s best played with 3 or 4. We have played two 6 person games and the really drags out. One game lasted over 1.5 hours, the other we quit after an hour and fifteen minutes (during the third round) when it looked like a third person was going to get the Last Wizard Standing token. Just too many playing and it got a little stale.

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In Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery you are the head of the house (or Dominus) that owns Spartacus (if you’re lucky enough to draw his character) on a mission to become the most influential house in the land. In order to do this, you’ll be backstabbing, making promises you never intend to keep, and generally doing your best to keep the other Dominuses (Dominie?) reeling while you advance your influence and eventually win the game. First, I’m going to say this right up front: With the right group of people, Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery is probably one of the best games I have played in a long, long time. This is especially important since it’s a game based on a TV series (historically, the kiss of death for board games). Spartacus is dripping in great gameplay that would make it a fun game even without the program license.

So, with that said, here’s a quick rundown. You’re the head (the Dominus) of a Roman household. In the game, there are four households, each with their own strengths that give you extra options which add to your strategy. You are to run your house, managing the slaves (which give you money each round) vs your gladiators (who make you pay out money — there’s a lot of upkeep in feeding and watering Gladiators!). At the start of each round you settle with the bank; the more gladiators, the more you have to pay so if you don’t have enough slaves to collect payment with, you might find yourself with a deficit.

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Following this, you take three intrigue cards and begin negotiations with the other players, playing cards, bribing or coercing the others to help you or to team up against another player. Of course, you can make deals….but you don’t have to keep them. This is ancient Rome. This is every Dominus for him/herself. This is Treachery with a capital T. You can also sell your cards to get more coin. It’s up to you whether you want to sc**w your competition or just add coinage to the bank so you can better prepare for the next phase of the game.

The third phase is going to market where you can trade your slaves, gladiators. Cards are laid out, the amount based upon the number of players, where you can bid on more gladiators (possibly Spartacus himself), weapons, armor, more slaves, etc. This is a blind bid with everyone participating. Whoever bids the most coin gets the spoils. But you will want to hold back some of that coin because, at the end of this phase, you bid on hosting the gladiatorial games, which, if you are successful, will give you influence. You then choose the houses that will participate (yours can be one) and the games begin.

Players bet on which gladiator/house will win, whether a gladiator will be wounded, or whether a gladiator will be decapitated. The mechanic here is literally Risk, matching die (high to high, etc) to determine who is wounded or who blocks an attack. At the end, the host is able to give thumbs up or down , letting the defeated gladiator live……or die. Of course, bribery to keep that gladiator alive is definitely OK. And expected.

Pros:
• Highly interactive with very little downtime for each player.
• Strong thematic gameplay that is totally engrossing.
• Easy to learn (you’ll have the flow of the game down within a round or two)

Cons:
• This is not for younger players. The warning label saying the game is 17+ is true. There’s a few F-bombs in the cards, and one card referring to male genitalia (or a male rooster. Yeah…a male rooster, that’s it!!!)
• The gladiatorial battles aspect can slow down the game if you get a participant who prefers running rather than just getting in there and battling it out.
• The game board and the Dominus cards warped shortly after opening the box.

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This is an engrossing game that was a total blast to play. The game lasted about two hours and it left us wanting it to go on longer. We had a great time backstabbing each other and undermining each others’ plans. Many have put this game at the top of their Top 10 lists, so I was a bit skeptical. But, the pundits are correct. This is a fantastic game that should be in every adult’s collection.

(This is reprinted with some minor changes from my review of the game on boardgaming.com)

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Quarriors, produced by WizKids Games and designed by Mike Elliot and Eric M. Lang, proved to be exactly what I thought it was going to be: light, quick, fun entertainment that was a perfect filler between heftier titles both at home and with my gaming group. My family loves deck building games, those games where you start with a small number of cards and, though purchases, you build your deck to become more powerful so you can gain victory points or defeat stronger enemies. And who doesn’t love rolling dice. With Quarriors, we have the best of both worlds — a deck building game that uses dice rather than cards.

To start the game, you receive 12 dice – 8 Quiddity (the monetary element of the game) and four Creatures.These go into a bag from which you blind-draw six. At the end of your turn, you move the dice to the side, draw another six and repeat on your turn. Replace all the dice when the bag is empty to refresh your hand.

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The Wilds is basically the game board where you will purchase dice. The Wilds are made up of cards that give information regarding what a particular die does when rolled. Three cards are the same every game: Quiddity, a weak Creature, and a special die that allows for more draws from the bag. You place three random spells and seven more creatures to make up the Wilds. Each spell and creature has five corresponding dice, so you need to plan your strategy and purchase the dice you want before someone else gets them.

With varying levels of creatures and spells, there’s enough variation in the base set to play the game numerous times. With the expansions, the strategies and replay value increase exponentially.

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Oh….and did I mention dice? Tons o’ dice. A dice lover’s dream come true. Dice, dice and more dice. Dice everywhere. 130 of ’em to be exact.

On the negative side, In the first edition (in the tin), the printing on the dice is horrid. On many of the dice you can’t read the numbers and have to refer to their “card in the wild” counterpart. The second edition, the one in the box, fixes this problem somewhat, but the printing can still be a bit “fuzzy”.

Every time I introduce someone to this game, though, they want to play it multiple times. Quick to learn. Quick to play (around 30 minutes). Lots of groans and laughs as the dice act ****** during the roles. Highly recommended for an evening of family entertainment or for your gaming group as a light diversion between more complex gaming.

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