The 7 Best Deck Builders We’re Watching After Steam NextFest

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    Steam’s Next Fest June 2024 showcased hundreds of new games for the summer, all of which have completely free demos. I took the opportunity to demo all the indie deck builders I could get my hands on and show you which ones you absolutely need to play.

    Deck builders are typically card-based battlers in which players gather new cards to add to their deck, with the goal of creating the best hands for each battle. However, as these games show, when the genre is not limited by cards, it can create unique and engaging experiences.

    I can’t stop saying and bending

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    In Dice & Fold, the main mechanic is rolling a set number of dice and choosing where to place them. Enemies are defeated by meeting their card requirements, such as having to roll exactly a 1 or having to accumulate dice until they have reached a total of 15 damage. The damage system is fast and intuitive, but it’s constantly at war with all the other things you want to use your dice for. The chosen character, such as Jack or Queen, has a unique ability that requires certain rolls to activate. You quickly receive a companion who also has his own unique ability, and in case that’s not enough, on the side of the game board you have a full set of 1-6 that you must complete to earn additional gold.

    Adding purchased items and more rolls as you get deeper into the race makes the complexity even greater. Dice & Fold’s systems are recursive and logical, creating a perfectly fun game that encourages multiple runs even in the limited demo. This is easily my favorite Next Fest game and the one I find the hardest to put down.

    Dungeons and Degenerate Gamblers is a moody delight

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    When you first start a career in Dungeons & Degenerate Gamblers, the concept seems simple: play Blackjack against an opponent. You can see when your opponent will “stay” and plan accordingly. Whoever gets the highest total without going broke wins, and the difference in totals is used as an attack against the loser. So your standard deck of cards is joined by anything from a computer’s SD card to a credit card, and that queen is secretly a killer?

    The titular degenerate players serve as opponents in the game’s different locations, and despite the name, this cast is treated with some level of empathy. Even without an extensive narrative, this strange deckbuilder manages to evoke the feeling of being trapped in the game’s eternal spiral, whether you’re facing an out-of-order master or a regular player who can’t seem to get out. After all, you can’t leave either.

    Dungeon Clawler hones those skills with claw machines

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    You’ve seen decks of dice and cards, but how about a claw machine? Dungeon Clawler has incredibly clever mechanics that are easy to understand even for someone like me who doesn’t touch claw machines in real life. Each turn you place a claw over a pool of various elements: knives damage your opponents, shields increase the damage you can take in the turn before your health suffers, bombs will land on you for three turns before deal damage to all enemies, and so on. Your turn is determined by what you manage to get out of the machine, and they are small enough to grab several each round.

    The deck-building aspect comes into play when you choose which new items to add to the claw machine. They are balanced by size and negative effects, such as strong elements often damaging your own health as well. There’s a great sense of depth to the systems that isn’t overly difficult but doesn’t let you get away with making bad decisions. My first race ended because I relied on too many self-destructive elements, but I never felt unfairly punished.

    The complex glow mechanics of Demon’s Mirror

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    In our next round of unique mechanics, Demon’s Mirror is a deck builder that uses cards along with a Match Three style board. The Demon’s Mirror demo offers just a taste of the deep mechanical complexity it promises, but that taste is delicious. This game provides a generous tutorial that doesn’t feel overwhelming and has helpful floating text whenever you need a refresher. In battles, you must use cards from your deck that you build appropriately over time, or spend that card game energy to draw attacks, shields, and energy from the game board.

    The game doesn’t allow you to ignore either half of the game, as enemies use your board as much as you do, and cards are a much-needed skill set against that danger. There is only one character available in the demo, but even without the game saying so, it’s obvious from both the art and gameplay that this character has a unique playstyle. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the full game and trying out the other play styles.

    Play as an adorable adventurous frog in Die in the Dungeon

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    Dying in the Dungeon is not a threat, although like all roguelikes, death is inevitable. You play as a cute stylized frog with a sword, and more characters are promised to be unlocked with the full release.

    The ‘deck’ you’re building is a bag full of dice, and your starting dice are all d4s with different sides, which you can improve over time by redistributing the sides, adding to them, or changing the properties of your dice. You place your attack and shield dice on the tray in front of you and at the end of your turn all actions occur at the same time. While it’s very possible to roll 0s on your dice, you also get special boost dice that can be maneuvered around the tray to improve your game.

    This style of combat is tactical and engaging, with each enemy bringing a new threat to the table for you to strategize. I had a ton of fun dealing with blocked spaces on the board, enemies that reflected my damage if I didn’t kill them quickly enough, and a duo of bosses that punished every move.

    Lost For Swords emphasizes the old-school roguelike

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    One thing every single deck builder needs is a solid tutorial that doesn’t make you want to skip it right away. Lost For Swords can be solved through trial and error and has clear mechanics once discovered, but the tutorial is thorough and comprehensive in a short time. You navigate a play area covered in cards drawn from your own deck and the enemy monster deck. Your goal is to collect weapons and armor before facing any of the monsters and eventually discover the exit.

    What makes Lost For Swords work is the emphasis on puzzle solving. Your choices are strict, meaning there are a limited number of correct solutions for each level, and sometimes the correct solution is to get out without fighting all the bad guys on the screen. The risk-reward balance of roguelikes is often shown through deck builders in broader choices, such as the builds you emphasize and the cards you add to your deck, where randomness becomes your friend or foe. Lost For Swords brings dungeon exploring action back into play.

    Handmancers

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    You’ve seen dice, claw machines, and matching games; now put your hands together for rock paper scissors at Handmancers. This extremely stylish game places emphasis on the feeling of engaging in literal hand-to-hand combat. Each round, your enemy will attack several times with rock, paper, scissors, and you will play cards from your hand to hopefully win the individual games and deal damage. Playing a rock against another will nullify both sides of the damage, while there is no use in playing a paper card against your opponent’s scissors attack.

    The idea behind the battle system is as simple as games can be, but the cards you play have multiple upgrade slots to make them better for you than simply winning rounds. To increase the challenge, drawing new cards adds cramp to your hand, filling your usable cards with junk that’s much harder to use effectively. This additional mechanic can make longer battles, such as boss battles, seem more arduous than the quick, snappy battles that lead up to them, but the satisfaction of a victory is worth the effort.

    For more information on Steam, check out the 12 Best PS2 Games on Steam here on MyFullGames.


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