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My Current Top Board and Deck-building Games

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Maybe it's just me, but Magic seems like it's been in a lull recently. It's not in bad shape, to be clear; it's just in a lull. There isn't a lot of non-Commander news going on, and formats like Standard, Modern, etc. just seem to be chugging along as normal with no real breakthroughs.

I was discussing on stream earlier this week how, without live coverage due to Covid, there seems to be a lot less news and movement when it comes to metagames and exciting developments. It used to be that, every weekend, you could turn on the latest event and excitedly watch as a new and unique deck climbed the standings... or didn't. I know that there are still plenty of events on MTGO and MTGA, but somehow they don't really feel the same.

Being that we're all still social distancing - or at least you should be - I've been playing a lot more board games with Katie and Mike. This brought me the idea to stray from Magic for a week to talk about some of my favorites, especially with CoolStuff being a pretty excellent site to pick up board games, and with the holidays fast approaching.

I figured this week I'd give you some of my top current board games. Keep in mind that a) I've never played a ton of the more crunchy board games, so a lot these might be more catered to my personal thematic interests, and b) this is a current list of some of the games I've been playing and enjoying more recently

Legendary Marvel Deck-building Game

This is pretty much a classic for me, and one of the first games that got me into deck-building games. It's almost eight years old now, has a ton of expansions, and is actually created by a friend of mine, Devin Low! It's worth noting that I'm also a big fan of the DC Comics Deck-building Game - which is called exactly that, comically - but I've always found Legendary to have a significant amount more depth. (This is normally a good thing, but there are definitely times I appreciate the simplicity and speed of the DC counterpart.)

As a CCG player at heart, deck-building games really speak to that desire to have a customized experience with a little variance thrown in. I feel like I have a lot of decision-making power in games like Legendary, where the cards I choose to "buy" in game or remove from my deck over the course of a game are relevant and lead to end game payoffs. In other words, I like having my choices matter, and Legendary is a game where that's an accurate feeling, especially when you'll see the cards you purchase turn after turn.

One of my favorite aspects of Legendary is the co-op play, where you face some of Marvel's toughest villains. The Fantastic Four expansion actually pits you against Galactus. As an unapologetic comic book fan, this is immensely fun, and the fact that Galactus is ridiculously hard to beat is surprisingly enjoyable; more so than if you could sit down and take him out game after game. To this day, I haven't actually beaten him (though we also haven't tried that many times). There's a real difficulty present in Legendary games that, while frustrating at times, adds a lot to the replayability and the feeling of accomplishment when you actually win. Games don't tend to feel like you're just going through the motions.

If comic characters aren't really your thing, I would also recommend Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck-building Game, based on... you guessed it: the Alien franchise. I've only played this version once with my friend Justin, but it was also really enjoyable, had all of the same deck-building qualities that the Marvel version did, and was also just as difficult.

Splendor and Splendor (Marvel)

I first played the original version of Splendor by Asmodee Games years ago, and I remember it being great. Splendor is a resource management game where you're required to spend your turns either buying gems, or using your already acquired gems to purchase a card. You can also reserve a card you want to purchase in the future if you don't have the resources for it. Those are the only three actions you take in the game and, despite that, there's an incredible amount of depth left.

The game forces you to not only think ahead, at what cards you may want to purchase in the future in order to spend your turn selecting the correct gems for them, you also need to keep an eye on what your opponents are planning, usually by seeing what gem combinations they have or are trying to acquire. If it benefits you, you can even reserve a card that you think they may be going for, denying them not only the card, but potentially making their previous gem decisions somewhat awkward.

The Marvel version of the game is great in that it has replaced all the original cards with Marvel characters, and the goal is to collect Infinity Gems instead of boring gems like sapphire, emerald, etc. (No offense to the moxes, of course.) There are also locations you can "acquire" in the game if you control a specific number of the same colored cards, or if you control the most Avengers. Splendor Marvel is basically just Splendor with a little more going on and a lot of recognizable characters.

Lords of Waterdeep

Lords of Waterdeep is a game that I didn't even know existed until Katie told me it was her favorite game. I had first played it last year at Thanksgiving with her, her brother, and her sister-in-law. It immediately gripped me with its varied game play, multiple paths to victory, and strategic depth. Eventually I realized Katie didn't actually own any copies of her favorite game, so I bought her Lords of Waterdeep and the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion right here from CoolStuff, and we've been playing them pretty regularly.

Both the original game and the expansion are great and play perfectly together. In fact, when we were learning another game this past weekend, we kept comparing the mechanics to Lords of Waterdeep mechanics to easily digest them. Lords of Waterdeep is a lot like Splendor in that you spend your turn taking actions that mostly result in acquiring resources (Intrigue cards, Quest cards, buildings, or cubes representing fighters, rogues, mages, and clerics: your four classic D&D classes). This is another game heavily rooted in resource management and planning several turns ahead. In this way it shares a lot of similarities with Splendor, only it has a lot more complexity.

All three of these games have some variance in terms of what cards you draw or which cards end up being flipped onto the board as part of the gameplay, but since there is often such a large swath of options, your decision making never feels diminished. For example, there are always four different quests on the board in Lords of Waterdeep, and every row in Splendor has four different cards to buy. While you have no control over what cards appear, there are enough options that you rarely ever feel stuck.

As someone who has been playing more and more board games, I'm really excited to hear if you guys have any recommendations that I could try. Be sure to let me know in the comments, along with what you think of the games I've mentioned today!

I've also ordered Marvel Champions and Arkham Horror The Card Game, both living card games from Fantasy Flight Games. (A living card game is a game that offers future expansions for the card game to grow, but all the cards are contained in these expansions, rather than having to try and collect an entire set from individual booster packs.) Those should be here Friday and I'm looking forward to giving them both a try. New board games have definitely seemed like the perfect time sink during a mostly-quarantined 2020.

As always, thank you guys so much for reading. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, while also staying safe. Thank you so much for reading, I love you all, and I'll catch you next week!

Frank Lepore

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