Skip to main content

The Digital Transcendence of Deckbuilding

Holy smokes, you know what I forgot to do? Post last week’s Cracked LCD link. Sorry ma, I was Witchering!

Anyway, I’ve not done an editorial in a while because there’s been too much on the docket that I wanted to review. But things are slowing down, and I’ll probably start rotating the reviews with smarty pants articles, trolling lists, and ranting. Last week, I wrote about deckbuilding and how I no longer have any desire to play physical games in that genre. But boy, I do love them on the iPad.

It’s a genre that has come of age along with the maturation of tablet and smartphone gaming. And it’s a perfect fit. The funny thing is that a lot of the liabilites and negatives around deckbuilding games fall away when the logistics, calculation, and process is automated. What’s that you say? “But Barnes…face to face gaming with friends and family!” To that I say “that’s what Cosmic Encounter is for, not Dominion”.

It’s a somewhat unpopular opinion, but I would be more than happy to see a lot of physical games just go straight to a tablet/smartphone format. There are games that specifically need human, face-to-face interaction. But there are many that do not. And I’d much rather spend my limited time gaming at the table with friends with the former than wasting time with the latter. There’s also the issue that digital board games are much cheaper, more eco-friendly, and you can play them any damn time you want without having to negotiate with the wife, get four other friends to schedule time (and negotiate with their SOs) and have everybody drive somewhere to meet. It’s the future of board gaming, like it or not.

READ ALSO:  One More Time

Michael Barnes

Games writer Michael Barnes is a co-founder of as well as His trolling has been published on the Web and in print in at least two languages and in three countries. His special ability is to cheese off nerds using the power of the Internet and his deep, dark secret is that he's actually terrible at games. Before you ask, no, the avatar is not him. It's Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

11 thoughts to “The Digital Transcendence of Deckbuilding”

  1. It seems so impersonal. I think I play games for the social aspect. It’s why I backed off ascension. Playing against humans is like playing against the computer except I lose more.

    1. It is impersonal. But if the game exists and operates primarily at a mechanical level and isn’t focused on interaction, then the digital implementation doesn’t lose much. Ascension is extremely mechanical, and although it’s fun to trash talk and bitch I’ll gladly trade that for the ability to actually get to play the game- none of my groups are interested in it.

      I think too that if there were voice or text chat, there would be even less loss of presence.

  2. No one of my friends plays stuff like this and even if they did I don’t think I could really be asked. So basically, without these iPad and PC ports I would have never played a deckbuilding game.

    1. That really opens up another issue. Putting these games on IOS rather than in a box that sits on a shelf in a dingy, filthy comic book shop could potentially get FAR more people playing and enjoying these games. I’d bet dollars to donuts that more people have played Ascension on IOS than have ever played it physically.

      Cost and availability means that you can sell 100,000 copies for $5…versus a couple of thousand for $30 a piece.

  3. I’d argue that digital board games are neither less expensive nor more eco-friendly. You can’t ignore the price of an iPad or iPhone out of hand, especially when taking monthly data and voice plans for the latter into account. Nor can you ignore the ecological impact of mining the rare earth metals required to make these devices, as well as the problem of disposing of them when they expire. I’d be willing to wager that the little paper and cardboard required to make a boardgame is a lot less destructive to the environment when considering these factors.

    1. Well, that’s not likely measurable to be honest- I’m not thinking about it in terms of specifics- I’m thinking more in terms of production, shipping, folks driving out to play them together, etc…and the thing is, most games are made in China now so there’s that whole issue too. Mostly made by printers doing tons of other work too so it’s really hard to single out what environmental impact board games have in terms of manufacturing, if anything that’s measurable.

      But then too you’ve got to figure in all the Doritos, Mountain Dew, Ho-Hos, and other crap that gamers eat when they game face to face, so there’s a public health impact as well.

      Alright, I’m kidding. But you’re likely right when you get down to rare earth metal tacks on that front.

      On the cost side of things, I would argue that even with a $700 iPad, assuming you have WiFi and don’t need a data plan, you’d still be in good shape versus tabletop particulary if you’re running a per-play cost analysis. I bought Ascension and its expansions for about $50. I played it three times on the table. I bought Ascension on the iPad for $5 and I’ve played it over 300 times. If I buy 14 board games in a year (which isn’t outrageous for me or other serious board gamers), the odds of my playing ANY of them more than two or three times is slim. But I can buy a $5 board game app and play as much as I want, whenever I want.

      Without causing pollution. 😉

    2. Dude, people already own the IPads and Iphones before they purchase the digital board game so there is no added cost. I dont think anyone would go out and buy one just to play a digital board game therefore they are much less expensive and more eco-friendly than traditional board games.

  4. The biggest complaint I have is the impersonality like you mentioned. I wanted nothing more than to have some kind of messaging for Nightfall.

    Rainyknight beat me by 1 friggin wound, and I had him beat! He was able to get a stupid Franz Orlok off on my chain to beat me by one wound. Things like that all but require some kind of communication. Alas all I could do was hit the replay button, and try and get him this time 😉

    Otherwise yeah, you hit it right on. These iOS games are great ways to play games that might not hit the table much.

  5. With Dominion, I’m on board, with Ascension, same thing. I get it and agree but Nightfall is precisely where I draw the line. I like the iOS version of the game and play it frequently but it pales next to the real game because there is just enough interaction to warrent a physical version being played. There is just enough of picking who to stomp on that it does matter in this case. In fact the game can be critisized by those who see this as a detrement for being more meta-game then game. I like that aspect but it points to how important the human relations are in Nightfall.

  6. Great editorial Mike. The word fortuitous is perhaps an understatement to how well timed the rise of tablet gaming is for the deck building genre. Games like dominion and even ascension are like organized solitaire and so nothing is really lost by playing digitally.

    Plus my wife and I play ascension on our iPads all the time and we deal enough trash talk and eye rolls to make up for all the games I play against others.

    As someone who moved away from his among group and hasn’t found a new one yet, this digital gaming for a board game geek is pure heaven. Why I didn’t buy an iPad until a month ago is beyond me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *