10 Deckbuilding Games That Aren’t About Combat

Deckbuilding video games are everywhere, though I’ve noticed something kind of odd about them. Whereas the earliest big deckbuilding analog games like Dominion are primarily Euro-style games about optimizing for your own victory conditions rather than directing battling other players, most digital deckbuilders are combat-oriented. That’s not totally surprising, but it can become rather repetitive. There are so many subjects and dynamics you can approach with deckbuilding mechanics, and I’ve rounded up ten games that use them but aren’t about combat. One quick note: I’m not including digital adaptations of board or card games (e.g. Wingspan), and I tried to focus mainly on games that aren’t about combat at all, but a few involve it while also dealing with other themes.

Signs of the Sojourner

1. Signs of the Sojourner

Signs of the Sojourner uses deckbuilding mechanics to simulate conversations — but it does so by removing literal words from the process. In his review of the game back in 2020, Steven Nguyen Scaife said of it that, “By providing less concrete information about your responses than most other games, Signs of the Sojourner is able to convey so much more. The cards get across your words as well as the more intangible variables of conversation: tone, body language, overall vibe… The result is almost therapeutic: sometimes social exchanges just aren’t going to work out, no matter what.”

Concrete Jungle

2. Concrete Jungle

Like city-building games but prefer a more laid-back puzzle experience to deep micromanagement? Check out Concrete Jungle, which ties buildings to cards in your deck. There are multiple playable characters with different abilities, and there’s even multiplayer — both cooperative and competitive.

Alpine Alpaca

3. Alpine Alpaca

Putting a deckbuilding spin on the classic SkiFree, Alpine Alpaca gives you a deck of cards with different directions on them and tasks you with using them to hit gates on a ski hill. Every third gate you hit lets you add more cards to the deck, giving you new abilities like jumping. Made for the fantasy console PICO-8, Alpine Alpaca is playable in-browser at itch.io.

Space Food Truck

4. Space Food Truck

If you’re looking for something cooperative, check out Space Food Truck, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — a game where you and up to three of your friends work together to collect ingredients, cook meals, and avoid the perils of deep space.  There are different roles to take on, too — the Captain, Chef, Scientist, and Engineer all have different strengths and priorities, and have to play carefully to make it across the galaxy in one piece and with good reviews.

Battle Bands

5. Battle Bands: Rock & Roll Deckbuilder

Battle Bands lets you create a custom character and then take them into winner-take-all musical melees with computer-controlled opponents and your friends. You can challenge other plays online, enter tournaments, and take on bosses in a cooperative mode. That all sure sounds like combat, but it’s with music rather than swords and stuff, so I’m going to say it counts for this list.

Yamafuda 2nd Station

6. Yamafuda! 2nd station

Move over, Skyrim — there’s a new game where you see a mountain and then you can climb it. In Yamafuda! 2nd station, which is actually a sequel to a Japanese title not available in English, you guide two anime girls up a mountain using a deck of cards that  represent actions like taking in the sights, stretching your legs, and drinking water. You can also make gear to help you on your trips — here, instead of potions and armor you have things like sun hats and stuffed animals. Yamafuda! 2nd station seems to be beloved among fans of a more laid-back deckbuilding experience, so if you’re looking for something a little less tense than Slay the Spire, this might be it.

Stacklands

7. Stacklands

From the incredibly creative Sokpop Collective, Stacklands has a somewhat novel approach to deckbuilding. Instead of simply playing cards against an opponent, it has you stacking them on top of one another to make different effects. For instance, stacking a Villager card atop a Berry Bush card will have that Villager pick berries, making Berry cards they can eat to stay alive. There’s some light combat here, but mainly Stacklands challenges you to build up a village by creating increasingly complex stacks of cards.

Frost

8. Frost

Instead of fighting monsters, Frost has you trying to survive the elements. It has a unique, sketchy sort of look to it, and the premise of evading a storm reminds me of tabletop games like A Quiet Year. According to the developers, Frost draws inspiration from board games like Dominion, and a lot of the iconography — as well as the solitaire play style — seems similar to those kinds of titles.

Golfie

9. Golfie

Golfie is still in Early Access as of this writing. It’s a marriage of deckbuilding and minigolf, with cards representing different kinds of shots and powers you can use to try to beat an 18-hole round of procedurally-generated courses. Minigolf games have been very in over the last couple of years, but they typically favor real-time multiplayer chaos. Golfie looks like it could be an interesting twist on the genre, and it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on if you’re not an Early Access kind of person.

Deck RX

10. Deck RX: The Deckbuilding Racing Game

What if F-ZERO was a deckbuilder? That’s the question Deck RX seems to ask and answer, giving you an aerial perspective of a race and having your deck of cards represent your strategy. There are plenty of different characters, each with their own unique cards, and several different worlds to race on that present new challenges. Deck RX isn’t out as of this writing, but there’s a demo for it available on Steam, and it certainly looks to be a unique application of deckbuilding mechanics.