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The Most Innovative Turn-Based Deck Builders

Written by Harry Ted Sprinks


The deck-building genre, particularly the rogue-like deck-builder subgenre, has become tremendously
popular ever since the release of Slay The Spire and the abundance of clones that rushed to capitalize
on its success.

While many deck-builders attempt to clone Slay The Spire’s formula, there are a handful of games
that make an effort to innovate on its gameplay and structure. Of course, not every deck-builder
takes inspiration from Slay The Spire, which itself took inspiration from tabletop games such as
Dominion is extremely reminiscent of the niche indie title Dream Quest.

Slay The Spire

Release DateJanuary 23, 2019
PlatformsPC, Xbox, PlayStation,
DeveloperMega Crit
PublisherHumble Bundle
Available OnSteam, GOG, Xbox One,
PS4, Switch

Arguably responsible for popularising the rogue-like deck-builder genre, Slay The Spire was a tremendously innovative game at the time of its release, despite its fairly bog-standard mechanics. This is largely due to the fact that before Slay The Spire, deck-building was far less common in indie games, let alone the combination of deck-building mechanics and the rogue-like genre.

In Slay The Spire, players pick a character, draw cards, and play those cards to defeat a variety of enemies on their way to the boss. On the way, players collect cards to add to their deck and relics to boost their power and synergy. This is fairly straight-forward rogue-like deck-builder gameplay, but Slay The Spire succeeds with its clear-cut design and well-crafted playable characters.

Although many games have built upon what Slay The Spire established (or what Dream Quest established, but Slay The Spire popularized), Slay The Spire itself remains one of the most consistently fun and engaging deck-builders on the market. Furthermore, it’s still a great entry-point to the genre, before delving into some of the stranger, more innovative games on this list.

Across The obelisk

Release DateAugust 16, 2022
DeveloperDreamsite Games
PublisherParadox Interactive,
Paradox Arc
Available OnSteam

This rogue-like deck-builder combines the genre with party-based RPG gameplay, allowing players to either control all four party members or, preferably, play in online co-op. The game features a polished, well-crafted visual style, as well as a class system that allows each playable character to feel distinct.

Where Across The Obelisk shines, however, and what makes it so innovative is its online co-op. The game features a handful of cards and mechanics that allow players to interact with one another and even create synergies together. The game’s combat revolves heavily around an abundance of status effects and resistances, which can be overwhelming at first, but the level of depth within the game makes this onboarding process worthwhile.

Marvel’s Midnight Suns

Release DateDecember 2, 2022
PlatformsPC, Xbox, PlayStation
DeveloperFiraxis Games
Available OnSteam, Epic, Xbox One,
Xbox Series X|S
, PS4,

This Marvel game centers around some of the (mostly) lesser-known Marvel characters, though it includes a fair few notable figures. However, players needn’t be fans of Marvel to enjoy this game. In Midnight Suns, players will spend half of their time exploring a hub area, interacting with NPCs, and building their deck. This half of the game is arguably the weakest, with an abundance of dialogue to wade through that’s arguably not the best. However, the second half, in which players complete combat missions, is both satisfying and rewarding.

What makes Midnight Suns so innovative is its combination of turn-based movement with deck-building mechanics. Maneuvering around in 3D environments and taking advantage of environmental hazards is a large part of Midnight Suns’ gameplay, despite the fact that most of the gameplay centers around playing cards.

Although the writing of Midnight Suns won’t be for everyone, and it’s arguably its weakest element, the combat manages to feel fresh in an otherwise over-saturated genre. The combination of 3D movement and card-based combat, as well as an abundance of environmental interactions, make the combat of Midnight Suns consistently satisfying to engage with.

Beneath Oresa

Release DateSeptember 27, 2023
DeveloperBroken Spear Inc.
PublisherGoblinz Publishing
Available OnSteam

Despite a few rough edges, Beneath Oresa is an extremely innovative deck-builder from whom newer deck-builders would do well to draw inspiration. The game’s well-crafted visual style alone is a selling point, but Beneath Oresa’s 3D environments mean players have to worry about positioning, as well as which enemies to target.

Similarly to Midnight Suns, Beneath Oresa tasks players with tactical positioning while simultaneously playing cards to defeat groups of enemies. This fast-paced, tactical combat manages to be as strategic as it is rewarding, and the game’s deck-building elements include a forked upgrade system that allows every card to be improved in two different ways.


Release DateJune 1, 2021
PlatformsPC, Xbox, PlayStation,
DeveloperKlei Entertainment
PublisherKlei Entertainment
Available OnSteam, Epic, Xbox One,
PS4, Switch

Developed by Klei Entertainment (the team behind games such as Don’t Starve and Oxygen Not Included), Griftlands combines the rogue-lite deck-builder genre with RPG mechanics and a story-driven approach to its design. The game features three playable characters, each of which has its own unique quirks, with each character’s story taking place in an entirely different environment.

This RPG, story-driven approach is what makes Griftlands so innovative, as well as its negotiation “combat” that allows players to solve problems without resorting to violence while still engaging with the game’s deck-building systems. The gameplay loop of Griftlands mostly revolves around players traveling around an over-world map, exploring locations, and interacting with NPCs while attempting to complete missions and strengthen their deck.

Despite Griftlands containing an abundance of RPG systems and story-focused mechanics, it still follows a rogue-lite structure. When players are defeated in Griftlands, their story ends there, but the game offers a plethora of unique strategies and choices to make that ensure every run through the game feels fresh.

Monster Train

Release DateMay 21, 2020
PlatformsPC, Xbox, Nintendo
DeveloperShiny Shoe
PublisherGood Shepherd Entertainment
Available OnSteam, GOG, Xbox One,

This unique rogue-like deck-builder combines the standard deck-building gameplay players came to know and love through Slay The Spire and adds tower defense and unit-management elements that offer a new spin. This unique take on the genre adds a hefty dose of tactical decision-making to the gameplay and makes Monster Train feel innovative and fresh.

In Monster Train, players defend a crystal aboard a moving train from waves of enemies and bosses attempting to destroy it. This is done by placing units and casting spells using a carefully crafted deck of cards. The game features a variety of races to play that affect the cards on offer, as well as a variety of challenges and difficult bosses.

Although the tactical tower-defense elements alone make Monster Train an innovative experience, it could be argued that the added verticality that comes with these mechanics is what makes it feel so fresh.

Cobalt Core

Release DateNovember 8, 2023
PlatformsPC, Nintendo
DeveloperRocket Rat Games
PublisherBrace Yourself Games
Available OnSteam, Switch

This science fiction rogue-like deck-builder takes inspiration from games such as Into The Breach and deck-builders like Slay The Spire to create a truly unique experience. Cobalt Core puts players at the helm of a spaceship, tasking them with defeating enemy ships through a card-based combat system that represents their chosen crew members.

What makes Cobalt Core innovative, however, is its single-axis tactical movement. In the game, players are able to maneuver their ship left and right in order to dodge enemy missiles or line up their own devastating attacks. This, as well as the variety of available crew members that can each be combined for various synergies, makes Cobalt Core a fresh experience.


Release DateApril 12, 2023
PlatformsPC, Nintendo
DeveloperDeadpan Games,
Available OnSteam, Switch

This difficult rogue-like deck-builder fuses the deck-building genre with turn-based tactics, featuring combat that takes place on a tactile battlefield. Wildfrost does this by featuring companion cards that can be played on the battlefield, similar to Hearthstone. These characters can then target enemies and trigger the effects depicted on their cards, but their positioning on the battlefield often matters. This element of tactical positioning allows Wildfrost to feel innovative despite its standard deck-building structure.

While Wildfrost’s tactical positioning is its most notable innovation, it doesn’t end there.  Wildfrost features a variety of charms that can be added to companion cards to create a variety of synergies. This careful combination of passive upgrades commonly seen in rogue-like deck-builders and the innovative companion system of Wildfrost allows the game to feel both familiar and fresh in equal measure.


Release DateOctober 19, 2021
PlatformsPC, Xbox, PlayStation,
DeveloperDaniel Mullins Games
PublisherDevolver Digital
Available OnSteam, GOG, Epic,
Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S,
PS4, PS5, Switch

This wonderfully strange and unsettling card game features deck-building, escape-room puzzles, and psychological horror. Needless to say, Inscription is one of the most innovative (and most unique) deck-builders of recent years. The game’s creepy aesthetic and often disturbing visuals, as well as the way the game evolves over time, make for an experience that’s truly like no other, and the less said about that, the better.

In fact, it’s hard to talk about Inscryption without ruining it, which speaks to just how innovative it is. It should be said that Inscryption won’t be for every deck-builder fan, as its often strange mechanics and gameplay twists, as well as its overall horror atmosphere, are likely to turn some people away. However, for those looking for a truly unique and innovative experience that doesn’t mind having their expectations subverted, encryption shouldn’t be missed.


Deck-builders have become so popular and release with such frequency that it’s easy to miss the few fresh and innovative experiences that are released every year. However, these games each offer something new and interesting in an over-crowded market.

While it could be argued that games such as Dream Quest and even Dominion (an innovative tabletop deck-builder with a Steam version) are arguably among the most innovative deck-builders out there, these games arguably offer more streamlined experiences for modern audiences.

If there’s a hidden gem deck-building game that didn’t make it to this list,  be sure to let us know on Discord, Twitter, and on our YouTube channel.


Photo of author

Harry Ted Sprinks

With a deep love for strategy games that began when he first played Stronghold as a kid on his parents’ home computer and a passion for linear narrative games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead and old-school shooters like Blood and DOOM, Harry loves video games of all shapes and sizes. His knowledge of games new and old is broad, but Harry’s biggest passion is indie games, which he loves to champion in his writing. Harry’s favorite games include old-school rogue-likes like Caves Of Qud, older RTS titles such as Red Alert 3, modern classics like Halo 3, and survival-horror games like Resident Evil. When he isn’t writing or playing games, Harry can likely be found developing small games of his own or making music. Although Harry enjoys the occasional AAA game, his attention is primarily focused on representing indie games.