Back in 1989 (Rogue Trader days, for those of you taking notes), GW had their hands in a little bit of everything: Miniature Games, Board Games, Computer Games, Music, and even a Card Game, dynamically dubbed: Combat Cards (not to be confused with Battle Cards, the 1993 “scratch and slay” card game by Merlin Publishing—which is also super corny, but quite fun).
Yes, the minds that spawned the Warhammer World and 40k Universe, the very minds that allegedly contributed to the spawning of World of Warcraft (perhaps indirectly?), knew cards would be big long before Wizards of the Coast brought you Magic: The Gathering. So why did MtG take off, while Combat Cards stagnated?
Well, for starters, the game lacked appeal. I remember seeing these cards on the shelf in the early 90’s as I was walking around my FLGS (an acronym that I don’t understand, but I’ll use anyway… F**** Local Gaming Store? …is that supposed to be “Friendly”?). The name “Combat Cards” received a laughing ovation by me and my friends, perhaps because we were afraid of the unknown, but more likely because it was super corny sounding. The models on the cover of each pack weren’t the best available, and the write-up was less than compelling.
Sadly, I let these beauties pass me by and now, years later, these cards are nowhere to be found around town. I occasionally see packs selling on eBay for various sums, and largely my response has always been to laugh them off. Since very few people I know had ever seen the cards, and nobody I know had ever played the game, how good could it possibly be? Certainly not good enough to justify $10 per pack, right?
Well, last month I found an auction for four decks (Chaos, SpaceWar, Monsters, and Goblinoids), and when they didn’t sell for his original asking price, I offered $10 for all four packs shipped. Long story short, we played our first game of Combat Cards this year, and this is my review.
For a general idea of how to play, I direct you to the following:
The deck is divided evenly among the two players, giving each a face-down stack. In unison, each player reveals the top card on his stack (a “battle”), and the player with the higher card takes both the cards played and moves them to the bottom of his stack. If the two cards played are of equal value, each player lays down three face-down cards and a fourth card face-up (a “war”), and the higher-valued card wins all of the cards on the table, which are then added to the bottom of the player’s stack. In the case of another tie, the war process is repeated until there is no tie.
A player wins by collecting all the cards. If a player runs out of cards while dealing the face-down cards of a war, he may play the last card in his deck as his face-up card and still have a chance to stay in the game.
No, it’s not 100% accurate, but Wikipedia’s definition of “War” is pretty close. The difference is that in Combat Cards, you’re given six stats to compare against, and the person who leads each turn gets to pick the stat they want to use (after looking at their card). Aside from that, the only real difference in game play is that losing cards are discarded, rather than captured by the victor, and there are no “Wars.” Instead, tied combats both are put on the bottom of the stack.
We played one round of traditional combat cards, and then a round of the BS variant before calling it. At this point it’s important to note that not all decks are created equal. Yes, all decks have the same statistics, and all have the same number of cards—but they are in no way balanced against each other. As gluttons for punishment, we decided the game would go too fast to use a single deck, so we each chose a deck and commenced play.
The Chaos & SpaceWar decks were respectfully filled with Chaos models (Including “Klaus Halfman”, “Mollin, Lord of Skull”, and my personal favorite: “Gerda von Evilstein”) and generic “Good Guy” 40k models (Marines, Squats, & Eldar) and were pretty-well balanced against each other. The Goblinoids deck was pitifully outmatched, being a combination of fantasy models and runts. The real winner of our game was Trevor, with the “Monsters” deck, containing one of each greater demon, along with 5+ Dragons. His deck was truly unstoppable.
Needless to say, the charm of this game wasn’t in the rules or playstyle. It did provide a window into the classic Rogue Trader models that most of the gaming group hadn’t seen before though. There were many oohs and aaahs at the classic Chaos & SpaceWar models, some of which I dare say are better than the current range. Everyone in the room had to come sneak a peak at the game and remark on one or more of the models they saw. For that reason, it was certainly worth $2.50 per deck to play the game.
So, my advice is: if you’re looking for a great game, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for an hour or two of senseless fun spent mocking a poorly built predecessor to MtG, or if you’re interested in owning a piece of classic nostalgia, Combat Cards is worth a few bucks. Don’t go paying retail though….
For a complete list of avaiable decks check out the link below (Wow, they actually released a second series?!?!):
Combat cards (and appropriate images) owned by Games Workshop.