Kards, a WW2-themed CCG
I have been known to play the occasional collectible card game (CCG), at least digitally. For those of you who do not know, this game type is characterized by competitive play between two people who have amassed decks of varying themed cards with specific powers. Magic: The Gathering is probably the most famous of this style of game, and it has been followed by video games such as Hearthstone and, more recently, Artifact. I am not good at these games, but I like them. I have been playing a lot of Artifact.
This is over-simplifying things, but essentially each player has a health pool that his or her opponent will try and reduce to zero through the use of attacks and spells. Magic, Hearthstone and Artifact all have strong fantasy themes. You have cards representing wizards, or ogres, or vaguely medieval style soldiers. The idea here, and the concept that makes this whole thing “collectible”, is that cards have various characteristics and abilities, which will often interact with the abilities of other cards. This leads to “deck building” being a thing all of it’s own, allowing you to create a deck of wizardly abilities that take a while to get going but become incredibly powerful about ten minutes in, or a deck of angry ogres with very large axes who try to get things over with in a hurry. It’s all great fun when it goes well, as your various cards interact with each other in beautiful synergy, but incredibly frustrating when you find yourself reduced to clicking a button between your opponent completely ruining you.
So I was quite excited to read about a new World War II themed CCG over the holiday break. Kards, by 1939 Games, takes these concepts and introduces World War II combatant nations as factions. It’s an interesting idea, and for gameplay reasons involves giving specific characteristics to particular military forces: the Japanese military has strong air units and the Wehrmacht has good armored units, for example. I’m particularly interested in how the developers are looking to tie their gameplay decisions to trends across the global conflict. As they outline on their Discord channel, the Japanese air units are part of a broader philosophy seeking to recreate the contours of Japan’s experience in the Pacific Theater, where a strong if not irresistible early momentum in the war proved difficult to maintain in the long term.
I would be excited in any case by a game genre I like, but that typically features orcs and wizards, bringing in a more clearly identified historical setting, and a twentieth century setting at that. I find myself quite intrigued by the attempts here to link important gameplay concepts such as how hard a particular unit can hit, how long it will stay on the table, how it will interact with other units, to characteristics of military experience in World War II.
The theme is one that should definitely appeal to fans of military history. This is not the first time military history nerds have found themselves sharing playing spaces with more fantastically-themed games. Magic: The Gathering is played in person in comic book shops across America, places that often host table-top miniature games such as Warhammer 40K or Warmachine alongside the World War II themed Flames of War. I’m quite hopeful this game will be successful, based on my experiences seeing those games coexist. Flames of War doesn’t have the footprint of more popular tabletop games but it has a strong and dedicated niche. Kards may well end up the same way.
The overall military theme also seems to be sidestepping pitfalls of cultural essentialism; rather than looking to describe how Japanese or Russian individuals fought, for example, the developers are more focused on how the military forces operated, and where their strengths and weaknesses are. As Bob and I have talked about before, the pursuit of historical accuracy is just as likely, if not more so, to drive developers away from problems around representation of different groups than it is to draw them into controversy. I am hugely encouraged to see just how focused 1939 Games are on the game’s themes and mechanics.
You can find out more about Kards and apply for the closed beta at the game’s official website. I strongly recommend their Discord channel, where 1939 Games are posting regular developer blogs.