Combat Cards.

Two weeks ago I saw on the excellent blog Tiny Solitary Soldiers a post about a new ruleset called Combat Cards. As I read it I instantly got interested as the ruleset had a different approach: gaming cards with no dice and generic enough to represent different periods and scales; so I thought of Hordes of the Things for modern combat, and I bought, printed, read and played it.

For my first game I used my Epic forces as I could easily deploy all types of units in the game. We played a standard 36 points game which lasted more than three hours! and it was very disappointing. Firstly, it took too long to play a game, taking into account it is simple, and generic and plays with so few units per side.

In the second place, the game was terribly static as there were very few opportunities to move your units and then they moved very slowly; 5 cms. most of the time (very short distance halved because of terrain).

My Marine forces consisted in one recon on the left, four mechanised and one command in the center, one tank at the back and off board artillery and aerial. The Orks with similar forces in the cover of the wood and top of the hill.
Although the game works in any scale, it felt odd to play with a dozen tiny stands per side on such a big table.

All are pictures clickable.

And here a picture of the last turn of the game, three hours later. As you see the units hardly moved.

After this fiasco I could not understand how this guy from Mac's little friends could have such enjoyable games with Combat Cards. So we thought the Epic scale did not help and that for our next game we would add much more terrain to avoid long fire lines. We also thought that we spent a lot of time reading and understanding the cards as we are non native English speakers, and that in our next game that won't be an issue as we already knew the effects of the cards just by reading their title.

Decided to give the system another opportunity (especially after spending on it 10 dollars plus 8 euros more for printing the cards and ruleset), I wrote three times to the authors with doubts we had during our first game and I have to say that they answered on the three occasions within 24 hours and in a very friendly and helpful way.

So next weekend we planned to play two consecutive games. The first one would be a la Infinity, using 28 mm. miniatures in a bombed and ruined city; and the second one would be the free scenario number six, set during WWII.

For this second game my force, from left to right, consisted of one recon, three mechanised, one command, three infantry, one anti armour and one heavy weapon plus two aerial units and one infiltrator not in the picture.

My buddy chose one behemoth, one armour, two mechanised, two commands and four infantry plus artillery and aerial.

First turn. Most of my forces at the bottom of the pictures, inside the two main buildings.

In the first turns my buddy put some of my units out of action with aerial and artillery attacks.

After that I decimated his infantry units with my mechanised ones.

As the rules says, we finished the game after one hour and a half and I won for a couple of points more. Although the scale was more appropriate and we knew the content of the cards and had some experience from our previous game, still it was very slow, especially when moving or doing things with troops. Most of the units never moved, and only a few fired excepting artillery and aerials. An infantry unit had to spend at least three move orders to go from one cover to another; actually only my mechanised units managed to complete the move from one place to another.

We were already quite demoralised about this ruleset but nonetheless we tried a second game, one designed by Tactical Assault Games to be specifically played with this ruleset. So we set the game board and chose our forces. My Germans playing as Russians and my Buddy's Americans as Germans as we did not have the exact forces for that scenario.

The Americans on the left had three tanks, one command, one recon and two infiltrators plus artillery and aerials off board. The Germans on the right had deployed in the woods one bunker, one aerial defense, one command, one anti- armour, one infantry and one fire support (a mortar), plus two more infantry squads in the forest ahead and one artillery and one aerial off board.

The Americans decided to dig in and then hide in the open and in front of the Germans and then start pounding their positions, whereas the Germans tried to flank the enemy tanks with their infantry.

Soon my units started to accumulate shaken, fall back and out of fight counters. Then I lost my artillery in a counter strike, but luckily my infiltrator killed the American command and later I had the pleasure of killing one tank with my infantry shooting at its back.

In any case, the game was again very static and luck dependant, and soon we got bored and started to look at the watch to check if the reglamentary hour and a half had already passed. This time I lost for a point.

After these two games we still have the same bad feelings about this ruleset. It is simple and generic yet it takes the same time to play than any other more complex and more challenging and rewarding game. Hordes of the Things for example is generic and it plays with a dozen or so units, but the game lasts about half an hour and it is much much more strategic, fast and fun than Combat Cards.

We never experienced that Aha! moment that
Mike comments about Combat Cards; he enjoyed it a lot as other gamers do, so maybe it is us who are wrong.

All I know is that this is the first time I wrote such a negative review of a game and that I won't play CC again.


  1. Heya Blacksmith, I certainly can't blame you for trying. You guys gave this one more than enough chances to win you over.

    It is definitely not you who are "wrong", there's tons of rules out there and these just don't seem like a good fit for you guys. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, well, being out some money is a bit of a bummer but it could've been worse!

    For what it's worth though your tables looked great and the terrain and figs were pretty awesome.

  2. Thanks for the review, I saw the rules mentioned somewhere and wondered about them.


  3. Mike, there's the money but it's a minor issue. The point is we really wanted to have fun with a new and innovative system but we couldn't and wasted two gaming Sundays.
    The tables and terrain are all from my buddy, but thanks in his name :)

  4. Jacko are you going to buy them? :)
    Now seriously, my review is not meant to damage Tactical Assault Games sales and I do hope it doesn't.
    As Mike said above, this ruleset is not for us but for other people is great, so it's a matter of trying them for yourself and see if you like them.

  5. Javier,

    Even critical reviews are always some press. And some believe that even bad press is press ^^
    Moreover negative feedback is more useful for an author than positive feedback, as it shows what should be improved or changed.

    I am always interested in negative reviews from reviewers that I share some opinions and tastes with.
    The game also made me curious but I felt I don't need yet another ruleset while THW games satisfy my needs for most genres, periods, scales, etc. Thanks for sharing the review and I really appreciate the fact you wanted to give it a honest unbiased review and really tried to get to like the game.

  6. Yes I wanted that and I'm happy you noticed it as that means I somehow made it. Thank you for your words Mahon and yes, it's difficult to find rulesets more satisfying than THW products :)

  7. Hi,

    I'm one of the playtesters for Tactical Assault:Combat Cards.

    While it is difficult to judge from your reports above, it sounds like you may have missed a few things in the rules. If you like, I am more than willing to answer any questions that you have in order to figure out why your play experience was not fun.

    Mike Z

  8. Hi Mike,
    I appreciate your concern but I cannot think of something specific we may missed during those three games. Maybe you can name some of these things we missed and I'd be more than happy to listen to them.
    Thank you

  9. The first thing that stands out is your movement speed for your first game.

    There are two cards that allow movement: Cautious Move and Rapid Advance. Cautious Move allows any unit a Short move while Rapid Advance allows certain units a Medium move. Most of the units in your first game had the ability to use the Rapid Advance card.

    A move of 5cm seems awful short. You also describe it as a "Very Short" move and not a "Short" move. What was the size of your playing area?

    Also, you comment that the speed was halved due to terrain. However, you game area looks rather wide open. Why were you halving movement for terrain?

    Another common mistake that beginning players make is not discarding their hand if they have only 1 or 2 cards that they can play. It is usually better to get rid of "dead" cards by skipping your turn and drawing a fresh hand. Were you doing that?

  10. In the three games the gameboard measures were 80x80 cm. so Short Move was 10 cm. In the first game there were several stands of Ork infantry on the hill at the centre and as they were in cover area their move was halved, like my infiltrator in the woods at the bottom; that is, they moved only 5 cm. each time.
    The same happened in the second scenario where all the infantry were naturally inside of the ruined houses to take advantage of cover, but this translated into 5 cm. move to get out from a house and another 5 cm. move to enter into a new house (consequelntly to move from one cover to other you needed three move orders and there are not so much in the cards).
    Actually we modified the rules and allowed to move infantry in cautious move with Rapid Advance and Assault cards as there were very few occasions to move your units, but even with that mod we still felt it was unnaturally slow.

    We discarded several times our hands, especially in the last game.

    Another thing we did not like was that you almost must select a unit of each category if you want to play every turn and moreover, that the game did not simulate a big battle as HotT could do for example, but neither a proper skirmish like Song of Blades and Heroes for example; as in the first case there were very few units for 36 points game and in the second place it was unrealistic to use artillery, aerial support, etc. for a handful of troops.

    Finally and more importantly, it wasn't only that the troops moved slowly and activated even slowlier, but that the games took more than two hours to get finished and they were played only with 10-12 units/stands per side.

    I can play any sort of game with much more complicated rules in less than two hours. It comes to my mind Hordes of the Things, Alien Squad Leader, Song of Blades and Heroes, Disposable Heroes, all Two Hour Wargames rulesets, Force on Force, etc. etc.

    As I said, I appreciate your concerning and help, but so far I cannot see any reason to play this game again.


  11. I see an issue that I'll have to pass on to Tactical Assault Games. An 80cm x 80cm is a much smaller play area than we typical use in the US. The smallest area that I play on is 90cm x 90cm. 120cm x 120cm is much more typical in the US.

    In your first game, why did you count the hill as being Covering Template Terrain? If you defined it as just Elevated Terrain, you would not have had the movement penalty.

    In your second game, I am assuming that you treated the houses a Covering Template terrain. When I play at that scale, I usually define houses as open terrain and the walls as Covering Linear terrain.

    When moving, did you halve a units movement for only the time that the unit was in the terrain? For example if a unit crosses over a 2cm thick wall using a Caution Move, it could move a total of 8cm.

    Putting aside movement speeds. Another thing that piqued my interest was interest was your comment about units not firing except for artillery and aerials. That sounds odd to me as "Open Fire" is one of the most common cards in the deck while Aerial Assault and Artillery:High Explosives are two of the most uncommon cards.

    Could you describe how you conducted an Open Fire action and an Artillery attack?

    Different topic:

    36 points per side is only a recommendation. You are free to play with more or less. The largest game that I have played was 150 points per side (6mm WW2) and we finished in about 3 hours. Of course, both players in that game were experts, so it went very quickly. The smallest game that I've played was 12 points per side and that one went the full 30 minutes as each player agonized over each choice.

    You do not need to have a unit from each category. As the cards have 2 items on them (Action and Situation), there are only 6 cards that will be completely worthless if you do not take certain units. While it is true that you'll have more chances to play all your cards if you take at least 1 unit in each category, it is better to formulate a plan and take units to fit that plan.

    You also do not need to try to play every single card in your hand each turn. Sometimes it is better to hold on to some cards for a future turn and discard the rest.


    Both myself and the folks at Tactical Assault Games appreciate the fact that you gave the game a chance. I appreciate that you are taking the time to discuss your experience with the game. Whether or not you play the game again is up to you. Everyone has different tastes, expectation, etc... and nobody is going be offended if you decide to focus on the games that you enjoy.

    Mike Z

    1. Mike Z, I don't want to hijack Blacksmith's post, but I had a couple of questions concerning Combat Cards. Got an email address?

      miksminis at gmail dot com


  12. Difference in Short Distance between 80x80 and 120x120 cm. gameboard would only 2.5 cm, something completely anecdotal.

    Houses as linear terrain wouldn't offer cover from aerial and artillery attacks. Besides, we think a building should be a covering template according to the rules' terrain description.

    There are more aerial and artillery strikes together in a deck than open fire actions. Moreover, aerials and artillery do not need LOS nor range, and can affect several targets as well. Therefore it's a very powerful weapon if not the most in the game.

    If 36 points per side took us more than two hours we certainly are not interested in increasing that time by adding more points.

  13. @Mik: I sent you an email.

    @blacksmith: It is completely your choice how you chose to treat your terrain. When I play at 6mm and 15mm, I treat houses as templates; however, at 28mm I treat the walls as linear.

    I counted the cards in the deck and there are less aerial attacks and artillery attacks than there are "Open Fire" cards (8 vs 14). Did you use Artillery:Smoke for attacks or "Fire Support:High Explosives" with artillery? Also, artillery and aerial attacks suffer from drift, so they often have a chance of completely missing. Did you remember to draw for drift while conducting artillery and aerial attacks?

    Mike Z

  14. I never counted the cards but I got the impression that there were more aerial and artillery cards than open fire. Probably we got in our games most of Open Fire cards discarded when picking cards to see possible damage and couldn't use them to "Fire".

    I remembered to check drift on all occasions but drifting rarely missed all targets (5-10 cm. drifting), it happened just once. The drifting generally told if just one or more than one units were affected, but usually hit something all the times.

    1. What do you mean by "picking cards to see possible damage"? When you determined damage, did you draw a card from the deck or play one from your hand?

      You must have been really lucky with your drifts. Artillery and Aerial attack cards have a radius of Very Short. A little less than half the cards will cause the attack to drift a Short distance away from your initial target, which would put it out of range of the attack.