Kards is a more serious take on Hearthstone with a WW2 feel, and we're here for it30 Jan 2020 4
Card games aren't our main forte here at Wargamer.com, although personally I think card play is one of the more interesting innovations in modern wargaming. Card-based mechanics are appearing in interesting places: You have games like 2GM Tactics and Undaunted: Normandy which are literally ‘card war games’, where you replace minis for cards and throw in some randomised deck building shenanigans. GMT Games have come out with some very interesting designs, from the card ‘driven’ mechanics of Paths of Glory or Empire of the Sun, to the game-changing binary choices of the COIN series.
Even in computer war games, you’ve got recent releases like Unity of Command 2 experimenting with strategic-level card play. There's definitely a place for ‘cards’ in wargames, but one thing I didn’t think I’d be looking at anytime soon is a more casual CCG skinned with a WW2 veneer.
Because that’s essentially what Kards is. Available as a free-to-play game on Steam, it’s essentially Hearthstone-except-it’s-World War 2. But you know what? It kind of works. There’s also a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Games like Hearthstone and the myriad of copy-cats offer up a digitally infused collectable card game (CCG) experience. The ‘collection’ element loses a lot in translation in the digital realm, but the idea is that unless you pay you won’t have access to the entirety of the card set. You’ll have plenty to start you off - more so than a physical game would net you - but you’ll still need to engage in some light-to-medium grinding to acquire digital ‘packs’ for the cards you’re missing.
In terms of gameplay, first you assemble your deck ahead of time - in Kards it’s 40 to a deck - and then you pummel each other until someone wins. Hearthstone has Warcraft inspired avatars that have a health bar, and when that health bar depletes you lose. In Kards, there's a ‘HQ’ card that represents a historically significant base for your chosen WW2 faction. Currently in the game as main participants are the UK, US, Germany, Japan and Russia. Italy and France have had a soft introduction in the first ‘expansion’ card-set.
The HQ also has a health number and when it gets to 0 you lose, with the objective being to destroy the other side’s HQ first. The only difference between Hearthstone and Kards in this regard is that, unlike the former, the HQ’s can’t actually do anything themselves.
It’s definitely a stretch to call this a 'war game', and most digital card games err on the side of casual these days. Yet there is one mechanic that really saves Kards from mediocrity and gives it a closer resemblance to the theme - the Frontline. Unlike Hearthstone, where you all just lineup on your board and either pound each other’s units or each other’s Avatars directly, Kards requires you to secure the middle-ground first, known as the ‘Frontline’. Only one player can occupy it at any one time, but once you do you can funnel your other unit cards forward, creating more space on your back-line for further deployments. Most units can’t actually attack the HQ directly until they’re on the frontline, with the exception of Artillery and Airplane units.
Controlling the frontline is important not only for the overall strategic goal, but it can have many tactical applications as well. There are plenty of cards that trigger off either controlling the frontline, capturing the frontline, or destroying enemy units in the frontline. Knowing WHEN to take the frontline is also key, as even though a player occupying this space can potentially put the other on the back-foot, spending some time just building up may not actually be a bad idea.
Creating decks in Kards is a competent affair - I confess I find deck-building in most digital games a bit weird, but only because I can’t process information and synergies in the way that I’d prefer. A 40-card deck is actually on the larger side by digital standards. You choose a main faction and up to one ‘Ally’ faction, which lets you draw cards from both sets. I have a US/UK deck where I’ve mainly taken the artillery units from the UK side, as there’s some interesting combos available there.
Economy is important in this game. You start with one Kredit, and you gradually increase your total by 1 every round you’re still alive, up to a maximum of 12. At the start of your turn your Kredits reset to the new maximum, so you can’t carry over resources turn-to-turn but neither do you have to worry about generating them yourself. Cards that allow you climb up this Kredit ‘ladder’ quickly are useful, as are cards that give you more card draw. There’s no use getting to the later rounds, where you have 12 Kredits for your turn, and having no cards in your hand. You only draw one card at the start of your turn so momentum (or winning quick) is key.
I’m surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed Kards. I remember wanting to give Hearthstone a real ‘go’ back when it was becoming popular, but I ended up getting tired of it. So far this is proving a bit more engaging, as the abstract concepts they’ve applied do capture the theme to reasonable extent, and the artwork on the cards is pretty good. Would you believe that this was created by the former CEO and co-founder of EVE Online? Our sister website PCGamesN did an interview with the lead designers, which is worth a read.
So, while is can’t even hope to compete with Unity of Command, CMO or Combat Mission, if you’re looking for something a bit more light-hearted and thematic, then you could do worse than spending a couple of hours playing Kards. You never know, you might actually like it.
Kards is a free-to-play card game available via Steam Early Access. It’s due to release in Version 1.0 in Q1 2020, however it will remain free-to-play.