I first need to thank my friend Brian for inspiring this post. As he was digging through his game closet, trying to find something to play on a recent game night, he stumbled across two boxes of Battle Cards that he had bought a long, long time ago.
Now, why did he buy two boxes of a game he’d never heard of before? Easy. They were cheap. (Sorry for the blurry pic)
For 99 cents, I can’t think of any game I wouldn’t buy a full box of (and in fact, I had bought two boxes of this back at the time as well). So where were my cards? Simple back 17+ years ago when we bought these, I took them to college the next day, showed my friends, and we blew through both boxes of cards laughing at the ridiculous nature of the game.
Also, one of the names on the box was intriguing: Steve Jackson. Now, most gamers today know Steve Jackson as the guy that allowed Munchkin to spread like kudzu over the gaming landscape. However, there was a second Steve Jackson. He if from in Britain, and helped found Games Workshop…yes, the Games Workshop of Warhammer fame. Funnily enough, at one time or another, both Steve’s wrote for the Fighting Fantasy role-playing system which Battle Cards is based on.
As I sat down to explore this game again for this post, I expected to find it just as silly as I did way back when. And indeed, if you play by the “Scratch & Slay” on the back of the pack (yes, the back of the pack)…
…you’ll find there isn’t much of a game here. It’s a glorified scratch-off lottery ticket with vague rules about damage and treasure. However, if you dig into the game a few packs, you find that there’s WAY more going on beneath the surface. Unfortunately, due to the way the game was marketed, it’s truly impossible to explore the game to its fullest anymore. For the record, Battle Cards came out just a few months before Magic: The Gathering.
Basic game play couldn’t be easier. Each player opens a pack of cards, and finds a character card. Each pack has 10 cards, I’ve seen packs with 10 characters, and I’ve seen packs with as few as 2. I don’t sense any type of rarity, although there were exactly 6 cards I only saw once after opening two full boxes. I gather that to be a hiccup of distribution more than anything else (all 6 were in the same pack, and were the last 6 I needed to finish a full set). Character cards are denoted by a ring of gold scratch-off circles. In the border, you may be able to make out text such as “Head”, “Leg” and so on… these markings don’t matter to the basic game too much. There are three “Life” circles and one “Purse” spot at the top of the card.
On your turn, you simply scratch off one of the circles on your opponent’s card. If it’s blank, you missed them. If you see a blood drop, you hit them! Once you get a second wound, you can then try to kill the character. Just scratch off one of the “Life” circles. If there’s a blood drop, you win! Then scratch off the “Purse” circle to see how much gold you gained from defeating that character. Then you each grab another character card and go again!
That’s the base game in a nutshell. And this is where the layers of the onion begin to peel away.
If this were the entire game, you could see how it is completely disposable. Of course, if this were all there was to the game, there would be nothing but character cards to battle endlessly with. As you open more packs, a wide variety of other cards show up: spells, quests, artist cards, secret cards, and checklists can be found. All of these cards work with the various fighter cards to weave together both new ways to play the game, but also a contest.
Now, to be honest, none of the new ways to play are very exciting. For example on the “Card Games” card…they recommend three variations of “Throw the cards at the wall and see who’s closest.” And “Advanced Combat” is just having to play a mini game of War before scratching off random circles. The only thing notable about those cards is how graphic the art is.
What’s really interesting are the Quest Cards. The Quest Cards are a series of 10 cards that each force you to look at the all the other cards in the game in different ways. Some of the quests are looking for different symbols hidden on cards, some are looking for information found in the text, and others involve translating a runic language!
This is both where the game gets most interesting…and where it gets most frustrating. You see, the ultimate goal of these quests (and the game as a whole) is to gain the rare treasures of the land. Now, there were three ways to get these treasures. First, they were included randomly in packs in a rather plain form.
Anyway, on The Trading Post cards, you could scratch off two (and only two) circles. If you uncovered a treasure with one, and a number on the other, you could then buy that treasure by sending in the Trading Post card, a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope, and a number of killed characters with a “Purse” value totaling up to the value shown on the Trading Post card!
Finally, there were the Quest Cards, if you were successful in figuring out the quest’s riddle, and sent in all the appropriate cards you would get a treasure card… but in Foil! The first 6000 were gold, the next 12000 were silver. I guess after that, you just got the regular treasure card. They would also send your cards back, but marked with a special seal of some sort so you couldn’t resend them and get another treasure. I have not found a picture of this seal as of yet. If you get stumped trying to solve a quest, there were a series of five “Secrets” cards that had some clues to help guide you on your way…they also functioned as characters to fight with.
I’ve read in various wiki-style sites that there was a further 9th treasure card, only available from Steve Jackson himself. I’ve never seen one, and there don’t seem to be any reports around saying how many were actually redeemed, if any.
So, I’ve mentioned a few times that the game’s not able to be completed anymore, and that’s because the contest tied to this game ended on 12/31/1994. So, the dozens of Trading Post cards are completely useless. There’s also no way to redeem the cards from solving a quest, so all of those are wasted as well. I suppose there is the satisfaction of actually solving the puzzles…but without access to the rest of the treasure cards, it’s impossible to get to that next to last step of the adventure. It’s a lot like playing the SwordQuest games on the Atari 2600 without the comic books, or the Raiders of the Lost Ark Atari 2600 game. You can still have fun with the game, but you’ll never win.
I think I still want to go through and work out the quests, though. Mainly because that info isn’t out there anywhere, or if it is…it’s not easy to find. You never know who else might be crazy enough to be doing the same thing I am.