Thursday 6 July 2017

Steve Jackson's Battle Cards


Steve Jackson

Reviewed by Mark Lain

Produced in 1993, Battle Cards are simultaneously a part of, but also not a part of, the Fighting Fantasy world. If this statement makes no sense, allow me to clarify. There are several major points that separate Battle Cards from FF:
  •       Battle Cards are set on the continent of Vangoria which is not part of Titan, neither is it anything to do with the parallel universe of Amarillia, so in that sense there is no geographical connection with FF
  •       The Rules are completely different and no FF mechanics are incorporated
  •           An entirely new bunch of key protagonists and antagonists have been created for Battle Cards and no FF NPCs are involved

By the same token, there are also aspects that inexorably link Battle Cards to FF (some more tenuous than others):
  •         They are a Steve Jackson creation – this speaks for itself
  •          There are artistic connections, both in terms of the artists involved and also some of the actual images used (more on this later)
  •         There are two literal direct links – the Orb of Shantos and the Eelsea (again, more on this later)
  •          FF collectors also collect Battle Cards (in fact, if the sparsity of interest in Battle Cards on any trading card collecting forums or sites is any indication, no-one other than FF collectors collects Battle Cards!)

There has been some attempt made in fandom to retcon Vangoria into the Titan mythos, justifying its inclusion as a lost sunken continent. This would suggest that the story of Vangoria is set a considerable time before that of the main FF canon. There is no reason why this cannot be the case, but if it is then the remains of Vangoria must now sit somewhere on the seabed between Allansia and the Old World as the sole common geographical feature shared by Titan and Vangoria is the Eelsea which now separates Allansia from the Old World. Unless, of course, there have been two Eelseas at different points in time, who knows? However you look at this connection, the underlying link is that fans of FF also like Battle Cards and this is probably for two simple reasons: 1) they are a medieval fantasy game with a combat system; 2) they are the brainchild of Steve Jackson. I suspect that collectors and players need no more justification than these two facts.

We’ll come to the collecting element later, but the actual point of Battle Cards (at least, it was when it first appeared) is that it is game, the primary goal of which is to become the new Emperor Of Vangoria. This is achieved by collecting the eight Treasures Of Vangoria which bestow the right to become Emperor upon their bearer. The Treasures (many of which are believed lost) are hidden about the continent and you have to acquire all eight through various means. The least complicated, but also the most long-winded and financially-crippling method was/is to buy hundreds of packs of cards until you randomly find all eight in the packs. Given that the quoted find rate of Treasure Cards is that one pack in every twelve will contain one you will need to get a lot of packs to find all eight. Indeed, I recently opened 60 US packs and found eight Treasure Cards (which isn’t far from one in twelve) but several of them were the same card and numbers seven and eight were not found at all. Evidently, this was not the intended method of finding the Treasures and the gameplay approaches were what the creators were really driving at! And there are several different in-game ways of getting Treasure Cards which adds some variety and allows you to try both the more straightforward and the more elaborate finding methods. The classic kill-for-treasure approach is well catered-for through the Trading Post concept whereby you scratch your chosen box off a Trading Post card to try to reveal a Treasure and, if you find one, you then scratch off another to show the amount the Trading Post is asking for that particular Treasure. You then have to amass this amount in the Purses of foes you have killed (eg: if you scratch off 300 on a Trading Post you need to collect enough dead cards with Purses scratched-off to equal or exceed that amount). You then send the Trading Post and the dead cards to a given address (San Diego on the US version, the less exciting Milton Keynes on the UK game) and in return you receive that Treasure Card. Obviously, you will have the frustration of wasting lots of Trading Posts once you are looking for particular Treasures to complete the set but as Trading Posts are found in almost every pack this is no great hardship. The beauty of this approach is that you get to play out lots of fantasy combat scenarios but the downside is that it takes ages to get enough Purses as most foes (but not all though) seem to be fairly short on cash and some have none at all. The third way (and the most complex by far) is to set out on the ten Quests Of Vangoria. This involves getting ten different Quest Cards, most of which reward you with a specific Treasure Card, although there are a small number that allow you to choose which Treasure you want which is handy to get the elusive one or two that you might be missing. Each Quest poses a different challenge and they are all very very hard. The majority involve analysing pictures to find minute details (echoes of Tasks Of Tantalon and Casket Of Souls then), whilst two use the conventional (and lengthy as this is just trial-and-error) approach of you having to scratch off boxes to find specific things, two more ask you to cross-reference text on other cards to images (which can be bewildering), another has you solve three riddles then match images to the answers (this one is pretty neat), another involves you learning and then decoding the Vangorian language (the alphabet is dotted about on various cards so you need loads of cards to be able to crack this one) in a very SJ-like trick, and finally probably the trickiest of all asks you to determine who the Unknown Artist is (there are a small number of unattributed cards credited to “Unknown”) by comparing the styles on the credited cards and using common artistic traits to figure out the identity of the unknown illustrator then sending the artist card in with the Quest Card (or just by repeatedly sending the cards in with each artist named until you stumble on the right answer!) All of the Quests (as with the Trading Posts) need you to amass the correct cards and send them in to receive a Treasure Card so, again, this method of winning Treasure Cards exhausts a lot of cards generally. I have to say too that some seem to have several potential answers (especially the picture analysing ones) so, again, you could get through a lot of cards without necessarily getting the right combinations. Method Four is, of course, swapping with friends (trading cards are for trading, right) to get missing Treasure Cards which gets around the harder in-game techniques although I’d imagine the going rate for a Treasure Card would be several standard cards! There is also another in-game method which is playing for stakes via three Special Games cards (Card Games, Campaigns & Adventures, and Yard Games) which we will come to later.

Once you have got all eight Treasures together, you then send them in and you receive the coveted Emperor Of Vangoria in return for your efforts thus “winning” the game and achieving huge bragging rights over your friends. The problem here is threefold though: firstly, the closing date to apply for the Emperor card was rather tight given the time/effort and/or outlay required to get all the cards together just to get hold of the eight Treasures let alone then sending those in to finally get the Emperor, secondly, I get the general feeling that very few people bought or collected Battle Cards when they were originally on sale, and, thirdly, if you are playing/collecting the game any time after the closing date (which was in 1993) you cannot “win” and just have to try to buy an Emperor from somewhere. This in itself is a problem as no-one seems to know how many Emperors were ever actually won (there certainly are very few, possibly even single figures) and they almost never come onto the collectors’ market. To exacerbate this problem, the US version of the game offered gold foil and silver foil versions of the Treasure Cards to the first 6,000 (gold) and 12,000 (silver) received applications for Treasure Cards which presented the dilemma of whether or not to part with a coveted foil card to fill a gap where you might have been missing a standard Treasure Card. As the foiled cards are also incredibly rare presumably hardly anybody ever got these which must conversely mean that hardly anybody ever applied for Treasure Cards in the US resulting in next to no-one bothering to apply for a US Emperor (and to make the US set even more complicated, the US Emperor comes in BOTH silver and gold foil versions - the silver one was redeemed against a set of silver foil TCs, the gold version against a set of gold foil TCs!) It certainly appears that US Emperors are even rarer than the already borderline unfindable UK Emperor which gives an indication of just how few people could actually be bothered to see the game out to its intended “conclusion”.

As we are on the subject of Battle Cards not really taking off, it is worth noting that they came out a few months BEFORE the very successful Magic – The Gathering trading card game so Battle Cards were something of a trail-blazing unknown quantity at the time. Not long after, the global phenomenon that was Pokemon cards exploded and suddenly every franchise was churning out a TCG, but Battle Cards had no real precursor (trading cards had been around for years, but not designed as a game as such) so its unexpected appearance and equally quick failure does make sense in context. Similarly, Magic - The Gathering had a massive tv and cinema marketing campaign (I remember watching ads for it at the cinema in 1994/95) and Pokemon cards were part of a massive multi-media bid for world domination, whereas Battle Cards hardly ever got mentioned at all. Another factor is the complexity of some aspects of Battle Cards as a game. The basic game is incredibly simple but once you factor in magic, shields, mass battles and the mind-bending Quests, you get something that was rather too ahead of its time and that, even now, is rather complicated if you try to take everything in all in one go. OK, the Quests are now pretty irrelevant as you can no longer win anything but there is nothing stopping anyone from still playing them out once the basic scratch-off combat game can’t offer you enough anymore.

So what does a game of Battle Cards itself involve? In its simplest form, you need two players, each who has a character card. In fact, you can play the game just by having one card each but you won’t be playing for very long! Each player selects the character they wish to use and shows it. You then toss a coin to see who strikes first. An attack involves selecting a box relating to a body part and scratching the foil off that box (with either a 1p or 2p coin as none of the others seem to do it properly). A symbol under the box means a hit (although there are some other symbols just on the UK version only that can be uncovered too that affect Advanced Combat), no symbol represents a miss. A hit gives the attacker a second strike and another body part box is chosen and scratched off. Uncover a second wound and the character is seriously wounded giving the attacker the opportunity to go for a kill by scratching off a Life box (of which each card only has three, only one of which reveals a kill). Uncover a kill and the card is dead. If at any point the attacker does not get two successive hits and/or a kill, the attack passes to the other player who then needs to uncover two consecutive wounds to go for a kill. If no kill is scratched off after two wounds, another wound must be scored on the attacking player’s subsequent turn before another Life can be scratched off. Play continues until one of the two fighting cards is dead. The winner can then scratch off the Purse of the dead card and wins that card and any money that it might have. In the days when you could still send in for Treasure Cards you needed to collect dead cards to satisfy the requirements of Trading Posts, Quests or however else you were trying to get what you needed to receive Treasure Cards. Every card has only three Life boxes so, once two blanks are scratched off any subsequent wound is obviously going to be fatal because only the kill will be left to scratch off under the Life boxes so an element of urgency kicks in from the wounded player as they know they need to make every hit on their attacker really count. Moments like this are where your experience as a player can really work to your benefit and be put into practice. If you fight a lot of a particular character card you can learn where the wounds and kills can be found and use this to your advantage. This is especially handy if you are fighting the stronger characters that have less wounds to find. Each character card has some basic stats on the back: Status and Alignment. Status is the key to learning how to get easy kills and indicates the strength of each character ranging from Strong through Powerful to Awesome. Awesome characters have the fewest wounds to find making them especially hard to hurt, Strong have the most making them particularly vulnerable and a good entry point for beginners to use in play. All of these three Status types will always have their wounds and Lifes in the same positions on a given character card so an experienced player (with a good memory) can easily kill these. Characters with Status given as Warrior are a bit trickier as their wound and death symbols are randomly positioned so no level of knowledge will help you to defeat them and it just becomes a game of chance which does add some variety and avoids the game becoming too easy for experienced players and makes it fairer if a novice is playing an experienced person especially if you can agree to restrict the game to only using Warriors, although this could limit how much Purse value there is to be won. The other stat on every card is Alignment which is only used if the Campaigns & Adventures special game is being played. The UK cards have two additional stats (Race and Allegiance) neither of which serves any apparent purpose in the game, although Race gives an indicator of what basic creature type the character is (for what it’s worth) and Allegiance could be incorporated into Campaigns & Adventures to add another layer although this might get too muddled and restrictive to play (in terms of your needing very specific characters to be able to do anything) if used in conjunction with the over-riding Alignment stat.

Experienced players can also exploit the Special Rules that exist on three character cards only. Close reading of the backs of these specific cards will reveal special ways to turn encounters against or using these characters to your advantage. Saying the Flesh-Eater’s real name will instantly defeat him without a fight, the Soulpod Plant can create a doppelganger to fight on its behalf, whilst The Inquisitor has a totally unique approach whereby each player asks the other a Battle Card-related trivia question which must be answered without reference to the card that has the answer on it then that card is shown to prove that the answer is indeed correct – in this way The Inquisitor scores a hit if the response to his question is wrong and conversely is wounded if he answers a question wrongly. These add an extra dimension to the normal routine combat rules and The Inquisitor in particular is a great concept which brings to mind the Trialmasters from Baron Sukumvit’s Trials of Champions. It must be said though that use of The Inquisitor can only really be effective with two very experienced players who both have an exceptionally thorough knowledge of Battle Card lore otherwise it will be a very one-sided fight one way or the other. The human element of how to defeat the Flesh-Eater by reminding it what it used to be and trying to appeal to what remains of its humanity and emotions is a nice touch too.

Once you have exhausted the possibilities of the basic game there is the option of using Advanced Combat rules (if you have the cards to allow you to do it, of course). Advanced Combat brings in defence and attack options restricted to specific body parts. In return for only being able to attack certain parts on your opponent you can defend two particular parts of yourself meaning any attacks you receive to that part automatically get deflected. This is a handy tool that adds an element of realism rather than you being totally at the mercy of what is on the card as well as making you pay a price in terms of what you can attack to counterpoint your decreased vulnerability. Advanced Combat works particularly well again for experienced players who could potentially make a Powerful or Awesome character almost impossible to wound if they know which body parts are their weak points. I like this feature even if it does take away the attacker’s freedom to randomly just go for any body part they choose. Nonetheless, these rules add another dimension to the game to prevent it becoming a routine or repetitive playing experience after a while.

A similar way to expand the possibilities of the game is to bring Spell and/or Shield cards into play. Spell cards work differently depending on whether you are playing the US or UK version of the game. In the US version spells can essentially be used at will, whereas in the UK version a Spell can only be used when a spell symbol is scratched off the defending card. In both versions players agree beforehand if Spells can be used and, if so, how many, before proceeding. To determine if a Spell has worked or failed the casting player scratches a box off the relevant Spell card to reveal either a success or failure outcome. Some spells are defensive or offensive and basically just give combat adjustors, whilst others are more bizarre and create tangents such as the Sword Control and Peaceful Calm Spells. The Mental Combat Spell is particularly original and mirrors The Inquisitor card by turning a physical battle into a Battle Cards trivia game. One Spell (the Mutiny Spell) can only be used in Campaigns & Adventures Special Rules and causes a particular side’s front fighter to turn on their own side which is a fiendish but fun move. Spells can be quite complex to use and get the hang of in terms of players developing a mutual knowledge of the effects but they do make the game a lot more tactical and nuanced.  Shields only exist in the UK game. As with Spells, players must agree to the use of Shields before play commences. To use a Shield (as with UK Spells) a box is scratched off the defending character and if a Shield symbol is uncovered, that player then scratches a box off the Shield card to see whether it has deflected the blow or broken. Some Shields however are more effective than others and this is shown by the number of scratchable boxes on each type. The weakest shield is the Ironback Shield with only four boxes and the strongest (unsurprisingly) is the Dwarvenforged Shield with the maximum possible (for a Shield) of seven boxes. Shields are easier to use than Spells as they can only do one thing and are fairly binary in their use but, again, they bring another feature into play and are probably the easiest to introduce of the “advanced” game functions (assuming you are playing the UK game otherwise the concept is irrelevant!)

The three cards that make up the Special Games set are intended to take the concept beyond one card fighting another and are, for the most part, stretching a point somewhat. Card Games uses symbols printed on the backs of each card to play scissors-paper-stone (or more accurately, gauntlet-sword-shield!) There are rules given for two different versions with both being good for anyone who wants to win lots of cards quickly, especially the Endurance version. Anyone who needs to amass cards to complete any Quests or get Purses together to take to the Trading Post could do a lot worse than playing Card Games but it removes the entire combat concept ie the “Battle” is taken out of “Battle Cards” so I’m not convinced of its validity. Campaigns & Adventures is a more successful idea in the context of “Battle Cards” and features three sets of game rules allowing for massed battles with multiple cards playing as a winner-stays-on (this is where the Mutiny Spell proves very handy) which you could realistically just do anyway but massed battles are a lot of fun if you have a decent supply of expendable characters to make it worthwhile, and Adventures which involves you actually acting out the adventures described on some of the cards which works far less well and just seems a little bit awkward to me. That said, Campaigns & Adventures are the only part of the system where Alignment (and Allegiance if you feel like it) can affect who will fight who which is another nice additional realistic feature if you can cope with this many rules. The third Special Games card is Yard Games. Three different games are described (Racing Cards which is basically just throwing cards at the wall, Shoot ‘Em Down where you have to try to knock a propped-up card over by throwing cards at it, and Smother Your Neighbour where you have to land a card on your opponent’s card to win it) and they all, as with everything in Battle Cards involve winning or losing cards but they also all wreak of desperation to try to think of yet another thing to do with these cards. Plus, for the collector, Yard Games probably devalue some cards as they are likely to get damaged by throwing them around too much, especially by bouncing them off a wall!

And so we come to another key aspect of Battle Cards, which is designed as, remember, a collectable trading card game. The game element works on several levels and can be as simple as just showing a card, scratching off boxes, and killing or being killed, or as complex and nuanced as combat involving spells, shields, special attacks, trivia, and whatever else, plus you can always fall back on throwing the cards around or playing scissors-paper-stone to win the cards you need. Either way, as a game, you are aiming to collect all eight Treasures somehow and become the Emperor Of Vangoria. Trading is human interaction which the game cannot control, but the trading part is just one aspect of this being a collectable game. Indeed, as the Treasures and Emperor cards can no longer be sent away for, the game itself must be played purely for fun now, and collecting the cards is the main focus and motive nowadays. Needless to say, the Holy Grail of a set is the Emperor Of Vangoria, with the US-exclusive gold and silver foiled versions of the Treasure Cards being highly sought-after as well. Plus the UK series also had a Currency Card which you could send off for and then put towards a Purse to get a Treasure Card - these Currency Cards can be very hard to find as most were returned (as can be expected). But a savvy inclusion in the series all along was non-gameplay cards that exist just to be collected and/or to add lore to the world of Vangoria and there are twelve cards that can be said to be purely for collecting: the map of Vangoria, the seven Artist Cards, and the four Checklists (a trading card staple and very useful for anyone who can’t count and needs an aid to help them work out which cards they are missing!) In total, the US series numbers 139 standard cards (the Emperor being number 140) plus the eight Treasure Cards numbered T1 thru T8 (the gold and silver foils have a G or S prefix ie GT1 etc), and the UK series is slightly bigger (due to Treasure Cards being numbered within the standard run and the addition of two Clue Cards) at 149 cards (with number 150 being the UK Emperor). Whilst on the subject of Clue Cards, these give, er, clues to how to solve the Quests and were included on the US Secrets Of Vangoria cards hence their absence from the US series. Indeed, the US Secrets Of Vangoria cards also give hints for battles, parts of the Vangorian alphabet, and one even gives a brief history of Steve Jackson and the Battle Cards series. All this extra information was included on the Battle Secrets cards (and elsewhere in the case of the alphabet) in the UK series so it was covered one way or another in both versions even though these specific cards had no direct equivalents as such across the two series.

For the collector, each series presents different challenges. The top of every collector’s Wants List is the Emperor naturally and both versions are of the highest rarity and very few collectors can proudly boast that they own one or that they have the disposable income to blow several hundred pounds on a little trading card, although the UK card appears more often (but still hardly ever) than the US version. The US foiled Treasure Cards are also exceptionally rare. Interestingly though, other than these cards, the US series is far more easily found nowadays than the UK version. Still sealed red shipping boxes of US cards (each containing 35 packs of 10 cards per pack) are very easy to find and can still be bought for as little as £20-30 each. Equally, still sealed single US packs are very common and are worth little more than a few pounds each. On the other hand, sealed UK packs (which look more like Panini football sticker packs rather than the bubble gum card-style US series packaging) are pretty rare. Logically then, this means that a complete US set of cards 1 thru 139 plus T1 thru T8 is not a difficult thing to put together and complete sets of both the standard cards and the eight Treasure Cards can easily be bought on the collector’s market for less than £30 each. A complete UK set of numbers 1 thru 149, on the other hand, is not easy to assemble and will prove much more of a challenge to find especially if you are looking for mint and unscratched cards. Unique to the UK series also was three Currency Cards (bronze, silver, gold) which were only available as mailaways. Obviously, as unopened US packs are so easy to find, naturally, mint US cards are also easy to find, whereas mint UK cards will take much more hunting for and many collectors find themselves settling for scratched or partially-scratched UK cards as gap-fillers until they can replace them with mint examples as and when they find them. Both series though have their commoner and rarer cards and there is definitely some commonality across both series linked, in some ways, to which cards are more crucial to basic play, which character types are commoner within the lore of Vangoria, and which are more expendable in battle. Without doubt, Trading Posts, maps of Vangoria, and basic character classes such as Zittonian Warriors, Wolfmen, Vangorian Knights, Barbarian types, and most Undead types are very common, with characters falling into the Awesome category, Quests, hint cards, and high-ranking individuals being scarcer. The scarcest cards are definitely the Treasure Cards but this is a necessary part of the game and the concept so the frequency by which the various cards are found makes sense and actually adds to the overall themes and concepts of the game in its playing and collecting forms. To add an added dimension of complexity there are also several letters that were sent out with the redeemed cards (Emperor, Treasure Cards, UK Currency Cards) and at least two error letters (a rejection you could get if your answer was wrong, and a letter apologising for a mistake on the art of Merlin themselves).

As far as the “story” goes, reading the backs of the cards shows the sheer depth of imagination that has gone into creating the world of Vangoria and every effort has been made to put together a coherent and vast body of lore to really bring the hitherto unknown continent of Vangoria to life. Characters’ interactions with each other are covered, as are regional tribes and variations in mindset, seats of learning, etc and the amount of quality material on offer for those who make the effort to read the cardbacks is very impressive. It must be said that the US numbering of the cards makes for a better-structured read as all the associated characters are grouped together within their regions whereas the UK series reads much more higgledy-piggledy due to there being no apparent logic to how the cards are numbered. There is also a lot of Jackson’s satirical humour to be found in some of the descriptions, especially in the cards numbered 54 thru 60 in the US series which form a witty collection of European stereotypes: #54 mentions Helmut Kohl, Krautstadt and the Krautian tribe; #55 references the then very recently reunified Germany; #56 is the French; #57 talks about Fanny Craddock and the Croque Mess-Ear; #58 gives us the Spagettians and the fall of the Roman Empire; and #60 talks about the Dutch with clogs, tulips, multi-lingualism and red light areas! Likewise, The Iron Maiden is a reference to Margaret Thatcher and even alludes to the Falklands War making her name. I was also amused by George Lacklustre who is the most boring man in Vangoria! Similarly, several character names are fun plays-on-words such as King Dumm, Norman Stormcloud (The Gulf War’s Storming Norman Schwarzkopf was also a vivid recent memory when the series was created), Vanvincent (Vincent Van Gogh), Salaman Rush-Demon (Salman Rushdie), the Sisters of Damnation (the polar opposite of the Sisters of Mercy?), and Baron Oldschwartz (a bit risqué that one lol). The seven Artist Cards also have dryly humorous biographies where the artists’ real lives have been transposed onto Vangoria-fied locations and reference is even made to FF, White Dwarf, and 2000AD comic. Even the ultra-common map of Vangoria gives some context to the region which is handy in putting all this wealth of information together as a whole as we read. Generally speaking, most of the cards give interesting biographies and backgrounds to the characters, although the few that just list the basic game rules are a bit of a disappointing cop-out. Even if a character is a generic creature I’d still like to know where they fit into the story of Vangoria, although having the Rules laid out on some commoner cards is always handy. Credit where credit is due though, the sheer number of bios that are given must have taken ages to think up and write, especially whilst making sure that the inter-connections between characters are logical and do not contradict each other so that the whole thing gels perfectly. As a side note, three US cards (King Dumm, George Lacklustre, and the Beast Riders) have incomplete write-ups where the text has been cut off at the bottom. These are complete however on the equivalent UK cards as the UK versions are not cropped in any way.

Which subject brings us neatly to the numerous differences between the UK and US series, some of which are more immediately noticeable than others:
  • UK cards are bigger
  • Scratch-off boxes on UK cards are silver, whereas on the US versions they are gold (and look much classier in good, in my view)
  • With one or two exceptions, the numbering order of the cards is very different
  • UK character cards have four stats on the back, whereas US cards only have two
  • UK Artist Cards also have the four stats (which are useless as Artist Cards can’t fight), but these are removed completely (which is more logical) from the US versions
  • The artist’s name and Merlin logo boxes are yellow on the UK cards, but are white on the US cards
  • Steve Jackson’s name is absent from the US cards (possibly to avoid confusion with the American SJ?)
  • The positioning of the names of the scratch-off boxes on both versions is slightly different due to the smaller size and therefore reduced available printing space on the US cards
  • We have already said that the UK series includes two extra cards (Clue Cards) which are missing from the US series
  • Probably the biggest difference is that some art differs between the two series

This last point is a very important one, especially as many people appreciate these cards as much for their art as for anything else. On the whole, the artwork is outstanding throughout the two series and the vast majority of images exist in both versions, although the US versions are cropped rather than scaled-down which avoids reducing the impact of the art in size terms but obviously also means that the whole picture is literally not there to be seen on the US versions, whereas the UK cards offer the complete image in all its glory. There are some variations in the actual images used though too. The biggest difference is that for whatever reason all of Alan Craddock’s UK card art was replaced with alternative images by Martin McKenna on the US cards. This also means that the Alan Craddock Artist Card does not exist in the US series and that its substitute, the Martin McKenna Artist Card, does not exist in the UK set. Also, the Trading Post cards differ greatly in the two series, the US one featuring what looks like Terry Jones in a serf’s cap, whereas the UK card is a street with a shop on it (which kind of makes more sense). It is difficult for me to pick out a favourite piece of art from such a huge body of excellent work as Battle Cards offers us but I do particularly like Peter Andrew Jones’ weirdly space-age self portrait on his Artist Card, but I have to say that there is no illustration anywhere in either series that does not wow me. I’m deliberately avoiding citing Iain McCaig’s images as being superior to those inclusions by other artists (which they probably are) but every one of his pictures is recycled from Casket Of Souls which makes me feel a little bit cheated to be honest. I also have to mention the Baalthazac image by Les Edwards which is lifted from the cover of Metallica’s Jump Into The Fire single!

As a series (or rather, as two series’), Battle Cards offers a lot to the collector and player alike. The basic game is so simple you can learn it in seconds, but mastering it by learning and incorporating all the possible extra layers of rules and options is quite an undertaking. It is certainly fun to play and is very addictive and no doubt every player has their own preferences of how to approach the game. I like the inclusion of Spells and Shields as they make it more realistic and give far more options to vary the game, and the mass battle rules are fun too. The Card Games/Yard Games mean well but add very little in real terms, other than helping you win cards en masse. It is a shame you can no longer play the game as it was intended (ie collecting Treasure Cards and acquiring the coveted Emperor Of Vangoria) as I’m sure we would all be falling over each other to do this now and it is even more of a shame that this aspect never got off the ground when it was still live. As a collecting exercise the US series offers a quick and satisfying fix, whilst the UK set gives you something to really get your teeth into if you want to complete both series (which we all do, of course!) I personally prefer the presentation of the US cards as the size is more akin to trading cards in general (at the expense of cropped art), the gold boxes look classier than the silver, and I prefer their subtler eggshell varnish finish to the slightly cheaper-looking gloss finish of the UK cards. That said, the UK series is overall the slightly more complex and varied to play because of the added dimension of Shields and either version is a great way to kill a spare half an hour. What is important to say though is that, even though we all aim to collect full sets, these cards are mostly designed to be played and there are more than enough out there (especially US cards) to be able to sacrifice a few here and there by playing the game as it was intended as both collecting and playing these is highly addictive.