The backstory on MacGowan and Lombardy’s The Great War card game

A Game Concept With Dramatic Graphics

In 2017 I started working on a game idea to commemorate the 100th anniversary of The Great War (1914–1918). I decided on an abstract card game design about World War One that could be a fun, “filler” game—a game used to fill time between longer games at conventions or while waiting for the rest of your gaming group to arrive. Filler games usually have simple rules and short playing time. I think they are a great way to introduce someone to historical games.

TGW card featuring Rodger B. MacGowan’s art.

For a card game I knew graphics would be a key factor. If it looked good, it might entice gamers to try it. No matter how clever my design, it wouldn’t matter if no one wanted to play it. That’s where my friend and colleague Rodger B. MacGowan entered the project.

Since the 1970s, Rodger and I have worked together on a variety of projects. A few of the more notable included his illustrations that appeared in my Conflict magazine back then and the cover he created for the third edition of my Streets of Stalingrad game (2002). We produced several items for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015 that used Rodger’s excellent illustrations of Napoleon, Wellington, and Blücher. MacGowan and Lombardy’s The Great War™ card game is our most recent collaborative effort. The game uses almost all of Rodger’s stunning World War One illustrations—appearing on 21% of the nearly 200 cards. Rodger also created the play mat and box art for TGW.

Simple Rules & Fast Play Took Time To Perfect

My assumption that a card game would take less work to create compared to a board game proved . . . completely wrong.

My design accomplished the objectives of simple rules—just two sides of one 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper—and quick play. The basic game of ten turns (20 rounds) requires about an hour to complete. By comparison, GMT’s Wing Leader card game is listed as taking 90 to 120 minutes to play—and the WL tables are constantly busy at Consimworld Expo where large, multi-day games are the norm (WL is a fantastic game system, by the way).

Card back

Click to download latest rules, v. 4.7.

Although my game used a simple play mechanic, game development took months. I did not count on the hundreds of permutations possible when the cards interacted with other cards in so many ways. This complexity required months of concentrated playtesting, with continual adjustments to card play, the numbers and types of cards, and the text on the cards. I am very happy with the end result. (Download the latest one-sheet rules for The Great War (4.7), as well as the Quick Play Outline, overview-glossary of the cards, examples of play, and sample cards.)

Interruptions Led To A Better Card Game

And then there were the professional and personal delays that unfortunately dragged out the development of the game well past 2018 and beyond the end of the WW1 commemoration. (You can read about The Great War 100th anniversary exhibit that consumed most of my time in 2018.)

Card Sample 1However, by the time of Consimworld Expo 2019 The Great War card game was substantially changed from just two 54-card decks—one British-German and one French-German, including jokers. The game now contained a small deck of random-event cards such as bad weather, friendly fire, and bad luck that might affect either or both players. There was also new a deck of “bonus” cards that could be played with other cards or separately during a round. These bonus cards include types of artillery fire, snipers, tunneling, and improvements in weapons/tactics/doctrine, etc. The random event and bonus cards added more historical depth and more play options to the game, but without adding a lot of rules.

How was this possible? Because the icons and text on each card provide the special or unique rules on how to use that specific card. These also explain how that card interacts with other cards. No need for the players to look up card effects in the rulebook—just do what it says on the card.

Ok, So How Does This Game Actually Work?

During their turn, players choose cards from their hands and play them face-up in front of them. As an example:

The Defender for a turn places cards representing the terrain and/or reinforced trenches and/or units that will face the attack.

The Attacker then chooses a heavy artillery card and places it face up. If the artillery card is not cancelled by a Defender’s action, the Attacker may then in this same round add a reconnaissance aeroplane and a “Rolling Barrage” bonus card since both of these cards may be added to the artillery (artillery spotters in planes provided a significant force multiplier to artillery fire, and rolling or creeping barrages had more effect than simply firing all over the battlefield). Again, the icons and text on the cards explain these capabilities and which cards can be added to another card.

After another round of play, both sides count the number of battle points on all their face-up cards. The player with the most points wins that turn and takes (captures) the enemy cards (Defender wins ties). Players then switch Attacker and Defender roles for the next turn.

The game mechanic used in The Great War is basically “trick-taking” in card game terminology—the highest points win that turn. But it’s possible to lose several turns and still win the game as you draw more cards each turn and play them shrewdly.

A Team of 25 Developed The Great War card game

In addition to Rodger and me, there are a host of other people who made sure TGW is an attractive and fun card game.

  • Two graphic artists—Mark Schumann and Daniel Zillion— designed the cards and colorized the historical photos used on most of them. Both of them worked with me on some of my previous games and on World War One Illustrated magazine.
  • Mark Kaczmarek, who has more than 50 years experience with design and development in the wargame field and is the assistant editor of Rodger’s C3i magazine, was overall developer of TGW.
  • Chris Janiec, a friend since high school and designer of GMT’s PQ-17 board game, was a TGW playtester who came up with the rules for how the naval cards should impact play.
  • Craig Robertson, who worked with me at 1A Games developing the Next Wave version of the Tide of Iron board game, was editor/proofreader and created the War of the Worlds expansion for TGW. (Yes, there will be an expansion in which the Martians have landed, a tip of the hat to H.G. Wells who, in addition to writing classic science fiction, wrote Little Wars, the first commercially published set of wargame rules, published on the eve of the Great War.)

Nearly 20 additional people playtested TGW. Four of them stand out: Ray Hosler and his son Eric, who gave me great feedback on the first iteration of the game, and Charles Schwartz and his wife, Tina, who were among the group that playtested the final version. (Tina is not a wargamer—if she enjoyed it I must have done something right!)

I cannot express my gratitude enough to Rodger for his continued friendship and encouragement. And a huge thanks to all of the people who helped make MacGowan & Lombardy’s The Great War card game something special.

Learn more about
MacGowan and Lombardy’s The Great War™ card game
and support the Kickstarter.

About Heraldic

Game designer, magazine and book editor since 1972.
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