Digital card games are more popular than they've ever been and the genre has taken on film franchises and even other game IPs as inspiration as they look to deliver stellar games with relatable and familiar faces. While staying within the realm of the familiar, but less so with pop culture, developer 1939 Games has created a digital card game for those who feel drawn to historical events - specifically World War II.
We had a chat with studio co-founder and game design lead Guðmundur Kristjánsson just recently and during our interview, he explained more about what the game has to offer to those who venture into its Early Access stage, which is live and free-to-play right now.
Those who are familiar with the game will know that the beautiful design truly stands out from the genre crowd, with a retro visual aspect and card artwork that resembles old enlistment posters. Kristjánsson told us that the team is proud of the positive feedback it has received regarding the artwork and general style: "It's funny you should mention old enlistment posters because we actually use some of those and other actual posters from the war. We are sourcing the card artwork from various places, mostly by way of licensing. Another example is box art from classic plastic model kits and toy soldiers from the '70s and '80s produced by companies like Matchbox and Airfix," he stated. "Some of those kits, we even owned and played with ourselves as kids which definitely had an influence on us in going for that type of art style. Art with that quality and style is pretty hard to find today."
The reason for the team's focus on the card art and design, we learned, is to elevate the game within its numbers-focused genre to a new and necessary level, as "we firmly believe that the artwork is critically important for a game like this. At the core, any CCG is basically just a numbers game. The art, however, fuels the imagination and breathes life into those numbers".
With both digital card games and war titles becoming increasingly saturated in recent years, we asked Kristjánsson how the studio had approached designing the game and how Kards: The WWII Card Game stands out from its competition.
"Obviously the setting of the game sets Kards very much apart from other CCGs out there. As the game is based on actual history as opposed to fantasy or sci-fi and has a quite unique visual style, Kards appeals to a lot of players that would otherwise maybe not play card games at all", Kristjánsson answered. "For example, we see that we are attracting a lot of players that come from games like World of Tanks, War Thunder, COD and/or strategy games like Hearts of Iron".
Apart from that specific demographic having been intrigued by the design and setting of the game, Kristjánsson explained that the CCG community has appeared interested as well, but for a different reason. "There are a lot of CCG players that welcome some fresh air into the genre that the fantasy theme has dominated for so long and are they are also attracted by some of the innovative mechanics that also set Kards apart," he told Gamereactor. "We feel we are different enough to occupy our own slot in the market."
Many players new to the CCG genre tend to get overwhelmed when jumping on the card game train, but Kards is advertised as a game that's easy to learn and hard to master. "In that sense, we've taken a lot of inspiration from Hearthstone as Blizzard did this really well, at least to begin with (keeping things simple is another challenge)," he explained. "They managed to take the essence of the CCG and make it really simple and accessible. Although Kards is perhaps slightly more complex, we are also big believers in simplicity when it comes to game design (and in all design in general). Strategic and tactical depth doesn't necessarily come with complexity, and complexity should only exist where it is actually fun. I realize some might find this a funny statement given our background at CCP, makers of EVE Online".
Competition is at the heart of the CCG genre, and Kards is no different. "We have a system where you rank up by playing decks with different nations and you get matched against players of a similar level. If you are the competitive type, you can aim at ranking up to the Officer Club (highest rank) as soon as you graduate from the tutorial games against the AI. Once in the Officer Club, you compete for a place within a leaderboard each season", Kristjánsson explained. "Alternatively, the Draft mode, where you create a deck from random cards and play a series of tournament-style games, is a fun competitive mode where new and old players sit at the same table. We already have had one World Championship tournament, which was great fun and exciting to watch unfold. It proved to us that the game works very well as a competitive esports game."
We also asked about how the studio is balancing style and content, to which Kristjánsson told us that, "while Kards is in some ways a rather traditional CCG, the innovations we have added to the mix are all tailored to the WWII theme and basic concepts of strategy and wargaming."
"Those innovations have proven themselves to add layers of tactical depth to the game that we are very happy with," he continued. "An example of this is the concept of the frontline. The frontline is a line in the middle of the battlefield which regular ground units need to move into and occupy before being able to attack the enemy HQ. With this simple mechanic, we've managed to add movement, range, speed and a struggle over territory to the card game, which are all pretty classic wargaming concepts."
When making another example, Kristjánsson explained how "it not only costs resources to deploy your military units (play from hand) but also to operate them (move/attack). This forces players to make tough decisions and find the correct balance between deploying more forces or operating the ones already on the battlefield. With this mechanic, we are underlining the importance of logistics and supplying armies during warfare and the crucial aspect of war which is resource management".
Despite the game having yet to officially launch, one expansion has already been released it, adding 150 additional cards and two additional nations. We asked what players can expect to see content-wise in the future.
"We plan to release a historical single-player focused campaign expansion during Q2 this year, around the time of the PC release. Once the PC release is done as well as the much anticipated mobile release, we are aiming at releasing two large expansions per year and one-two smaller ones [...] We will also keep adding a mixture of units and events from different periods in the war. However, when we add cards and content within the context of historical campaigns, we will be much more timeline aware."
There you have it. Kards - The WWII Card Game is out now on Steam Early Access and it's free-to-play.