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Posted on Apr 10, 2022 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

A World War I Card Game with Incredible Art and Great Game Play!  MacGowan & Lombardy’s The Great War Card Game Review

A World War I Card Game with Incredible Art and Great Game Play! MacGowan & Lombardy’s The Great War Card Game Review

Rick Martin

MacGowan & Lombardy’s The Great War Card Game Review.  Publisher: Lombardy Studios and RBM Studio  Designer:  Dana Lombardy  Art Director: Rodger B. MacGowan  Price $49.00

Passed Inspection:   solo or two player; great value for the money; beautiful artwork; easy to learn but challenging to master; includes a War of the Worlds expansion; includes a teaching aid to teach students about World War I

Failed Basic:  I would have liked to see a little more clarity on what deck is where on the player’s mat, maybe some text to one side saying something like “Bonus Deck”.

A Beautiful Box

 MacGowan & Lombardy’s The Great War Card Game is a beautifully designed game with elegant game play created by the award winning game designer Dana Lombardy and featuring artwork by the legendary Rodger MacGowan.  It not only features new World War I themed art by MacGowan but also features reprints of much of his World War I game artwork for such publishing companies as GMT Games.

So what’s in the box?  The games contents include:

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1 quick play guide

1 game overview

1 double sided page of rules

1 8 page example of play

1 double sided page of solo rules

1 double sided page of rules to add War of the Worlds Martian Tripods to the game

1 link to the Teacher’s Guide (using the game to teach the history of World War I) designed by Dave Smith and Michael Posey

1 Play Mat

200 cards

six sided and 10 sided dice

Counters

  1. Dana Lombardi succinctly sums up the game play in his article which follows this review but I’ll reprint it here.

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 card 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 dropping artillery rounds all over the battlefield). 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 MacGowan and Lombardy’s 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.”

The game is all about building your hand based upon a couple of factors.

Are you the attacker or defender for this turn?

Do you anticipate having a force built around infantry or armor or aircrafts or artillery or will you have a combined force?

A game in progress

To this end, you draw cards from your side’s card deck as well as from the neutral card deck and the bonus card deck.  You augment your cards by adding other cards which stack so, for example, I could take my aeroplane and give it an Ace pilot to increase its value or I could add an improved position to trenches to give them a greater value for defense.  The possibilities are nearly endless.

The solo system uses a series of tables which create the hand for the solo bot as well as set the strategy for the solo bot depending on whether the bot is on offensive or defensive.  A handy flow chart is used to show how the solo  bot will attempt to link its cards for maximum effect.

The solo system makes for a very difficult opponent but I won 2 out of the four solo games I played prior to writing this review.  I won as both the Central Powers and the Entente so the solo game is well balanced.

There are tons of ways that each game can play out depending  on the card draws so the replay ability is nearly endless.  This, of course, means that the game delivers excellent value for the price.

Characters can cancel each other out

The Teacher’s Guide uses the game to teach the history of The Great War.  It features a core curriculum laid out for 8 days of classroom learning.  The subjects covered are:

Day 1: Lesson #1: Causes of the Great War and an introduction to the Great War Card Game

Day 2: First play of card game and debrief

Day 3: Lesson #2: The global nature of the Great War: a lesson in geography and chronology.

Day 4: Second play of card game and debrief

Day 5: Lesson #3: The first modern war: How the industrial revolution changed warfare

Day 6: Third play of card game and debrief

Day 7: Lesson #4 : Life in the trenches

Day 8: Assessment/Project Day

As an educator, myself, and as the son of public school teacher, I really appreciate this guide.  It is well thought out and should engage the students.

Although I did not have the chance to play the War of the Worlds expansion which is included with the base game, it looks like a blast.  Who in the world would not like to put a stop to the dastardly Martian plans?

Martians are Invading!

Also note that the cards also contain the usual card suits and symbols so not only do  you get a World War I card game, but you can also use the cards as playing cards for games like Black Jack or Poker!

Samples of Cards

My only minor complaint is that I would have liked to see a little more clarity on what deck goes where on the player’s mat, maybe some text to one side of where you set the cards saying something like “Bonus Deck” or “Neutral Deck” or something since when you put the cards in their place holders, the cards cover up the text and the backs of the cards look the same.

I can’t recommend this game enough if you are interested in World War I.  Get this game!

Here is a link showing an example of game play by Dana Lombardy, himself :

Armchair General Rating:  99% (1% is bad, 100% is perfect)

Solitaire Rating: 5

(1 is not suitable, 5 is excellent solo play)

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer. He designed the games Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Expansion and Sherman Leader for DVG and has designed the solo system for Forsage Games’ Age of Dogfights.  Currently Rick is designing T34 Leader for DVG.  In addition, Rick can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

The Back Story on MacGowan and Lombardy’s The Great War card game

A game concept with dramatic graphics

By Dana Lombardy

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 hopefully 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.

Illustrations and graphics would be the key factor for this card game. If it looked good, it might entice gamers to try it. Even if my design was clever, it wouldn’t really 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 Stalingradgame (2002). In 2015 we produced several items for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. MacGowan and Lombardy’s The Great War™ (TGW) card game is our most recent collaborative effort. The game uses almost all of Rodger’s stunning World War One artwork—appearing on about 25% of the 200 playing cards. Rodger also created the play mat and box art for TGW.

My first card game was more challenging than I expected

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

I used cards in some of my previous board game designs, but TGW was my first full card game. I accomplished my objective of simple rules—just two sides of one 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. The basic game of ten Turns (20 Rounds) usually takes about 30 to 45 minutes because card play is fast. 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).

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. The initial TGW rules version 1.0 in late 2017 evolved to 6.0 by the time the game was assembled and shipped in late 2021 / early 2022–and I am very happy with the end result.

Unexpected interruptions ironically led to improvements

A professional opportunity and several personal tragedies (family deaths) dragged out the development of the game well past 2018 and beyond the end of the World War One commemoration. (You can read about The Great War 100th anniversary exhibit that consumed most of my time in 2018.)

My “deep dive” research into 1914-1918 to create the anniversary exhibit meant that by the time of Consimworld Expo in 2019 the card game was substantially changed from the initial 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 could 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 included types of historical artillery fire such as “Rolling Barrage,” plus snipers, tunneling, and the continual introduction of improvements in weapons/tactics/doctrine, etc.

With so much historical information on the cards, how was I able to keep game play simple? Icons and text on each card provide the special or unique rules on how to use that specific card. These symbols and text also explain how that card interacts with other cards. There’s no need for the players to look up card effects in the rulebook—just do what it says on the card.

Three big mistakes on Kickstarter delayed the game by months

I made three major errors running the Kickstarter campaign for TGW and these delayed the game by months.

These three mistakes were:

1) It took a lot longer to finish developing the game when I decided to add solitaire play. Originally it was just going to be a 2-player card game. It was like designing another completely separate game.

2) Adding new cards in the seven Kickstarter stretch goals required additional playtesting for some of these cards that were totally new types of cards such as sea mines and coastal artillery.

3) Adding a War of the Worlds expansion and special cards to the basic historical game—a science fiction “twist” that had a connection to both author and journalist H. G. Wells and the historical Great War armies and weapons that Wells covered in his columns. Definitely more fun but should have been held for a future expansion release. It did not have to be part of the Kickstarter campaign.

Stuka Joe interviewed me at Consimworld Expo 2021 where I explained these mistakes in detail (starting at 43:48 of the video). The beginning of the interview discusses my next game—a regimental-scale version of Streets of Stalingrad.

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 card 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 dropping artillery Rounds all over the battlefield). 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 MacGowan and Lombardy’s 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 TGW card game

In addition to Rodger and me, a host of other people helped make TGW an attractive and fun card game.

Mark Schumann designed the card layouts and icons, and Daniel Zillion colorized the historical photos and updated the cards from playtesting feedback. These two graphic artists worked with me on some of my previous games and on World War One Illustrated magazine.

Mark Kaczmarek, who has more than 50 years of 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 is 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.

Dana Lombardy tells more about the background of M&L’s The Great War in a wide-ranging podcast on No Dice No Glory

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