This article is sponsored by 1939 Games.
World War II has served as the historical setting for countless video games over the years. Most of these games have been first-person shooters that put you smack-dab in the middle of the battlefield. But 1939 Games’ free-to-play KARDS takes a more unique approach to WWII, infusing classic CCG gameplay with historical references to the war, including weapons, vehicles, equipment, stratagems, and more. It’s the coolest, most enjoyable history lesson I’ve had in recent memory, and it’s fun to play as well, especially when testing your skills against an online opponent.
Gameplay is simple, addictive, and rewards a measured approach. You first choose which nation to play as (US, Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Russia). Each nation comes equipped with a starter deck that can be expanded based on your needs on the battlefield. Turns see you drawing and playing cards from your hand, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of your opponent’s headquarters.
The battlefield setup is simple: You and your opponent each have a headquarters, represented by a card with defense points. On the support line, you can deploy up to four units any way you want on either side of the HQ, while you can have an additional five cards on the frontline. The goal is to attack the enemy base by strategically advancing ground-based units like tanks and infantry, and you can also launch devastating ranged attacks with artillery and air units from the support line, bi-passing the frontline in the process. Using a combination of all of these different units is the key to victory.
KARDS isn’t just about killing all of your enemies as quickly as possible, though. It’s a game of patience and intelligence. Each card costs a certain number of “kredits” to deploy, which makes strategy, planning, and pacing paramount. On my first go-round, I made the mistake of going gung-ho and blitzing the enemy base on the front line too early, exhausting my resources and guaranteeing a punishing defeat. When playing online, you’ll always be matched up with players of a similar rank, so even though you’ll get blown out of the water occasionally, no battle is ever un-winnable.
Winning the battle is about exploiting your enemy’s weaknesses. Taking control of the frontline is the first step to victory, and you will usually be vying for the offensive position back and forth with your opponent for most of the game, advancing your forces into attack range, which can be really exhilarating, especially when someone takes a big risk. Once you break through, you’ll have to methodically take out the rest of your enemy’s defenses to achieve complete victory.
For those familiar with CCGs, KARDS is an easy pick-up-and-play experience. At times it’ll seem like all is lost, but one high-cost card can swing the momentum of battle in an instant, so it’s always worthwhile to fight each match out to the bitter end (though surrender is always an option). In almost all of my matches, winning and losing seemed to rest completely on deploying my cards at the right moment. Each nation supports a different kind of tactical approach, so taking the time to try them all and pick the right nation for you will help greatly in the long run when you’re pitted against higher level opponents.
The coolest aspect of KARDS are the cards themselves. Some represent real infantry units from the war, like the United States’ 7th Infantry Regiment and the British Army’s 7th Armoured Division, better known as the “Desert Rats.” You can also command real vehicles that were used in the war, like the M24 Chaffee tank and the F6F Hellcat, and use “Order” cards that reference the different countries’ respective strengths, like Japan’s naval prowess and Germany’s “blitzkrieg” battle method.
Because KARDS’ cards are historically inspired, there’s a rich history behind them that you won’t find in other CCGs. Many of them use real art and propaganda from the era, which really immerse you in the experience (as does the game’s presentation, which includes some nice animations and a really great vintage soundtrack playing on a gramophone in the background). By their nature, CCGs won’t ever be the flashiest games to look at, but 1939 does a great job of creating an appealing atmosphere that feels authentic, as if the game itself is a WWII time capsule.
All of the beautiful art, combined with the deep historical significance of each card, makes for a rich experience that’s both engaging and educational. If you want to learn more about some of the depictions on the cards in your deck, there’s an in-game encyclopedia of sorts that will expand your knowledge of the historical background. And if you’re like me, the game will likely shove you into an internet rabbit hole that’ll result in hours of WWII research outside of the game itself. Unlike most fast-paced, explosive-heavy shooters today, KARDS takes a more thoughtful approach to its subject matter that will make you think and want to learn more about the events of WWII.
I wasn’t expecting to be inspired to deepen my WWII knowledge after playing KARDS, but that’s the road the game has sent me on, and I’m loving it. And it’s due to the fact that the game is so lovingly made by the team at 1939 Games, whose infectious enthusiasm bleeds through every aspect of KARDS. Unlike almost every WWII game ever, KARDS is an experience that celebrates the stratagems and heroics of war rather than focusing on the violence. This is especially pertinent to people like me, whose family members fought in the war and achieved real-life hero status.
This week, there is a new, free expansion available called KARDS: Allegiance, which includes two new allied nations, France and Italy, each with their own cards that open up unique ways of playing the game. There are 150 new cards included in the expansion, so now is a great time to jump into the game if you haven’t tried it already. The game offers purchasable packs and upgrades, but there are plenty of awesome cards available free of charge.
Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.