Hearts of Battle

Mass combat resolution using playing cards.


This supplemental game is meant as a fun and tactical way to play out mass combat encounters in fantasy tabletop adventure games. Many games can produce large wandering monster encounters during wilderness travel, such as OD&D(1974), Expert Dungeons & Dragons (Cook), and their various modern retroclones. A wandering company of bandits or an undead horde of skeletons, for instance, could materialize during play, presenting a big challenge. The players may even be prepared for such a fight with a company of mercenaries or followers in their retinue. How then would be best to play out this battle at the table

Instead of trying to deploy a traditional wargame approach that would require lots of miniatures and a large table of terrain which may take much time to set up and even longer to play the battle out, this system is designed like a simple hex and counter wargame, one that can be set up quickly and without much planning ahead. Further, this game tries to hold on to some of the tactical play and granular decision making of wargames—the meat, if you will. This is for those groups that don’t just want mass combat to be handwaved, or handled completely abstractly by merely chucking handfuls of dice. In lieu of dice, the entire battle is resolved using only a standard deck of playing cards, some counters, and a hexagonal grid battle map. To march your company of adventurers and followers to victory, you’ll need more than mere luck; careful planning and guile are also needed to win the day!

Picture this scenario—while traveling with a small company of men-at-arms, mercenaries, and hirelings, the players encounter a marauding warband of some thirty orcs. Scouts have spotted them a mile or so off, giving the party a short time to consider their options. With surprise as their ally, the players prepare for battle.

Designer’s note: The 1” hex grid was chosen for this system because of the popular game products available that use exactly this size, such as the classic Chessex wet erase gaming mats. It’s a fairly ubiquitous resource that many tabletop gamers have access to.

Summary of Play

Each player takes turns maneuvering their units to engage the enemy. During combat, each player plays a number card for their attacking unit, without going over that unit’s strength (number of combatants in the unit), to attempt to beat the defender’s card (who must also not go over their defending unit’s strength). The difference between the cards—the attacker’s card minus the defender’s card—is the resulting number of casualties the defending side suffers. If the defender’s card is higher or equal to the attacker’s, then no combatants are lost. Play continues back and forth with each side attacking with their units over several game rounds to determine who is victorious

The beta print-and-play version of the game is available on my itch.io page for free.


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