Monday, 20 February 2012

Citadel Combat Cards; Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Gutlagg the Ogre Shaman

When I was a kid my friends and I went through a period of playing the original series of Citadel Combat Cards. These were, essentially, a species of Top Trump made, as the name suggest, by Citadel Miniatures. They sprang unbidden into my mind while reading Jeff's latest entry, which had me recollecting my 11-year-old Warhammer-playing self; I hadn't so much as thought about them in years.

The concept behind the cards was simple. You deal out the cards between the players and each player takes it in turns to call out an ability from the card at the top of his hand (say, "Strength 10"). The other players have to compare the card at the top of their hand with this. The card with the highest score in that abililty "wins" and the others "die", being cast aside. The game ends when there is only one player left with any cards.

My best friend at the time had two brothers, and the four of us spent an inordinate amount of time playing Citadel Combat Cards. I'm not sure where we got the decks from, but we had 5 - Monsters, Chaos, Warriors, Space War, and Goblinoids - which we mixed together in one super-deck; it felt like games could go on for hours (especially if you played it like Top Trumps, where the winning card "captures" the losing cards each turn, allowing them to be re-used).

It turns out that somebody has posted slideshows of all the decks on youtube: Chaos, Goblinoids, Monsters, Dwarfs, Warriors, and Space War. Looking at them, it seems there was an entire subset of rules that we never used - underneath each picture you see sigils containing things like a bow and arrow, an explosion, fangs, and so on. Presumably these had some sort of meaning which we piledrived away.

The thing I most notice about the cards now is the names. There's a real charm in things like "Gutlagg the Ogre Shaman", "Zoat the Forest Guardian", "Klaus Half-man, Mutant Thug", "Drakarth the Ravening: Mutant Spawn of Chaos", "Narx the Whiner, Goblin Musician", and "Fungus the Snotling Brave". When did Games Workship and Citadel Miniatures products get so bland?


  1. I started a long hiatus from gaming right about the time GW started to come into their own, so I missed all this, but I remember those ads from early issues of White Dwarf. I think the ads were often more inspirational than the rest of the magazine (which, lets face it, was mostly ads anyway). The character names just oozed with possibilities.

  2. Yes, there were some extra rules involving the icons, but everyone I knew just played Top Trumps with the cards.

  3. When did Games Workship and Citadel Miniatures products get so bland?

    I'd argue it's part of an overall blandification of geek culture which is possibly related to the culture going (relatively) mainstream (and the ensuing dollar$ that suddenly became at stake--people get less goofy and adventurous when there's money to be lost).

  4. I had 11 of the 15 decks (Series 1 and 2) (series 2 was of much worse quality). I played this so much I actually memorised all the stats for every card in the oldest decks I had (Monsters, Chaos, Spacewar and Goblinoids).

    Anyway the way the symbols work is that you can pick one and play it and if it ranks higher than the other player's pick, you win. You can also play all the symbols at once, then your opponent adds up their symbol-strength and the highest wins.

    The symbol in the bottom left is alignment (and is separate from the others), the star is Evil, scales are Neutral and the sword is Good. Good > Neutral > Bad. This made the Horned Dragon (if I remember correctly) good when playing with just the Monsters deck as it was the only Good aligned card.

    For completeness here is the symbol rank order: Medic, Black Magic, Magic, Blaster (also called Firepower), White Royalty
    (see note 1), Royalty, Knight, Powerful Sword, Unpowerful Sword (see note 2), Screamer, Trumpeter, Archery, Jaws

    Note 1: My friends and I didn't know if this was a printing error or not, so we credited Golrath Stern with White Royalty because his crown was white instead of yellow.
    Note 2: Unpowerful sword was again an invention due to ambiguous printing. Possibly depending on the positioning of the sword, some have an unobscured green knob on the handle. We called these unpowerful swords.

    Whilst black magic (possessed only by Great Unclean One) may also have been a printing error, it seemed less likely and more cool if it wasn't.

    I was really into this game a lot. I used to photocopy decks and sell them to others at school (illegal I know now, but I was 7 at the time) so the whole school got into it. I even did a statistical analysis of the Monsters deck that made it to the final of the state maths competition. I'm glad that others still remember and enjoy this.

    1. Thanks for sharing those reminiscences. My main memory is mixing up all the decks together into one massive super-deck and playing it with my friend and his brothers. It would take hours to get through.

  5. Hey dude, I played this tons as a kid ~20+ years ago and my G/F bought me all of the decks as an xmas present this year. I'm currently in the process of re-writing this as an android/IOS/blackberry/windows(steam) app. If you want to see a pre-alpha version on how its coming along, drop me an email at and i'll send you a link to try it out. At the minute i've replaced the deck with my own "badass" deck with arnie, chuck norris etc with stats. I'm designing it so that you will be able to easily create/put your own decks in and play with friends.

    Anyways gonna go, cool article! enjoyed reading it and hit me up if you wanna try out the app. my youtube is though i havent put anything about the app on there yet :)