Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Card(s), Sir! - Part 1

As I prepared to give To the Strongest! a play test, it became evident that I would need some cheap decks of playing cards to use with the game, which uses no dice whatsoever. A little on line searching determined that the best overall deal was from For potential convention games, as well as the best price, I decided to get 12 decks, with contrasting backs - half red, half blue.

The "Jumbo" refers to the "index" size, not the card size. These are standard size, paper. plastic coated playing cards, from a well known manufacturer. 

While I was at it, I decided to get a box of cheap plastic poker chips as well - very useful for tracking Morale Points in Piquet/Field of Battle family games, or "resource dice" for Die Fighting, or ammunition for To The Strongest... etc.  The whole order came to a little under $42 all together, so about $3 per deck

"Large" or "Jumbo" index refers to the size of the "index", or marking  suit and denomination of the card, as opposed to the illustration on the face of the card. I figured that, for a game like TtS, this would make it easier to quickly identify the number of the card (TtS most part just uses the 1 - 10 spot cards from the deck). from across the table. 

    Anyway, this got me thinking about the use of cards in Wargaming, and specifically the many, many decks of cards I have specifically for particular wargames, the majority of which I have designed and printed myself. Much more about those will follow in some subsequent posts. For the rest of this post, I'll make a lateral diversion into the subject of playing cards in general.

    I have loved playing cards for as long as I can remember. That is, the cards themselves - the bright, bold designs of card faces, especially the Court cards, and the various designs that grace their backs as well. I recall having a box containing a collection of playing cards when I was 5 or 6 year old. The box had cards from incomplete decks of no use to anyone, but I still liked them for their varied designs and colors. I still like playing cards for their own sakes. I have Civil War decks, and French Napoleonic decks. I love traditional German card designs with their odd suits like acorns and bells. The traditional suits - clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades - that we use for standard playing cards are said to be of French origin. I even have a Tarot deck, of which more will be said another time. 

    My parents were both avid bridge players. Given the aforementioned,it is hardly surprising that I soon acquired a love of card *games* as well. Indeed, I learned the basics of playing Contract Bridge from my parents by the time I was about 7 years old; I had to use a plastic card holder at first as the cards were too big for my hands! My parents periodically held friendly Bridge parties, and they soon became my favorite events. I loved playing with adults - much better than playing with cards kids my own age. 

    When I was about 9, my parents joined a (fairly inexpensive) Yacht Club on Long Island Sound, in order to have a place to moor the approximately 24 foot sailboat my dad had salvaged and repaired himself over the course of several years. On one of our first trips to the "club" my parents, my sister (one year younger) and I had some time to kill, so we went into the Card Room to play some bridge for a while. as my parents loved to tell it, the crowd in there was rather stuffy, and from their looks it was clear they questioned what such young children were doing in this adult space! Well, the cards were shuffled and dealt, the bidding took place, and I won the opening trick of the first hand with a Ten or something, commenting, "Well, that was a cheap trick!". The assembled notables laughed out loud, and from then on we were OK in the Card Room!

   My Paternal grandfather's favorite card game was Michigan, so we had the set up for that game, too, and played it whenever he visited. My maternal grandmother also played bridge and was fairly good at it, so we often played with her when she visited (my sister, although perfectly able to play bridge, never like it or card games in general that much. so she'd usually sit out or bow out early. She became an attorney. Figures, LOL!). Her favorite game, though was Canasta, IIRC the Samba variation, and she and I used to play that for hours when she would visit us from New York City. 

    In high school, we had at least one free period a day most days. My High school; had an enormous Student Center which was a combination social gathering, lunchroom, study hall, etc.  The group of guys that I hung out with in school were all avid game players, and we regularly played chess there, but our favorite card games were 500 Rummy and Hearts. Especially Hearts; we played a rather complex variant of Omnibus Hearts, where the hearts all count 1 point against you, except the Queens of Hearts and Spades both count 13, and the jack of Diamonds counts -5 (good). Combined with the pass, 2 of clubs lead, and "shooting the moon" it is a truly evil game requiring a lot more strategy than is apparent at first, not to mention the interpersonal elements in deciding when and who to dump the penalty cards on. My wargames friends in HS and I also played Bridge, Hearts, Crazy 8's, and sometimes even chess at down times when we weren't pushing lead.

    When I worked on the staff at a Scout camp during four summers in high school and college, we often played poker (and chess) in our free time in the evening. Sometimes we'd wager small amounts (nickel/dime, for poker) but usually just played for fun. Interestingly, I played very little card games in college, although there was one notable game of Penny Ante poker during my sophomore year. A bunch of us were playing while watching the UConn - UMass basketball game on TV. The game was sold out, and being broadcast from the field house, which we could literally see from my dorm  room window; indeed, the signal was actually being relayed from the roof of my dorm, which was on a sizable hill, and 9 stories tall - as it turns out, it was the highest point between Boston and Hartford at the time! Anyway, with drinking age having been lowered to 18 at the end of the Vietnam War, we were all drinking beer over the course of the several hour game (both basketball and poker). Now, I had really not drank much alcohol in my life at that time, so I wound up drinking 9 beers that night. I felt fine until that 9th one, LOL!  Oops. I had a hangover for 2 days after the inevitable vertigo and vomiting. Being drunk like that once was more than enough for me, and it probably also partially explains while I don't really like beer to this day. Wine, and many other kinds of alcohol, are not a problem at all, although I don't like feeling intoxicated at all. Aversive conditioning at its finest!

The Finger Lakes region of upstate New York abounds with vinyards, and we usually visit a few each time we visit the area. There are many wines there that we enjoy, bu the above is our #1 favorite; we bought ha;f a case of it when we were there last month!

    I also played almost no cards in Medical school - not much time,l and what time I did have was spent painting or playing miniatures games (or sleeping, LOL). When I got married, my wife's parents were also both fairly avid bridge players, and my wife and I used to play with them regularly, especially on New Year's Eve. When my Father in Law passed away about 10 years ago, that broke up the necessary foursome, though. My mother in-law, now age 89, still plays bridge several times a week, including Duplicate. We have neighbors who like to play Pitch, so we play that with them a few times a year. Of my two daughters, my older daughter likes a number of games, including Hearts (which she's exceptionally good at), and board games like The Settlers of Catan. My younger daughter has really never "got" games in general, so we seldom play with her. 

    Well, that was a much longer ramble than I had intended when I set out writing this post, so it's time to bring it back to wargaming!  From the earliest years that I started wargaming back in the late 1960's, most books on the subject mentioned using cards in passing, usually in the form of a deck of "chance" cards to introduce unique events into the game. I read about this, but had never made use of cards in a wargame... until Bob Jones introduced the first of his Piquet family wargames in 1995. I got my first set of these rules circa 1997, and was immediately intrigued. A solo test game followed shortly, where I did almost everything wrong, but had a blast playing it anyway. The original rules came with an Army Characterization deck, and two Sequence decks, one for each side. These were professionally printed, but proved a real nuisance from an inventory standpoint.

The Army Characterization Deck is used during the set up the game, both to determine the number of the critical Morale Chips the Army starts with, and to give your army different characteristics characteristics and/or special stratagems unique to that battle. You can get an idea of the variety of effects this process could gnerate from the examples seen above. 

 The sequence decks were designed to be usable for the broad Horse and Musket era from about 1700 to 1900.

 A later version of the Sequence decks for the 1700 - 1900 era; IO prefer the earlier design myself. 

When the Archon, and later, Band of Brothers 1st editions came out, they too came with professionally printed Sequence decks, usable from about 2000 BC to 1600 AD.

I became (and remain) very involved with the Piquet/Field of Battle family and games, authoring several products for it. Since 1997, it has been rare for me to play or run a game that does NOT have cards as a central element of it. That lead to my desire to create my own customized decks, which will be the subject of a future post or two. Brent Oman later took over ownership of the Piquet line from Bob, and has produced optional professionally printed cards for two of  his designs.

Field of Battle - a great wargame, especially for more than 2 players a side. Larger games were  a weakness of Piquet.

Pulse of Battle, the Ancients version of the Field of Battle style of rules.


  1. Interesting recollections of your past, Peter. Card playing was a prominant feature in my childhood as well. Perhaps that was a generational activity? As a lad, the family card game of choice was Pinochle but Bridge did follow suit later. Ah, I remember the Pinochle parties my parents held and was quite excited when I was finally allowed to join the adults.

    When I need cards for a game, I typically head to the local Dollar Store. There they can be found inexpensively and plentifully.

    1. "Bridge did follow suit" LOL, goos one, Jon!

      While I enjoy computer games as well, I'd much rather play a card game in person!

    2. Yeah, I know. I'll be here all week...

  2. Card games? Do you remember Gallagher's campaign game from college with the event cards, like....assassinate?

    1. I'd forgotten about the cards... if not the Viking raiders! Steve was certainly creative!

  3. 500 was always my favourite.

    Which takes me back to the eleven very happy years I spent in New Zealand where we used to book a camping weekend away at the end of each study year, which usually resulted in us being on an isolated beach somewhere drinking and playing our way through a '500' "tournament".

    1. Sounds like good times, Lawrence!

      We'll be spending the (US) Holiday weekend at my daughter's in-law's cabin in rural Massachusetts, so some of the above may be on tap for us during the evenings!