A FAQ for the tablet game: Kard Combat, from Hothead Games.


Kard Combat – a Guide

by Tobias D. Robison

This is a Guide to playing Kard Combat on the iPad and various phones and tablets. Kard Combat is a game developed by Hothead Games. My advice is up to date, as of October 18, 2011. I hope my advice helps you to enjoy this sophisticated game. If you also like to read fantasy novels, please mine check out.

Do you like to read fantasy novels, or do you have a friend who does? Please visit my website, RavensGift.com, for a good read, a good etext, or a good audio podcast book.

Kard Combat is a marvelous game of skill. Richard Garfield, a key developer of MtG, helped to develop Kard Combat. I believe the game was designed so that, at the Master level, the computer AI can give you a stimulating challenge.

There are superficial similarities between Kard Combat and MtG that can lure you into making false assumptions about the game. There is less luck in Kard Combat than there is in MtG, and here’s the main reason:

In MtG, you start with a pretty fat deck, and only part of it will be used in a typical game. The luck of the draw is a big factor. In Kard Combat, you can see the all of the cards you will have for each hand, and it is entirely up to you to get to them into play. You can plan ahead in Kard Combat, although your opponent’s tactics often force you to adjust. Similarly, your opponent gradually reveals its deck, allowing you to guard against very definite threats. (To see a reminder of the cards your opponent has played and may play again, tap the arrow in the upper right corner of the screen.)

This FAQ discusses the basics of Kard Combat, and then goes into some of the game’s depths. I assume that you have already read the in-game help before reading my guide.

The rules of Kard Combat are very simple. Look at the in-game help, and also look at:


Also, check out the official forums. Go to:

forums.hotheadgames.com/forum and click on Kard Combat.

Sadly, the in-game tutorial fails to explain two of the most important aspects of the game: mana and the deal:

Every card requires a number of mana points to cast. (The three numbers on each card, from left to right, are its attack value, its casting cost, and its number of lives. “Spell” cards do not have lives or attack values, only casting costs.) During the game, you get new mana, and you spend mana to play cards. Managing your mana budget is very important.

For each deal, you get five columns of four cards each. The leftmost column are cards that can only be ‘cast’ - that is, played - using fire mana. The cards in the next three columns require, respectively, water, air and earth mana. Remember this acronym: FWAE. That will remind you of the mana required by the first four columns.

There are eight other kinds of mana in Kard Combat. Each deck uses ONE of these special kinds for the cards in the fifth (rightmost) column. Your opponent might not have the same fifth column that you have. For example, a “death” deck uses death mana in column five, while a machine deck uses machine mana in that column.

The type of mana in column five, and the specialized cards that go with that kind of mana, gives each deck a distinct character. Playing the different deck types, or ‘mages’ as the game calls them, will give you very different experiences. The game developers suggest that you try them all and decide which type you play best. Different deck types suit different people. Here’s a tip: if you rarely play cards from column five of a given deck because they don’t seem very helpful, you probably lack an affinity for that type of “mage”.

By the way, the best way to try all the deck types is just to ’unlock’ the whole game. Buy it all, it’s worth it.

Dealing” in Kard Combat works like this: for each type of mana, there is a limited number of different cards. The game deals you a representative sampling, spreading out the mana requirements so that for each mana type, your cards will range from modest to powerful. If you play several deals as the same “mage”, you will see a lot of similarity in the cards you get, but there will be variations from deal to deal.

These dealing variations, with the same deck, can require you to change both strategy and tactics to win. It’s advisable to take a close look at your deck before making your first play.

In a given deal, the cards you ‘see’ are the only cards you get. (I put the word ‘see’ in quotes because the game highlights only the cards you can play at a given moment. Cards you cannot play at the moment are dulled out, unless you tap them to examine them.) When you play a card, it does not leave your layout to make room for another card! It remains there so that you can play it again, when you have enough mana to do so.

When you play a card, it casts a spell, or summons a creature copy of the card onto the gaming layout. Sometimes it’s good opening strategy to play the same card several turns in a row.

One of the game’s delights is to fight your way up the ‘tower’ of 33 duels against different decks with special challenges. During tower duels, I sometimes spend five minutes deciding on the best move. There’s a lot to think about. More about the tower, below.

One more note: as in MtG and other card games, the play of the cards alters the rules. Almost every generality I state here might be changed by a card in play. For example, each turn, you get one more mana of each type; but not if your opponent has a card in play limiting your mana growth. The attack values, mana costs and lives of your cards can change during a duel. The game always shows you their current values.

Now I’d like to give you a feel for what makes the game interesting. You choose your mage and your hand gets dealt. Study your hand. Look at the most powerful cards, which will be in each column at the bottom of the screen. Chances are, playing a few of those heavies can win the duel. But those cards have the largest mana requirements. If you play cards from the top of the column (the ones that require few mana to play), you may never get to the heavies at the bottom of the column.

Each turn, normally, the game gives you one more of each mana type to spend. If you just “skip” each turn, your mana will increase until you can play those heavy cards. But meanwhile your opponent may defeat you. Usually, you must spend mana every turn, which means that some of your best cards are unlikely to get into the game. Which columns will you play cards from, and which columns will you leave alone until they have a big mana count? Making these decisions, and deciding when to change them, is a big strategic challenge.

For example, if you play the cheap cards in your Fire column, you may never amass enough mana to play the Catastrophe card at the bottom of your fire column. In fact, if you have a Catastrophe card in your deck, you might decide never to spend a single fire mana until you can play that card to win the duel, no matter how tempting the other cards in the fire column are. And yet, if the best way to defeat your opponent is to mount a quick, fierce attack, it will be best to ignore Catastrophe and play cheap fire mana cards that have a more immediate payoff.

I often choose two columns that I will stay away from at first, to build up their mana, and play my starting cards from the other three. Sometimes I play several turns from only one column, letting the other four columns build up their mana. Your opponent may adopt similar strategies, and what you notice should alert you to the expensive cards that may attack you later in the deal.

Time and again, a critical situation arises that forces you to think. Suppose you now have enough mana to cast a powerful card; but there’s an even more powerful card below it. Should you cast this powerful card, or should you be patient, so you can get to the better card? Perhaps you have a card that will destroy all of your opponent’s cards in play, but it will also destroy all of yours. Is that worth it? You need experience to get good at these decisions.

Experience will also help you to decide when to ignore a delicious, powerful card at the bottom of a column. For example, the Behemoth (cost: 12 mana) makes a powerful entrance into the game, but some opposing decks can easily keep the Behemoth at bay. It’s sometimes better to ignore Behemoth and use your air mana on cheaper cards.

There are two types of cards: spells that do something immediate, and cards that place monsters on the layout to do battle. There are six spaces in front of you, and your opponent has six corresponding spaces. Cards attack their opposite number in this layout (or possibly other cards as well). When unopposed, they attack the opponent directly, and may lead to victory by killing off all the opponent’s Life points. Those six spaces in front of you are not all the same! Thy look the same, but the game situation-of-the-moment requires you to think about where to place every monster card.

There are cards that affect the two cards on each side (damaging them, or adding to their powers). There are “wall” cards that do not attack the card opposite them. If you play a wall onto the layout opposite an empty space, your opponent will probably put a card opposite the wall that has some dire side-effect (like Squall, which damages all your cards every turn). It’s harder to get rid of a card opposite a wall, since the wall will not attack it.

Your opponent has a fixed deck of cards, just like you. Remember what is revealed to you during the game, or use the icon in the upper right of the screen to get a reminder. Try to guess what cards your opponent has, that you have not seen yet. Be prepared.

Some hands, especially if you play the Tower challenge, require you to go for a quick kill. The quick kill strategy requires you to get monsters out on the layout fast with little regard for defense. When this strategy works, your opponent is soon near death and unable to concentrate on obliterating you with powerful cards. When the strategy fails, your opponent gradually stymies the relatively weak cards you originally attacked with (remember, those early cards had low mana costs, so they weren’t very powerful). You’ll discover when your decision to make a quick attack is wrong, wrong, wrong.

The “Lady of the Water” card is a key card in launching quick attacks. Its cost is small, so you can get several of them out there in a hurry. Each Lady of the Water costs you two life points per turn, and may cost the opponent five life points per turn. But it’s a mistake to think of that difference as “plus three in your favor”. In a quick attack, the question is whether all those fives will be too much for your opponent to handle.

There are distinctly different ways to manage a hand, and if you play the Tower challenge, you will have to learn when to use each strategy. I already mentioned going for the quick kill. Sometimes you need to counteract your opponent’s attacks from the beginning, relying on your gradual buildup of mana to win the game. Sometimes you must focus on stopping your opponent’s attempts to build mana more rapidly. (Many cards increase mana, or increase its “growth”, the amount you receive each turn.)

There are many reasons to build up a supply of mana, and you need to be aware of situations that require you NOT to spend some kind of mana. For example, if you have played the Arise monster card, that card can not be destroyed as long as you have at least ten fire mana. Some cards derive the strength their attack from the number of one type of mana you have.

Sometimes it pays to “skip a turn”. To do this, you tap the “pause” icon at the upper left, and then tap “skip turn”. “Skipping” means that you will not play a card. Your cards on the layout will still engage in combat for your turn. It’s tempting to see skipping as a sign of weakness, and it’s particularly tempting to feel victorious when your opponent skips. But skipping is sometimes the best play. You keep all your mana for the next turn, and you keep more options open. Don’t lose sight of the option to skip.

As you develop skill in this game, I hope you will select the “Master” level and let the game give you its toughest challenge. When you return to the game after an absence, be careful that the game does not slip from Master back to Expert level. It can be frustrating to discover that you’ve just won a few hands against an opponent less tough than you expected.

The Tower Challenge presents you with thirty-three opponents. In general, they get harder and harder to defeat, but you may find that some of the opponents in the middle of the tower are among the most difficult. The first few are ridiculously easy to beat. They are just warmups for a novice player.

When you lose to a tower opponent, you can “rematch” (at once, or later) and try again. The hardest challenge is to defeat all 33 without a single rematch, but the basic goal is to eventually defeat them all. (One player at the forums claimed to beat the toughest deck, Harkus, after 150 tries.)

Here’s a tip about playing the Tower challenge. Sometimes you will examine your deck, and you will know that it lacks a card you feel that you badly need. You can get a redeal to play against the same opponent again, hoping to get the card you want. Here’s how to do that: play any card for your first turn; on your second turn, click the pause icon in the upper left and select Rematch. You’ll get a fresh deal of cards.

The game’s AI is good. The Master level is noticeably harder to beat than the Expert level. However, many of the Tower decks are hard to beat because they start with more mana than you do, enabling your opponent to play powerful cards early in the duel. Keep an eye on the difference between your total mana and your opponent’s. To win, you often need to match your opponent’s mana development, or else win quickly before all that mana has much effect on you.

Read the words on each card with CARE! They usually mean exactly what they say. For example if a spell card says that it will destroy your opponent’s Death mana, it will be useless unless your opponent has a “Death” deck. If a card says it takes no damage from spells, that does not mean that the game won’t let you stupidly target that card with a spell.

As you continue to play the game, you will be fascinated by the combinations you can set up with your cards. I already mentioned playing Arise while you have ten or more fire mana. Here are a few more:

>>With Arise in play, cast Catastrophe with 21 or more mana. Your Arise card may be the only one left on the layout.

>> Play your first two attacking cards with a space between them, because your third play will be Belial, which gives those two cards “plus 2” to attack. (If you place Belial next to Squall, then Squall will do six damage to every card, every turn.)

>> Make a quick attack with several Bailiff cards. They only attack at 3, but they build up your fire mana as you cast them.

>> Using Squall with a machine deck, you can deal eight or more damage to opponent’s cards every turn.

>> Use the Nature card to build up your life, while keeping an important card in play. Your opponent may discourage you by casting Nature frequently to gain lives. But generally, Nature can only be cast every other turn, an average gain of four lives. That gain will seem a small thing if you can mount a good attack.

>> Cast several Jugglers (cheap card) before casting a spell that does damage. Juggler is also a good, cheap, defensive card.

>> When you need to defend while building up mana, the Hermit and wall cards can work well, even if they survive only a few turns. The hermit will give you life, while the walls will damage your opponent or opponent’s cards.

>> Several cards give you faster mana growth. They tend to be weak on attack, but with several of them in play, you will get fast access to your heavy cards. You will discover that it is very hard to beat a deck that generates lots more mana than you do. Do not undervalue cards that increase mana growth!

There are a few bugs in the game. A few cards do not do what their text says. Be aware that updates and fixes occur slowly, because each update (for the iPad) has to be approved by Apple.

Thanks for reading! Do you like to read fantasy novels, or do you have a friend who does? Please visit my website, RavensGift.com, for a good read, a good etext, or a good audio podcast book.

Please email suggestions, corrections and questions to: tobyr21 at gmail.com . I am RavensGift at facebook.

- Toby Robison

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