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High Command – A Customizable Deck Builder?

An explanation of the merging of two card game types into High Command.
This article is over 10 years old and may contain outdated information

If I described a game to you that combined the mechanics of a deck-building game, customizable card game, the availability of an FFG living card game and the game had eight factions you would probably expect a train wreck of game mechanics that just aren’t suited well with each other. Instead, you get High Command from Privateer Press. While this isn’t Privateer’s first foray into card gaming, it is their first attempt at a card game with regular releases. After a few games and an event under my belt, I can say that it is a solid game.

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I grabbed my copies of Hordes and Warmachine: High Command at Gencon and I’ve been lugging them around ever since. Bringing them back to my local game store, there has been a very excited response. Most players at my LGS have tossed around the idea of a solid card game that is worth playing, but most of them don’t like the idea of the “card hunt” popularized by randomized booster packs, and they especially don’t want to spend their valuable time building decks before events.

High Command removes both of these needs.

When you sit down at a table to play, you choose three warcasters (or warlocks in the Hordes box) and each one can select one detachment to come with them. A detachment is a color-coded set of twelve cards that represents the forces under your command. Each faction has six detachments and mixing up your warcasters will mix up your deck for you. None of that nasty mulling over which card to take out in order to have one more of the one you want. Much like the new Star Wars card game, in a way, your deck will be built for you.

So what is a deckbuilding game doing with factions? Most deckbuilders require each player to start with the same exact set of resources and they only have access to the same awesome cards that you’ll never be able to buy because you don’t have the resources or when you do, that jerk to your right buys it right before your turn. With High Command, you have your own Reinforcement deck. This deck makes up the cards that you and only you will be able to add to your deck throughout the game. You might start with the same pile of basic resource cards like most deck builders, but the similarity ends there. Each faction thrives on it’s own tricks and resource combinations. Only a few turns down the road, those very similar resource decks should be brimming with a strong faction identity. You’ll still have some of the basic cards that you started with for the whole game, but you’ll find that you can actually still use them.

To win the game, you will need to accrue victory points. There is the slow way and the, supposedly, short way. The slow way is buying cards. Some of your more powerful cards bring along victory points. This is probably meant to reward you for not being able to buy anything else on your turn due to their price. The short way involves fighting the other players for locations. It takes a little more effort than buying a card and putting it in your deck, but the Victory point rewards are far higher. In able to take a location for its points, you must be able to have two units at a location at the start of your turn. That means you have to have those units survive the inevitable onslaught of opposing forces meant to keep you from scoring. While it seems simple enough, the various card interactions can make combat interesting. Some units can’t even be fought the first turn. Others are worthless on the attack, but bulwarks of defense. Finally, you can add those aforementioned warcasters to attacks. They are good for a quick burst of added strength and usually a strong ability that will make your opponent wince. Many of the warcasters have powers that are incredibly similar to their miniature counterparts. Each of them can only be used once, but they will almost always turn the tide of battle.

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t really like deck builders. There are a few, such as Eminent Domain, that I really enjoy, but many like Dominion that I just can’t. It’s not that they aren’t good games, I’m just terrible at them. I really like High Command. There is no telling if it will survive the eventual “fall” of the deck building games, but I have faith it will last beyond the craze. Also, I’m terrible at this game, too.

FYI, the art at the top of the screen belongs to the great company Privateer Press!

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High Command – A Customizable Deck Builder?
An explanation of the merging of two card game types into High Command.

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Image of Landon Sommer
Landon Sommer
While I do play some of the greats like Civilization and X-com, consider me your Tabletop guru here at gameskinny. Want to know about a tabletop game? Just ask!