Havoc card driven melee system

I am pleased to report that Havoc, the Combat Card game is about to launch on Kickstarter.  Launch day is set for Friday, 10-22-2021.  It is published by Havoc Games LLC, which is run by me and a partner.  Our professional webpage for the company and the game can be found here –


Havoc! is a man to man melee system for individual combat with hand weapons, from ancient times to the late medieval period.  It can be played as quick playing, stand alone game, and can also be used as the combat system for RPGs.  A table top RPG in a fantasy setting is planned that will use the system for tactical combat, but the fighting game proper is what you get in the Havoc! release.  We have lots more places to learn about Havoc! – a youtube channel, page on Board Game Geek, Instagram page, etc.  Here are links for a few –





Havoc! uses cards for almost everything while using dice (normally 2D10) to resolve the success or failure of player actions.  Combatants construct a Combat Action Deck of 25 cards before their fight, which controls their possible actions. Different weapons, classes, and skill levels modify the allowed mix of Combat Action Cards that can go into this deck, with the player free to design their deck within those constraints to suit their preferred fighting style.  Combatants normally won’t be able to fill up their 25 card deck with attacks and defenses and will have to fill it out to that total with Pause cards.  This allows fine gradations in fighter speed to be modeled, since the slower fighter must include more Pause cards in his deck.

A combat Round consists of drawing a hand of cards – normally 7 of them – and then playing them against each other one at a time with simultaneous reveal.  There are 6 such card vs card Impulses in the round, so not all cards need be used in some cases.  Cards fall into the categories of attacks, active defenses, and pauses, with the first two also varying by specific types within that category.  The interaction of played card choices determine modifiers to the chances of attacks hitting the opponent.  Rolls determine specific results which damage the opponent or may put persistent Conditions on them that affect them until removed.

That’s the basic outline, but there are many additional tactical nuances to make the system realistic and interesting.  One combatant will always have the Initiative at any given moment, which means if both players attack, that player’s attempt is resolved first, and if he hits his opponent he loses his own attack.  Initially Initiative goes to the fighter with a longer weapon, but some interactions can change this to the shortest weapon, or the fastest fighter (fewest Pause cards in his deck).  There is always a Distance between the fighters, starting as Long but changeable to Short, Contact, and Out of Reach, which each have effects on Initiative and allowed actions while that Distance obtains.

In the first Impulse of each round, combatants also chose Movement Tactics – their “footwork”, effectively, as Close, Stand Ground, or Keep Distance. These can change the range for the second Impulse and the chances of hitting each other on the first.  Successful active defenses also have effects on these things – shield parries can change the range to Short, dodges can change the range to Long, and so on.

Besides their weapons, combatants have their defensive equipment of armor, shields, and supplemental armors (helmets e.g.) that can reduce the effects of enemy attacks, and may also have special abilities that can be used to “break the rules” once per round or once per combat.  These normally have conditions that must be fulfilled to use them and can confer a significant advantage when successfully used.

Fights are normally short and brutal affairs over in 2-3 Rounds.  In longer combats, the fighters will Tire and do less damage, while also seeing all of their action deck and thus reaching their expected portion of attacks and defenses.  Action decks are “endless” in the sense that discards are reshuffled as soon as you need to draw additional cards and your draw deck is empty, as in familiar deck building games.

While normally played with two players and one on one duels, there is a solitaire system for fighting against an “automated” opponent, and rules for 2 on 1 fights.  Fights against larger number of opponents are handled as a succession of 2 on 1s in which the side with greater numbers can “tap” a fresh combatant to take the place of 1 previous fighter each round.  This models the difficulty getting space around an actively moving fighter using footwork to control who he needs to face at the same time, while still allowing large advantages to any side that locally outnumbered their opponent.

Special rules also cover things like missile combat before melee, fighting mounted, and so on.

The game comes with a wide range of cards, from the main Combat Action Cards themselves used to make the playing decks to combatant and equipment cards to cover every variety of fighter with all sorts of weapons.  Condition and damage cards track what happens to the combatants, and there are also cards for fighter “archetypes” and “foes” to use as templates for created combatants.  These include their default action decks, making them suitable for use solo and the like.  So you can have a Legionaire fight a Gaullic Spearman, for example, or a Norman knight fight a Saxon Housecarl.

An archetype card  is a “recipe” for creating a combatant.  The sample above shows the name and an image of the fighter type on the card back, while the card face contains all the entries needed to assemble this fighter from the rest of the Havoc! card set.  Nothing on the archetype card effects game play beyond specifying the set of cards to use for that combatant type, and you are free to modify the existing archetypes to try new possibilities.  They are provided as starting points, in other words.

On the player mats provided in the game to help new players understand where everything goes, the archetype card goes in the upper left corner on the bottom of the “character cards” stack.  Use it to pull the other cards the combatant will use and put each in its appropriate place on the player mat your first couple of times.  After you understand the layout of your card  “tableaux”, you can dispense with the player mat if you like or keep using it.

Above the archetype, place a Class card – say a Knight – and the appropriate Prowess card, 1-10.  Leave the Prowess card on top of the stack, face up, as you will consult it most frequently during play.  The class card contains information about special abilities of this class, including a few bonuses (warriors get -1 on all active defenses, rogues get +1 with a chosen missile weapon e.g.).

Body and fatigue cards are numerical record keeping devices that go in the upper right and lower right of the player mat respectively.

Fatigue is lost one per round and one each time you are hit, absorbing the first point of received damage while it lasts.  Some other conditions can also cost you fatigue.  When all your fatigue is gone you are Tired, and the damage you do with your own attacks falls – technically, your strength factor (SF) is reduced by 1.

Body is your life and health, and you are incapacitated and out of the fight when it is gone.  When you have received 50% of your maximum body you must also pull a Wound card, and it you ever fall to -50% of your maximum body (meaning you took 150% of your body in damage) then you are dead.

The next listings on the archetype card are for weapons and armor, which together are called equipment.  You can have any number of weapons but only a single one ready at any time; put your ready weapon on top of the stack in the player mat slot for it.  You can use a 1 handed weapon with or without a shield, and a 2 handed weapon only without a shield.

You can ready a new weapon or discard a shield (to switch to 2 handed use of an existing weapon e.g) after any impulse in which you Pause and are not hit by your opponent by discarding 1 Combat Action card (not a Pause).  The same procedure is used to ready a melee weapon if your initially equipped weapon was a missile weapon.  If you switch to a melee weapon at medium range or longer, you can do so before melee without Pausing or spending a card.

Armor is the next slot.  Armor includes your base “worn” armor which affects all attacks directed at you, reducing their chance of hit and the damage they cause, depending on the type of attacking blow your opponent uses.  The armor card contains a chart of these effects with rows for each enemy attack type, and columns for the “to hit” and the “damage” effects.  Put this base armor  card on the top of the stack face up, as you will consult it frequently during play.  Armor can also provide a “wound save” that can let you ignore wound card effects for certain wound cards.  Base armor provides wound saves vs hits on the torso, other “supplemental” armors only provide wound saves vs a few wound cards (helmets,  gauntlets, and greaves).

A shield also goes on your armor stack.  Shields can provide different bonuses when using an active shield parry, when Pausing, and vs missile weapons, each is listed separately on the shield card.

To the right of your equipment you have a spot for any special abilities.  Our Germanic Crusader archetype has the Shield Blow special ability, which lets him knock cards out of an opponent’s hand after a successful shield parry.  Keep unused special abilities face up in to the right of your weapon, and when they are exhausted, turn them sideways and move them down a slot toward you, face down.

Last but not least, an archetype card provides a default sample Combat Action Deck composition for the fighter.  This will always be a 25 card deck, with Pause cards added to fill it out to that size.  Our Crusader has 4 great blows (special to his Knight class), 4 cut attacks, 2 blade parries and 4 shield parries.  That leaves 11 cards as Pauses.

Note that he has that number of blows because of his class, his weapon (a broadsword), and his prowess cards, which in this case provide 4 GB for being a Knight, 8 for the weapon, and +1 attack, +1 defense for his prowess 5.  Stick with the given action deck at first to get used to this type of fighter, but then you can try changing his deck composition within the limits set by those cards.  The number of non-pause action cards in a combatant’s deck is his Speed, here 14.