Citadel Combat Cards and the Golden Age of Miniatures

Monster miniatures are one of those subjects that I‘ve been meaning to write about for a while, but much like my painting schedule (I think I just might be the world’s slowest painter), I haven’t gotten around to it (until now).  I really got into miniatures around the same time that I graduated from playing a henchman in my older brothers’ D&D games and started running games for my friends.  So owning and painting minis will always be intertwined in my mind with the idea of being a dungeonmaster.  Coincidentally, this is also when Citadel adopted the ‘slotted base’ and moved from a pure 25mm scale to the larger 28mm size (both changes which today are industry standards).
I’m not sure what it was about those early miniatures that clicked so deeply with me.  Maybe it was the John Blanche and Ian Miller artwork which Fighting Fantasy books had already planted in my mind.  Maybe it was the way Citadel was changing miniature design.  Everyone’s opinion on the ‘golden age’ of anything is subjective, but for me this was the golden age of miniatures.  I know objectively that sculpting techniques and advances in materials have made unquestionably better miniatures over the years, but much like the first James Bond movie that you see indelibly marks you with an opinion on the ‘best Bond’, nothing will replace those Citadel miniatures from the late 80’s and early 90’s for me (yes, I even like ‘beaky’ space marines).
Whenever I had the money, I would pick up a blister pack, or split one with my friends (minis were a lot cheaper back then – if I were a kid now I don’t think getting into miniatures on my family’s budget would be possible).  I started collecting White Dwarf magazine, even though at that time it covered only Games Workshop games.  I poured over the painting and modelling advice and the ‘eavy metal section of photographed miniatures (the artwork kicked ass too).  For Christmas one year I got a copy of Advanced Heroquest, and my friends and I played the hell out of it (I still have many of those plastic skaven); I played a little epic scale Warhammer 40,000, but I wouldn’t have even known those games existed if it hadn’t been for White Dwarf.
Somewhere in that mix I came across Citadel Combat Cards.  As a game, there really wasn’t much to the cards.  They were basically another version of war, or top trumps – if you were bored they were good to kill a half an hour with your little brother but that was about it.  But the pictures on the cards were the main attraction.  They featured photos of the ‘greatest hits’ of the citadel miniatures line.  Like ‘eavy metal in White Dwarf, the pictures on these cards opened my eyes to the potential miniatures held – they could be works of art in themselves and the choices you made as a painter could completely alter the personality of the finished product.   They also became something of a wishlist for miniatures I wanted to own.  Even now, when I have far too much unpainted lead (enough to enrage my partner), if I see one these miniatures listed on ebay, it’s hard not to scream “It must be mine!”
Now I lost my collection (Chaos, Dwarf, Goblinoid, Monster and Warrior) of Combat Cards years ago, and since then I’ve been looking for a scan of them on the internet (they are long out of print and far too expensive to pick up on resale).  Enter Ben from the blog Darkly Through Glass to answer my muttered oaths.  Besides being a nice guy, he’s also been scanning his (amazingly pristine) sets of Combat Cards and posting the digital copies for the benefit of nostalgia obsessed souls like me (his download page is here).
I have a pretty good memory of the cards, but actually being able to flip through them once again really took me back (and more importantly made me vow to pick up my brush more often).  You should check them out for yourself, but here are a few of my favourites (click for full size):

Ah, the unholy quartet of Chaos.  In high school I was absolutely obsessed with the Realm of Chaos stuff, especially the art of Ian Miller who I desperately tried to emulate (ripe fodder for another post).   I’ve also always wanted a complete set of the 4 greater daemons.  It’s only taken me two decades but I’ve only got one more to go – for some reason old-style bloodthirsters are in much higher demand than the others (and a little out of the reasonable price range).

More Chaos.  Many years ago, without knowing the Combat Card connection, Sathash was the first miniature my partner ever got for me (is there a better sign of true love?).  I stole the look of Stugen and Droog in their bone armour for my depiction of Hedrack when I ran the Temple of Elemental Evil (and its 3rd edition sequel Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil).

Finally, I’m pretty sure that Snoti and Bogi here are the reason for my love of annoying little goblinoids and imps (probably the Wormy comic as well) to torment my players with (as helpers, enemy familiars, messengers, even a loan officer in Planescape).

Update

Ben has moved to a new blog, Fantasy3D and has completed the scans of all the original Citadel Combat Card decks, which can be found on his download page here.

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5 Responses to Citadel Combat Cards and the Golden Age of Miniatures

  1. Alex says:

    Kill time with your little brother eh? Well I cant complain, I used to love playing this with you and looking at the cards again takes me back…. ahhhh Nostalgia! I think I may have even beaten you a couple times! Well, maybe not.

    • OK you got me, it wasn’t so bad ‘killing time’ – I was just trying to sound cool. The game depended a lot on randomness so the odds are you won a couple of games at least. I wasn’t able to develop any secret strategy to beating you like I did with Fatal Fury for the super nintendo… I believe Big Bear is still holding on to his perfect undefeated record :)

      • Alex says:

        NOT BIG BEAR!!!!! I have nightmares about that guy still to this day. Thats OK, I believe it shaped me as a person! You can never rise up unless you get Beat Down right, ha ha ha.

  2. Wow, this article brought back a massive wave of nostalga! I remember playing imposter with these pretty much every single lunchbreak when I was a kid, and that era is everything I imagine when I think of classic miniatures :D
    So thanks for that!

    P.S found you on the RPG Blog Alliance, I’m now a proud member of the same illustrious group.

    Take care!

    • Thanks, Games Workshop are definitely still making great miniatures, but I think they’ve lost a lot of the personality they used to be known for.

      I’m also a ‘new recruit’ in the RPG Blog Alliance. My experience so far has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s run by a great bunch of people, and the community seems active and diverse.