Collectible card games

Ultimate Combat!

Players 2
Age range 10+
Playing time Approx 30 min
Random chance Some
Skill(s) required Card playing
Basic Reading Ability

Ultimate Combat! is a collectible card game designed around the concept of Asian martial arts combat. The game was designed by judo sensei Dave Long and released in 1995 by Ultimate Games. It is very similar to Magic: The Gathering It was endorsed by the US Judo Association Team, the US Taekwondo Team and the USA Wrestling Team.

The base set covers the martial arts of judo, karate, jujitsu, tae kwon do, boxing and wrestling. The first and only expansion to the base set was The Ancient Fighting Arts of China. This covers the Chinese martial arts of kung fu and t'ai chi. It was researched with the assistance of Dr Chi-Hsiu Wing of Beijing University and Professor Yoshihiro Uchida of San Jose State University.

Gameplay summary

Players in Ultimate Combat! compete to knock their opponent unconscious using cards representing various martial arts moves and techniques. Players alternate turns with each turn consisting of the following phases:

Players build up a base of power by deploying foundation cards over successive turns (akin to land cards in Magic: The Gathering), and then use those foundations to bring other cards into play. The most important of these other cards are the technique cards, which can be used to launch or block an attack. Each turn, during the activity phase, the acting player may launch an attack using a single technique which has previously been brought into play, and the other player can respond by blocking with a technique or his or her own. Any and all techniques used in an attack are discarded afterwards, so players must weigh whether to expend a technique on defense, as it will then not be available for offense. Various modifiers are applied to attack values based on whether the combatants are moving, and as a result of any advantage cards played during the attack, with the final resolution possibly including the defender taking damage.


Ultimate Combat! began its existence as a board game created by Dave Long in 1987 for play by members of the US Judo International Traveling team - judo players who were at the 'top of the heap' in US Judo and odds-on favorites to make the 1988 Olympic Team. The board game, which is unnamed, included about 20 different playable characters, each with different levels of physical strength, speed, stamina, and a variety of techniques. Attacks could be enhanced with the addition of strength and speed points, and were more effective when moving in each technique's favorite direction.

That little game languished in obscurity until 1994 when Dave was introduced to Magic: the Gathering, a brand new collectible card game (CCG). He was impressed by the M:tG gaming system and felt that it would fit very well with his six-year-old judo board game and after 6 months of working with fledgling game designers, rules "lawyers", and a lot of playtesters, Ultimate Combat! was ready to go into production. At that point, Dave raised a quarter of a million dollars from 22 investors in less than 24 hours, traveled to a number of card manufacturers looking at production and card mixing systems, and ended up signing a deal with Upper Deck of San Diego, who put Ultimate Combat! on the shelves of card stores in the spring of 1995.

Scrye magazine ended up naming Ultimate Combat! as the best new CCG of 1995, but unfortunately for UC! fans, it was introduced alongside 58 other new CCGs in 1995. This resulted in difficulties achieving a sustainable income producing fan base. After the single Ancient Fighting Arts of China expansion, Ultimate Games, makers of Ultimate Combat! closed its doors.

Today Dave Long says that the 18 months he spent with Ultimate Combat! were some of the most exhilarating, most exciting, and most rewarding months of his business life.

For those who have said that the UC! play system, with its use of Foundation cards replacing Magic's Land cards, and the Draining of Foundation Cards replacing the Tapping of Magic's Land Cards was essentially a "knockoff" of Magic: The Gathering, Dave responds, "Yep, it sure was. But it was fun and a lot of folks enjoyed playing it."

In regards to the "citation required" notes in this section, I am unsure as to the proper protocol to document the comments for which a citation is requested. I am Dave Long, the designer and creator of the game, formerly CEO and President of Ultimate Games, the publisher of Ultimate Combat!. I can personally testify that my statements about the 'roots' of the game are accurate, and that the time spent with UC! was as stated, exhilarating, exciting and rewarding. In the 12 years since the announcement by SCRYE Editor and Owner I not only don't remember her name, but don't have a copy of the article listing UC! as the best new game of 1995, so if that section should be deleted, please feel free to do so. I'm not looking for either fame or fortune here; just adding to the bits of background on the game for anyone who might be interested.

Card types

Card distribution

Cards in Ultimate Combat! are divided up into one of four levels of rarity, although the game refers to these as different levels of martial arts mastery, ranking them by "belt". Traditionally in the martial arts, a black belt is the highest rank, but Ultimate Combat! instead defines the gold belt as the maximum level. The relative rarity distribution in starter packs and booster packs is as follows:

Belt ranking Rarity Cards in starter Cards in booster
Gold Belt Very rare 2 1
Black Belt Rare 4 2
Brown Belt Uncommon 10 3
White Belt Common 44 9

In addition to the base card set, Ultimate Combat! features a single expansion card set, the Ancient Fighting Arts of China. The number of unique cards in each set breaks down by rarity as follows:

Card set Gold Belt Black Belt Brown Belt White Belt Total cards
Ultimate Combat! base set 72 72 60 62 266
Ancient Fighting Arts of China 45 30 27 36 138

Deck construction

Each player in Ultimate Combat! must have his or her own play deck. Each deck must have a minimum of 50 cards, although there is no maximum limit. No more than four of any given card are allowed in a deck, with the exception of basic foundation and basic movement cards (for which there is no limit). Any card which is marked with a "skull & crossbones" symbol is considered restricted and is limited to one of each such card per deck.

In an effort to keep gameplay competitive between a player who owns few cards and a player who owns a large number of rare cards, Ultimate Combat! defines the concept of a deck classification system. This classification system limits the number of rare cards in lower-ranked decks, as cards generally increase in strength as they increase in rarity. The system again uses the martial arts "belt" system for its nomenclature, with the gold "Master's Deck" having no rarity restrictions. The deck ranks are defined as follows:

Card type White Belt deck Brown Belt deck Black Belt deck Master's deck
Gold Belt 2 4 8 unlimited
Black Belt 4 8 16 unlimited
Brown Belt 10 20 unlimited unlimited
White Belt unlimited unlimited unlimited unlimited