Gwent: Condottiere under a different name
“So it’s just like Condottiere” I remember thinking when I first heard about Gwent. And when I first saw it on the table and played it, there was no doubt; Gwent was quite literally the same game. Same rules, same cards, same weather-immune heroes and same scarecrow that returns cards to your hand.
At first I thought it was a new release based on Sapkowski’s fantasy world but I soon started to have doubts: The credits of the game did not mention its designer, but another man: Damein Monnier. Let’s first explain what is Condottiere. Condottiere is a small card game created by French designer Dominique Erhardand published in the year 1995 by a company called Eurogames. It’s a bluffing game in which players fight over the control of the fragmented Italy of the Renaissance and great example of the European design philosophy of the 90s. The game is fairly simple. One by one players add numbered cards representing soldiers to their “battle line” and once everyone passes whoever has the highest total value wins and conquers one territory. The trick is that each turn players fight for more than one territory and playing too many cards in one battle means not having enough to contest the next.
This is made more complex through the addition of several special cards. For example the “Winter” card reduces the strength of all soldiers to one while the “Scarecrow” replaces on the cards on the table and returns it back to the player’s hand. Important too are the “Surrender” and the “Bishop” which end up the battle instantly, as is the “Drummer” which does not affect heroes but doubles the strength of all other troops.
Twelve years later the game saw a wider release as it was released by Fantasy Flight Games in English and printed in several other languages by their usual distributors, like Edge or Heidelberger. Unfortunately, and as it was common around that time, FFG introduced several changes and added new cards, like the “Spring” which counters the “Winter” and, hence, greatly reduces its power.
All these cards and mechanics exist in Gwent. Well, “exist” might be kind of a stretch, they are the same, perhaps with a different name if changed at all. Here they are, as proof: Even the Bishop of the third edition, which instead of abruptly ending a battle kills the highest non-hero card on the table, is in the game as “Scorch”. Coincidence? Or the clear consequence of this Bishop being described in the only Polish edition, the one published by Galakta in 2007?
In fact, not even the removal of the map makes the game different: By sheer geography a two-player game of Condottiere is played to three battles, the same number as Gwent.
The only changes are additional cards, like the “identities” that start the game on the table and give players a small, unique power, some minor changes in other cards and a fistful of heroes of different strengths and sizes. Everything else is identical.
In this sense I estimate the similarities between Condottiere y Gwent in, at least, a ninety-five percent. It could be a fourth edition, there are more changes between two expansions of the same game than there are between Gwent and Condottiere. That is, Gwent is but a Condottiere variant and Condottiere a game by Dominique Erhard. Attributing its design to anyone else is unjust and entails the misappropriation of his ideas and work.
Mr Monnier, however, maintains a different position on the subject. In repeated interviews with the press he has always asserted that he had the idea for Gwent, like Archimedes, while resting in the bathtub:
“Get back to basics,” Monnier recalls saying to himself while he soaked. An idea for a card game started to form: “You have a number that’s higher than the other person’s number, then you have things that will affect that number. Some cards double it, some cards lower it, and ultimately the challenge comes from the initial hand. So, it’s about managing your initial hand and bluffing’”.
By the time Monnier got out of the bath, he had came up with all the fundamental rules of Gwent, The Witcher 3’s ridiculously popular game within a game.
-Witcher 3 Designer came up with Gwent in the bath, Julian Benson, Kotaku UK
The explanation offered by Mr Monnier is, at the very least, highly unlikely. The similarities between both games are too many and too specific to be produced by chance. It’s far more likely that Mr Monnier had played Condottiere before finishing The Witcher 3, as he actually did. In a conference called “Gwentception” that was held at the 2016 edition of the Penny Arcade Expo East, Mr Monnier and the man credited as codesigner of Gwent, Rafal Jaki, spoke about the creation process of the game and listed four games as an influence.
Among them, Condottiere. They don’t say much about it. In fact, Mr Monnier remains silent, letting Mr Jaki speak about how “the conflict”, in the abstract, of Condottiere was an influence on Gwent. They don’t talk about the mechanics, the scarecrow or the drummer, much less the Spring or the Winter. Keeping their head low, they say little and quickly move from the topic after a few seconds.
This proves two things. The first is that Mr Monnier knew and had played Condottiere before, doing away with the possibility that the similarities between it and Gwent were born out of chance.
The second is that both Mr Monnier and CD Projekt, the company he represented as head designer, has had plenty of opportunities to properly credit Mr Erhard and failed to do so. Worse, they have actively engaged in the minimization of the role both him and Condottiere had in Gwent, by not crediting him and dismissively referencing the original as a mere influence. Now that Gwent prepares itself for stardom, it’s more important than ever to correctly attribute its design. Not crediting it to Dominique Erhard is not only a serious affront to his professional integrity but also the integrity of the medium as a whole. We cannot ignore this.
Mr Damein Monnier and Mr Rafal Jaki were approached for comment, but declined. Attempts were made to approach Mr Erhard, but he couldn’t be reached.