Battle of the Postcard Games

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The Marcher LordsThe Battle of the Postcard Games by David Lent

Most gamers are not aware of the existence of postcard board games. They have existed for a while and nobody seems to know who created the first one. Most are only available in print and play format, but I have chosen only to include post card games that are available in print for this article. The space limitations of the post card itself forces game designers to get creative and use mechanics that are not commonly used in larger board games. I love creativity and the six postcard games I’ve chosen for this competition have not disappointed me. In fact, all six are decent games and it was a delight play-testing them. My fellow play-testers were very intrigued by this tiny format and surprised that a decent game could fit in such a small package.

The first game we tested was Castle Builders from Mr. Do’s Game Laboratory. This is an abstract castle building game for 2 players, where each player takes turns placing building blocks. The goal is to get points by either having the most pieces in a horizontal row or by having the top piece in a vertical column. Each row and column has a point value. The game pieces are cardboard chits cut out of the postcard. I recommend gluing them to cereal box cardboard to make them thicker. Some chits are used to destroy one of your opponent’s top pieces on the board, others are placed as a building block, some are building blocks that also give you an additional turn, some double the points for a row or column, some do nothing and a few destroy an enemy piece and give you an extra turn.

Castle Builders is a fun game that causes you to think ahead and try and outsmart your opponent. I like holding on to the chits that destroy enemy chits and give you a free turn, until the opponent places the final block on a column. The only thing I didn’t like was the fact that the chits were a little small. This is a 5.5” x 4.25” postcard and I encourage the manufacturer to make it an 8.5” x 4.5” postcard if they ever reprint it.

If you have an iPhone, you can download Castle Builders from the App Store and play it solitaire or multiplayer. I’ve had a lot of fun playing against the A.I. while flying to and from Belize. The artificial intelligence is very clever and I encourage you to start out in easy mode.

Postcard Empire by Modest Games is the next postcard game we tested. This is an interesting game printed on an 8.5” x 5.5” postcard. You use three different sized coins as playing pieces. The map has 7 different territories on it and each has special instructions that occur if you place a coin there without capturing other coins while doing so.

This postcard game begins with a handful of coins in a coin pool and each player draws 2 coins. During each turn, a player draws a coin and then places a coin on a territory. You must place it on an empty territory if any exist. Otherwise, you may place it on top of another coin. If your coin is larger than the coins beneath it, it captures them and you put those in your victory pool. If a capture did not occur, you follow the instructions for the territory. Territories can either cause you to draw coins, capture coins from other territories (subject to certain conditions) or force another player to discard a coin from their hand. The game continues until the coin pool is empty. At the end of the game, the player with the most coins in their victory pool wins. If you play the advanced game, the player with the largest real world value of coins wins.

I really liked this game. It played fast and there is real strategy in determining where to place your coins. My opponent didn’t like the game as much as I did, but I think he still had fun. This is a unique game that may not have existed if the designer didn’t have to figure out a way to fit a game on a postcard. Restrictive formats like microgames and postcard games bring out the creativity in designers big-time.

Rattenkrieg Assault on the Tracktor Factory by Turning Point Simulations is a solitaire wargame that we tested next. I believe this game was originally included in Against the Odds Magazine and has also been included as a bonus with game purchases from the manufacturer. Against the Odds Magazine was nice enough to include die cut counters with this when they sent it to me and I appreciate that.

This game has a map on the front of an area of Stalingrad near the Tracktor Factory. Most of the spaces have a shield on them that has a certain number of stars. There also is an air strike track and the right side has counters you can cut out if you didn’t get the die cut counters. The German counters represent infantry, generals, half-tracks and armor. They are multisided and have crosses and a movement allowance printed on them. The Soviet counters consist of 2 types: military units and snipers. The Soviet military units are either ambushers or regular units.

The setup for Rattenkrieg is done by shuffling the Soviet counters and placing 9 of them facedown on the spaces with red shields. The Germans move the airstrike marker to 4 and place their 10 units in the areas with arrows. Up to 2 German units plus one general may stack in a space.

Each turn has the following 4 phases: Soviet infiltration, German movement, deadly surprise and combat. In Soviet infiltration, two dice are rolled and added together. If the space on the board with that number is unoccupied, a Soviet unit is placed there. German movement is done by referencing the movement number on the counter and moving it up to that number of spaces. Deadly surprise is when a German unit enters a space with a Soviet unit and either a sniper or ambush is revealed. The sniper immediately kills a German general if one is present and the sniper counter is removed. An ambush causes a German military unit to immediately lose a step.

Combat in this game is rather unique. You count up the number of stars on the shield in the contested area and add the stars on the Soviet counter. That is the number of Soviet dice that will be thrown. The Germans add the number of crosses on their military units and generals in the contested area to determine the number of dice to throw. In addition, the Germans may throw one additional dice if any airstrikes are still available. After all dice are thrown, the single highest dice throw or the most number of high dice wins. If it’s a German victory, the Soviet counter is eliminated and any German general involved is promoted. Otherwise, the Soviet counter stays. However, one German unit will lose a step REGARDLESS of whether the Germans won or lost the fight. The Germans need to win with as few combat phases as possible because of this.

The victory conditions are pretty simple. Germany wins the moment all Soviet counters are eliminated. The Soviet Union wins the instant there are more Soviet than German counters on the board.

This is a fun little solitaire game. It’s pretty balanced, because the Germans only win about 60% of the time. The main strategy is to make sure you attack 3 Soviet units the first turn and at least 2 per turn thereafter. You need to wipe them out before reinforcements arrive. I tend to use out the airstrikes in the first 4 battles to increase the odds of winning them. The Germans lose one step in every battle so you need to win before too many reinforcements arrive.

Space Dogfight by Mr. Do’s Game Laboratory is the fourth game we play-tested. It’s a space combat wargame using custom fleets for 2 players on an 8.5” x 5.5” postcard. The front of the card has the counters, combat results table and a map. The reverse has the rules.

This game begins with each player making a fleet. They are each given 80 points and use the ship costs on the combat results table to determine what ships to build. The costs range from 10 to 25. Obviously, the 25-point ships have the best movement, attack and defense.

Setup is next and each player sets up their ships on their starting zone. 3 asteroids are placed on the map randomly using a dice roll. After that, all the action counters are placed in an opaque cup and the game is ready to begin.

The sequence of play is:
1) Discard counters from your hand into the cup
2) Perform one of the following sub-actions
 a. Draw 3 counters. You hand may have up to 5 counters.
  i. If one of the counters is a “move asteroid” counter, roll a dice to determine what direction the asteroid moves (four directions, but not diagonal) and move it.
 b. Spend any number of action points (up to as many as you possess in your hand)
  i. Movement of one ship is one action point
  ii. Combat costs 2 action points
3) Repeat steps 1 and 2 until:
 a. All of one player’s ships are eliminated
 b. All of the ships have moved into their opponents starting zone
  i. Each player counts their remaining fleets value and the highest value wins

We played several games and it is a fun game that requires real strategy. However, we have a few observations. First, the player who bought the most 25-point space ships usually wins. Second, the asteroids are usually ineffective because it is easy to position your ships in such a way that a random asteroid movement can’t hit them. You just make sure you are diagonal from it since asteroids can’t move diagonally. Third, you can get in a situation where 2 or 3 of your ships are adjacent to the enemy, but you can’t shoot because you don’t have any action points in your hand. Overall, it’s a decent game and it surprising the amount of game you get on a postcard.

The fifth game we play-tested was Morgan’s A’Comin’! from Against the Odds Magazine. This is a Civil War scenario about Morgan’s cavalry raiding in Ohio. This is a 2-player game, but we found it works great solitaire also. The front of the postcard has a point-to-point map of Ohio along with a turn track and counters. Against the Odds gave us die cut counters so we didn’t have to cut the counters out of the postcard. The counters represent Union and Confederate forces along with Governor Tod, turn marker, victory point marker and CUAL marker. The players must provide their own dice and 52-card deck to play.

The Rebels goal in this game is to accumulate 12 victory points. They get 1 point for each successful raid and 3 points for successfully raiding Columbus. Exiting the map at a river ford also gives them 1 victory point. The Union wins if all Rebels are wiped out or if the Rebels do not get 12 victory points by the end of turn 6.

To setup the game, you put all three Rebel units in the start space and put Governor Tod and 1 Union militia unit in Columbus. In addition, you put 1 Union militia unit in Cincinnati. The rest of the Union units are put in a cup and the turn marker is placed on space 1 and the CUAL marker is placed on space 2. The deck is checked to make sure it only has one Joker and is shuffled.

The game begins with the Confederate player drawing cards until a red one is drawn. The number of units activated is determined by whether the card is odd (1) or even (2). If a face card is drawn the Confederate player rolls to see whether 1 or 2 units activate. Activated Confederate units can move, attack or raid.

The Union turn is similar, but they get additional units when they draw a black face card at the beginning of their turn. They can only move or attack.

Attacking in this game is voluntary and done against adjacent units. It’s one on one and the attacker does a card draw and adds his unit’s combat factor to it. The defenders combat factor is then subtracted and if the CUAL is >= 4, 1 is added to the final value. If the final value is >= 6 the defender loses a step (flipped). If the defender already lost a step, it is eliminated.

Raiding is done when a Rebel unit is in a red space. A card draw is done and the Rebel unit’s combat factor is added to it. If the result is > (CUAL x 2) the raid is successful.

The game continues until the Joker is drawn. After that, the CUAL is increased by 1 and the deck is shuffled and a new turn begins.

I played this game multiple times solitaire and multi-player. In the solitaire games, the Rebels won about half the time. The results in the multi-player games were pretty much the same. I was very impressed with how well the deck of cards worked with this game. It added some depth and there is real strategy in this game. The Rebels need to raid like crazy and move whenever there is a danger of more than one Union unit getting adjacent to it. The Union player needs to get more units on the board and attack the Rebels at every opportunity. My opponent had one complaint about the rules though. The rules appear to allow the Rebels to raid a city more than once (at least they don’t say you can’t). This allows rules lawyers (such as myself) to keep their Rebel units on a specific red space and continually raid it if no Union forces are around. I don’t think this ruins the game, because the Union usually wins half the time. Overall, I was very impressed with this game.

Postcard Cthulhu by Modest Games is the last postcard game we playtested. It is a very abstract game depicting the struggle of researches in their epic quest to postpone the awakening of Cthulhu. This game says it is for 2 to 6 players, but I was also able to play it effectively solitaire. However, multiplayer games were more interesting. The front of the postcard has an interesting playing area and the back has the rules.

The playing area has seven locations and most have two areas. One area has an effect if you place a coin there and the other has an effect if Cthulhu activates it.

The included rules are insufficient to teach a player how to play this game. I had to go to Youtube and watch Modest Games’ instructional video to learn how to play it. Once I learned how to play the game, I found it to be brilliant though.

Each player starts the game with a number of coins. Usually, 3 to 5 depending on difficulty. The order of play is:
1) Draw a tail and flip as many coins in your hand as you wish
2) Place a coin on the map in any allowed location
3) Flip 3 coins for Cthulhu to see where it plays. Each location on the map has a different combination of coins and if Cthulhu matches it, he plays there and activates that location’s Cthulhu event.
4) If the current player has only heads or tails in their hand, they discard a coin. If they run out of coins, they lose the game.

Victory in Postcard Cthulhu is achieved if both R’lyeh and Dreamlands both have 3 heads on them. If the combined coins on Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep are 9 the players lose. If Carcosa is completely filled, the players also lose.

Coin placement is the strategy you use to win this game. Some locations give you additional coins, some allow you to turn over a coin and some allow you to move coins to other locations along an arrow. Cthulhu interferes with your plans by removing your coins from locations when he activates there and putting it in Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep. He also can put coins in Carcosa and the more coins he puts there, the smaller your maximum hand size.

I realize my explanation of the rules sounds confusing and I was confused when first trying to learn the rules. However, once you learn how to play by watching the video you will find the gameplay very unique and enjoyable.

Determining the winner for these 6 postcard games has not been easy, because all of them are good. I’ve decided to have three levels of victory: 1st place, 2nd place and most creative postcard game.

First place goes to Morgan’s A’Comin’! by Against the Odds Magazine. This game has the most depth and was a delight to play both solitaire and multiplayer. The fact that it covers a seldom-gamed scenario in the Civil War is a big bonus. The card driven nature of the game makes it exciting, because you don’t know in advance which side or how many of their units will activate.

Second place goes to Castle Builders by Mr. Do’s Game Laboratory. This game is really well though out and requires lots of thinking in advance and there are many different strategies you can use to win. I like how you can destroy your enemy’s building blocks and really mess him up. What I really like is the fact that there is an app for it and you can practice against your phone’s AI. This is great practice for when you go up against human players. After getting the app, I have nearly a 100% victory rate against human players!

Postcard Cthulhu by Modest Games was the most creative postcard game. Actually, its creativity could give some regular size games a run for their money. Sure, it’s hard to learn without watching the video, but that’s because it’s always harder to learn something unique than something that is just reusing the same old game mechanics that are used time and time again.

I hope you enjoyed reading about these interesting, small format games. It was a lot of fun reviewing these unique games and I hope these manufacturers design and produce more games in this compact format.

3 Comments

  1. Update: Against The Odds magazine contact me and stated that the following game released around 2004 was the first postcard game they saw online and inspired them to commission a line of them from various designers.

    https://boardgamegeek.com/image/96175/postcard-revolution

    Reply
  2. Interesting. Out of all of them, I found Rattenkrieg to be the most fun. My experience has been that the Germans lost 90%, but again, that could be the difference between “luck” on the snipers being drawn and place and “that” dice roll. Thanks for the reviews.

    Reply
  3. I have yet to play one of these, but its such an interesting concept! Modest Games has a kickstarter running right now for a postcard dungeon crawl. I backed and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he comes up!

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/31372846/postcard-dungeons

    Reply

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