A little #wargame post(al) – 3 postcard wargames from atomagazine.com

I was digging around a box in the basement last week and stumbled onto three little postcards. Three postcard wargames, to be exact. All three games were published by Against the Odds. I seem to remember at least one included in Buffalo Wings (ATO/LPS, 2010) but I am not really that sure. Regardless of how I acquired them, this weekend I played these little micro-games – and really enjoyed the experience!

All three games were designed by Paul Rohrbaugh. They are part of the Pocket Battle Game series each printed front & back on a postcard. Usually the front is the game map and the back is the rules. Counters are along two edges and are supposed to be cut out. The games use a deck of standard playing cards (Joker included) or a d6 to resolve combat. These components are not provided, but every good gamer should have these around, right?

The first game is Morgan’s A’Comin’! (Pocket Battle #4, 2009). Here rebel cavalry raid locations in the Ohio River Valley in July 1863. The map is point-to point. A deck of cards is used for activation (Red = Rebel, Black = Union), combat, as as a game timer. The Rebels get VP for ‘raiding’ spaces. If the Rebels score 12+ VP before the last turn (sixth reshuffle of the deck) they win; any other result is a Union victory.

I was very dubious at first about the use of the deck as a timer. At the beginning of the turn the deck (52 cards + Joker) is fully shuffled. A turn ends when the Joker is drawn. As cards are drawn for activation and combat, a turn may be few cards or many. I was worried that with a 1 in 53 chance of getting the Joker turns would go long. In play I found some really short turns and a few long ones, but nothing seemingly unbalanced. Here is an example of ‘random goodness!’

The second game is Paying the Peiper (Pocket Battle #6, 2010) depicts part of the Battle of Bulge, specifically the US defense against Kampfgruppe Peiper. It uses a standard hexmap to play on. Apparently this is one of four pocket battles that can be combined into a larger game, The Peiper Dream, although I don’t have the other three games. Like Morgan’s A’Comin’!, Paying the Peiper uses a standard playing card deck + Joker for activation and combat resolution. Format-wise, this game was a little harder to play as a Terrain Effects Table was on the back side meaning one has to make a photocopy for reference since one cannot simply move all the counters and flip the map when the table must be consulted.

Operation Cerebus: The Channel Dash (Pocket Battle #12, 2011) depicts the Channel Dash of February 1942.  This one uses an area movement map. Unlike the other pocket battle games, Operation Cerebus doesn’t use playing cards and instead calls for a single d6. All charts necessary for play are on the map, even printed opposite ways so players see their charts oriented to their side of the board. Of all the three games, this is the only one that immediately cried out for some home rules (Why are ‘Shore Batteries’ marked for the British near Dover in Area 4 if there are no rules for them?).

Each of these games is rated at about 30 minutes of play time. For the deck-driven games the play time could be a bit longer dependent on your card luck. All three of my games took closer to an hour but that was because I was doing some ‘arts ‘n crafts’ by scanning the map and blowing it up to a standard page before cutting out copied counters for play. My eyes are not as sharp as they used to be!

Overall, playing all three games was a very enjoyable morning. By using a somewhat common game mechanic it was easy to jump from one game to another. The battle situations were just interesting enough that they kept my attention for the (short) game time. These days titles like these would make good print-n-play games. I often hesitate to buy a PnP unless I have some familiarity with the designer. Gotta wonder if my bias is making me miss some great titles.