Through his excellent wargame podcast, Wargames To Go, Mark Johnson introduced me to the concept of postcard wargames. These are mini-microgames that make One Page Bulge look like Fortress Europa, but don’t let that fool you. They might not fill a table or a weekend, but the right mix of mechanics can make for a challenging and pleasant session of pushing cardboard chits around a mapboard.
Turning Point Simulations has a collection of free postcard games listed on their website. They include one, complete with die-cut counters, with every purchase you make from their website. I played the first one, the solo game Rattenkrieg, and after a quick read through of the rules, me and my youngest were ready to start slaughtering some Nazis and Commies.
As you can see, the game uses just ten counters for each of the two armies, and takes place on a map with just ten spaces. Despite these limitations, it includes rules for all of the following: air strikes, ambushes, hidden placement, snipers, generals, leadership, home field advantage, and supply considerations. Not a bad list of variables to juggle.
So how does it play? Fast and fun. It’s not a terribly deep game, but what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in sophistication. There are little subtleties to this game that took me two or three play-throughs to suss out. As the German leader, you’ve got to cover as much ground as possible, while converging on those pesky Russian forces that keep popping up all around you.
Your units start off strong, but every combat depleted their strength, and you’ve only got four air strikes available. The Soviets, controlled by the game mechanics, have six units on the board to start the game, only five of which have known locations. Each turn one more pops up in a random location. If you are sitting there already, it won’t arrive. This means that you have to balance overwhelming firepower placed in enemy controlled spaces with covering empty spaces to keep them quashed.
The game relies a fair amount of luck, and the first three games were handily won by the Germans. A very suspicious outcome. A closer read of the rules, and I noted that the Soviets start with five units on the board – duh. That makes a first turn win impossible, and even a second or third turn win unlikely.
The first play through with the proper set up still went to the Germans:
This was a fast win, but it was still a close-run thing. It required a lot of luck, and in subsequent plays where the dice didn’t so heavily favor the Germans, they were slowly ground down by the surviving Soviets. As such, this seems like a historically accurate representation given that the Germans have to win fast or they won’t win at all.
So far, I’ve gotten 90 minutes of table time out of a free game that fits on a postcard. Even if I never play this game again, it was already time well spent. Especially given that it served as a chance to show my three year old how these games work. (She likes the green ones.) Try pulling off that trick with a round of Advanced Squad Leader.
Edit to add: The Australian Wargamer has a second review that I found just after writing up my own experience.