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  SOLDIERS IN POSTMEN'S UNIFORMS FROM DAN VERSSEN GAMES If by any chance the company Dan Verssen Games or the games designer David Thom...







If by any chance the company Dan Verssen Games or the games designer David Thompson are unfamiliar to you then you're in for a Christmas treat.  If you are familiar with this combination and haven't bought this game, then there may just about be time to make up for that lack and get it on your immediate Christmas list.

This is the third  design in he Valiant Defenders Series that began with Pavlov's House {PH}and was followed by Castle Itter [CI].  As such it is much closer to the latter than the former in scale and system.  It also continues David's Thompson's ability to find and focus on little known, but fascinating small scale encounters.  The first thing that intrigued me was the jump from the very end of WWII to the very first day of that war.

The game takes us to a desperate situation in the city of Danzig [now Gdansk] on the first day of the German forces' invasion.   Polish Post Office No. 1 was one of two locations with orders to defend and the game covers the single brutal day of its defence.  Unlike C.I. where you know that the outcome for the historical defenders was one of victory, this game is overshadowed by the knowledge that the historical day will end with the post office set on fire and the surrender of those surviving.  As with other of David Thompson's designs, there is an excellent companion booklet available to buy or download, as well as fascinating and extensive design notes.

Though much closer in appearance and design to C.I, Soldiers In Postmen's Uniform has a number of significant differences that make for deeper and more thoughtful game play.  This is reflected in the board and layout.

The left half presents the sort of aerial view used in CI; in the foreground is the L-shaped post office with a number of variously coloured tracks to show the advancing routes of the attacking German troops.  The right half is a schematic layout of the interior of the post office designed to show clearly the three levels - basement, ground floor and upper floors.  

As with the previous two games, the colour-coding between the two halves of the board provides the exact LOS [line of sight] correspondence that makes targeting so easy.  Nearly all the other physical components echo the previous games both in design and usage.

Square counters are used for the defenders, with the person's picture and name, accompanied by various data essential to game play.  These are mainly combat value, morale adjustment and special actions and attributes.  The colour of border to each counter distinguishes whether they are trained or postal workers or non-combatants.

The German units divide into circular Assault counters and square Support counters and, as always, there are numerous tokens covering action, disruption, suppression and movement along with morale, defence, weapons and ammunition tokens.  Finally there are the many cards that drive the German actions.  So far, so familiar for those who have the previous games, but I would say that even for those wholly new to the Valiant Defenders Series, this is still a very accessible system.  

All set up ready to play!
The structure of each turn remains the same: an Enemy Phase, a Defense Phase and a Clearance Phase. The Enemy Phase is the German A.I. phase governed by the draw of cards and then the Defense Phase is your player turn.  The main new development is that the whole game is now divided into three Attacks: Morning, Midday and Evening with three separate German card decks, one for each Attack.  Through the cards drawn either Assault units or Support units will be placed and various types of fire may occur.  The former are the round counters that include units such as leaders, riflemen and machine gunners.  As usual a die roll will place them on the initial  space of one of the four different coloured tracks.  Should that be occupied, it will cause each unit already on that track to move forward one space.
A closer  look at some of the punched units and markers

Several new details have been introduced.  The first is that not all of the four tracks are immediately in play.  This relates to the fact that the game divides into three Attacks, with the Germans taking different avenues of approach as the day drew on.  The second new element is that each track has an obstruction point.  When the first German unit reaches this barrier, it must stop and a new card the Grenade Bundle card is shuffled into the current Attack deck.  Any subsequent units will start to pile up at the barrier, until the Grenade Bundle card is drawn.

At that point a marker cube is placed to show the destruction of the barrier.  Following the logic of several other commentators on the game, I've reversed the process by placing the cubes to represent the barriers at the very start of the game and then removing each cube as the barrier is destroyed.  When the barrier goes, all the units that may have piled up at the barrier are pushed forward one space each.  
Rules explaining a breached barrier

Ultimately the Post Office will be breached and here comes the next most important change and one that introduces a whole new exciting level of action.  Previously that would be the end of the game - Defeat!  Now, the game does not end. Instead you play on until the last card of the current Attack deck has been played.  What then occurs depends on which of the three Attacks is taking place.

If it is Attack 1 or Attack 2 and there is at least one German Assault unit in the Post Office and one German Leader anywhere on the board, you shuffle all discarded cards and play through the Attack again until the end of the deck.  At this point check again. If there is no German Assault unit in the Post Office or there is no German Leader anywhere on the board, the Attack ends.  Having reached the end of an Attack, all adverse tokens, such as disrupted and exhausted, are removed and all your exhausted units returned to their fresh side, while German Assault counters are all removed from the board, but German Support counters remain.  Everything is then reset to begin the next Attack.

This new aspect of the game fuels a very different approach, where it becomes all important either to eliminate any attackers who enter the Post Office or eliminate every leader on the board by the end of an Attack.  The obvious outcome is that the game has the potential to take longer to play. This is counterbalanced by the introduction of a new "sudden death" defeat based on your morale level being forced down to zero.

However, should you have avoided a morale defeat and reached Attack 3, there are specific set up rules for German units and a special card introduced - the Fire Truck - which is shuffled into the final Attack deck according to where you are on the morale track track.  When this card is later drawn, it heralds the last turn of the game including a one-off Escape Phase, after which victory points are added up. 

To round up the picture of the changes, the Defense Phase instead of just giving you 4 Actions allows 4 units to move and then 4 different units to take one action each.  Combat is slightly more detailed, with the need for ammunition and weapons.  Having a building with three levels and specific entrances, plus fighting taking place within the building all add small extra details which minimally extend the rules, while augmenting the engrossing game play. 

There is an even greater sense of tension with the apprehension that you are always on the brink of disaster and, I confess, disaster is all too often the outcome for me.  Should you wish to pitch it at an even more difficult level, there's an excellent set of Tactics Cards, one deck for each Attack.  With these and variable additional German forces being set up on board at the beginning of each Attack, you can go all the way to Elite difficulty [or what I call Fiendishly Impossible!]
The three Attack Decks and their corresponding Tactics Decks

I think you can see that I'm 100% sold on this new addition to the Valiant Defense Series.  Provided you don't suffer an early Morale defeat, game play is longer and does demand more thought than Castle Itter, but it does so with only moderately more rules.  For me David Thompson has racked up another huge success that deserves to be in your collection.

Once again great thanks to Dan Verssen Games for providing a copy of the game to review.