We have played both entries in the Valiant Defense Series to date, including Pavlov’s House and Castle Itter, and have really enjoyed both. Now comes the third volume in the series called Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms which deals with the assault on Polish Postal Office #1 in the Free City of Danzig, Poland on the first day of World War II. This game tells the story of the assault as German forces moved in to seize Polish installations. Two of the installations were on alert and under orders to hold out: the Military Transit Depot on the peninsula of Westerplatte and the Polish Postal Office No. 1. The personnel of the post office repulsed repeated assaults, and were forced to surrender only after a day-long siege, when the post office was doused with gasoline and set alight. Though German propaganda cast these acts of defiance as futile and a failure, they were viewed by the Polish people as symbolic of their stand against a materially superior aggressor. We reached out to David and he was more than willing to answer our questions about the design.
The game is coming to Kickstarter on Tuesday, November 17th and you can check out the Kickstarter Preview page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/danverssengames/dvg-soldiers-in-postmens-uniforms?fbclid=IwAR2hVPzSbXpLwUnaaVV6Oo9O9596G7lYeEibtUczwrqUh9e5T5OxExg0t6A
Grant: What is your new game in the Valiant Defense Series Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniform about?
David: Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms is about the defense of the Polish post office in the Free City of Danzig on the first day of the Second World War. The post office was defended by 56 people (almost all of which were postal workers) against a day-long siege by German SS units and Danzig police.
Grant: Why did you feel this was a great fit for your Valiant Defense Series?
The Valiant Defense Series allows you to play amazing stories of courage, with small forces holding the line against unimaginable odds. Games in the series focus on the individual defenders and are deeply rooted in history. This story is a perfect fit for the series.
Grant: What parts of the history did you want to make sure to incorporate into the game play?
David: There were a few critical elements that needed to be included. First, the day-long battle occurred in three distinct waves, which has significant gameplay impacts. Second, significant amounts of combat occurred inside the building, which meant integration of that aspect was an important part of the design for the first time in the Valiant Defense Series. And lastly, line of sight needed to be expanded upon from the earlier games in the series to account for elevation and range. There are countless other elements that made it into the game to increase the historicity, but those are the most obvious from a gameplay perspective.
Grant: I understand you made a trip to Danzig and saw the post office. What type experience was this and how did it aid you in the design process?
David: That’s right, I traveled to Gdansk (modern day Danzig) in the summer of 2017 to begin the research process for the game. There I met with Michal Kochman, who was my partner on this project and who led the historical research, especially the examination of primary German and Polish language sources. The experience was critical for my understanding of the battlefield, and directly impacted the design in countless ways. There’s no greater way to appreciate a battlefield than to examine it firsthand.
Grant: What historical resources did you consult and what one book would you recommend someone to read on the subject?
David: The source list is extensive, but some of the most critical resources included the blueprints of the building as it was being converted to a post office, aerial photography from the period, the original plan of attack by the Danzig City Police against the post office, and post-battle interrogations of the defenders. Like all games in the Valiant Defense Series, there is a companion book for Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms that will contain all this background material and design notes. Especially for English-language readers, I would strongly recommend the companion book, as it consolidates all the critical information into one place.
Grant: What was your inspiration for the static defense system you’ve installed in the design for Pavlov’s House, Castle Itter and now Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms?
David: That’s a great question. Certainly the advancement tracks for the defenders are visually similar to the same types of tracks found in the States of Siege Series made popular by Victory Point Games. I had not played an SoS game back in 2014 when I first started working on Castle Itter. I was definitely inspired by the general concept, though. The color-coded line of sight system is most similar to that used in Tannhäuser. It allows for unambiguous, but realistic lines of sight with interesting tactical options. The rest of the system has evolved over time, beginning with its most simplest tactical form in Castle Itter, adding operational elements in Pavlov’s House, and then doubling down on the tactical elements in Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms with the most detailed system to date.
Grant: What works really well about the static defense system?
David: I think the best part is the overwhelming sense of dread that the player feels as the attackers close in all around you, coupled with the ease of play for the system.
Grant: How does Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms differ from Pavlov’s House and Castle Itter?
David: I mentioned most of this above, but it really is about the extra tactical elements of the game. First off, the three-wave concept for the attackers changes up the flow of the game considerably. Now rather than having a single arc to the game, there are three distinct phases, each of which provides its own arc and tension. Second, the tactical defense of the interior of the building is completely new, as attackers did not breach the defended positions in the other games in the series. And finally, the importance of elevation with the defenders in the upper floors of the post office plays a big role in the game, and that element wasn’t present in the other games.
Grant: Do you feel pressure to make a new experience with each entry in the series?
David: Oh yes, absolutely. My main goal for the Valiant Defense Series (and really for all of my historical wargame designs) is to tell the story and evoke the feeling of the situation. But my secondary goal is to provide a unique gameplay experience. If the gameplay doesn’t provide something new or fresh, then I won’t design a game about the topic.
Grant: What does the map in the game represent about the battle? How does this cause issues for the defender?
David: The map is divided into two sections: On the left is the area immediately surrounding the post office and is used to track the positions of the attackers as they travel along the historical avenues of approach to the building. On the right is the interior of the post office, which is used to track the positions of the defenders within the building as well as attackers who breach the building.
Grant: How did you change up Suppression in how it works? What was your reason for this change?
David: Like many things in the game, I wanted Suppression to be a little more tactical and less abstract than how it was used in Castle Itter and Pavlov’s House. In those games, you could only use Suppression when new enemy units were placed on the board. In contrast, in Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms, you can place suppression in any attack position on the board, effectively serving as “overwatch” of the position. This allows for a lot more granularity and interesting tactical choices in how Suppression is employed.
Grant: How many different type of Defender Counters are there and why are their borders different colors?
David: There are four general categories of Defenders. The first type – with blue borders – are noncombatants. They cannot help in the fight, and your goal is simply to protect them. The second group – with white borders.- are postal workers without military or paramilitary experience, which represents roughly half of the defenders. Then we have postal workers that did receive some level of military or paramilitary training, which have red borders. And finally we have Defenders with special actions and attributes, which have grey borders.
Grant: I also notice some new weapon counters like grenades, rifles and BAR’s. What are the need for these weapons?
David: This is a recurring theme, but I wanted to stress the tactical nature of the fight and positioning within the building, which meant adding small arms weapons tokens for the first time in the series. Now, if a Defender is in the upper floors of the post office, they’re going to need to have access to a rifle or submachine to attack. If they want to Suppress, they need a submachine gun. If they want to use a grenade against attackers that breached the building, they will need access to the grenade. This allows a much higher level of tactical granularity and also introduces a resource management issue, where you must manage your limited resources (especially ammunition and grenades) over the course of the game.
Grant: There are also several different type of Assault Counters. What are the differences in these types?
David: That’s right – there are five different types of Assault Counters. First we have the Leaders, which represent the historical leaders who led each of the different assault groups during the first two waves of assault. Then we have Danzig City Police riflemen and submachine gunners, and we have SS riflemen and submachine gunners. Submachine gunners inflict a much higher level of casualty if they breach the building and begin clearing operations. SS Counters have a higher defense than do the Danzig Police, representing their superior training.
Grant: As you mentioned there are also Leader Counters. Why were these added? What do they do to vex the efforts of the player?
David: The Leader Counters have one very special feature: at the end of the first and second attack wave, if a Leader Counter is still on the board and at least one Enemy Counter has breached the post office, the attack wave doesn’t actually end. It restarts and continues until the Defenders either clear the building or eliminate the Leader.
Grant: You have introduced vehicles for the attackers. What are they and how do they function? What specific role does the Fire Engine play?
David: Yes, there are two distinct types of vehicles in the game, each representing something very different. First we have Armored Cars, which were used by the attackers as they assaulted the front of the building for cover. These Armored Cars are part of the second and third attack wave and provide a defensive bonus to enemy assault counters in their space. Second, we have the Fire Engine, which is an abstraction represented by a single card. In the actual battle, the attackers used a Fire Engine to fill the post office’s basement with gasoline and then set the building on fire, burning some of the defenders alive and forcing their surrender. The Fire Engine card signals the end of the game.
Grant: There are barricades to stop the attackers. How do these work? How are they destroyed?
David: That’s right, the attackers had to break through fences and gates in order to breach the post office. They used grenade bundles to destroy these defenses. In the game, when an attacker reaches a fence or gate, you shuffle a grenade bundle card into the deck. When you reveal that grenade bundle card, the defensive structure is destroyed and the attackers can progress.
Grant: What role does Defender Morale play in the design? How does this negatively affect the player?
David: This game is the first time in the series where the Defenders’ Morale is tracked, which represents their willingness to continue the fight. If too many postal workers or noncombatants become casualties, the Defenders’ Morale will break and they will surrender. The Morale affects the placement of the Fire Engine card in the final assault in the game. The lower the Morale, the higher the card is shuffled into the final deck. This has the effect of shortening the game, and making it easier for the Defenders to make it through the third assault. However, it can drastically reduce their chance to successfully escape from the post office, which is the way in which you achieve the best possible victory.
Grant: What is the layout of the post office? What are the different sizes of rooms for and how are they different?
David: The post office is divided into three sections: the upper floors, the ground floor, and the basement. Within each of these sections is an interior space and combat positions. The layout is based on the actual configuration of the post office, taken from blueprints of the building. Smaller combat positions can be occupied by two Defenders, while larger combat positions can be occupied by three Defenders. There is no limit to the number of Defenders (and Enemies) that can be in the interior spaces.
Grant: Interior spaces are for what game purpose?
David: The interior spaces serve two main purposes. They allow the Defenders to move from one floor of the post office to another, and they are where Attackers are placed when they breach the post office. From there, the Attackers execute their clearing operations.
Grant: What is the general sequence of play? How does each different attack wave differ?
David: The game is divided into three separate attack periods, each of which is represented by a deck of Enemy Cards. Attack 1 took place during the morning hours. This was the Danzig Police’s initial assault, which was directed against the southern (rear) facade and eastern (side) entrance of the post office. Attack 2 took place during midday. In this assault, the Police attacked the northern, street-facing (front) facade of the building. They were supported by Armored Cars, Infantry Guns and a Howitzer. Attack 3 took place in the evening. This final assault was conducted by elements of two SS units against the front of the post office. It ended when the Attackers brought up a Fire Engine filled with gasoline, pumped it into the building, and ignited it with a hand grenade.
Each attack period is divided into a number of turns, and each turn consists of three (in the case of Attacks 1 and 2) or four (Attack 3) phases: In the Enemy Phase you resolve five Enemy Cards. In the Defense Phase you perform four moves and four actions with Defenders. In the Clearing Phase Assault Counters inside the building remove Defenders. In the Escape Phase (Attack 3 only), Defenders escape from the building.
Grant: How did you decide that four actions was the correct amount for the player?
David: LOTS of play testing! The number of Enemy Cards resolved in the Enemy Phase, the number of actions for Defenders in the Defense Phase, and the distinction of movement from actions in the Defense Phase was the results of adjusting the game until I came up with the result I was happy with. I really wanted to give the game a sort of frantic nature, with more happening per turn than what we saw in Castle Itter and Pavlov’s House.
Grant: How do players escape from the post office?
David: It’s difficult, just as it was historically. In the third (and final) attack, Defenders can escape if they have cleared out all Enemy Assault and Support (machine gunner) Counters along the southern or eastern approaches to the building.
Grant: How do players win the game?
David: They need to essentially match the historic result (survive to the end of the battle without too many casualties) for a draw. If they can manage to do better than the historic record (primarily through escaping, but also by protecting the postal workers and noncombatants) they can achieve a victory.
Grant: What options are there for increased difficulty?
David: Like its predecessors in the series, Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms uses Tactics Cards to adjust the difficulty. You can either add one or two Tactics Cards per round, adjusting the difficulty as you see fit. But fair warning – adding two Tactics Cards can make life VERY difficult!
Grant: I understand you are working with Matt White on the art. How has his style changed the game aesthetic? Please show us a few examples of the different counters.
David: Matt is great. One of the best wargame artists in the biz, and just such an awesome artist, designer, and all around guy. We first worked together on Castle Itter, and it was such a great experience I asked him to work with me on Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms. He’s responsible for the look of all the Enemy elements in the game (cards, counters, etc.).
Here’s a sample:
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
David: I’m absolutely honored to help bring the memory of the Defenders of the post office alive with this game. The post office has been converted into a museum dedicated to the Defenders and the battle. I hope one day to see the game on display there. That would be an amazing honor.
Grant: What is the schedule for the game and who will publish it?
David: The game will launch on Kickstarter on Tuesday, November 17th. Like all the games in the Valiant Defense Series, DVG is the publisher.
Grant: What other battles are you looking at to use this system with?
David: There are a lot of battles that lend themselves well to the system. I haven’t settled on the next one yet, but the list of possible topics include Arnhem; the Alamo; Hill 314 during the battle of Mortain; Jadotville; Jones County, MS during the American Civil War; the Battle of Lanzerath Ridge; and countless others.
As always, thank you for your time David in answering our questions and for providing us with such great information about the design process. I love the Valiant Defense Series and look forward to each new volume that you see fit to design.
If you are interested, here is a look at an AAR of sorts from David Thompson as he played through the game on Tabletop Simulator that we posted on the blog about a month or so ago: https://theplayersaid.com/2020/10/13/playthrough-aar-for-soldiers-in-postmens-uniforms-from-dan-verssen-games-coming-to-kickstarter-soon/