Kinda thinking about postcard games.
If you’re not aware of a postcard game, it’s a game where uh, you play it on a postcard. This may seem a little confusing to those of us in the big board game spaces, where you kind of expect to get a box, and some pieces, and even simple games that can be played with just a deck of cards have to make some compromises. As you shrink down in the parts available to you in your design, some things get harder and harder to do.
When you think of a postcard game in its purest form, though, you’re asking for what kind of game you can make that fits entirely on one side of one piece of paper, and not a particularly big one. It’s ont uncommon to end up with something that looks like a fast food restaurant placemat – something you might have if you ate out at a fast food restaurant recently, and if you did, what, why.
I’ve done some games like this before – I have the game Grey Goo, which is a chess-like game where the rules are all printed on one side, and the board on the other, but you do need to provide your own dice for that one.
This is on my mind this month though because of Love Letter.
Love Letter is a 2012 card game that is on its own a tiny acorn from which has grown a mighty tree trunk of ‘it’s alright, I guess’ variants. Love Letter at its core is this lovely, tight, tiny game where you have one card in hand, so you’re only ever making choices between two cards for what your turn will be about. The reason we use this term ‘tight’ for games is often because of games like Love Letter where the entire mechanism of how the game works is the question between one or two things every single turn, so that while your actions may have long term consequences, and create lots of variance, there’s only a little bit of variance in player action. Everything fits together very snugly.
Ostensibly, the theme of Love Letter is the palyers are trying to deliver a love letter to a princess, and that’s all we’ll say to that, but the thing is, the game kind of doesn’t really have that going on for it. Like, there’s a degree to which it implies you are the card in your hand, which means you can jump from being a guard to a knight to a bishop to the actual princess, so maybe just hold onto the love letter yourself?
The tone and style implies a love letter, a smoochy motif, but it doesn’t really do much with it. That’s a bummer! It’s still a game that’s famously influential in board game spaces, it’s tiny – like, 12 cards in some versions – and it’s a real joy to play, just flowing deliciously from front to back, yet, no matter how you cut it, it’s not really a game that feels, to me, like it has anything to do with a love letter.
That got me thinking about alternatives. How would I do that? What could I do?
The first thought was a postcard game. Present it with the game on one side, and the rules on the back, as if written to you by a beloved. But postcard games can be, when done badly, about as engaging as a connect-the-dots. That’s a risk. What I was thinking was postcard games with an inherent variance to them: what can you fit on a postcard?
One option is a codebreaker game. Lots of different versions with a puzzle that needs solving. That can be fun, and it could be used for a narrative like a spy romance, where you play a game on one side to get a number code as a result, and that number code can be used to solve a message on the back?
Another option is a dice chucker, like a roll-and-write. Something else I’m liking now I think about this is a flip-and-write, where you have the postcard presenting options that respond to playing cards you can flip out of a standard playing card deck. The postcard is something you can take, and then play at your leisure – and being so cheap the produce, it can be destructable, or single use. Maybe in this case, it’s a game about building a connection through managing cards as you draft them, trying to collect hearts and use the tools on the postcard to dismiss or discard other cards that work against you.
A final option, which I like here but don’t think would work internationally, is one where small change is part of how the game plays, using things like coins as trackers, and in that case it implies that the game should be about money problems in establishing or maintaining a relationship.