Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Solo Games: Battle Cards

 It looks very rough. If I get through this one I will be very lucky.”

Major General James Gavin

After last week’s piece on solo games something new came across my gaming radar to remind me of one recent game I’d missed...and an opportunity to get more like it. I spotted Battle Card: Market Garden a few months ago over on’s “Postcards from the Front” game jam. As I’m an aficionado of solo games of all kinds – even wargames – I downloaded it and a few others that seemed to cater to the intersection of my historical interests and rules preferences. Market Garden was the first I tried and I instantly loved the concept. And now I just caught wind the creators are designing five more similar historical solo wargames set in World War II...and I managed to back the project on Kickstarter before the campaign ends on Oct. 1. Five print-and-play solitaire wargames with innovative mechanics and WWII historical themes for $5? An excellent opportunity for anyone interested in any of those elements.

Battle Card: Market Garden, and I presume the other Battle Card games, presents an entire wargame on two pages (offered in back-to-back and single-page format). One page contains all the rules – including set up, turn structure, combat mechanics, and other explanations – and the other features the map board. The map in Market Garden covers the area of that operation from the Belgian Frontier, where XXX Corps begins, all the way along the road, over key bridges, to Arnhem. Each contested location has places for Allied and German units, represented by six-sided dice, with the upward face indicating its strength. A marker space also indicates which side controls that area. The board also includes a turn/”weather” track and pieces one can cut out (though it’s easy enough to print an extra and mount the pieces separately and still have an uncut board). The map keeps things simple, displaying essential elements clearly, yet in an appealing graphic style that’s anything but boring. The rules layout over three columns looks well organized and easy to reference during play.

Market Garden covers the Allied invasion of the Netherlands (Sept. 17-27, 1944), a combined drop of airborne forces behind enemy lines to seize key bridges and clear the way for the armored XXX Corps to advance along the only main road through the region. The game assumes the player knows the historical background. It presents no notes, introduction, or other context, and that’s fine. If you’re playing the game, you’re either familiar enough with the overall engagement or you know where to read about it (though in our Internet Age a web search or Wikipedia article can reveal enough, or sometimes more than enough, for a working understanding). It’s also a great incentive to find something more substantial to read on the subject to provide greater depth and understanding for the game experience.

The "CRT" from the
Moro River game.
The turn sequence and mechanics sync quite well with issues from the historical battle, making Battle Card: Market Garden a compact immersive experience, even for what some might see as a “procedural” solo game. The player chooses whether to attack or defend with each Allied unit, deploys German reinforcements, decides to advance if Allies control an area in front of XXX Corps, determines if Allies receive reinforcements (depending on the weather), and finally moves the turn marker one step along the “weather” track. The innovative “Combat Results Table” (the “CRT” Avalon Hill and SPI made infamous) takes into account more than simply opposing unit strengths when the player fights enemy forces at each contested point. Results depend on whether the player chooses to attack or defend and which side has the advantage (higher unit strength).A d6 roll determines the outcome, usually indicating losses in unit strength for each side. Although the strength of the three Allied units starts high (two 6s and a 5) and four German units start low (2s with a single 1), they experience loss during combat; and any surviving Germans gain one pip each turn from reinforcements.

XXX Corps can move into an adjacent area once Allied forces eliminate German troops. The player may instead choose to merge an Allied unit in the same region as XXX Corps with an adjacent one closer to Arnhem. This remains a key strategy to winning. The player has only six turns to eliminate German resistance and advance XXX Corps forward. Of course, success clearing any region that isn’t adjacent to XXX Corps isn’t immediately helpful if it can’t move early into Eindoven, the first region on the road to Arnhem. Historically speaking the Allies fall short of capturing the bridge at Arnhem – the infamous “bridge too far” – and many games come close to this reality; only on rare occasions, when the dice give a player some lucky breaks, can XXX Corps gain a complete victory.

My first few plays focused on learning the rules and discovering successful strategies. Obviously I did not win. Victory comes from a host of factors, including one’s aggressive attitude and some lucky die rolls in combat and for the sole Allied reinforcements dropped into Arnhem. But player choices also contribute to victory: whether to attack or defend in a particular location; when to advance XXX Corps and when to move an Allied unit (which it must do to capture the penultimate bridge at Nijmagen). Even keeping these strategies in mind, multiple plays often produce the historical results, with one rarely experiencing a more catastrophic failure or the extremely elusive victory. Much as the randomized elements frustrated me (which have confounded me in some other solo games, as I’d mentioned before), I found Battle Card: Market Garden engaging, even with a relatively short play time (about 10 minutes each game). Easy re-set encourages multiple plays.

The print-and-play format proves ideal for this kind of solo game, both for distribution, lower cost, and customization. Although Battle Card: Market Garden was free on, I don’t mind paying the low price (about $1 each game) for five more similar games through the Kickstarter campaign. For Market Garden I printed out two separate sheets on card stock, one for the map board and another with the rules for easier reference. I did print out extra copies to trim and mount the pieces for the turn/“weather” marker and XXX Corps. Like most gamers I have plenty of dice to use, though I did find some themed ones with German crosses and American stars. I used WWII tokens from Litko to indicate Allied or German control for each region. The print-and-play format encourages this kind of enhancement for those who want a more polished experience.

I didn’t plan on writing such a detailed feature on Battle Card: Market Garden...but seeing a Kickstarter for five more print-and-play games with similar mechanics covering other engagements in WWII obviously got me excited. Backers get solo games for the Japanese invasion of Malaysia (1941-42) and the British/Canadian advance at the Moro River in the Italian campaign (1943) when the campaign fulfills in October. Three more as-yet-unnamed games release later. Given my positive experience with Market Garden and the design team’s impressive credits, I have high hopes for the Battle Card series. They’re a tempting convergence of solitaire wargaming, short but engaging games, and World War II history.

The battle was a decided victory, but the leading division, asking, quite rightly, for more, was given a chop. I have not been afflicted with any feeling of disappointment over this and am glad our commanders are capable of running this kind of risk.”

--Winston Churchill


  1. This sounds really interesting. I, of course, downloaded it immediately. I'm going to look at the Kickstarter, also. Thanks for the review.

    1. Glad to point you in the right direction, even if it's just for Market Garden. I just downloaded the three Kickstarter games and hope to find time to start exploring them soon. So far they all look interesting.

    2. I backed the Kickstarter, too. I haven't had the chance to look at them though.


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