Since moving to the northeast, our interactions with our postman have become much more enjoyable. Not because he delivers fewer bills or more exciting parcels. No, this is simply because his name is Pat. And he was born in Yorkshire. And he drives a red van. No black and white moggie in the passenger seat (although the farm next door has one called “Spare Cat”), but 3 out of 4 ‘aint bad! So when I was asked to preview USPS The Great American Mail Race, I donned my red hoodie (hot in July but I am nothing if not committed!) and sat down ready to get delivering!
Parcel Pick Up
The Great American Mail Race is based on the United States Postal Service (USPS) so it’s actually a celebration of all things blue rather than red. But parcelo, parcela; mail gets collected the same way whichever side of the Atlantic you’re sitting.
And I think it’s the most on-the-nose interpretation of pick up and deliver I have ever played! You are literally moving around the USA collecting parcels and letters and delivering them to their destinations.
Say Where Now
So, in the game, the USA is split into 4 regions. And I have to say, the place names on the board are truly excellent. Booger Hole, Good Grief, Big Bottom, and Elephant Butte are just some of the locations you’ll be visiting. It reminds me of those amusing alternative maps where places are renamed after their most famous (or infamous!) feature/reputation. Here, however, the towns are real!
Your job as part of the USPS, is to move between the various places using road, rail, trail, sea, and sky connections to pick up cubes representing mail. When your truck is loaded up with mail, you need to find a way to deliver them to where they need to go.
Each region has a stack of pending deliveries that traverse the whole map. When you land on a waiting mail cube, you pop it on your truck and take the matching colour Destination Card, placing the little destination flag over the soon to be visited spot.
You get 3 actions per turn. Your choices are limited to taking a Transport card from the pool and/or discarding a Transport card to move your truck/using your permanent bicycle. So you could take one card and then use two you have in hand to move around the board, or take two cards into your hand and use one to move.
Get On Your Bike….Or Truck…..Or Balloon…Or Rocket
Transport Cards are key in this game. And that’s because you must use the specific transportation types that work on the parts of the network you’re travelling along. There are 13 methods in total and range from a horse (Pony Express) to gallop along the trails, a train to move along the rails, or even a hot air balloon to do an air drop!
Each Transport Card shows the number of stops you will travel, and you must always move as many spaces as it says (without backtracking that turn). You will always have your trusty bicycle with you (which lets you move one spot along a road) but you can only use it a maximum of two times in any turn.
As such, you need to have Transport Cards matching those types in your hand. Plus you need to make sure you don’t overshoot as each transportation type gives a specific number of stops you will be making that turn. You also need to watch out for rival carriers; if another player passes through your spot whilst you’re loaded up, they can steal your cargo if they have room on their own truck!
When you (hopefully!) arrive at your destination with your mail cube still in situ (and you have to land on it, not pass through it), you get to flip the card over to the delivered side and stamp your personal delivery slip for points. The card will state whether it is a parcel or a letter, and there are bonus stamps available if you can collect and deliver in one turn (24 hour service!), regional deliveries, collecting from your home depot, and even safely deliver fragile items. Along the way you can also pick up a Postcard which will give you bonus points (and another chance to use the cool delivery slip stamp!).
After a successful delivery, you add a new Delivery Card to that region slot on the board, pop the mail cube back to its home depot, and move the flag to its new destination.
When there are no more Transport Cards to draw, the game is over, and the winner is the player with the most points!
First Class Packaging
As with all Big Potato Games, the presentation and its efforts in sustainable production and carbon reducing eco credentials are first class. Plastic does feature in the insert, stamp, trucks and flags, but there’s no unnecessary wrap or film. And thanks to the IP with USPS, the game is super thematic. From the rules being tucked into an air mail envelope, to the delivery slip and stamp method of collecting points, you do feel like you’re hitting those deliveries like the hottest Hermes driver in town!
USPS: The Great American Mail Race is a light game with super simple rules. It’s got some hand management, connection/route building with a few restrictions, and drafting, but nothing brain burny. Luck comes into it in two ways; what you can collect in terms of Transport Cards, and committing to collecting a cube in the hope you get there first. Plotting your routes by collecting the right Transport cards and thinking about whether you can intercept another carrier or pick up a postcard is mainly where your focus will be.
We found the board quite open at two player count (there is no scaling in terms of reducing the Transport Deck), so we didn’t really cross paths that often. At 3 player there was certainly more parcel pinching going on, however. Cubes always return to their home depot so it can feel a little collect-deliver-repeat. But the delivery destinations for each colour span the map so you can find yourself on the opposite side of the map at various points which presents the challenge.
Ultimately, USPS:The Great American Mail Race is a classic pick up and deliver game with a little bit of direct player interaction. As such, if you’re into that mechanic, this is definitely a nostalgic looking and family friendly choice.