Ghost Panzer is a tactical WWII game from Worthington Games, with counters representing squads and individual vehicles, covering the early and mid war actions of 11th Panzer Division on the eastern front.
The following account is a scenario replay, together with a description of the systems used.
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EDIT - please note that this article was updated on 8th August 2017 to accord with the rule changes in version 2.1 which now have modifiers made against unit Proficiency and not the Die Roll.
The first scenario presented on the timeline, is called 'The First T-34's'. It has waves of Soviet light tanks, together with a few T-34's thrown in, swarming onto the German positions. The Germans have a couple of 88mm guns, so those T-34's don't seem to last for very long.
June 23rd 1941, This was the first major tank engagement in the Ukraine. Elements of Soviet 10th Tank Division had been spotted by aerial reconnassaince heading towards Radekhov. 15th Panzer Regiment turned to meet them.
The map is 6 panels in size (arranged 2 x 3) and each panel is the size of the box base. Keeping the card panels together is a nuisance, so I have mine covered with a sheet of plexiglass, which nicely holds everything down, but it has affected some of the photography due to glare. The hexes are large at over an inch - nice!
Above - The roads are not in effect. (1) the white wavy line shows roughly the German line of defence. (2) the Soviets enter from this edge of the board. They arrive over the course of the first three turns, with five tanks in each wave. Each group has one T34 and either 4 x T26s or 4 x BT-7. The white arrows show the line of attack that the Soviets planned to choose for all three groups to follow (i.e. a concentration on the left flank).
The scenario rules require that on their turn of entry, each Soviet force can only use half of their movement allowance and that they must make best effort to reach the middle boards as soon as possible. The victory conditions require the Soviets to knock out three German tanks and / or guns.
The main influences on this scenario will be; a) The tank killing capability of the German 88mm guns. b) the high proficiency rate of the German units. c) the vulnerability to supression by H.E. fire of the German 88mm guns. d) the good armour on the T-34 tanks. e) the low proficiency of all Soviet vehicles. f) the management of Soviet forces as they cross what is essentially a killing ground.
Above - This is the German line-up as seen from the Soviet side of the board. The two flank units are the 88mm guns, the three centre units are the Pz IIIg's and the two lighter tanks nearest the 88's are a Pz IIf and a Pz IIIf. The scenario requires the Germans to be spaced apart by at least one hex.
Operations Range: During a turn, play passes back and forth between players as each activates a number of their units to move or fire. To manage this, each side is given an Operations Range. In this scenario the Russian operation range is 3 to 6 and the Germans 3 to 9. What that normally means is that a side MUST use at least as many units as the minimum number states (3 here for both sides), but can choose to use any number up to the maximum stated, before play is handed over to the other player. A wider operational range, especially with a lower first number, gives greater tactical flexibility.
However, tank and gun units each count as 3 units in this regard, so in our scenario that does not use infantry, the Russian player can activate between 1 and 2 units before play must be handed over to the Germans who can then use between 1 and 3 units, and so on.
Proficiency tests: In this system, it is assumed that units can automatically do something unless it is something that is a little harder to do, requiring some skill, training, good equipment and even a bit of good luck. Under these circumstances a proficiency test must be taken and if the attempt is failed, the unit is marked 'used' for the rest of that turn.
In our scenario, all the Germans have a proficiency of 9, which is excellent and the Russians have a rating of 5 ......... which is not! Proficiency will be tested a lot in our game because the triggers to the test will be common, especially firing at ranges greater than 5 hexes, opportunity fire and fire after moving. This is my favourite part of the game, the rating beautifully and simply models the effects of turrets, non-turrets, training, whether vehicles have radios and the poor layout of tank turrets with regards to the commanders functions.
So, on with the game. TURN 1 (of 7 turns - the optional rules are not in play).
Above - This is the first Soviet group to enter the map, 4 x T26s and 1 x T-34. Note the T26s is a slow tank (top right corner), so the penalty of half movement for arriving units will really slow these down. The T-34 front armour is rated 7 compared to the 2 on the T26s (second line of top left corner) and the proficiency of all vehicles is a lowly 5 (bottom right corner). Compare those values with the two Panzer III types below. The T-34 is a formidable machine, but the German high proficiency will help them run rings around the Russian armour.
The Russians go first and within the limits of their operational range, bring on two vehicles (T26s). They move but cannot manage to even attempt fire after movement because the combined penalties of moving and combat range would make a proficiency test impossible to pass, so play passes to the other side.
The Germans would simply like to hold their fire until they see all the Russian move played out, but their operational range demands that at least 1 tank or gun unit be used during their 'impulse'. 'using' generally means to fire or move, but a player can choose to do neither and instead place an 'opportunity fire' marker on the unit (read - going into overwatch). This means the unit cannot be used again that turn, except to make an opportunity fire attack. By putting the unit into a state of readiness for opportunity fire, the unit will get its opportunity fire die roll penalty reduced, though it is then marked 'used'. They choose to put the light Pz IIf under such a counter. Play reverts back to the Russian player ...... and so on.
The German 'Op Fire' marked Pz IIf hits out as the third Soviet tank enters the board, but the shot fails. The fourth T26s enters the game and play then passes back to the Germans, who simply mark their Pz IIIf with an Op Fire counter. The Russians just have one unit left to bring on, the T-34. It passes the slower T26s' and ends the Russian participation in the turn in the positions shown below. The German player fires the op fire marked Pz IIIf at it because once there are no more Russian tanks left to move, any German unit under an Op Fire counter, would be essentially be wasted. The shot is futile and does no harm. Play passes back to the Germans, who can now fire with everything that is not marked as used, since the Russians have no further units left to use.
The 88mm (on the German right flank) fires first at the T-34 (the unit out in front in the above shot).
Process - The range is 14 hexes, this counts as what we might think of as demanding or more skilled fire, so the firer must first take a proficiency test. The gun has a proficiency of 9 (very high) and must roll that number or less on a D10 to pass the test. However, the Proficiency is modified by -1 for firing at more than 10 hexes and -1 for firing at a moving unit, for a total drop in Proficiency from 9 to 7. The die roll is 6. This is less than the modified proficiency level of 7, so the gun can attack the target.
To then hit and knock out the target (the 'to hit' and penetration processes are dealt with by a single die roll), deduct the defenders armour value from the attackers anti armour gun value and then score that number or less on the roll of a D10. Gun values can be modified, but there are none in this attack. The 88mm gun attack value is a very powerful 15. The front armour on the T-34 is 7. The 7 is deducted from the 15 (resulting in 8) and the firer must score this result or less on a D10 to hit and destroy the target. In this case, the German player rolls a 3, so the T-34 is hit and knocked out.
The other 88mm turns within its hex to bring the Russian tanks into its front firing arc. It goes through the same process as above and passes its proficiency test (it suffers an extra -1 Proficiency penalty for turning before firing). The firepower is 15, but the frontal armour on T26s is only 2 (compared to 7 on the T-34), so the 88mm will score a knock-out on a roll of 13 or less. Although this seems like an automatic knock-out, a roll of 10 is always a miss, so the die must be rolled. The score is 5 and the Soviet tank is knocked out.
The remaining three German tanks fire but fail to penetrate the enemy armour (example, the Panzer IIIg has a firepower of 8, the T26s an armour of 2, so the German player needs to roll a 6 or less to knock out the enemy, they roll a 7). Once something has moved or fired, it is marked as 'used'.
So at the end of turn 1, the Soviets have lost a T-34 and a T26s.
Above - These are the tanks in the second wave. They are fast BT-7's and arrive together with another T-34. These will join the three T26s that have survived the first turn. The Soviets go first and decide to just use 1 tank, so that play will flip straight back to the Germans and force them to 'use' a unit, which they do and they fire on a nearby T26s.
Play proceeds like this throughout the turn with both sides making minimum commitments, so that the other player is forced to do something and so units on both sides get used one by one. The Germans knock out all three of the remaining T26s, which were starting to get uncomfortably close to the 88mm on the German right flank.
Above - The German 88mm gun has that superb anti tank value of 15, that will most of the time knock out anything it hits in 1941 and is the only weapon platform that the Germans can use frontally against moving T-34's that can knock them out. Note guns (like infantry) have morale numbers (down the right right side) and supression can reduce morale values to the lower colour of either yellow or red.
The T-34 comes onto the map as their last available unit. It hugs the left edge of the map and advances. On the far side of the board (i.e. the German left flank), the other German 88mm pops off a long range shot (diagonally across the map) at the T-34, but although it passes its proficiency, a penetration does not happen because the extreme trange (over 20 hexes) modifies the attack strength by -1. That together with the strong frontal armour of the T-34 only just saves the tank.
Above - The scene at the end of turn 2. All of turn 1 Soviet units have been removed from play, all of turn 2 units survived. Things will start to get interesting now. The Russian tanks will mostly be fast moving BT-7's that could swamp the German positions if they get through. To stop this, the Germans will need to start using oportunity fire, rather than just holding units back until the enemy have moved everything. Opportunity fire brings fire penalties. The German left flank needs to stay in place until they see where the Russian third wave will arrive. Once known, they can use their high proficiency values to change position and fire, to start getting flank shots on the T-34's and getting themselves out of the line of fire of Russian tanks that have halted.
The Russian plan changes. The third wave of tanks will come onto the board on their right flank, rather than following up the other two waves. This will cause the Germans to suffer a penalty on their proficiency dice if they change facing to deal with the new threat. The activations play out as follows (R for Russian, G for German) as play passes back and forth between players.
R - Two BT-7's on the Russian left race forward. The German defenders (a Pz IIIg and a Pz IIIf) opportunity fire, they don't want the Russian tanks to get amongst them. Both BT-7's are lost.
G - The 88mm fires on the T-34, but fail their proficiency test.
R - Two BT-7's advance, two PzIIIg's opportunity fire, destroying one of the Russian tanks.
G - The German 88mm on the left flank takes a long range shot at the T-34, they pass their proficiency but roll a '9' on the hit / penetration roll, so fail.
R - Two BT-7's from the third wave advance on the right flank.
G - The only remaining unused German unit ( Pz IIf ) fires at a BT-7 on the Russian right and knocks the vehicle out.
R - The remaining Russian unused units can now move without fear of reaction, providing they don't trigger Final Opportunity Fire by moving adjacent to the enemy. Two more BT-7's and the T-34 from the third wave push onto the map on their right flank. On the left flank, the T-34 moves the join the BT-7 sitting on the Germain right flank. They are now within 5 hexes of the enemy, so will now not have their Proficiency lowered for range, but will suffer the -4 to their Proficiency for moving before fire. There is therefore now a slim chance (10%) they can fire after moving. They roll against their proficiency, needing a 1, but get a 5, so their fire does not happen.
Above - End of turn 3 positions. Note top right the BT-7 and T-34 (red counters) now on the German right flank.
The situation on the German right looks serious. The Russians get to go first, so it looks like the 88mm gun will be removed ..... but no, the scenario gives the German side a Command Point that can be used once each turn. These points can do a number of advatageous things that abstractly represent leadership, but in relation to armour, their only power is to allow the 2nd player at the start of a turn to go first with one unit, in effect letting the German unit trump the Russians. Naturally, the Germans see this as being the ideal moment bring the 88mm gun to fire. This allows the German gun to pivot and target the T-34.
Process: The 88mm must take a proficiency test because it pivoted. The gun's Proficiency of 9 is lowered by -1 for firer pivoting and -1 for the 'target moved' counter on the T-34. The die roll is 3 so the proficiency test is passed. The firepower is 15, with 7 deducted for the T-34's armour. The Germans need to roll 8 or less and they roll 6, so the Russian tank is removed from play and the 88mm is marked as 'used'. Play now reverts back to the Russians,
The surviving BT-7 fires past the gun and into the flank of the Pz IIIf. This is a straight forward shot at close range, so a proficiency test is not needed. The firepower is 7 against an armour rating of 2, so the firer needs 5 or less to hit and penetrate, but they roll a 10, which is always a miss.
On the Russian right a BT-7 dashes down the flank. The Pz IIf opportunity fires, but no effect. A Pz IIIg pivots to fire and fails its proficiency test. It is starting to feel like a swirling tank battle. The BT-7 gets through and stops behind the German left flank. It can attempt a shot, but needs to roll a 1 on a profficiency test (because of the -4 penalty on the tank's Proficiency value for moving) and fails, but these low chance shots still cause the German player to be nervous.
When play passes to the German player, full use can be made of their 3 to 9 Operational Range, allowing them to activate three vehicles. They choose to do this and destroy a BT-7 and a T-34, but miss with the third unit. Play reverts back to the Russian, who at best can activate two units a time.
Two BT-7's move down the right in an effort to join the tank that is presently sitting on the German flank. The last available Pz IIIg pivots to fire and knocks one of the tanks out, but the other gets through and is close enough to the flank of the Pz IIf to attempt a shot, they need a proficiency roll of 1 (because of the -4 drop in Proficiency for movement and their own proficiency level is only 5) and this time they get it. Then they roll a further 1 (needed 6 or less) and destroyed the Pz IIf. This is the first German loss.
Above - The Russians only have two vehicles left in the game. Both are BT-7's and as the above photo shows, they sit on the German left flank. Again unsurprisingly, the Germans spend their Command Point to go first. They activate the 88mm gun. It pivots so takes a proficiency test which is passes but they fail their hit / penetration die roll by rolling a '10'.
The Russians can't believe their luck, they need to make the next two shots count. They do not dare advance onto the gun, because it would get Final Opportunity Fire. Instead one fires at a Pz IIIg and fails and the other fires HE at the 88mm gun.
Process: A proficiency test is not needed in the current circumstances (close range and not turning or moving). The firer has an HE value of 8, which is not modified as the target is in open terrain. They simply roll a D10 and need to score equal to or less than their HE value, which they do by rolling a 5.
This would be enough to put a yellow suppression marker on the gun, reducing its morale value to the yellow number on the counter (6). But casualties (unit reduction) always need to be checked for when attacking non-armoured units. On the 88mm counter the 5/2 numbers on the bottom left of the counter are the casualty numbers and the second figure (2) is the one that guns use when being fired upon by a tank. If that figure (2 in this case) can be added to the die roll (5 in this case) and the total (7 in this case) is still less than or equal to the firepower used against it (8 in this case), then the target suffers casualties. Infantry targets flip to their weaker side when they take casualties but guns are simply removed from play. So the BT-7 has removed the 88mm from the game and this is the second German loss. However there are no more Russian units left to use this turn and the German still have 4 tanks and another 88mm gun available for use ..... Oh dear!
The Germans rely on their high proficiency to move a couple of vehicles into better positions and then to fire. But generally, the German die rolls are poor and between the four units, they only manage to score one hit, removing a BT-7 and leaving just 1 survivor.
Above - The scene at the end of turn 5. It doesn't look too healthy for the lonely BT-7. Once again the Germans spend their CP to go first and JUST managed to score a kill.
So this is a German win, the Russians needed to knock out 3 German units for a win, though they feel rather pleased with their two hits. Had the final German shot missed, which it nearly did, the BT-7 would have been used next and had an acceptable chance of destroying a target and winning the game. So this was an exciting scenario, going down to the last die roll.
I am not always keen on games that go down to the last counter, but in the historical setting to this scenario, the Russians lost 46 tanks. Also the scenario rules do not allow the Russians to return to their starting boards until game turn 5, so in our game, any retreat at that stage would have likewise guaranteed a wipe-out. While writing this report up, I have played the scenario a further two times. The second time, the Russians won with 5 vehicles still on the board. The Third time, all Russian vehicles were removed from play by turn 5!
Game conclusions: I really like this system. We have just witnessed a game with 20 vehicles and 2 guns being played quickly and with ease. As a statement on its own, that is something pretty unusual in a tactical game, but add to that the way the system uses proficiency, good gun / armour relationships and the Operations Range to make units behave and perform in a way that feels right and accords with battle accounts, then all of that from a relatively small ruleset is impressive.
The proficiency aspect of the game is a simple mechanic that allows armour, infantry and artillery to play with their historical traits visibly coming into the game, without them being totally over-bearing in nature. In this package we have Panzer Grenadiers that can attack aggresively, being able to frequently fire after movement (assault fire) and having good responses with reaction fire (op,fire). The early war Soviet squads have worse casualty values, so 'tend' to take greater casuaties and their reaction type fire is much lower than the German values, yet good morale makes them hardy troops. Players will feel that the units behave in a way that reflects realistic capabilities.
We have touched upon morale when the 88mm gun took a supression, but this is an important part of the infantry element to the game. Infantry units take a morale check to move or fire, since full strength infantry units start at a morale rating of 10, then they would automatically pass such a test, so do not actually take a test and this reduces die rolling. However, once a unit takes a supression (yellow) marker, the unit uses its yellow morale value to test and a further supression (red) would mean the red value is used. This is a clever way of showing how a unit can be forced to keep its head down without a blanket rule that nails everything down all the time (i.e. it can still move and fire if it passes its restrictive morale check).
I think anyone interested in tactical warfare would be well served by giving Ghost Panzer a look because of its different approach.
Though this replay report has given close attention to the armour and guns, the full richness of the game can only really be appreciated when the infantry and artillery rules are all brought into the melting pot. It is knits together very well and the artillery is delightfully easy to use - not always true of tactical games.
Note that Ghost Panzer is now available in a remastered edition (together with an update of the earlier Screaming Eagles) and comes with version 2.1 of the rules, with the main changes being as to how infantry manage the proficiency rules and that modifiers are no longer added to the Die Roll, but rather influence the factors of the counters.
Complexity: The box officially rates it 3 out of 10, but I think initially it is a little higher than that. There are only around 15 pages of rules, but they offer some different concepts and it does take a couple of games to get those as second nature and have everything knit together. The play aid initially looks off-putting because it is so 'full', but in practice it is superb, you can do everything from it and it is well laid out. As with most tactical games, there are plenty of scenarios and the investment in learning the system is rewarded by a game that can frequently hit the table.
Rather than compare this game to the usual systems that we could benchmark tactical games against, I would simply say that this is a game that sits at the lower end of the complexity spectrum that delivers realism and is both stimulating and fun to play. The rulebook is set in two parts, with the infantry section first, so the gamer can play just with infantry before moving on to vehicles. There are two training scenarios, one for infantry and one for vehicles, so a determined effort has been made to make this an easy game to get into The designer has a strong presence on Boardgamegeek and questions are quickly answered.
Size: Each map board is the size of the bottom of the box (i.e. not folded) and scenarios generally use between 2 and 6 maps in various configurations that make this game still a kitchen table sized game, with games often taking up the same space as a standard boardgame map might use. A couple of scenarios actually need maps from the Screaming Eagles game and they use 9 and 8 maps. These larger games can still sit within a kitchen table, but anyone with a disability that prevents stretching across tables may find the one 3 x 3 setup (9 maps) scenario difficult. The counters are large (1 inch I think) and the hexes are comfortably large as well, so handling is easy and the data is clear to read.
Solitaire: This is a two player game that for the most part plays fine solitaire. Some scenarios do have 'decoy' units and there is a section in the rules that suggests how to make decoys more solitaire friendly. I am not a big fan of the decoy units (though no doubt face to face gamers will feel they add another dimension to the game). I tend to just swap them out (collectively) for another unit or foxhole or whatever feels appropriate. The optional rules have a random events table, which always helps the solitaire player and since the units are often dependent on passing either proficiency or morale checks, this takes away some control from the plays - again something that helps solitaire play. There are plenty of people playing this game solitaire and I do, I would just have rather had the decoys as an optional 'add in' rather than scenarios being developed with them already included. The rules use concealment counters, but this is easily managed for the solitaire player, it is just a way of managing a fire modifier for units in cover that have not otherwise drawn attention to themselves.
Time: The box says 30 minutes to 2 hours and that seems about right, dependent upon scenario. Also, once you have played for a while, sometimes you will know simply from the roll whether you need to check modifiers etc and in that regard, experience makes the game play a little faster.