Panzer published by GMT and designed by James Day
As part of an ongoing series of articles that looks how individual tactical games deal with gun / armour rules, this post offers some observations about the game 'Panzer' published by GMT.
As usual, the article will be comparing how a design handles T34/76 tanks running up against a German Tiger I, while giving some insight to design / play processes.
Above graph showing gun fire values at point blank range.
Panzer is a tank centric game that interestingly takes a more ‘hard data’ approach to processes than we are generally used to seeing in these days of abstraction based tactical games. Does this bring us closer in terms of simulation?
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Doubtless, there will be many gamers who still have the original miniatures inspired game of Panzer (and the associated Armor / 88 game sets) in their collections which were published by Yaquinto in the early 80’s. The game later morphed into a miniatures set for WWII, while Avalon Hill published the sister designs by Jim Day of ‘MBT’ and ‘IDF’ boardgames covering modern conflict. In 2010, GMT took the entire system on, returning everything to a boardgame simulation, with processes a little more streamlined for a modern audience, while retaining that old school hard data appeal.
Though the design aspects bring the sort of detail that will delight and appeal to tank grognards and maybe worry those that generally prefer their games ‘light’, the designer, Jim Day and the Publishers GMT, have done a good job in keeping such a thing playable and intuitive.
The rule book is divided into a basic and advanced set of rules. The design is modular, so not all of the advanced rules need be used, players can just introduce the bits they like and absorb the game slowly. This post might become too lengthy if all of the variables that are available from the advanced rules (and optional rules!) were taken into account, so I will broadly stay within the limits of the basic game, while making frequent reference to the advanced rules. This way, you will be able to survive the length of this article with just one cup of coffee :-)
These posts are meant to be more fun than critical analysis (I don’t have the technical knowledge to do that) and simply allows the reader some insight into the processes of a system that may interest them. In the Resource Section at the foot of this post, I have included the links to the previous posts covering other tank v tank tactical systems for comparison.
The Tiger I and T-34/76 (1943 model) are quite different from each other, coming from opposing design philosophies and both sides had good and different reasons to respect and fear the capability of the others vehicle, so nothing written in these articles is intended to reduce the significance of the T-34, that in its more common match-up’s with the German Panzer III and IV’s, was a supreme fighting machine that would go on to influence a generation of tank designers.
The Tiger essentially allowed the Germans to bring their superb 88/56 gun onto the battlefield on a protected mobile platform. It was the gun that could deal with the T-34 and KV-1 threat. Heavily armoured with 100 - 120mm armour to the front and 60 - 80mm armour to the sides, it was best suited to ‘standing off’ and destroying enemy armour at range.
In the image below, the information on the bottom of the counter all relates to movement allowances and the -5 in the white box is a modifier that the Tiger suffers to any bog check. 3T just means it is tracked and has a cross country allowance of 3, the 5 is the allowance for moving on paths and the 8 is the allowance for moving on roads - easy. Just checking that against the T-34 counter further below instantly brings some differences to life. (Sorry about the purple effect, the counters are in fact grey).
The T-34/76 by contrast had a lighter gun and armour, but excellent mobility, ruggedness and could be produced in huge numbers. It carried the 76/41.5 gun and frontal armour was broadly in the 45 - 52mm range, though was sloped at sixty degrees, increasing the performance of the armour significantly. It did suffer from spalling …. not all steel is equal!
Of significance is that the base game has just two aspects for a vehicle, front and rear and consequently just two armour ratings (in keeping with many other designs). The advanced game brings in six different attack aspects (that match the six hexsides) and these are further divided into turret and hull hits and can be further modified for rising or falling shots. So, rather than vehicle information being on the counter, each vehicle instead has its own data card. It can initially look scary to the uninitiated, but it is cleverly constructed and pretty straight forward to use and one does of course (rightly or wrongly) get a sense of greater realism through this detail.
Importantly, our assessment cannot just simply be about machine on machine. Crew training and competence is a vital aspect of armoured warfare and Panzer has an order system that restricts the number of orders that a player has to allocate, dependent upon capability. So a veteran force will get more orders to allocate than an equally sized seasoned force. This matters because we can assume that in our play examples, our trio of T-34’s will likely have a single shared order, so will have to stick together. They will not have the luxury of acting independently of each other and going off in different directions to encircle the Tiger over a distance of hundreds of metres as some of my gaming in other systems have allowed to unfold.
Additionally, getting the initiative can make a big difference, as it determines who will fire first, with the potential of causing devastating effect before the other can respond. There are optional rules for a more interactive style of gaining the initiative.
In the base game, players just roll off against each other with a 50 / 50 chance of gaining the initiative. We will be using the advanced rules that allow some variety and we can treat the German force as veteran. This will give them a 20% edge when rolling for initiative, which feels about right for mid 1943 situations.
Okay, some facts of life! A T-34/76 should not be able to penetrate a Tiger I frontally. The up-gunned T34 (with the 85mm gun) can penetrate a Tigers turret at 500 metres and the front plate at around 300 metres. The Tiger can take out a T-34 frontally at 2000 metres. The game needs to at least reflect these things.
Note - it is the amount of data points around the tank in the advanced game and the variables in penetration values at different ranges that allows the system to fully reflect such differences in penetration capability at given locations.
In the game, the T34/76, with a maximum penetration value of 19 at point blank range, cannot defeat a Tiger I frontally. The T34/85 (only available from early 1944) can penetrate a Tiger turret frontally at short range (700 metres) and penetrate the hull frontally at point blank range (up to 400 metres). The Tiger I can take out a T34 frontally at 2100 metres. So that is pretty much what we want to see reflected - impressive.
Tanks may be able to use special ammo. The Tiger has access to APCR, which has higher penetration than AP, but it can only be used out to 16 hexes, as opposed to the 21 hexes it gets from the standard AP round. The T34/76 gets access to HVAP, but not until later in the year. This when available, will allow the tank to penetrate a Tiger at point blank range.
The principle of gun / armour combat in the game is that that the firer must first pass a ‘to hit’ die roll and if there is a hit, we move on to assess penetration. The question of penetration in the basic game is settled by whether the gun value can defeat the armour value and the difference in those values determines the degree of damage. In the advanced game, we must first check for hit location to see whether a penetration is possible at that location and then the effect of penetration is based on a die roll, which although introducing a randomiser, is still reflecting the specific gun / ammo characteristics, with some guns more likely to cause a knock-out or brew-up (a burning knock-out) rather than simple damage.
The system uses percentile dice, which makes our assessment of performance a little easier.
A hex is 100 metres across, which is a higher scale than we typically see in tactical ‘one counter is one vehicle’ type games (most are at 40 - 50 metres across), so we get a better justification for tank engagements, which were frequently fought at 800 to 1500 metres, giving a better representation of the threat to insecure flanks.
(If this gets too dry - go straight to conclusions or go to the T34 attack to get an idea of the flow of play)
In the base game, the frontal armour of the Tiger I is 21 and the fire value of the T-34/76 with standard AP ammunition at 1000 metres is 15 at 500 metres is 17 and at point blank range is 19. So quite rightly, the T-34 cannot harm the Tiger I frontally, even close up.
In contrast, if we upgunned the T34 to the later 85mm gun model, at 400 metres, the gun value is 26, this would allow it the possibility of causing harm to a Tiger I frontally at that range and out to as much as 700 metres if the attack came in from a different aspect other than fully head on.
At extreme range (21 hexes for the 88mm) the Tiger I has a fire value of 18 while the T-34 has a frontal defence value of 18, so the Tiger can start to successfully engage the T-34 at ranges of around 21 hexes (2100 metres).
Because penetrating a vehicle is a two part process, we first need to know what the percentage chance of the ‘to hit’ part of the process is for a Tiger firing on a MOVING target the size of a T-34;
8% at 21 hexes (or 2100 metres)
24% at 18 hexes (or 1800 metres)
40% at 13 hexes (or 1300 metres)
56% at 7 hexes (or 700 metres)
72% at 4 hexes (or 400 metres)
Accepting that following a hit that could penetrate, the advanced rules allow an 88mm gun to straight knock out or brew up (i.e. do more than just damage a tank) the target 60 % of the time, then a Tiger will both hit and kill a moving T34 at 18 hexes 14% of the time and do the same at 1300 metres 24% of the time.
(thanks to the forum posters at The Wargames Website for helping me out with the maths)
Note - if a vehicle is hit and penetrated, but not knocked out, it will likely suffer damage instead, If a vehicle receives a second damaged result, it becomes knocked out, so damage does have a cumulative value (the first damage marker also degrades a vehicles capability), so in the above example, at 1800 metres, as well as the 14% chance of a kill, if we include the potential for causing damage, this gives us an overall chance of 22% of hurting the moving target one way or another.
Both the Tiger and T34 have standard rates of fire, so they do not have a chance of scoring multiple hits in a single turn.
The system does allow a vehicle to fire with penalties and then make a half move (if given a Short Halt Order). There would be no reason for the T-34 to attempt this here, as it needs to move at maximum speed to close in, but the Tiger might see it as useful to both fire and then reposition backwards so that it is not out-manoeuvred as quickly, though the Tiger is quite slow and such a costly manoeuvre would need good cause. Moving and firing like this this would bring the chance of a ‘to hit’ at 1300 metres (13 hexes) against a moving target right down to 20% and a kill down to 12% (from the 24% stated above).
Since the T34/76 needs to get a flank shot to harm the Tiger, manoeuvre and using terrain for concealed approaches are important considerations. If they get onto a Tigers flank to access the rear aspect (basic game) or rear/side aspect (advanced game), they still need to get within point blank range (300 metres) to get a kill. After late 1943 they get a chance of using HVAP ammunition (advanced rules), which they could use successfully out to 1000 metres (10 hexes) from a flank position.
On a final note about penetration, track damage is an important feature of the game, because guns, even without a prospect of penetrating the target, may get lucky and get a ‘track hit’, which broadly means a mobility hit. In the advanced game, once something has fired and the ‘to hit’ table confirms a hit, the next thing that happens is the location of hit is determined. This is a simple D10 roll against a chart that takes target aspect into account, which is how we find out whether the armour at the point of impact can be penetrated. However, a die roll of 10 is always considered a track hit instead. In the photo below, the various aspects of the Tiger's armour is shown.
A track hit means that the vehicle cannot pivot or move for the rest of the scenario, it also means that the attack calculation ends immediately, because the result is a track hit and nothing else. A track hit has nothing to do with ‘damage to the vehicle’ or damage markers. Essentially since we have a 10% chance of getting this result on the hit location table, it is simple to see the overall chance of something like the T-34 (stationary) disabling a Tiger in this way.
At 7 - 10 hexes, a T34/76 would be shooting at medium range, with a 50% chance of a hit if no other influences were in play. This would give the T34/76 a 5% chance of getting a track hit (and the crew might bail out - total chance of all of that including the crew bailing is 1.5%), though the T34’s own chance of survival while parked there doing that might give the Soviet player pause for thought!
In previous posts, I have run a ‘charge’ situation of three T34’s attacking a lone Tiger head-on over open sights, so am compelled to do the same here for comparison purposes and this also helps to outline the flow of play. If we run this with the T-34’s starting out at 1000 metres (10 hexes) we can go through the play / combat sequence, which the reader may find helpful. [note - in other systems, due to scale and map limitations, something 10 hexes out would only be at 400 - 500 metres]. We will do this across open terrain …… lucky old Tiger!
We are concentrating on a single action here, in a real game there would be other vehicles and anti-tank guns around that through Fire or Overwatch orders could significantly interfere with our little action.
Turn 1 - Check for spotting - everything is out in the open and spotted.
Command Phase - Place command orders on all vehicles. The Tiger gets a FIRE order (they might have chosen OVERWATCH instead in a other circumstances, or perhaps MOVE if they had wanted to abandon their position), the stack of three T-34’s get a single MOVE order, which will activate them all.
The players roll for initiative, with the German getting a positive modifier of 20% on the percentile dice and they win it. They have to decide who will be player 1. They choose to go as player 1 and so will therefore fire first.
Combat Phase - Direct Fire (German) - The Tiger fires at 10 hexes, which for their gun is classed as medium range and gives them a penetration value of 21. There is a 50% chance of a hit at medium range, but the target is moving so this drops to 40%. The German player rolls 29% and scores the hit and says ‘Phew’! The Tiger penetration value is 21, the T34 frontal armour in the basic game is 18, so this difference produces a knock-out. In the advanced rule, you roll for hit location and damage type, so I try that just to see and the result is the same, a knock-out.
The Soviets do not have any vehicles with Direct Fire orders, so play moves on to the Movement Phase.
Movement Phase, the SECOND player always moves first, so players might have regard for this when winning the initiative and deciding who should be player 1 - its not always about firing! The two remaining T-34’s share a Movement Order. They have a cross-country allowance of 5 MP’s and they use that, they are now just 5 hexes away from the Tiger.
Adjustment Phase - remove the order chits.
TURN 2. Spotting, everything is in the open and spotted.
Command Phase - Again the Tiger gets a Fire Order and the T34’s get a Movement Order. If they had a spare order chit each turn, they could give one to each tank so that they could move more independently of each other.
Initiative - The Germans win the initiative and decide to be Player 1.
Combat Phase - Direct Fire - The Tiger fires, range has dropped to ‘short range’, this puts the penetration value of this gun up to 24 and the shorter range makes it easier to get a hit. The base roll needed for a hit at this range is 70%, but it is modified to 56% because the target is moving. They roll 100 … ‘Oh Dear!’ said the Tiger tank commander, ‘we have missed - never mind’.
Movement Phase - The T-34’s move 5 hexes and get adjacent to the Tiger. If the charge had started out at 1200 metres, then this would not have happened (yet) and if the German tank had been given a Half Halt order instead of a Firing Order, it could have fired with a penalty and then been able to reverse with half it’s movement (round down) to keep a little distance between itself and the Russian tanks this turn. The photo below shows the position reached by the two tanks.
In the basic game, the current position of the T34’s would not be significant because they would still be classed as being to the front of the Tiger, but in the advanced game they are classed as attacking from the ‘Front Side’ aspect and as such the German armour is typically weaker by 2 points at this angle of attack, making it just penetrable to the T34’s 76mm guns. Winning the initiative in the next turn will be critically important to both sides.
Adjustment Phase - Order Counters come off.
Turn 3 - Everything is spotted …. Obviously!
Command Phase - both sides put down the Fire Order.
Initiative Phase - The Germans get it and declare themselves as Player 1. They will fire first.
Combat Phase - Direct Fire - The German tank has a turret, so is able to engage the Russian tanks out to the right side (fixed guns can only fire directly ahead). Fire is now point blank and the penetration value on that 88mm has increased to 28. There is a 90% chance of it hitting and it is no longer modified downwards as the enemy tanks are not moving this turn. They roll and hit. (In the below photo, the facing and fire arc of a self propelled gun is shown. A turreted vehicle has the same 60 degree fire arc, but it can fire our of any facing.
In the basic game in which the armour strength is fixed to a single value across the entire aspect of either front or rear facings, this would be a ‘Brew Up’ result against the T34, but in the Advanced Game, the location of the hit and the damage caused are both diced for, so lets have a look at that. Location wise the German gun is found to hit the turret front of the T34, which would result in a penetration, but for the effect a 2 is rolled (not good) and this essentially means that the shot has not managed to knock the target out, but has caused damage. The T34 is marked with a damaged chit. In the advanced rules, damaged vehicles must also go through a ‘bail out’ check for their crew. We do that and the T34 passes the test.
Now the Direct Fire Phase passes over to the Soviet player. They have two tanks and one is damaged. The good tank can hit the Tiger at 90%, but this goes up to 99% because of the size of the German tank. The damaged tank also has a base to hit of 90%, which goes up one level for the size of the target, but then drops 3 levels due to it's damaged status. They need to roll 72 or less to hit. Both Soviet tanks secure hits.
We use the advanced rules for hit locations. One strikes the turret side, with 19 penetration points hitting an armour value of 19 (so penetrated) and the other hits the hull side, again with 19 hitting 19. So both shots penetrate. A roll is made for each for effectiveness and they both score Knock-Outs. It is all over for the German player.
Note - in the optional rules, turret markers can be used, so that the actual positioning of the turret is physically shown. If we had used them, the turret would have been facing the T-34’s, so the shot on the turret would have actually hit its front (no penetration) rather than the side.
You could re-run this several times and get different results. If the Tiger had secured a hit on its second firing, then there would have been everything to play for. Equally an unlucky commander might miss all shots! The fact that we were able to get the T-34’s to a winning position is a good outcome to highlight here. Earlier in the war, the Tigers had a company of Pz III’s attached and their function was to sit out on the flanks to protect the Tigers from this sort of thing and that would be another interesting situation to trial here.
Conclusions - Panzer is more hard data driven than anything else that I play. The processes take longer to adjudicate because one is referencing the information on the data cards and various charts, but this quickly becomes quite intuitive and the extra level of involvement with the system is rewarding and draws the player into feeling a closer relationship with what is happening on a tank by tank basis. There is genuine anticipation and tension as vehicles engage.
Whether for the extra detail, this generally delivers an overall different result in a given scenario than other systems might, who knows? but rather it is the process of getting there that feels more rewarding, engaging and dare I say realistic.
As I have said before, when opening a new tactical game, whether figures or miniatures, I always take immediate interest two things. Firstly the way that a designer has handled the German Tiger and the Panther tanks and secondly where the Soviet 85/55 gun (as used on the T34/85) sits within the gun tables.
Considering the design and role differences of the Panther and Tiger I, in game terms they are often fairly close statistically and some games bizarrely actually have them as equals - but I would expect to see the Panther with better frontal armour and better anti-tank performance. The Tiger should have better side armour, better high explosive capability and in 1942 / 43 better crews. How does this look in Panzer?
The Panther does have better frontal armour, value 26 compared to the Tiger’s 21, but as expected the Tiger’s flanks are thicker, 16 compared to 10. These values feel significantly different enough compared to some games and I think that is because some systems tie their armour / gun differentials to a formula that includes a die roll, so the ranges of different points are more limited because of the limited range of dice results (see my link below to the Conflict of Heroes game, which uses a graph to illustrate how the bell curve of 2 x D6 causes a wide range of gun types to be crammed into a narrow band - though it works for that game).
The Panther’s gun out performs the 88/56mm, with the difference being less significant over distance, though on impact, the 88/56mm has a 10% greater chance of inflicting a kill. The H.E. value of the 88mm is better than the 75/70, but the latter has a marginally better chance of effect over distance in the various range bands.
Taken together, looking how the Panther compares to the Tiger I and how the Tiger I shapes up against the T34/76, everything here seems to meet expectations, but with the hard data bringing some definitive and significant differences between the two machines and with that comes a confidence that this design is a good simulation, with a process that has more granularity that other systems that I have used. I really like the way the differences in these two machines are tangible.
As for the 85/55 gun. I have always felt that this should sit somewhere between the German 75/48 and the German 88/56, but closer to the former. In several games, it is given the same rating as the 75/48, but as explained above, systems that squeeze gun values into a narrow band are generally forced to put it there, especially if there is not a natural gap in the gun ratings between the 75/48 and 88/56.
In the graph below, these are the penetration values of the guns discussed here at medium range (note the chart at the opening of the post shows the gun values at point blank range). Medium range can mean different things to different guns, for example, the T34/76 medium range is 10 hexes, while for the 75/48 gun on the Pz IVh it is 13 hexes.
But if we introduce the German 88/71 gun from the Tiger II into the equation (see the below graph) at medium range, just look how that gun factor massively out performs everything else. A real world gun performance is being shown here, not a figure that has to be massaged into a narrow range of dice related results. The significance of this will be seen by those who have the modern MBT game in which armour and penetration values go off the page compared to their WWII ancestors, allowing them to remain accurate and be measurable against the Panzer components.
In Panzer, the 85/55 is a tad ahead of the 75/48, it is very marginal, but because the system has the latitude to use true gun values, this very minor advantage is at least visible. It will only actually matter in marginal situations, so I am not decrying other systems that have them as equals and on the table in practical terms, I doubt one would notice, but it does reflect a difference in narrative and story telling. In most systems, the dice are telling more of the story (you just have to embrace good and bad die rolls and visualise them for what they are - if the narrative is important to you), in Panzer it is the hard data that is telling the story. Which style you prefer is a personal thing.
Taking the hard data one stage further, Panzer allows us different ammo types if they are available and this does open up the gun / armour relationship further. If we take the 85/55 and 75/48 guns at medium range with normal AP, this is what we see;
85/55 - Medium range is 13, penetration is 20
75/48 - Medium range is also 13 and penetration is 19
So, the slightest advantage going to the 85/55, but if we get access to special ammo, the differences open up between both gun performances.
85/55 - using HVAP - Medium range is now 10, penetration increases to 25
75/48 - using APCR - Medium range is less at 9, while penetration is higher at 27
Will this matter all of the time …. no, but when it does, it is these nuances that the armour fan will revel in.
There is much more detail in Panzer than some tactical boardgames and it is often the question of complexity that determines which system tactical gamers will be drawn towards and so every game has its place in the rich tapestry of the gamers delight, but I feel that Panzer has two attributes that significantly help play.
Firstly the advanced rules are modular, so just use the bits you like and over time assimilate as much as you want to use. Secondly, because the game has less abstraction, the processes seem very intuitive. Then of course there is the fact that any learning curve on these sort of systems is rewarded by the sheer amount of play that can come back from the large base of scenarios and in the case of Panzer, the encouragement to ‘design your own’ scenarios.
Panzer at 100 metres to the hex provides a larger slice of battlefield for tank tactics to be better represented than some games. The relative slowness of the vehicles in this space and the effectiveness of gun power over those distances give a good feel to the simulation and provides space to breathe, which helps reflect outflanking, unhinging defences, staged objectives and brings out genuine differences between the various combat vehicles and their roles. I was initially surprised at the difference this scaling made in the feel of tactical play.
At the time of writing, Panzer has been re-printed in a second edition. The first expansion has just gone out of print (and I would hope will see a re-print), but for now will likely still be available from some sources. Expansions 2 and 3 are available and a France 40 expansion is next in the pipeline.
The modern version has MBT (Europe 1987) as the base unit and two expansions are due out within the next 12 months.
The Wargame Website (superb and friendly wargame forum) LINK
T34 - Tiger analysis Band of Brothers LINK
T-34 - Tiger analysis Lock ‘n’ Load LINK
T-34 - Tiger analysis Conflict of Heroes LINK
T-34 - Tiger analysis Iron Cross by Great Escape LINK
My sister website COMMANDERS is less article based and updated regularly with news snippets. LINK