Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Panzer, a re-introduction!




Originally published by Yaquinto Games in 1979, Panzer, designed by James Day, was refined and republished in 2012 for publication with GMT. It has recently had its third printing.


The game is a WWII design with armour as its focus. Each counter represents a single vehicle, a gun or a section of infantry. The map scale is 100 metres per hex, which gives an interesting contrast to many of the WWII tactical games that use the same unit scale, but operate at just 50 metres per hex.


Anyway, Panzer and associated modules were one of the four big WWII tactical designs that I previously collected, but sold two years ago and here we are again, going full circle, it has re-entered the collection and I am enthusiastically putting it through its paces again - starting with scenario 1 from the base game and slowly picking up and enjoying the depth of play that falls from this tank centric design.


The rest of this post just highlights some of the facets of this design and uses an AAR of scenario 1 to demonstrate some of the flavour and mechanics. Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this page.




Typically, those tactical games that play at 50 metres to the hex, have tank duels taking place at 250 to 500 metres range (5 - 10 hexes). Panzer plays at a scale that instead will typically see those ranges stretch out to 700 - 2000 metres (7 - 20 hexes) and that does bring a different emphasis to play.


I remember reading that the German Guidance manual for the JagdPanther (tank hunter) crew was that it should not to engage closer than 2000 metres. At this range the 88mm gun could easily see off enemy vehicles, while its own heavy armour would be immune to enemy fire. It’s therefore a bit of a wargaming cartoony world where we see the likes of the JagdPanther in the lower scale games fighting at 3 - 400 yards, yet we do want to see those vehicles in our games!





In Panzer these sort of vehicles get a better represention within the battlefield environment. The next hill or the next village / town as an objective looks right on the map for multi company actions. The maps have drawn criticism for not being the things of beauty that modern graphics can bring to the party, but I think that rather misses the point that the maps are meant to signal the significant pieces of terrain that signpost the battlefield, it forces the player to share the commanders eye as to the appreciation of relevant terrain features.


There is a little bit of old school feel to the series. Firstly the box art gives a strong nod to Avalon Hill’s very successful Panzerblitz (1972). Secondly, it is the actual reiteration of the Original Panzer game from Yaquinto in 1979 and lastly, as a fairly complicated / meaty game, it has a basic system and then you can just bolt on the various advanced rules as you get more comfortable with the game - this has a little of the feel of the way that the old basic Squad Leader (by designer John Hill) rules were drip fed to the gamer over 12 scenarios in a style that they referred to a ‘programmed learning’, something which will have remained in the psyche of many a boardgamer.


Anyway, here we are, scenario 1. It is something of a meeting engagement. Each side is approaching a river that can only be crossed at three points, two bridges and a ford. Capturing them gives victory points as does destruction of the enemy force.


The Soviets are given 3 platoons, each of 3 x T34/76 M43, plus one command T-34.


The Germans are given 2 platoons, each of 5 x Pz IVg, plus one command Pz IVg.


Both forces count as seasoned and on paper, the German force is worth 736 points and the Soviet force is 693 points.


With 10 / 11 tanks per side, each player gets 6 commands (think orders) to allocate. For our first play, these will most likely be Fire, Move and Overwatch commands.


Command matters. Our forces are considered seasoned, so units of a platoon within 1 hex of each other (i.e. not a chain) can share the same order type. This tends to keep platoons working together.


German forces are on the right map edge, Soviets on the left.



Above - this is our play area, we are using the right hand ⅔ of the map. Units start at more than 2000 metres apart, so with the compulsion to capture the water crossings, both sides will initially be giving all of their units MOVE orders. There are a limited number of commands available each turn and as losses are accrued, the number of commands available diminishes.


Rudimentary plans are;

 

German - The two platoons will advance, each to one bridge and engage and destroy the enemy and also capture the crossings.


Soviet. - Two of the three platoons will deploy to the top of the map, capture that bridge and destroy local enemy forces. The third platoon will deploy in the neighbourhood of the lower bridge, but they will use the defensive terrain to ambush and pin the German attempts to advance. Hoping to win on the other flank, they will fight defensively and not attempt to take their bridge .. yet!


We start the game by checking line-of-sight (so we know who can fire at who) and then commands are allocated to units and groups of units. 


Once done, the sides dice for initiative. The system uses percentage dice. Who ever wins initiative chooses who will be player 1. For our turn 1, the Soviets win that roll and choose to be player 1. Note, player 1 will fire first, but move second, this matters. 


This is how the turn sequence looks in our turn 1;


First Player Fires (Soviet)


Second Player Fires (German) this is not simultaneous, so who gets the initiative can be important.


Second Player Moves (German)


First Player Moves (Soviet)


End of turn admin.


The Germans approach the bridges



Above - you can see the plans take shape as the platoons move forwards into their respective spheres of influence. The players have placed their command tanks in the centre, between their respective forces.


At the top of the map, as the sides engage, the gun on the T-34 counts as firing at Long Range, but the better gun on the PzIV returns fire over the same distance (obviously!), but counts that distance as Medium Range making it easier to hit.


The vehicle data card for the Pz IVg showing  armour
Values, gun values and penetration results.



The problems for the T-34’s here is that (a) their chance of hitting the enemy is lower than for German return fire, due to their poorer gun counting as being at longer range and (b) though their guns at this range can penetrate the Pz IV turret, they cannot penetrate the hull armour and more of their shots are likely to hit the hull! 


As it happens, they get a couple of lucky shots that hit the turrets and cause knockouts, but most shots are hitting the PzIV hull and not penetrating.


The 1st Soviet platoon advances to close the
distance with the enemy tanks.



Above - the Soviets end up sending one platoon forwards to close the gap, while the other stands and continues to fire in support - though their shots continue to hit the enemy hulls without effect! Then the lead advancing Soviet tank is hit, suffers damage and tests to see whether the crew bails …. they do! That tank is now crewless and useless for the rest of the game.


The Soviet T-34’s are in Overwatch, but nothing
moves in front of them.



Above - while guns blaze in a tank duel at the top of the map, at the lower bridge, a game of cat and mouse starts. The Soviet tanks have moved into ambush positions and taken up Overwatch orders. The German tanks cross the bridge (capturing it), but move to hug the woodland and stay out of sight.





Above - the Pz IV’s start to skirt the far side of the wood, unhinging the Soviet tank platoons position (oh look! The Soviet command vehicle has come for a peek and now has 5 enemy tank barrels pointing at it!). 


In response, the Soviet platoon is forced to enter the woods (there are light woods, woods and heavy woods in the game) to be ready to attack the panzers on the other side.


Note the Soviet Command Vehicle …. is no more!



The German player splits the platoon, two tanks stay in the open to give fire support and the three others disappear into the woods to outflank the T-34’s.


Here we see some of the nuances in the gameplay. The Panzer IV’s in the woods will try and fall on the T-34’s flank, but will they bog down in that terrain and fail to move. The Pz IV’s in the open will attempt to engage the T-34’s which are now peeping out from the wood edge, but who will win the initiative and fire first!


Below - It is the Soviets that get to fire first. At these ranges the game is deadly. They knock out a Pz IV and damage the other, the return fire from the damaged tank knocks out a T-34. One of the Pz IV’s in the wood does in fact bog down while trying to turn, but the other two successfully move on and fall of the T-34 flank.





By this time, I am only halfway through the game, but the Soviet losses are just too high to continue. As a re-introduction game, it has done its job. 


End of game situation



At the bottom bridge, there is one Soviet tank and four German tanks, though two of them are damaged. At the top bridge, there are 3 German tanks, including their company commander and they have the better gunnery positions.


Casualties 

Straight knock-out losses 4 German and 6 Soviet.


Damaged vehicles 2 German and 1 Soviet


Bailed out tanks - 1 Soviet vehicle is vacant due to bailed crew, no German crew have bailed.


Still able to fight, there are 7 German tanks and only 3 Soviet tanks - hence the decision to stop play.


Conclusion

This was my second knock-about with scenario 1 and the rules were more second nature. I included some additional advanced rules and even dipped into the optional rules for the ‘bogging’ tests.


One thing does spring to mind, two posts ago I covered an easy campaigning system. This game would be a good engine for that, one because of level of play, but also tanks damaged, tracks destroyed and empty tanks from crew bailing left scattered on the battlefield, means that the victor can at least attempt to recover their vehicles and add them back into the campaign narrative.


This is a simple vehicle only scenario, but it is fine for processing the main mechanics and embedding the base rules, while along the way appreciating terrain and line of sight aspects. It does its job in getting you into the system.


There are a lot of rules in the game, giving the impression of complexity, something that can be reinforced by the look of the data cards, but the basic armour rules give a surprisingly agile system and with its focus on the tank, you do get drawn in to what needs to be done down at the hex level to keep tanks alive and to try and use the battlefield to their advantage. 


There are enough turns in the scenario to allow the player to slowly develop avenues of approach and gain fields of fire for minimum exposure, it is quite intriguing, as are appreciating the differences between the design aspects of each vehicle, their strengths and weaknesses.


Anyway, I will keep bashing away at the familiarity of scenarios 1 and 2 while I get more of the advanced rules under my belt and give some further thought as whether this is the system that I would like to take into a campaign game.


As I work my way through the scenario book, I will post back on this game to comment on my experience of bringing other unit types into play, infantry, aircraft and guns.  


Resource Section.


This is a blogged tale about two tank platoons that met and fought out an engagement in the Panzer environment. It highlight the command system and ties into to the different training stories of two platoons. LINK


http://battlefieldswarriors.blogspot.com/2018/09/panzer-and-tale-of-two-tank-platoons.html


My sister webspace COMMANDERS is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and give a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. Link.


https://commanders.simdif.com

23 comments:

  1. Norm, is a Wargaming purge very effective if you keep buying the stuff back?

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  2. I want to be able to say yes, but just where does one even start with such an argument! The only thing that I can plead is that I have just bought into two systems, this one and a Napoleonic one ..... but in doing so, they will release other games from the collection to be sold. There! I'm convinced!

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  3. Gents don't even get me started! I'm about to buy Bataille Empire and Battlegroup Panzergrenadier back even though I sold them for peanuts at a convention!

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  4. Also - the box art and the maps are wonderful throwbacks to Panzerblitz.

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    1. Very much so and it does give a nostalgia pang! The rich orange is also giving out some (Basic) Squad Leader vibes, reminds me of handling those boxes when they were brand new.

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  5. Norm, I really appreciate this my copy arrived together with the expansion for the French. I shall be doing exactly what you have done - thrashing the first couple of scenarios to get a decent feel of the rules.I like the idea of using the game for the simple campaign you reported on

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    1. Hi Graham, a lot of mileage for both us with this design. The French expansion looks very good, though it is a shame that the tank icons are a bit dark.

      The first game has ‘the map’ but the expansions have those sort of over-sized squad leader boards, which I think will make them ideal ‘boards’ to construct a campaign map, with perhaps the map in the base game offering the ‘central’ board on the campaign map - just a thought at this stage.

      I want to try and keep on top of learning this system, so that the rules don’t drift away from me before I have managed to get the whole rule set up and running and some of the bigger scenarios played.

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  6. Stu, that was a lucky drop. 50 years on, many copies are now quite biffed! 50 years …. I can’t believe I just said that :-)

    Hugely agree about the re-print thing, guaranteed money in the bank for them I would think!

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  7. I find it hard to be interested in a game that came out before I was 3 years old.



    That’s probably ageist. 😀😀
    But that means it’s stood the test of time.

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  8. It is interesting to see some designs (including RPG’s), going from ground-breaking at a time when wargaming was being discovered and expanding as a ‘thing’, to them pretty much now achieving legacy status.

    Panzer has always been a unique design because of focus and depth. It morphed from a boardgame into a figures set and then with the latest version, returned to its boardgame roots, though to my memory, more playable, particularly solo, than the original, which I think had simultaneous aspects to the Sequence of Play.

    Perhaps it can be compared to a good wine that has aged well :-)

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  9. That's a nice review as always Norm. I for one like the elegant simplicity of the baord, which makes it easier to focus on the game as the features are very clear to see. Maybe my ageing eyes appreciate these things more!

    Looking at the game play, it does immediately seem to reward historical tactics, which is always a good thing of course. Your point about the Jagdpanther and the distance from which to engage the enemy being a case in point.

    I look forward to seeing more of these games and hopefully a campaign with them too.

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  10. Thanks Steve, I certainly see the map as being highly functional, it reminds me of the maps in the old GDW Assault series (modern warfare), which was also trying to just show the relevant terrain features.

    Since the recent campaign post, I have been increasingly thinking along those lines and would be quite happy with a slow burn campaign that could just sit alongside the other things that I am doing i.e. play it for pleasure rather than being task driven.

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    1. I think slow burn campaigns are the way to go, given my earlier experiences with my Market-Garden one, where I put too much pressure on myself to keep things moving.

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  11. I think if you sell it and then buy it again you must really like the game.

    A great review Norm and the game design certainly has a great attention to detail. The Germans on the right of the map and the Soviets on the left :)

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  12. Hi Ben, true, but I seem to do the sellers regret thing too often :-).

    the scenario is a learning scenario, so forces are balanced and players dice for a winner who chooses which side of the map they sit on first …… however over the many times that I have played, it has become an oddity that the Germans have always ended up on the right hand side …… surely not the east! :-)

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    1. There is a corollary to this too. I bought Panzer upon your first eval and then sold it without ever getting it to the table when you jettisoned this on your WWII-tactical game purge! I still have the SL series…

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    2. Hi Jonathan, I don't think anything will top the relationship, nostalgic or otherwise that I have with the initial module of (basic Squad Leader). Even with (basic) SL, the subsequent modules were really just the start of the rocky road (to me at least) of the system becoming harder to assimilate conveniently to memory.

      I hope my blog comments alone were not responsible for you spending money and then losing on re-sale. If it is any consolation, I think for your dip into tactical boardgaming for one off style play, you would likely enjoy your more familiar SL than Panzer.

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    3. Norm, I actually made a profit on the resale of Panzer!

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    4. I feel better about that. I am guessing that you sold between print runs, when copies were hard to get hold of. These days, print runs are so short that things relatively quickly become unavailable.

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  13. Thanks Norm, an interesting review. Good point about using the game in conjuncton with the 'one-day campaign' setup you pointed us to in your recent post.
    The artwork does look very reminiscent of Panzer Blitz - in a good way! I happened to be in Orc's Nest gaming shop in London only yesterday, and they had 3 different Expansion Packs for 'Panzer', but not the basic game itself - so I was spared any temptation!

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  14. Hi David, I know when I ordered mine, I got the last base set. It is still in print, so the store will just re-order, but it looks like it is moving faster than the bricks & Mortar stores thought ... of course they will do a re-order and then not sell any, such is their plight with such things.

    I looked at some Panzer Leader boards the other day and the resemblance is very clear. I wonder whether a certain generation appreciate that, while another generation, only used to seeing 'smart' graphics, don't feel the love!

    As an aside, the new Epic Waterloo Battles - 18 historical scenarios and 3 'what ifs' arrived yesterday .... much to look at :-) again, I got the last one in the store!

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