The Game of Small Unit Actions
Combined Arms on the Eastern Front 1943 – 1944
Designed by Jim Day
Panzer! When you say the word in the boardgame industry, gamers have visions of hundreds of tanks roaming across a battlefield (mapboard) searching to destroy their opponents. These grand tactical battles have been romanticized in books and on TV for decades. In the boardgame world, Panzer style tactical level boardgames can trace their roots to the 1969 boardgame, Tactical Game 3 which was originally published by Simulations Publications in Strategy & Tactics Issue #22. In 1970, it was published by Avalon Hill under the name of PanzerBlitz and this game went on to become the best-selling tactical level tank boardgame ever designed.
Panzer by Jim Day which is published by GMT Games is the newest evolution in this genre that began with Tactical Game 3. One of the first things that an ole grognard like me notices is that the color of the Panzer box that was designed by Rodger MacGowan is the same shade of orange as the original Panzer Blitz. This immediately brings back fond memories of the many, many hours that were spent playing PanzerBlitz. One of the classy touches of GMT as an organization, especially since Rodger MacGowan and the late Redmond Simonsen were friends, is that there is a memorial dedicated to Redmond, who pass in 2005 on the top inside panel of the box. This memorial written by Rodger MacGowan says:
Redmond A. Simonsen was the Art Director, MOVES Editor, and co-Founder of SPI in New York. When I started my first magazine, “Fire & Movement” in 1976, Redmond advised me. He later asked me to work with him on “MOVES” Magazine. We became very good friends, and I admired him greatly. I dedicate my artwork and graphics for this series of PANZER games to Redmond, the creator of the iconic graphics for Avalon Hill’s PanzerBlitz in 1970.
When you first pick up the box, you wonder what’s in it as it does have a little weight. Well after removing the shrink wrap and taking off the box top, you see the following items:
- 4 10 sided dice
- 1 80 page Rulebook
- 1 40 Page Playbook
- 2 Sets of Charts and Table Cards
- 1 Set of Data Card Keys
- 1 22”x34” map labeled map A
- 3 Full Color Counter Sheets
- 16 Full Color Unit Data Cards
You soon see that the weight that is in the box comes from the 16 Unit Data Cards as they are extra thick. These Unit Data Cards are the key to understanding and playing Panzer. At this point, I want to let my readers know that there is a set of Data Card Keys that really goes a long way in explaining all the values on the Infantry and Tank Data cards. You should examine these before reading the rules as they will give players an idea of game play and the power of different units in varying situations.
There are 8 Russian Unit Data Cards and 8 German Unit Data Cards. Since these cards are printed double sided this means that each side has 16 different tanks, vehicles or guns that can be used in the base game.
Russian Data Cards
The Russian Data cards below cover the following Tanks, Vehicles or Guns that can be used in the base game. Some of the Data Cards have more than 1 unit defined on the card.
|Trucks/Horse Limbers||SU-152 M43|
|76.2mm M39 ATG||57mm M43 ATG|
|SU-85 M43||SU-100 M44|
|KV-1S M42||T-34/85 M44|
|T-34/76 M43||T-70 M42|
|SU-76M M43||IS-2m M44|
|S-7A Artillery Batteries|
|Rifle Squad/Half Squad||Infantry Squad/Half Squad|
|SMG Squad/Half Squad|
|82mm BM41 Mortar||50mm RM40 Mortar|
|Heavy Machine Gun (HMG)||M1 Bazooka|
German Data Cards
The German Data cards below cover the following Tanks, Vehicles or Guns that can be used in the base game. Some of the Data Cards have more than 1 unit defined on the card.
|SPW 251/1||Prime Movers|
|PzKpfw IIIM||PzKpfw IVG|
|PzKpfw IVH||PzKpfw V Panther|
|PzKpfw VIE Tiger I||PzKpfw VIB Tiger II|
|Marder II||STuG IIIG|
|7.5cm PaK 40 ATG||8.8cm Flak 36 ATG/AAG|
|Hs 128 B-1/R2||FW 190 F-1|
|Rifle Squad/Half Squad||Infantry Squad/Half Squad|
|SMG Squad/Half Squad|
|8cmGRW 34 Mortar||GRW 36 Mortar|
|Heavy Machine Gun (HMG)||Panzerfaust|
|RPzB 43/54||PzB 39 ATR|
This is a tactical level game whose scale is dependent on the type of unit that is being represented on the map. Vehicles (including tanks), towed weapons, and aircraft are represented as single units. The infantry units in the game are squads, half squads and sections. Two or 3 HMG’s are in a section as well as mortars and ATR’s. The off map artillery units represent gun batteries from 2 to 6 pieces of artillery.
The horizontal ground scale is such that 1 hex is equal to 100 meters and the vertical ground scale is equal to 3 to 8 meters.
Finally, we have the time scale of the game. Panzer uses a fluid time scale where each turn can equal anything from 15 seconds to 15 minutes and depends on the actions that are taking place.
The first thing you notice when you look at the documentation that comes with the game, is the size of the Rule and Play Book. The Rule Book is a whopping 80 pages in length and the Play Book is another 40 pages and at first glance, it could cause panic. However, let me put your mind at ease immediately, that it is NOT 80 pages of rules that you need to read, remember or even refer to in order to play the game. Also, I just want to say that there are a tremendous number of play examples included which really help in understanding the game. Finally, the Rules are divided into a Basic Game, an Advance Game and Optional Rules. The Basic Game is 18 pages, however, only about 13 pages are actual rules if you subtract all of the examples of play included in those pages. Below I will delve a bit into the rules to give you an idea of what Jim Day’s Panzer is all about.
The Basic Game
The Basic Game of Panzer is only 18 pages of rules. Within these 18 pages the players learn the rudimentary fundamentals of Spotting, Line of Site, Initiative, Commands, Moving, and Direct AP (Armored Piercing) Combat. I will discuss a number of these items but not necessarily in the order of the Sequence of Play.
Sequence of Play
Before discussing a number of the fundamentals, it is a good idea of having some knowledge of the Sequence of Play. While the Sequence of Play is discussed in the Rules, the Sequence of Play outline that most gamers are accustomed to reading is on Data Card C. Here you are provided with the full Sequence of Play which is for the Basic and the Advanced Game Rules with Optional Rules. However, here I will provide you with only the basic game Sequence of Play. This Sequence of Play is:
- I. Spotting Phase
- II. Command Phase
- III. Initiative Phase
- IV. Combat Phase
- a. Direct Fire Combat Step
- I. First Player
- ii. Second Player
- a. Direct Fire Combat Step
- V. Movement Phase
- a. Movement Step
- I. Second Player
- ii. First Player
- a. Movement Step
- VI. Adjustment Phase
- a. Adjust/Remove Counters Step
- b. End Step Turn
The main thing that you should remember from this Sequence is the First and Second Player phases as they are reversed and are determined by Initiative which is covered below.
This is the simplest item to explain so we will start here. Initiative is determined with each player rolling 2d10’s (one will be read as the 10’s and the other as the units) so players can roll from 1 to 100. Generally speaking unless otherwise noted in the scenario, the player with the highest die roll will determine who will be the first player in a turn and who will be the second player in a turn. Just be aware, that it is not always advantageous to be the first player and much of the decision will be based on the situation at hand.
There are a total of 5 Commands that can be assigned during the Command Phase of the Sequence of Play. The 5 Commands are:
- No Command
- Over Watch (Opportunity Fire)
- Move then Fire (or Fire then Move)
Commands are hidden from your opponent by placing the command chit face down on the map next to the unit or group of units. These Commands are turned over at the appropriate time during the game turn.
This is obviously the most interesting aspect of Panzer. At first glance it may appear a bit complicated and convoluted but believe me when I say, it soon becomes second nature during a game. A few combats and you will be playing the game like a veteran. Below is a sample combat that I have setup that can be referred to as Combat is discussed.
The first thing you need to determine is if your unit is a non-turreted vehicle and this is done by referring to the Unit Data Card for that unit. Two of the tanks (100 and 101) are turreted and tank 102 is non-turreted. If you have found that the unit firing is indeed a non-turreted vehicle, you need to determine if the target unit is in its Front Field of Fire as this will be the only arc within which this unit can fire. Once this is done, you can move to the next step of the combat sequence.
The next step is the player needs to determine the range to target. This is done by counting from the origination hex to the target hex without counting the originating hex. If we look at the firing unit data card, we see that there are four values under the Gunnery Range that deals with the range to target. These values are:
- P = Pointblank
- S = Short
- M = Medium
- L = Long
- E = Extreme
Below these acronyms on the Range row there is a number which denotes the number of hexes associated with that range. For example, using a PzKpfw IVG we see that:
Offensive Information Table
If we follow across the “R” row we can see at Pointblank range the German PzKpfw IVG tank must be within three hexes of its target or if it up to 7 hexes from its target it will be considered in Short Range. Looking at this row we see that this German tank can fire at an Extended Range up to 20 hexes.
The value below the range is the guns Penetration power. At Pointblank range of 3 hexes the Penetration power is 23 where as if the range were 20 it is only 15. Glancing at the example combat above, we see that the PzKpfw IVG is at a range of 3 which is Pointblank range and that the Penetration value is 23. We need to remember the Penetration value for later in the combat steps as it will become important.
Next we need to determine the percentage chance of hitting the target. This is done by looking at “Game Card A” and locating the AP Hit table and the AP Hit Modifiers. You can see a partial sample of these tables below:
AP Hit Modifiers
The AP Hit table varies from +5 to -10 and there are a total of 18 AP Hit Modifiers. The manner in which you utilize these tables in your combat is as follows.
First of all, you look at the column that contains your range to target. In our case we are at Pointblank range which means we will look down the “P” column. We begin on the “0” row, which is where all AP combat begins no matter what type the vehicle is. Now we need to determine our AP Hit Modifiers. It is at this point that players refer to the defending units Data Card, an example of which is shown below.
We see that the Size of the Unit is “0” so there is no modifier. Looking down the modifiers we see that our defending unit is in a Medium Woods which is a -3 modifier. If we were to continue looking down the table we would see that no other Modifiers are applicable at this time. The result is a -3 Modifier. Looking at the AP Hit Chart, we locate -3 Net Modifier column and read across the row under P and we see the number “63”. This means that we have a 63% chance to hit our target. Rolling 2d10 we receive a total of 4 on the 10’s die and 8 on the units die which makes our total 48. According to the AP Hit Table anything from 01 to 63 would be a hit. So, a hit is achieved by our PzKpfw IVG on the T-34/76 target in the woods.
Since we have determined that the German Tank has hit the Soviet tank it is now time to determine the damage. Since this is the basic game determining damage is somewhat simplified. We subtract the TF or HR defensive factor of 18 from the Penetration factor of 23 and have a result of “5”. Looking at the AP Damage table below on the PzKpfw IVG we see that a result of “5” is that the T-34/76 is knocked out.
Now, if the target unit was only damaged, it could immediately fire back at the PzKpfw IVG, but it would have to take an additional AP modifier as the firing unit is damaged. However, since the unit was knocked out it cannot return fire as all results are applied immediately.
As I said at the beginning of this section, while combat may seem confusing and convoluted, the system flows nicely and makes sense based on all the information provided. In no time at all, newbie players will be veterans and move onto to the advanced game rules which add items such as hit location and tank crews bailing out.
Advanced (AG) and Optional Game Rules (OR)
The Advanced Game adds all new types of concepts to the basic game. Here you are introduced to Infantry Squads and Sections. New types of Weapons are introduced such as Machine Guns, Anti-Tank Weapons, Planes and the Panzerfaust to name a few. Also there are rules for Artillery Fire, Mortar Fire, Forward Observers and the use of Smoke. GP combat is covered which is combat between Infantry as well as Assaults and Overruns. Additional steps to the Combat Sequence are introduced that while adding the games completeness, does not add its overall complexity. These are only a few of the things that are presented in the 40 additional pages that make up the Advanced and Optional Rules of Panzer. If I were to attempt to briefly discuss a number of these items, the review would be 5 times longer. Suffice to say, that processes such as GP and AP combat have identical sequences and that when you have learned one, you know the other. The same is true for many other concepts of this wonderful game called Panzer.
The other book that comes with Panzer is the games Playbook. This book provides the gamer with various TO&E’s, a Scenario section that discusses the different types of Scenarios that can be created and 10 Scenarios. The first few pages of the Playbook discusses such things as Military Formations, HQ units, Ad-Hoc Formations, Point Values for the different units, and Availability Period for the different units as they are defined on the Unit Data Cards.
The next section, which is the largest section of the Playbook deals with the Scenarios. This section begins by defining each section of the Scenario Format and begins to introduce you to the idea of creating your own scenarios. You are told about the Situation, Unit Setup, Victory Conditions, Point Values of Units and different types of objectives. The next item discussed before the individual scenarios are presented is Determining Victory Margins. In this area the player is advised that they shouldn’t just play to finish the Scenario and get a few Victory Point more than your opponent, but attempt to win by a margin so that there is a clear cut victor.
In the base game of Panzer you are provided with 10 Scenarios. These scenarios are based on battles that took place between late 1943 and late 1944. The 10 Scenarios included with the game are:
- Scenario 1 – The Crossings: Ukraine, late 1943
- Scenario 2 – The Village: Poland, late 1944
- Scenario 3 – The Crossings Part 2: Ukraine, late 1943
- Scenario 4 – The Village Part 2: Poland, late 1944
- Scenario 5 – The Passing: Ukraine, late 1943
- Scenario 6 –Assault: Ukraine, early 1944
- Scenario 7 – Hold until Relieved: Ukraine, late 1943
- Scenario 8 –Assault: Kursk, July 1943
- Scenario 9 – Hube’s Pocket, April 1944
- Scenario 10 –Operation Kutuzov: August 1944
The final sections of this Playbook are the German and Russian Summary sheets. These sheets provide the gamer with a tremendous amount of information with which they can plan new scenarios. These German and Soviet Summary Sheets provide the Unit Data Card number that has been assigned to that unit, the cost of the unit in points and the year in which the unit first when into service. These two charts are an invaluable addition to the game for those players who want to create their own scenarios based either on Historical situations, of if they want to create a what-if battle so they can see how weapons measure up. Either way, gamers will have a blast tackling the challenge of maneuvering their troops and determining the outcome of combat.
Panzer has come a long way from its first release by Yaquinto Publications in 1979. While on this trip it has assumed a maturity all on its own. The easiest way to appreciate the volume of rules that is Panzer is to understand that they are a guide of what you can or cannot do within the game system. The Advanced and Optional Rules build on the Basic Game. You are not told what rules or sections you should or should not use. You can think of the game as an “a la carte” rules system that players and pick and choose the rules they want to use.
I know that GMT Games has published Combat Commander which is another excellent game on the same scale. However, Panzer will appeal to the more hardcore wargamer especially with the addition of the Advanced and Optional Rules. The physical components of the game are very impressive with the exception of one. The map is paper where I would have preferred mounted. All we can do is hope for the future when GMT Games will release a sturdier mapboard for this base game.
Panzer is a unique game falling into the Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) genre of games. While not as complicated as ASL, it still is complicated enough to provide gamers with a full and unique experience. One of the items I enjoyed most about Panzer is the slow introduction to the base game and then how the scenarios add different units or weapons for you to integrate into the game. As I said, it’s kind of like an a la carte system in that you can pick your complexity comfort level and slowly progress upwards from there until you get to the full game experience. Panzer is a unique game, providing gamers with a unique challenge that is limited only by gamers’ own initiative as they can create their own historical scenarios. All the information is here; all the gamers’ need to do is to take advantage or what is provided. Whether a simple game, medium level complexity game or a game using all the bells and whistles, Panzer is not a game that will disappoint a tactical level gamer whose interests are focused on the Russian Steppes.
Now, in the event that you want more Panzer, the Panzer Expansion #1, (the Shape of Battle on the Eastern Front from 1943 to 1945) and Panzer Expansion Game #2, (the Final Forces on the Easter Front from 1941 to 1944) are now both available. These two expansions really move the game into a larger arena of boardgaming as new geomorphic maps and many new units are introduced. With GMT’s Panzer you have a system of warfare that has started on the Eastern Front, but it can be very easily adapted to North Africa and France in 1940 or Poland in 1939. I think you will see websites pop up to support Panzer, external to GMT Games, that will create scenarios, offer hints and tips, and take the game into different directions, but still all based on the core Panzer rules.
Panzer is truly an open-ended system to which players can gravitate and not tire of soon with all the expansions and especially the researched information that is being provided. However, most important of all, Panzer is FUN. So if you’re a newbie and want to learn a game, find someone to teach you the base game of Panzer. Or if you have some gaming experience and just want to go to the next level, pick Panzer as it can offer a challenge to the best of them. Finally, if you are an experienced grognard, you will enjoy just getting down to the nitty-gritty of the game system and employ as many Advanced and Optional Rules as you can to enjoy the way the game plays. So, no matter what type of gamer you are, Panzer will fill your need and provide you with a challenge that you will truly enjoy.