Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Panzer Leader

The next game randomly selected from my collection is Panzer Leader.  This game is as old as I am, being first published in 1974.  The game is considered to have been pretty revolutionary in its time, bringing a lot of new players into the wargame hobby through its generally simple rules for a wargame of its time.  While my copy of the game may actually date to 1974 (it has that "old paper" smell to it), I picked up my copy in the 1990s though a usenet auction.

The game covers ground combat during World War II in the western European theater, so the game features German units vs. Allied (American, British, Canadian, etc.) units.  The scale is 150 meters per hex and each unit representing a platoon of men, vehicles, or artillery.  The game comes with four playing boards, all of them being tall and narrow.  Each "situation" (i.e., each specific scenario) has the players set up the boards in different ways to provide the terrain being fought over. 

Each counter contains all the information you need to know about it:  Its attack value, defensive value, movement value, firing range, type, name, and unique counter identifier.  Combat is straight-forward enough:  You total up the attack values of all attacking units and compare that to the target's defensive value to get a ratio of 3:1, or 1:2, or whatever.  You then roll a six-sided die and look up the result on the Combat Results Table (CRT).  You can either eliminate the unit from the game, disrupt it, or do nothing to it.  A dispersed unit loses all ability to move or fire for a turn, representing the unit being pinned down and scattered.  Thus combat is pretty simple, and this same combat system has been seen in many games since, including simple little games like Ogre.  Of course, they couldn't just leave things like that.  Instead, fire combat becomes more complicated (and, admittedly, more realistic) through the application of a separate chart that you have to consult to determine any impact from different types of units attacking each other.  For example, an "I" unit (for infantry) firing against an "A" unit (for armored vehicle) only attacks at half strength, as rifle bullets don't really do much against tanks.  This chart also introduces special cases, such as the fact that infantry sitting in a town hex are considered armored for all purposes, so infantry firing on infantry in a town halve their attack value even though firing at infantry.  It can get a bit confusing.

It is also quite hard to eliminate an enemy unit unless it is stupid enough to get stuck out in the open and surrounded.  For example, the first situation involves US paratroopers on D-Day trying to take one of three objectives (which is secretly selected before the German player even sets up his units, so he doesn't know quite where you are attacking).  The US infantry have an attack value of "2" but a defensive value of "6."  The main German infantry units have an attack value of "3" and a defensive value of "8."  Thus it would take four US units attacking a single German infantry unit just to match attack to defense and get a combat ration of 1:1.  And unless you have some special thing going to lower the die roll (lower rolls are better when attacking), at 1:1 odds you can't even kill the target, just disperse it.  Thus, it takes a LOT of firepower (tanks and very large-caliber artillery help quite a bit) to take anything out.

Another special case is the use of indirect artillery.  To have an artillery unit use indirect fire you go through a whole separate thing from direct fire (i.e., I see it, so I shoot it).  With indirect fire, you have to have a unit from the same side that is "spotting" the enemy target (and there are rules about that).  Then the target has to be in range (silly me has messed that up before).  Then you write down the fire order on a piece of paper, and the actual attack happens next turn.  Yes, you read that right.  You plot indirect fire one turn in advance.  So, you get to guess where your opponent will have his units one turn down the road.  Even if you guess right, there is still a good chance that your shots won't be that accurate, as there is only a 1-in-3 chance that you hit the target hex, a 1-in-2 chance that you hit one of the six surrounding hexes, and a 1-in-6 chance that your artillery scatters so badly that you attack nothing.  It's a bit of a bother.

While the game is a decent design, it's not my favorite game of this nature.  This is probably due to the fact that there have been ~37 years since this game was designed, and improvements in game design have occurred since then.  Still, there is good variety to the included "situations," and when I bought my copy the seller also included an expansion set that adds 10 new situations representing the German invasion of France in 1940 and about 150 new counters to play those scenarios.  So while it doesn't see hardly any play these days, it's still a keeper.

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