Panzer – Boardgame Review
Panzer. Boardgame. Publisher: GMT Games. Designer: James M. Day. $72.00
Passed Inspection: A near-perfect rule set. Nice map. Very high quality counters.
Failed Basic: No modular terrain. Rule book could be a little more "use-resistant." No index.
Back when I was in 8th grade (I’m 46 now—you do the math), I discovered military and roleplaying games. The first games, which I either saved up for or were given as gifts, include Dungeons and Dragons (the Basic Set), Orge, GEV, Starship Troopers, Star Fleet Battles and 88. If I remember right, 88 was available in the "Gaming Department" of a local department store at the now-gone Salem Mall in Dayton, Ohio. The department stocked various versions of chess, including a 3D chess clearly modeled on the game Mr. Spock played in Star Trek, some Avalon Hill titles and a selection of large boxed games from a company called Yaquinto Publications.
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I distinctly remember seeing the huge, flat, yellow box for the 88 game, which featured German Afrika Korps soldiers manning an 88 mm anti-tank gun on the cover. Having been raised on shows like The Rat Patrol and being an avid viewer of TV broadcasts of The Desert Fox movie, I had a great fondness for the North African Campaign, and I remember saving up my allowance for over a month to purchase that cool-looking war game. I was not disappointed. Each unit in 88 was a tank or truck or squad of infantry. I loved the tactical nature of the game and often substituted model tanks for the cardboard counters. After playing 88, I had to find its brother games, Panzer and Armor. Panzer featured Russian Front battles, while Armor featured the Allied campaigns to conquer Germany after D-Day.
When Yaquinto disappeared, I gave up hope of ever seeing new expansions for these tactical war games. I purchased a reprint of Panzer by Excalibur Games but was highly disappointed. MBT (Main Battle Tank) and IDF (Israeli Defense Force) from Avalon Hill were modern upgrades to the system, which had been created by James M. Day in the Yaquinto games.
Now, James M. Day and GMT Games have teamed up to produce a new and improved version of Panzer that heralds new releases of all these classic games!
Panzer is a tactical World War II game that takes place on the Russian Front, featuring battles in the 1943-44 time period. The two upcoming expansions will cover 1941 to 1945 and dramatically expand the number of units available. Each unit is one tank, halftrack, truck, anti-tank gun, airplane, etc. Infantry units represent squads, half-squads or weapons teams, such as machine gunners, mortar teams, etc. While the game focuses on armor actions, the infantry unit rules are nicely detailed as well, as are airplane rules. Each hex is 100 meters and each turn represents from 12 seconds to 15 minutes.
The box is a beautiful retro design. It’s artwork and orange background evoke not only the original Yaquinto edition of Panzer but also Avalon Hill’s Panzer Blitz. Inside the box, you’ll find a rule book, a play book, five player aid cards and two summary sheets, three sheets of high-quality, full-color counters, 16 full-color, double-sided unit data cards, dice and a full-color 22" x 34" map. Also included are ziplock bags to put your counters and dice in.
The rules are well illustrated and efficiently organized and include a glossary and a table of contents but no index. They are organized into a Basic Game, an Advanced Game and Optional Rules.
The Basic Game helps gets the players’ tracks wet and covers such concepts as basic line-of-site, vehicle commands, movement and attacking, plus basic terrain. A basic scenario can be played in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the number of tanks involved. Each tank is given a command marker, which is initially placed face down. Basic commands include "Fire," "Move" and "Short Halt" (stop moving briefly and fire, then move again).
In the Basic Game, a tank is rated for front and rear armor only. In the Advanced Game, each tank’s armor is broken into ratings for six separate angles. To take out an enemy tank, the firing player must make a roll to hit the target, with modifiers for range. All rolls are made with two 10-sided dice. If a hit occurs, the shot still has to penetrate the target’s armor. Each unit has a data card that lists everything from its speed on different terrain to its gun types and the penetration factor of its guns. If the shot penetrates the armor, then a 1d10 is rolled based upon the damage factor of the gun doing the shooting. Results run from a dud shell to damage to parts of the tank to leaving the target a burning wreck.
The damage process has been streamlined from the system used in the original Yaquinto releases. In addition, as I found out in my second play through, the shot trap under the chin of the T34′s gun that was in the original game has been eliminated. While playing the scenario "The Crossings Part 2: Ukraine, late 1943," my Panzer IVG platoons set up both on a hill and in a village. We plugged away at a gaggle of oncoming T34/76s. In the original game, I could knock out the gun on the T34s with approximately 1 out of every 5 shots with my PzIV’s 75mm guns, then I’d send other panzers to outflank the crippled T34s and hit them in their vulnerable side and rear armor. In this new iteration of the game, as my burning panzers could attest, almost 90 percent of my shots bounced off the sloping armor of the Russian tanks. I knocked out several of the T34s, but the rest began to close range. They took the bridges, and I withdrew my remaining forces. Live and learn, I guess.
In the Yaquinto originals, the orders for each unit were written down on an order pad included with the game. In this new release, the command markers make for an easier and faster game.
The Advanced and Optional rules add tons more detail to the game without detracting from its playability. Rules are included for infantry, artillery, airplanes, anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, weather conditions, turret positions with counters for open and closed hatches, close assaults, mine fields, special ammunition and more. Rules are even included for turret rotation speeds and rates of fire for different types of guns.
The data cards are double sided, full color and mounted for resilience. This beats the heck out of the paper data cards in the Yaquinto releases.
The counters are full color and very sturdy. The vehicles are all top-down view, which adds to the feel of playing a miniatures game as opposed to a counter-and-chit game. The units include various types of infantry, trucks and half-tracks, anti-tank guns, airplanes, various types of T34s, Stalins, SUs, Panzer IIIs and IVs, Stugs, Marders, Panthers and both the Tiger and King Tiger.
The full-color map is nice looking but is not mounted. I would have rather had a mounted map with the game. Also not included in the starter game is modular terrain, so the player is limited to the map included.
The rule book is easy to read, filled with full-color examples and logically laid out. Regrettably, it does not include an index. I also found that it doesn’t hold up well to repeated uses (or spilled drinks). A sturdier, more resilient book would have been appreciated. Luckily, the rules can be downloaded as a PDF and reprinted if necessary.
The game features an extremely high solitaire playability. You can use the command chits to randomize actions for the other side or just go with common sense actions.
The game plays extraordinarily well and, with this new release, Day’s armor system reclaims its place as my all-time favorite tactical armor and infantry gaming system. Two expansions (also reviewed) add still more units to the game. Kudos for GMT and James Day for this new re-design of the classic Panzer system. New releases of 88, Armor, Main Battle Tank and Israeli Defense Force are promised and I can hardly wait!
Armchair General Rating: 95 %
Solitaire Rating: 4
(Two expansions for Panzer have already been released. Click here to read Armchair General‘s review of Panzer Expansion 1 and Expansion 2.)
(If you haven’t visited Achtung Panzer!, one of Armchair General’s partner sites, lately, it is in the process of updating information based on recent data. The first to be updated were the Panther and King Tiger sections.)
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!