Speaking about throwbacks to old wargames, GMT Games announced this week that Jim Day’s next entry in the Panzer (Second Edition) series, Panzer: North Africa, has “made the cut” in their P500 program. Longtime readers might recall that Panzer (Yaquinto Publishing, 1979) was my very first wargame. I eagerly bought up the entire original series; Panzer, ’88’and Armor, and they still own a prominent spot on my gaming shelves. I am glad that after 40 years a “new” edition of ’88’ is coming.
The very first wargame I ever owned was James M. Day’s Panzer published by Yaquinto in 1979. My friends and I played the h*ll out this game, and the companion ’88’and Armor. Looking back, I am amazed that these were my gateway games into the wargaming hobby. They definitely are not for the faint of heart as the rules are very fiddly. Today I introduced the updated Panzer Second Edition (GMT Games, 2012) to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I am happy to say the updated Second Edition is a fine game too.
We played the Basic Game version of Scenario 2 The Village: Poland, late 1944. The RMN Boys took the Soviets and entered from the river edge of the map. I was the Germans and entered behind a small series of hills on an adjacent edge.
Given the two Boys, the Soviet force was divided between them. Little RMN took his part of the force (which included three T-34/85 and a SU-85 and SU-100 tank destroyer) and immediately turned to fight the advancing Germans. Meanwhile, the rest of the Soviet force (seven T-34/85’s) dashed for the village. The Germans were able to top the hills and shoot down at the exposed medium tanks and tank destroyers, eliminating all six tanks for a loss of a single Panzer IVH destroyed and a Panther damaged.
The other Soviet force buried themselves in the village but the relentless German drive eventually evicted them. A few more Germans tanks were lost, but the rest of the Soviet force was destroyed.
The Basic Game in Panzer focuses on the Sequence of Play and utilizes a simplified damage resolution system. Most importantly, armor has only two factors, frontal (forward hemisphere) and rear (back hemisphere). In this simple matchup, the frontal armor of the Panther was impervious to all the Soviets guns beyond a range of 4 hexes (400 meters). The Youngest RMN Boy expressed extreme displeasure with this condition – he had read that one way to beat the Panther (or Tiger tanks) was hit it from the side or behind. In the Basic Game this is hard to do because the “frontal” armor covers the forward 180-degree hemisphere – there is just no “side” armor unless you are behind the tank! This led us to a discussion of the Advanced Game with a much more detailed hit location and armor penetration model. Both RMN Boys expressed a desire for a rematch using the Advanced Game rules because the Basic Game just “doesn’t feel right.” Youngest RMN Boy also commented that Panzer helps him understand World of Tanks better where a Panther is Tier 7 but the T-34/85 is a Tier 6.
Overall, I have to rate the RMN Boys first reaction to Panzer (Second Edition) as “guarded interest.” They didn’t dislike the game, but they immediately compared it to Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear(Second Edition, Academy Games, 2012) which they have played often. They agreed with me that CoH: AtB is more a “game” and less a “simulation” whereas the Basic Game of Panzer is too much game in what should be more a simulation (meaning the Advanced Game is the “gamed simulation” Panzershould be).
The RMN Boys want to play Panzer again as they (especially Youngest RMN Boy) want to get into some of the details and experience what they have only read about in Osprey Books and the like. That said, they are also looking forward to the delivery of the new edition of Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! 1943 – Kursk to see how the tank battles version of that series plays out.
Panzerwas my gateway game 39 years ago. It is good to see that 39 years later the game still ignites the imagination and promotes learning. The game has stood the test of time well, and I expect it to continue to do so into the future.
CoH:Gbills itself as a combined-arms squad-level game. The focus is on the US Marines battles on Guadalcanal from just after the amphibious landing in August 1942 through the arrival of regular Army units in October 1942 (and playable as an expansion). This was my first challenge; I needed to get past my bias for armor over infantry (always a Panzer/88/Armor fan over Squad Leader).
My next challenge was the price; CoH:G retails for $80. Although I saw it in my FLGS I was reluctant to pull the trigger at that price point. Searching online, I found it for less and ordered.
Opening the box, I was stunned at the components. The high quality (huge) counters and mounted mapboard along with full-color glossy books and play-aids and even an organizing insert immediately made me realize that the asking price is actually not unreasonable.
The rulebook is 23 pages which includes many examples. This means that CoH:Gis not a complex game. The rules are tied to scenarios (firefights) and use a building-block learning approach to teach players the game mechanics.
What makes CoH:G – and apparently all the Conflict of Heroes series games – interesting is the use of Action Points in Rounds and Turns. Players alternate activating units (or groups of units) and expend Unit or Command Action Points to move or fire. Thus, the classic IGO-UGO turn sequence is overturned. Both players remain engaged through out the entire turn.
Combat is very straight-forward; roll 2d6 and add the Attack Rating of the firing unit. If the AR exceeds the Defense Rating of the unit (modified for terrain) the unit is hit. For each hit a chit is drawn. The chits (about 20) cover everything from no damage to immediate KIA. Once a unit gets a second hit it is eliminated.
Conflict of Heroes also uses cards in play. Command cards, Bonus cards, and various Capability cards bring a bit of randomness and detail flavor to the game. I have written elsewhere about how my perception of Card Driven Games (CDG’s) has changed. CoH is not a CDG, but effectively uses card-driven elements as chrome.
A unique mechanic in CoH:G and not in any other CoH series game is Bushido Points. Bushido Points modify available Command Action Points (CAP) for the Japanese player. Bushido is gained/lost through certain actions. In order to gain Bushido Points (and add to the CAP pool) certain actions must be taken that may not make the most tactical sense, but are in keeping with the “spirit of Bushido.”
In concept the game is very simple; in play the layout is beautiful. I like it…sorta.
The game mechanics are very clean and although I was worried at the chits and markers used in play the board does not get cluttered with the markers. Like in MBT (Second Edition) or Panzer (Second Edition)the markers don’t get in the way. The hit chits actually create a great variety of damage results that make even getting hit interesting. The back-and-forth play keeps the battles moving and demands a players attention at all times.
I am not sure about the Bushido mechanic. I mean, I see what Bushido is supposed to do I’m just not sure I like how I as a player is hamstrung by Bushido. In CoH:G, Bushido is gained/lost for certain actions. Thus, in order to gain/maintain Bushido points (and not always be behind in Command Action Points) certain “sacrifices” must be made. In my several plays to date, the rules specify that Bushido is gained for loss of a Japanese unit is Close or Short range combat. So…to get Bushido the Japanese player has fight – and lose – at very close ranges. This supposedly simulates the Japanese affinity for close assaults. The player need not make these sacrifices, but doing so gains Bushido points which in turn gives Command Action Points which in turns allows for greater tactical flexibility. The Bushido rues mechanically succeed in making the Japanese player act more is accordance how the Japanese historically acted – I’m just not totally accepting of this loss of “player agency.”
CoH:G is not without a few other challenges. Hexes are VERY hard to see (nee invisible) and with the given countermix (huge counters – but actually very few units) the variety of scenarios is limited.
CoH:G will probably get more plays in the RockyMountainNavy household. As the oldest RMN Boy was leaving, he walked past the board and was immediately taken in by the components. The game is easy enough to teach that I think even the youngest RMN Boy (13 years old) who’ll be able to easily play too.
In the end, I feel that CoH:Gis a good game of war. I am a bit reluctant to call it a wargame in my book because the mechanics are so much different than what I usually expect. I am reluctant to totally embrace the Bushido mechanic – it feels like it is forcing me into certain actions. It will get played – it’s too visually stunning not to – but I will tread lightly on using this game to teach the RMN Boys too much of what island combat in the South Pacific was.
Mechanically I guess CoH:G is another step on my path to modernized wargames; I was late to the CDG mechanic, enjoy the COIN series from GMT, and now have exposure to CoH.
Hammer’s Slammers is a true hex-n-counter game using small counters, a thick modular mapboard, and a 2d6 Combat Results Table (CRT). There are four forces provided; Hammer’s Slammers (blue), another Mercenary Force (red), and two Conventional Armies (green and tan). Interestingly, there is no scale designated although units look to be platoon/battery organizations and each hex multiple (?) kilometers.
Hammer’s Slammers is taken straight from the first book. Hover Tanks, Combat Cars, Infantry on hover scooters, and Hover Self-Propelled Artillery. The “Red” Mercenary Force is the same plus optional Large/Small guns (for indirect or direct fire), Howitzers (indirect fire only), or a Self-Propelled Calliope (for Counter Paratrooper or Counter Artillery Fires). Slammers and Mercenary units generally pack more firepower, have better protection, and come with superior speed. Conventional Forces use Tracked Tanks, Armored Cars, Armored Personnel Carriers, Large/Small Guns, Howitzers, Tracked Self-Propelled Artillery, Wheeled Self-Propelled Calliopes, and towed Calliopes. This mix of units lets one recreate many of the battles found in the books where the technologically superior but numerically inferior Slammers fought against other mercenary or conventional units.
The main rulebook is 16 pages long, but the first nine are reprints of the “Interludes” found in the original Hammer’s Slammersbook. This leaves seven pages of two-column text and tables for the rules. Every turn each player sequentially resolves their action in the order of Rally (Moving Player) – Paradrop & Counter Paradrop Fire – Move (Moving Player) – Ranged Combat (All Players – Indirect Artillery & Counter Artillery Fire – Direct Fire) – Close Assaults (All Players). Once all players have gone the next turn begins.
Units that are Disrupted in Combat can Rally. For this each force has a Morale Number that must be rolled above on 2d6. Many scenarios have a variable Morale Number based on increasing losses – the more units lost the harder it becomes to rally a unit. A simple mechanic that doesn’t get in the way of play but adds a nice layer of realism.
I don’t remember any paradrop operations in the original stories so Paradrop & Counter Paradrop Fire seems a bit out of place to me. It does allow a nice way to enter units onto the map quickly.
Movement is again very traditional with each hex having a movement cost to enter. Hover and Conventional units have separate movement charts reflecting the different mobility of hover versus tracked/wheeled. There is not much difference but there is enough to be evocative of the setting.
Ranged Combat is where the differences between forces really stands out beginning with Indirect Fire & Counter Artillery Fire. Indirect Fire attacks the defense factor of the hex, not the units. This makes indirect fire very dangerous because the 8-defense factor Hover Tank in the Clear hex actually has a defense factor of 2 against artillery. To offset this vulnerability, Hover Tanks and Calliopes have the Counter Artillery Fire (CAF) capability which allows each unit to cancel a single artillery barrage in range. Of course, this comes at a cost; units firing CAF cannot fire in the Direct Fire phase.
Direct Fire is very simple; compare Attack Factor to Defense Factor, convert to odds, roll on CRT. Stacked units can combine fire and attack other stacks or individual units. Firing out to twice your range cuts the Attack Factor in half. Terrain Modifiers add to the Defense Factor. Combat results are No Effect, Disrupted (no indirect or direct fire, half movement), Defender Eliminated, or Defender Eliminated with Rubble (adds to movement and defense). There is an optional rule for Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) which allows Mercenary and Slammer Hover Tanks to “jam” conventional units which means the target cannot combine their attack nor spot for an indirect fire unit.
Close Assault takes place when units are in the same hex. All undisrupted units get a positive column shift and infantry fights with doubled Attack Factors. Units in Close Assault cannot leave the hex until all enemy units are eliminated.
There are other rules for Fortresses and Gas Attacks but generally that is it. You can play one of the 14 scenarios or Design Your Own using the point-buy system provided.
I played two scenarios. “Badger Hunt” is the introductory scenario that uses Conventional Forces only. I also played “Slammers” which is a three-way brawl with the Slammers squaring off against the Green Army (lots of long-range artillery and infantry with few mechanized) and the Tan Army (Mechanized and supported by a few Small Guns – no infantry). Each player has six turns to get as many points as possible (points are scored using the Design Your Own Scenario values). I used the Slammers with ECM to get as much high-tech effect as possible.
Hammer’s Slammersplays out much differently than I remember. I kinda remember the CPF and CAF rules and I don’t think I ever actually played with the ECM rules. I sorta remember the game as being very vanilla; simple and bland.
This time it was a much deeper experience. The low rules overhead meant the game could be played with minimal relearning. The differences in forces is just enough that there is no one-size-fits-all approach or best strategy. In the “Slammers” scenario, the Slammers start in the center and must determine how to deal with each force. I painfully learned that the Hover Tanks greatest asset is not its firepower but its CAF capability. The Hover Tanks ended up providing cover for the Combat Cars until they got close enough to dash in and deal with the guns. Of course, nipping at the flanks or blocking the direct route was that pesky tracked armor. This forced a decision; drop the CAF for Direct Fire or cover the force and let the lesser combat cars try to deal with the threat? For the Green or Tan Conventional Armies the key is combined arms and interlocking fields of fire. Artillery is in many ways still the King of the Battle.
As much as Mayfair’s Hammer’s Slammersgame captures the flavor the of books, it best replicates battlefield force-on-force situations. There is one scenario, “Hangman,” where a Mercenary force takes on Militia and Buses. It’s a one-sided bloodbath. The game has no real ability to present an asymmetric combat situation. I have to admit the best game I have in my collection for that is actually Tomorrow’s War: Science Fiction Wargaming Rules (Ambush Alley Games/Osprey Publishing 2011). This is a skirmish game played at a much more granular scale than Hammer’s Slammers. In many ways, Tomorrow’s Waris a direct competitor to my other HS game, The Hammer’s Slammers Handbook(Pireme Publishing Ltd, 2004) which is a set of miniatures skirmish rules published in the UK which still has its own website.
So when I look at the Mayfair Hammer’s Slammers game today I actually see a real gem. The game is a close to an introductory-level game in terms of rules, but the variable forces and modular map make for endless play variations. As simple as the rules are, the designer has actually captured a good deal of the flavor of combat in the Hammerverse. The game also has a very small footprint; the “Slammers” scenario map was playable in an area literally 18’x24″. A 3’x3′ table is more than sufficient for even the largest scenarios!