#Solo #Wargame – Solitaire rules in #Panzer Expansion Nr. 4: France 1940 (@gmtgames, 2018)

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Panzer – Yaquinto Edition (courtesy BGG.com

I have been playing Panzer by James M. Day since the Yaquinto Publishing first edition in 1979. As a matter of fact, Panzer was my first wargame ever (nothing like jumping straight into the deep end!). Through the years I followed the development of the Panzer and the sister modern version, MBT, but it was not until GMT Games brought out Panzer (Second Edition) that I upgraded my collection. The latest expansion to drop is Panzer Expansion #4: France 1940.  In addition to covering the Invasion of France in 1940, the game also includes a new set of rules for Panzer players that have a hard time finding face-to-face opponents or are tired of always trying to outsmart their alter-ego.

Surprisingly, GMT Games apparently didn’t really play up this angle of the new expansion. One has to look deep within the publishers description on the game page to barely find mention of solitaire rules:

The two solitaire scenarios utilize a game driven AI system for French forces in The 6th Panzer is Delayed and the German forces in Billote’s Charge.

In stark contrast to that short blurb, Panzer Expansion #4 actually includes a very robust set of solitaire rules. As in 15 pages worth (in a Playbook of 68 pages). The Solitaire System is credited to Fernando Solo Ramos, a long time Panzer fan and the man responsible for the best Panzer wargame support site on the internet, The Panzer Pusher.

Fernando explains the intent of the Solitaire Rules in section 10.1 Introduction:

The Panzer Solitaire Rules are intended to offer the solo Panzer player a guideline to enjoy the game, fixing the two aforementioned problems of solitaire play; enemy unit placement and enemy intentions. The Panzer Solitaire Rules use Hidden Unit rules to manage the player’s knowledge about the exact location of the enemy units. The player only knows the most probable locations of the enemy, and only when an enemy unit actually appears on the map does the player know the exact number and type of those enemy units. In addition, several tables handle the behavior of the enemy, determining their commands and their actions, all without compromising the standard Panzer rules.

Mr. Ramos has very thoughtfully provided many designer’s notes inline to the rules text. These comments help explain some of the rules and are essential to getting the original grok of the rules. Concepts like Enemy Main Unit and Most Dangerous Friendly Unit seem complex at first, but after reading the designer’s intent then stepping through the rule it (sorta) all comes together. The back cover of the Playbook is the complete Panzer Solitaire Tables. [I really wish this had been separate Play Aid because it gets constantly referenced in executing the Solitaire Rules.]

Although the designer claims the Solitaire Rules work “without compromising the standard Panzer rules” the harsh reality is that one needs a better-than-average familiarity with the standard rules to make full sense of the new design. After having read and reread the rules several times already, I think I am ready to try the first solitaire scenario, The 6th Panzer is Delayed: Monthermé, France, 15 May 1940. In this scenario, the AI controls a reinforced French Anti-Tank Battery against a Light Tank Company and mixed Infantry Company of Kampfgruppe Raus. This is a simple “cross the defended map” scenario. Using the Solitaire Rules will be interesting.

To be honest, after reading the Solitaire Rules I am going into the first scenario play with a good deal of trepidation. I am worried because I feel I need a better familiarity with the standard rules before stepping into the solitaire version. Not that the solitaire rules are hard in concept, but there are so many rules interactions it worries me that I will miss something simple.

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Eastern Front Solo cards (courtesy boardgamegeek.com)

Although I have yet to play a full scenario, I cannot help but make comparisons between the Panzer Solitaire Rules and the card-based AI system in Conflict of Heroes: Eastern Front Solo Expansion (Academy Games). The Panzer approach is a traditional, table-driven design whereas the Eastern Front Solo is very innovative card-driven design. Two radically different approaches to the same wargaming problem.

I really need to get the Panzer Solitaire Rules to the table sooner than later to judge for myself how well it works.


Feature image courtesy GMT Games

Pounding Panthers with Panzer (Second Edition, @gmtgames, 2012)

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Courtesy BGG

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.

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The Soviets hold the village for now, but 4x Panthers backed up by a StuG IIIG will make short work of them soon….

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” Panzer should be).

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Courtesy Academy Games

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.

Panzer was 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.

Featured image courtesy Roger MacGowan (@RBMStudio1 on Twitter)