Guy Riessen
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After a life off the table and on my trade list, this game has been reborn with the release of the 3rd edition rules, AND the discovery of a new wargaming opponent in my area. This game is now great for introducing eurogamers to wargaming—anyone with the ability to play mid-weight euros can easily pick up the gameplay, and is also a great gateway wargame for anyone looking to move up from the lightweight, “semi-wargames” like Memoir 44, or even Heroscape. Battle of the Bulge comes with 51, yes 51, scenarios ranging in time-to-play from less than an hour to probably a full weekend (haven’t played any of the really long 50+ turn scenarios yet), but most fall into the 2 to 3 hour range. But first, let’s look at some specifics:

Maps: I have the hardboard, mounted maps, which personally I think are awful! I like paper maps or at most, the stiff cardboard maps (which I believe the new release of BotB has) for wargames. Biggest reason is that I detest the valleys at the crease on mounted—they make moving the counters across them a chore. There is also a boarder around the outside of the playing area, which, while thin on a single map, becomes annoying on the multi-map games. You can see the maps I have posted here in the photo area—the black boarders are quite apparent. The artwork is not very evocative of anything really, but is geomorphic, which allows 51 scenarios to all use the same 4 maps to create many different layouts. However, this also leads to one of the problems with the game itself. The games feel somewhat generic—using the same maps, without overlays to change the maps, merely stating ignore forests on map 10, and ignore villages on map 11, and forests are open terrain on map 9 north of hexes ###8, etc., does nothing to give a “real” feel for the terrain. The terrain painting just isn’t very good either, with the towns looking like simple rectangles “beveled” in Photoshop, and the base ground looking like brown-tweed cloth. Bleh—this is partly why I didn’t play the game until recently, as I like maps!

Counters: The counters are nice, but printed on just “okay,” but really, too thin cardboard. They feel a little flimsy, and after a little handling, even after clipping the corners, it feels like the color-printing layer could peel off. However, the colors and images are very nice! They use silhouettes for infantry as well as armor and heavy weapons, no NATO symbols here (sorry die-hard NATO symbol proponents!). The infantry are ¾ isometric view and the armor is top-down. Leaders have do have symbols, but they are in the style of medals appropriate to their nation of origin. There is also a full page of colorful markers for things like smoke, move/fired, disrupted, spotted etc. However, no 1st Opp Fire marker with moved/fire on the back—this is would make an obviously useful marker since you get possibly 2 opp fire shots in a turn.

Rules: 3rd edition rules are SUPER easy to read and digest. Quite possibly the best rules for someone new to the wargaming genre. Why, you ask? From my experience, one of the biggest hurdles we proponents of wargames face when trying to introduce someone new is the traditional law-book-style rules referencing. Yes, once learned, that style is great for looking things up and referring someone to a specific rule. But, darned if they don’t scare people. Well 3rd edition fixes that problem—they have the numbered rule sections still, but wherever a rule needs to be restated, rather than referencing the poor reader to section 12.4.5 and then to 3.12.56, they simply restate the particular rule. This makes for an apparently longer rulebook, but makes it easy for someone not used to traditional wargame rules.

For those of us who are used to rules cross-reference reading, it DOES get a little tiresome reading, for instance, about how leaders work in every single section (since they affect everything) as well as in the section ON leaders. But I really do think this makes the rules MUCH more approachable for the neophyte.

Although the rules clock in at 16 pages they are not dense pages. And for a grognard, there are really only about 7 pages there, if written AH-style! Plus, really for a grognard, you could pretty much get away with reading the section on Leaders, then skimming the rest.

Scenario Book: This is VERY cool. 51 scenarios, all look like a blast to play—lots with armor, a few with infantry only. Each scenario has a section on the real history, followed by the OOB and starting positions and reinforcements for each side. Then any special rules for the scenario, the victory conditions, and the historical result so you can compare your results to history. Very nicely laid out and clear. Did I mention 51 scenarios? Here’s where your real value for the money comes into play—and from what I can tell, all the PG games are similarly dense with gameplay.

Gameplay: Here’s where the product really shines for the new player. The game plays fast, typically has a fairly low counter-density, has reasonably easy to follow rules (and easy to look up if you forget something), and almost no downtime. The ease of play and no downtime can really suck in a player who is skeptical about wargaming. Each turn both players roll for initiative and then adds their starting initiative rating (this can go down as the player takes casualties). Depending on how significant the difference is, one player will get to “activate” 1, 2 or more units before the other player. Activation can consist of things like moving or shooting or recovering moral.

Which brings me to another problem that people have had with the PG system that I might be able to clarify. Each PG turn is simulating 15 minutes of time. During a turn most units can either move OR shoot. There has been some complaint as to why a platoon of soldiers can only shoot once in 15 minutes, not to mention why can’t a tank move AND shoot in 15 minutes. A good question, but it’s simply how the designers went about designing a game at the platoon level. At this scale a turn is 15 minutes and the hexes 200 meters across—around 30,000 square meters. That’s a big space! What the turns are simulating are not single shots, or single moves, but rather moving and shooting within that space and within that time. But the game scale is somewhat deceiving because it is not squad level, where a shot is more likely to be actual shots, nor is it operational where a hex might be a mile or more and a turn an hour or more.

Back to the review…. Once initiative is determined, play alternates between players until all the units are moved. This is what minimizes downtime—there are no long gaps while one player waits for the other player to move all their pieces—and also why the games can play quickly.

The leaders are the heart-and-soul of the game, and what makes PG a unique system. Leaders are fundamentally necessary to get your troops to engage in combat. Without leaders prodding them forward, your troops will not move to assault, or even move closer to an enemy that could potentially cause casualties. Leaders also allow you to coordinate attacks with multiple units by allowing a player to activate, say all the infantry counters in the same stack, plus any infantry, which hasn’t moved or shot, in any of the 6 adjacent hexes. And, even better, the leaders have rank, so your Captain can activate his troops, the troops around him, plus he can activate the Lieutenant in one of the adjacent hexes, who in turn can activate his units, the units adjacent, and so on. In 3rd edition you can also activate a whole hex, so that if you have armor and infantry in the same hex you can assault with combined arms and get some decent bonuses on the CRT. Leaders also can help with assaults, possibly direct fire and possibly moral recovery with inherent bonuses.

This also leads again to the problem I have with how the game feels generic. Leaders are drawn randomly from a cup of the same rank, then flipped to see the stats—depending on which gets drawn and which side comes up, a leader may or may not have a combat bonus, moral bonus, or may have a different moral rating. Units of the same type ALL have the exact same stats. Every paratrooper platoon is the same; every infantry unit is the same, etc. The only thing that varies it up is that sometimes the scenario will start a specific platoon in its reduced state. Again this is how this level of game is abstracted, and in this case may be to keep the game at an easier level, but it doesn’t feel right. If you look at history, not to mention many other wargames, you’ll find combat stats that vary from squad to squad, platoon to platoon, company to company and on down the line.

As the game plays out you’ll have bombardment, sometimes from mortars or tanks, sometimes from off-board artillery. You’ll have direct fire, from platoons of infantry, heavy machine guns platoons, and anti-infantry ordinance on tanks and half-tracks. And, of course, you’ll have anti-tank fire from tanks and heavy weapons. Each has its own CRT and resolution process, but each is very straightforward. You’ll also find yourself in assaults to take an objective hex, or simply to try to eliminate enemy “steps.” Assaults are initiated by one player, but both players will add up direct fire stats and apply simultaneous damage (unless assaulting a fortified location which will allow the defender to shoot first on the first assault round), so both sides may well be hurt. Units can join the assault (keeping in mind the stacking limits of 3 combat units for each side, in a hex).

Overall Impression: A great game for introducing wargaming to an experienced game player and a fantastic value in terms of hours of gameplay for the money. A grognard will, barring abysmal dice luck, most likely beat a neophyte with no trouble, but the simple gameplay elements will allow the overall strategies to come through quickly. What happens makes sense and repercussions to poor decisions usually come quickly in a game that plays this fast, allowing a newbie to get up to competitive speed fairly quickly. If you and your opponents are experienced wargamers, however, you will probably be disappointed in the generic feel and the poor map design, and unless you are specifically looking for a simple game (maybe to play between the turns of your monster game you’ve been playing for the last 6 months!?) you’ll be better served looking at a squad level game like ASL or ATS. If you’re looking to get into the genre but don’t have anyone handy to show you the ropes, Panzer Grenadier is easy enough you’ll be able to pick it up on your own simply by reading the rules, playing solitaire, then re-reading the rules until you’re comfortable—then you can go out and spread the word on your own.

The 3rd edition rules are so good, and so well put together, that I couldn’t find a single unclear issue—even by going on to consimworld.com and looking at what questions and issues people were having, and there were questions, but every one of them was actually quite clearly answered in the rules.

One request for potential buyers—Avalanche Press is staunchly against allowing any of their games to be released as VASSAL (www.vassalengine.org) or Cyberboard modules. This is really too bad, as VASSAL is one of the only ways I can play wargames with any kind of frequency due to work and familial obligations. VASSAL is fantastic as games can be played real-time with voice over IP software it’s really like playing face-to-face, and can be stopped mid-game and restarted later—so if I have just an hour to play, it’s fine to start a 4 hour game. So please, do yourself a favor and look into those gaming options and if you are interested, let Avalanche Press know you are a VASSAL player who would like to be able to enjoy their games with more people!

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Ricardo Madeira
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Thanks for the Review!

Sprydle wrote:
let Avalanche Press know you are a VASSAL player who would like to be able to enjoy their games with more people!


Yeah, man, we all need to unite and give the AP guys a smack in the head. I know it's well within their rights to forbid the distribution of Vassal/Cyberboard modules, but come on... really, with who am I gonna play regularly those Great War at Sea games I just bought?

Anyway, just for completeness, you botched the link to Vassal. It's http://www.vassalengine.org
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Guy Riessen
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Ah thanks very much for catching that and posting the correct VASSAL link!

 
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Steve Bernhardt
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Good review, but I sort of disagree about how the units feel generic. Maybe this is true in this module, but there are many different types of troops in other games. In fact, I think PzG is actually more flexible and less generic than many tactical games because of variable morale levels for each scenario. In Squad Leader most US squads are 6-6-6...all the time. In Panzer Grenadier they have firepower and range stats, but will fight very differently depending on their morale.
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Guy Riessen
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Good points, Wargamer66--scenario morale in PG is great, lowered initiative based on unit step-loss is great, leadership effects are great. I hope I was clear in saying that one of the main reasons for generic units, generic maps, is to allow the HUGE number of scenarios that come with the game.

You make a good and valid comparison with Squad Leader (also a generic"ish" game with geomorphic maps and identical squad stats), and I think that PG is a better game from what I remember (I haven't played the original SL in over 20 years). The leadership rules and effects in PG are fantastic and unique, and the overall rules are MUCH tighter and more streamlined than SL.

Morale, in PG, which does indeed vary from scenario to scenario, however is the same for every non-leader unit. If the American's have a starting morale of 8, then every unit has a morale of 8. If it's only 6 for the Germans, then every German (non-leader) unit has a morale of 6.

What makes the game feel somewhat generic in presentation is also one of its greatest strengths which you mention, its flexibilty. I also think that it helps the game's playability--another of PG's strengths. The variable leaders help make the game even more replayable because your leader's abilities might change--but neverthless it makes me feel one more step removed from the situations being modeled. I really think the generic qualities, are not a result of bad game design, but rather the opposite. The generic qualities all serve a deigned purpose to improve the game AP is trying to make--keeping the flexibility of modeling a wide variety of situations at the scenario level.

Road to Berlin and Airborne are both on the way to me right now, so I'll soon have the opportunity to take a look at two of the other modules first-hand. I have feeling the system is going to continue to grow on me. Still though...gimme my VASSAL permission, AP!!!




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Jason
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Great review, but I disagree with the map comment and the counters

In this day and age, if I pay 50 for a wargame, it better not have some sorry excuse for a paper map that I can use a tablecloth

Counters are nice, the info is clean the images are great.

Artwork on the map is nice and does what it needs to do

As for people moaning about the turns well, there are other games that are worse than this game, and let us not forget its an Origins Nominee.
 
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Michel Boucher
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Re: Review of Panzer Grenadier: Battle of the Bulge, 3rd Ed.
ricmadeira wrote:
Thanks for the Review!

Sprydle wrote:
let Avalanche Press know you are a VASSAL player who would like to be able to enjoy their games with more people!


Yeah, man, we all need to unite and give the AP guys a smack in the head. I know it's well within their rights to forbid the distribution of Vassal/Cyberboard modules


It was done for Lock'n'Load and Down in Flames. This was being discussed on the Vassalengine Yahoo newsgroup about a year ago.

They just need to follow a similar model to the one used by Mark Walker and Dan Verssen.

 
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Thanks for the review. I'm new to war games and am going to try to get them into my gaming group. I picked up PG Desert Rats because it was the only game in the game store. And it turns out it like it very much(even though I have only played it solo). You are correct in your statment about how well the rules are written,they are very clear. I'm going to pick up this and ASL started kit 1. That should be plenty to get me started into war games. Thanks!
 
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Thanks Guy, many many years after you wrote your review!!!! I just bought a copy of BoB as my first PG game in 2015 and it's still pretty hot! I passed up Desert Rats about 10 years ago because I hated the map. The gaming shop was cool enough to take it back and I bought a copy of Advanced Tobruk instead even though what I really wanted was a platoon level game. Panzer Leader (and to a lesser extend Panzer Blitz) were firm favorites of mine back in the day and I just love that scale of game. I don't wanna fire every bullet and carry every weapon, though I certainly see the appeal of squad level/individual weapon games. With platoons, you can re-enact battalion and regimental level engagements.

Panzer Grenadier fits the bill for me after having had a few trial games with Battle of the Bulge. The maps are a lot better than Desert Rats and having a large collection of games I can scavenge and improve my own maps for the desert if required. I've even taken to using the move/fire counters from ATS in my PG game! But this game is all about scale:

- time is longer and challenges preconceptions I have from other games. In 15 minutes, a lot can happen in combat, or troops can become inert. There's some criticism and doubts whether the PG system is bloody enough, but let's face it, we're mostly comparing it with other games such as ASL and ATS. I've read a ton of war history (like so many others here on the Geek) and war is just a variable thing. Things can crumble in minutes, or can take hours, with no result. I suppose this game makes that possible.

- area of hexes is a big old plot! ATS and ASL are 50 meters or yards, while PG is 200. That's roughly a 4x4 hex plot of land on a squad level game, or 16 hexes. Imagine if it's a house to house struggle, and that can take quite some time in a squad level game! At first I was thinking the game isn't bloody enough in close quarters but when I think it isn't necessarily hand to hand combat when units are in an Assault then it makes more sense. In ATS units battle to the death right then and there, but an Assault is more than that. It includes the approach, positioning, and waiting for the right moment.

- scale of the units is perfect for my interest and that's definitely a personal thing. You can attain an interesting blend of units while not being bogged down representing every piece of equipment. PG also is fully compatible with different modules and theatres which made the PB/PL thing a little difficult with platoons with less tanks with Wehrmacht (PL) or more in the case of the Russians (PB). With the Russians, I can see the weaknesses inherent with a platoon in PG while in PB, they were strong companies!

- rules. This is soooooo important in this day and age if you're like me and want to maximize gaming/dice rolling time at the expense of complicated rules. PG rules are written well enough to dispel most doubts and now the 4th ed is out there it's a polished act. The PG-HQ.com site also hosts an annotated set of 3rd edition rules which incorporate official rulings and clarifications. Compare this to ATS which was a bl**dy rules nightmare! I can learn the game while playing and make decent progress in doing so. More complicated than Memoir 44, but much less so than ASL. A nice in-betweener!

- maps at this scale are excellent for recreating snippets from books and other situations. There are 5 hexes to a kilometre and 8 hexes to a mile. A battery of 88's is not going to dominate the entire map typically so there's some room for maneuver depending on the scenario. I think platoon level games bridge that strange gap between strategic regimental games like the AH classics, and the low level detail of squad gaming. There are not many company level games out there and I think they might not be as successful in blending tactics and strategy as much as this scale.

Just a mixed bag of my first impressions, and hope this is of use to anyone reading who could be considering the game. Overall, I'm really happy I got the game and glad the passing of time has resulted in an improvement in map quality.

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