Mark Sautman
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Introduction

I’m writing this review because there is not much information about this game – only nine threads and no reviews. I have only played wargames for a few years and one of the things I have been trying to do is get copies of Victory Games (I) titles, which have a good reputation. It’s not clear to me why this one though seems to have been forgotten. Not being a gamer during the 80s, I can’t speak to the reputation of this game then or its marketing, although some of the comments here blame the front cover artwork. This is also a bit surprising since the designer is Eric Lee Smith, who helped develop such well known titles as Ambush! and The Civil War. That being said, this game apparently has not been entirely forgotten as several of the mechanics have reportedly been incorporated into MMP’s Grand Tactical Series (see The Devil's Cauldron: The Battles for Arnhem and Nijmegen and Where Eagles Dare).

Panzer Command is a tactical level game of armored warfare on the Eastern front during the fall of 1942 through the spring of 1943. The units making up the division or the corps represent companies of infantry and tanks and batteries of artillery. Each turn represents one to two hours.

Components

The counters and map are typical of the 80s.

The artwork is nothing special, but it is functional. On the map, each hexagon is 500 meters on each side. There are several tracks used to show the abilities of your division and regimental headquarters.

Rulebook
The rulebook looks intimidating at 60 pages (a dozen or so pages are charts, tables, and scenarios). Despite the length, this is actually an easy game to learn and one which I rarely had to reference the rules during play. First, the mechanics are very straightforward, even if several of them are novel. Second, the rules are clearly written. Third and most importantly, the rulebook is full of figures illustrating gameplay and the rulebook includes examples for nearly every mechanic. Because of this, I found this game easier to play than many games with rulebooks half as long. Fourth, the rules are split into core rules, advanced rules, and optional rules. There is an introductory scenario for the first half of the rules, an introductory scenario for the full set of rules, and then three longer scenarios. Furthermore, the game includes a scenario generator process, which I have not tried out. Finally, each section includes designer notes that really help you understand why the game was designed the way it was and helped me appreciate its mechanics.

Game Mechanics
The sequence of play includes preparation, action and end of turn phases. Rather than focus on many mechanics which are typical, I will focus on those that are not as common.

The key thing about this game is its hybrid chit pull process. I’m not normally a big fan of chit pull games, but I like how they handle this one. Two of my pet peeves about some games are: 1) chit pull games where they try to add some uncertainty by having a turn suddenly end leaving some groups idle for the turn and 2) games where you can move or attack, but not both the same turn. This hybrid approach avoids both of these issues. Like most chit pull games, each regiment has a chit. During the action phase, the chits are drawn one by one and the respective regiment takes an action. However, Panzer Command uses two additional mechanics. First, each side starts the game with a number of dispatch points and you have a chance to earn additional ones each turn based on the experience of your division headquarters. You can use a dispatch point to add an extra regiment chit for the following turn. Or you can use two dispatch points and allow an entire regiment to take an additional turn in the middle of the action phase.

Furthermore, each side has direct command points. Each side earns a random number of direct command points each turn based on a die roll and a flat number based on their division headquarters’ direct command rating. These direct command points can be used to allow a unit to take an additional action during its turn (if within command radius of the regimental headquarters) or when the direct command chit is pulled (any unit regardless of whether it is within command radius). With these two concepts, it allows you to plan for big pushes for certain regiments or to allow certain units to take advantage of a breakthrough or move and attack. Your headquarters also determine your troop quality level, which determines how often you can take advantage of opportunity fire, whether you can avoid being suppressed in combat, whether you can substitute a cohesion hit in lieu of being suppressed, and whether a damaged unit can rally. The above mechanics are how Panzer Command tries to capture the differences between the Soviet and German leadership.

Combat may involve direct fire, close assaults, indirect fire (artillery), and airstrikes. Using the attack strength of the attacking units, this attack strength is then modified by the defender’s defense rating, the range, terrain, number of cohesion hits previously incurred by the attacker, etc. A 10-sided die is rolled and compared to the final attack strength on a combat results table. This table takes into account the die roll, the weapon class, and whether the target is armored or not, to tell you whether the result is a miss or whether the defender suffers a cohesion hit or step loss, is suppressed, or is eliminated (fairly rare). Units take a while to be eliminated since it takes three cohesion hits to result in a step loss. The main difference for close assault is that the defender has a chance for opportunity fire before the two sides go through three rounds of close assault. Retreats are mostly at the defender’s choice rather than mandated by the combat results table. Additional rules address opportunity fire and concentrated fire.

The advanced rules address transport on trucks or with tanks, artillery, improved positions, engineers, night turns, and airpower. Engineers are important because many of the scenarios involve control of bridges – both building them as well as destroying them. Optional rules address limited intelligence and applying the game to modern units (it includes counters for Soviet T-72 and a West German Leopard II companies). I have not used the optional rules. The designer included some guidelines for solitaire play although I had no difficulty simply playing both sides.

In general, most of the rules played alright. I felt you should be able to spend a few direct command points at once to allow a stack of units to launch a close assault. I would have also preferred if infantry and tanks could work together easier. While the Soviet armor regiments often included some infantry, the Germans infantry and tanks usually operated separately. The combat results table worked reasonably well. It did not work as well with artillery attacks, especially those where you could only hit with a zero due to terrain, defender armor, etc. In that case, the only result you received was a step loss rather than the lesser results of suppression or a cohesion loss There’s also some information that you need to keep track of on your own – which unit is attached to the regimental headquarters, bridge building progress, minefield location, and the number of shots fired by artillery from each hex. In a more modern game, there likely would have been some counters to help keep track of these. One last comment is that it is easy to forget which unit goes with each regiment when the regiments have a mixture of units (e.g., your artillery or engineers may be split between a regiment and independent units).

Scenarios
Victory is determined through the use of victory points over a set number of turns. Victory points may be earned by destroying enemy steps, removing certain units from the map, control of key hexes, and maintaining or prohibiting access through various roads and bridges. I have played four scenarios so far. The introductory scenario is a short battle to control four hexes and seemed well balanced. The advanced introductory scenario is focused on removing Soviet units from the map and was very easy for the Soviets if their chits were drawn first. The Destruction of the Soviet First Tank Corps scenario is a larger scenario where the Soviets and Germans are fighting over two towns on opposite parts of the map, keeping a road way open between the two, and inflicting step losses to the enemy. This one required decisions on how to split your forces and required aggressive moves due to the turn limit. The Reduction of the Chir Bridgeheads scenario involves the full map with the Soviets trying to build bridges and keep them under control while the Germans try to block access to the bridges. Due to the amount of travel in this scenario, the Germans need to stay focused on their goals or they will get bogged down in side battles. If the Soviets control the airspace, the Soviets can also dramatically slow down the Germans progress. I have not had a chance to play the last scenario, the Second Battle of State Farm 79, which is another scenario involving Soviets trying get units off the map while the Germans try to retake bridgeheads.

Conclusion
I have to admit up front that I was not overly excited about this title because I’m not that big on tactical or tank games. That being said, I did enjoy these scenarios. In my opinion, this is one of the better chit pull games I have played. I like that every unit gets to play each turn, but the system has enough flexibility to allow multiple actions by certain regiments or units. This flexibility made the game much more interesting to me. I also appreciated the well written rulebook and all of the examples. I much prefer to play the game rather than searching through BGG forums and FAQs for clarifications. Most of the scenarios I have played have been tense, interesting, and reasonably balanced. I cannot comment whether the scenario generator makes up for having just one map and five scenarios or not, but this game is still worth searching out if you can find it at a reasonable price. Obviously, I am not the only one who liked some of the mechanics here because a modified version of them is found in the popular Grand Tactical Series thirty years later. In fact, I'm probably going to give the Grand Tactical Series another look because I liked how this game played. I give Panzer Command a rating of 7.5.

I would like to thank mistermarino, kjuice, and bbhanson whose images I used for this review.

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Darrell Hanning
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Solid review.

I certainly haven't forgotten this game - it was a masterpiece for its time, and inspired a lot of design choices in games following it.

Just wish I hadn't traded my copy away, years ago.
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Martin McCleary
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I still have the copy I bought when it was new. I played it a few times solitaire and I liked it. I hope to get it on the table with a friend in the not too distant future. The only issue for me is that it focuses on early war and that period just isn't of much interest to me, I prefer 44 and 45 scenarios. If this had survived I imagine they would have rolled out additional volumes, it's one of the few games out with company level units.
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Mike Uhrich
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Another great Eric Lee Smith game. Picked this up at release and was just blown away by it. Nice write up.
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Nice review.

I got rid of this game because I can't stand games of the "disrupted/demoralized/fatigued/disorganized" variety, which in this case takes the form "suppressed/dis-cohesioned". If I play a tactical game about tanks, I expect most of the tanks to be on fire/blown up within a few minutes of engaging each other, as they were in the tank battles I have read about.

The lack of popularity of this game may be explained by its emphasis on soft factors, rather than having tanks blowing up in a fun and spectacular fashion, as consumers expect from clashes of armor. Who buys a game about tank combat to have the enemy vehicles "take a cohesion hit" and rally?


Eastern Front tank battle
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Joe Donnelly
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I just couldn't get past the cheezy box art.
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Marc Grad
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Having tanks blow up is exciting, but remember Panzer Command isn't as tactical as other popular WW2 games.

Panzer Command scale is companies not individual vehicles and the time scale is 1-2 hours per turn. Compare that to:

TCS - 20 minute turns, individual vehicles and infantry platoons
ATS - 5 minute turns, individual vehicles and infantry squads
ASL - 2 minute turns, individual vehicles and infantry squads

Panzer Command is one of my favorite games, played it a bunch back in the day.
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Darrell Hanning
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Sunray11 wrote:
I just couldn't get past the cheezy box art.


Wargame box artists generally don't get paid one, whole, helluva lot.

Probably smarter to just judge the game inside it.
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Frank Clarke
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If the Eastern Front was just tanks lining up and shooting each other, it would have been over in a week. Although that would be a fun game too, you could call it maybe, "World of Tanks".
Some people prefer to have the human element abstracted in somehow, and Panzer Command was a step forward for people who like that kind of thing.
The box art isn't superb, but there is much worse box art, and it does reflect the subject matter of the box contents usefully.

Tanks for the review!
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Thomas Beach

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I too, still own my original release copy which is proudly a players copy although I haven't played it since the 80's. Indeed, Starkweather borrowed the best concepts from this game for GTS. After all, if you're going to steal, steal from the best! That's a compliment, Adam.

I won't say this was the first chit pull game, but it would have to be darn close. Very revolutionary for it's time and remains a great title which this very nice review has inspired me to take up again.

Even Eric himself admitted the box art was awful and felt it might have hurt sales. Eh. Never bothered me. Once I saw Eric's name on the box (The Civil War remains my all-time favorite game) I bought it, cheesy box art or not. If I recall, I believe Eric also thought this titles flat response buried future expansion titles in the series.

Great game. Great game system.
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Rick Barber
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That may be true in squad or even platoon level games, but here the scale is company level (10-20 tanks) where the formation being slowly degraded and reduced is much more accurate. One does not simply 'blow up' a company of tanks....... The picture you posted shows what would be a fight between TWO counters in this game.

In this game, and as opposed to PanzerBlitz, Eric focused on the 'softer' factors of Command and Control that were still giving the Germans a major advantage over the Soviets at this stage of the war, in much the same manner that John Hill was doing in his 'Tank Leader' at the platoon level. Both games were a huge leap forward in that respect in comparison to anything else that had been done before.
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Rick Barber
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Sunray11 wrote:
I just couldn't get past the cheezy box art.


Victory and West End Games are both known for some pretty cheezy box art, some rather 'basic' counter and sometimes map art, but some of the best designs ever by some of the best designers ever! Eric Lee Smith, Joe Balkoski and Butterfield come immediately to mind there.
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Rick Barber
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I still have my original copy, although I haven't played it in years (too many other great games in the meantime.) Had I the cash, I'd pick up the latest version in the form of those MMP games - people working IN the industry seldom have the money to buy those Monsters, I'm afraid! ;-)

I have no problem at all in saying that the mechanics in Eric's 'Panzer Command' and 'Across Five Aprils' were two of the biggest influences in my own 'Summer Storm' back when I designed it.
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Ruben Rigillo
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Good job, Mark!
This game deserved a detailed review.
I had my copy in trade last year but played just few games.
I bought No Question of Surrender and after reading the rules I discovered its roots. (I bought it strictly for the FFL theme, so no further infos seeked! )
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Rallye72 wrote:
The only issue for me is that it focuses on early war and that period just isn't of much interest to me, I prefer 44 and 45 scenarios. If this had survived I imagine they would have rolled out additional volumes, it's one of the few games out with company level units.


Users have added some community content to PzC over the years. For example, I made a Cyberboard mod that takes Panzer Command to Operation Bagration in June 1944, and incorporates some of the better GTS rules as well as the better-regarded house rules that developed over the years.

The PzC system is so solid that it really deserves to see more use in more eras and locations of WWII.

Another feature that I don't think the reviewer mentioned are the "Scenario Generation" rules and tables. One rarely sees this level of added value in games these days, and it gives the game huge "replayability."

Certainly, if you like Panzer Command and aren't wedded entirely to the Ostfront, you'll love the Grand Tactical Series -- it adds a lot of quality to the system and just the right amount of detail without, IMHO, fatally bogging it down.
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Roger Taylor
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One cool thing about covering the 1942 Eastern Front instead of 1944-45 is the greater disparity in troop and command quality. That is, 1942 shows off the system better.

The 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars would be another good situation for the Panzer Command system.
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G.W.
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rtaylor wrote:
One cool thing about covering the 1942 Eastern Front instead of 1944-45 is the greater disparity in troop and command quality. That is, 1942 shows off the system better.

The 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars would be another good situation for the Panzer Command system.


Agreed. In my PzC mod for Bagration, I tightened up the game's artillery rules even more to reflect these disparities. The Soviet player can shoot higher-level (divisional, corps, army) offmap artillery only by placing two Fire Plan counters per day, somewhere on the Turn record track. They don't need to pass checks for radio contact or spotting, since they represent preplanned shoots at map references. The German player has more flexibility and uses the standard PzC rules -- but specific divisional batteries have to be assigned to support specific regiments.
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Paolo Desalvo
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I don't have Panzer Command, so I arrived to this review for other reasons. When I opened this review, the first thing that I saw was the counters' sheet and it remembered me the MechWar '77 counters, but the fact that they were over the unit's symbol/silhouette, for that similarity I saved the link for a later and more accurate reading.
After having read all, I remain with the curiosity to compare the this game with MechWar '77, that I own since the late 70s, or better to compare it game with Panzer '44, that I purchased much later and stays till unpunched. I would like to see the differences and the similarities between this game and the two SPI's tactical games that are ten years older.
These are my 2 cents.
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Geoff C
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Man I wish this was reprinted in a modern version...chit pull is my fav mechanic.
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Eric Smith
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Greetings,

Thanks for the detailed and informed review. One thing you missed though, this is the FIRST chit pull game. All the chit pull games descend from this one and it is my real claim to fame as a game designer, although I have game that sold more copies.

Cheers,

Eric
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Mark Sautman
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ericleesmith wrote:
Thanks for the detailed and informed review. One thing you missed though, this is the FIRST chit pull game.


I had heard that it was, but I was not sure if the references were definitive enough to state that and didn't want to get in an argument in case it was wrong. Glad you liked the review.
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Andrew McGuire
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I played this quite extensively - by my standards, meaning I played each scenario at least once - in the late 80's and early 90's, and produced some of my own play aids. I found the game mechanisms fascinating, and am unsurprised that they were influential, though I am not familiar with the GTS series (which I hope to rectify). I still have my cherished copy but I've not played it in a long time (or much else, for that matter, for reasons unconnected with the quality of the game). I also have the reply I received from Eric to my rules queries, which he probably shook his head over. I seem to recall mentioning to him that I hoped for expansions, and was disappointed these never materialised.

As for the box art, well, the game is called Panzer Command, and the picture shows a panzer commander, so it fulfils the brief. I spent more time playing the game than looking at the box, and there are few enough I can say that about.
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