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Panzer Grenadier: Semper Fi! Guadalcanal» Forums » Reviews

Subject: a brief review of Guadalcanal rss

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Mark Mokszycki
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Firstly, this review is based on a playing of 4 scenarios from the game. I have not played every scenario.

This product is difficult to rate for the same reason all PG games are difficult to rate. Out of the box, the core rules leave a lot to be desired. The newest living rules address 95% of all issues and omissions, however, and make this a good game system.

The scenarios are another reason these games are difficult to rate. All the PG products I've played to date (original Eastern Front, Guadalcanal, Afrika Korps, and Airborne) have curiously inconsistent scenarios. Some are real gems, but others are grossly imbalanced or just plain broken. When choosing a scenario, I've been disappointed as many times as I've had fun.

The scenarios in Guadalcanal are problematic for these same reasons. Many are so long that no one will want to play (195+ turns!) and even the shorter ones are pretty long by PG standards (with 30-45 turns being about average for a shorter scenario). This was a problem in PG Afrika Korps, and it's even more extreme here.

Also, the very nature of jungle warfare means you won't be maneuvering much, and you'll be assaulting a lot. This can become tedious, and firepower and morale are the only real keys to victory, but I suppose this is realistic. Leaders cannot activate adjacent units in jungle (but the assumption here is that leaders are pieces, not units, so leaders can activate adjacent subordinate leaders in jungle... but this is an assumption and not clearly specified).

Be prepared for a lot of stack sifting as 6 units plus 2+ leaders pile into a single hex, along with all their associated moved/fired, disrupted, and demoralized markers, and then conduct 2 assaults per turn (one for each side) until one side finally gives. Again, this is perhaps realistic, but it's tedious and in my opinion it doesn't showcase the real strength of the PG system- planning, leadership and maneuver.

Editing and proofreading is the biggest problem, and this is typical for AP. Allow me to demonstrate how it reared it's ugly head from the get go.

We went to set up the first scenario of the game, and found it unplayable from the get go. The Japanese victory hexes are in the middle of the ocean (and the Japanese units are all infantry!), and the setup hexes for the U.S. and Japanese overlap, with no mention in the rules of how to handle this. It's a shame... PG deserves better than this.

We created our own house rules and launched into the scenario anyway... only to discover that the new PG version 3 living rules differed from the Guadalcanal rules in several places with respect to terrain. We opted to use the newest living rules, though only the Guad rules cover jungle, elephant grass, coconut grove, caves, etc. Ok, minor setbacks, but we're still moving forward... we're going to actually play this thing if it kills us...

Ack!! It didn't matter. Before TURN ONE of a 38 turn scenario had ended, the U.S. could not win (they had lost more than 2 steps). We setup and played again, this time much more carefully. This time the U.S. made it to TURN TWO before they lost a third step and could not win. Come on! Did anyone actually playtest this? The Japanese can start setup in the jungle, adjacent to the U.S. marines' beach landing hexes, and two countour levels above it. This means that the marines are sitting ducks for the first turn, and they are forced to assault their way up the hills and into the jungle to have a chance. They can also attempt to shuffle off to their right into the unoccupied jungle, but then they take opp fire at point blank that is even more lethal than the assaults. And the marines' host of naval gun support and air planes look great on paper, but amount to practically nothing in softening the Japanese defenders.

The complains don't end there. We also found it impossible in some cases to tell which hexes connected, due to the nature of the meandering shoreine. This was very important in plotting a strategy to get off the beach, and not at all arbitrary.

Next we played the smaller Edson's Ridge scenario, and found it to be functional, though boring. Again, the jungle limits units to 1 hex per turn movement, and it's all about assaulting, assaulting, assaulting, so a small number of hexes get jam-packed with 12+ markers. The scenario worked, but it just wasn't fun.

Next we tried the first day Tenaru scenario, and we rather liked it. This one is good fun, and it feels fairly well balanced. The U.S. won the game, but only by a hair. For several turns in the midgame it looked for sure like the Japanese would pull off an ahisotorical victory. The cool thing about this scenario is that it's actually quite easy for the Japanese to pull off their victory conditions and get 5 or more units over the creek. But then they have to hold their ground while the marines counterattack like crazy. So the burden then befalls the U.S. to go on the offensive. Cool turn of events, all packed into a 17 turn scenario with good balance.

Go figure.

I have read on consimworld that the Diversion I scenario is also a very good scenario. I have not tried it yet, but it is next on my list. Based on the small number of Guadalcanal scenarios I've played, maybe I am judging them unfairly. All I can say for certain is that there are some good ones and some bad ones.

Now on to the game components...

The maps are among the nicest in the PG series. They represent actual places, unlike the generic "geomorphic" maps found in the other games in the series. Graphically, they are a bit dark but pleasing to the eye. The graphical style has the same digital, computer-generated style as the PG Afrika Korps maps, but I don't mind that aspect. Overall, I was very pleased with the components.

In conclusion, I must reiterate: I wish AP would learn to edit and proofread their products. When a game takes 12+ hours to play, I don't want to be inventing my own house rules and create a new host of game balance problems in the process. I think there is a good game in here somewhere. But with all the vaguerities, typos, broken scenarios, and a complete and lack of any errata whatsoever, this one will probably spend a lot of time on the shelf. It's a shame. Still, for those willing to dig deep and locate the gems in the rough, there is probably some gaming goodness here. Just make sure you're using the latest PG series rules. There is still no errata for Guadalcanal as of the time of this posting.

My ratings:

OVERALL: 6 / 10

COMPLEXITY: about a 4.5 / 10

PROS: Nice maps, good system, some of the scenarios are interesting.

CONS: broken or unbalanced scenarios, limited maneuver and command/control due to the terrain may turn off some gamers.

OVERALL: If you can't get enough PG, or if you have a real interest in this theater of WWII, you'll probably find something to like here. If you're new to the PG system, there are better places to start.

 
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Azog
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Although I am a self-admitted fanboy of PG, I feel compelled to comment here;

Almost every problem that someone might incur with the PG scenarios (which are the source of the biggest complaints for PG) come from lack of balance in the scenarios, or some other detail which renders, as this reviewer has done, the scenario to be broken.

And almost every time, the solution comes from one of two places.

1) You might be forgetting or misunderstanding a rule...
2) The scenarios are written more for historical accuracy (believe it or not), and less for play balance...

The lack of balance (in favor of attempting historical authenticity) turns a lot of people off, but the sad truth is that -most- battles in WW2 weren't balanced affairs, and it took cunning tactics to turn the tides.

Even with that said, the scenarios are still relatively balanced, but it often requires adaptive thinking, or at the very least, a re-thinking of the tactics that one uses. There are very few generalized tactics in PG; amost every scenario requires the armchair commander to study the terrain, the forces given to him, and the time that he has to work in, for him to be successful.

On to specific examples; I have played games of PG where there wasn't a single step loss before well into the battle. For you to have a step loss in the first turn of the battle seems a little odd to me. The game makes it difficult to totally eliminate a unit, but makes it easier to force morale checks.

My suggestion is to look at what you are doing, and how you are doing it, and maybe reconsider that you might be doing it wrong.

 
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Ethan McKinney
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Azog wrote:

The scenarios are written more for historical accuracy (believe it or not), and less for play balance...

The lack of balance (in favor of attempting historical authenticity) turns a lot of people off, but the sad truth is that -most- battles in WW2 weren't balanced affairs, and it took cunning tactics to turn the tides.

That's fine, but the scenarios should note that they're unbalanced. There's no quicker way to turn off new players than to have them sit down and play Scenario 1 (since it's the first in the book), only to have a disaster. You only get one chance to make a first impression!

Also, a lot of people play games for the game, so it would be nice to warn them which scenarios to avoid.

Incidentally, the first TCS game (Bloody 110) rated each of its scenarios for balance with a fairly detailed rating system.
 
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Mark Mokszycki
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David- in the beach invasion scenario I mention in my review, the U.S. raiders start ashore in their 3 landing hexes. Two of these hexes are open beach. They are taking punishing fire from Japanese units in the adjacent jungle, who are also on higher ground.

The U.S. units have two choices- assault (up the hill, into jungle) or move by shuffling off to the side. In the latter case, they take opp fire at a range of 1 hex. Either choice is deadly. If I'm misinterpreting a rule here, I'd love to know what it is. If there is some correct choice I could be making as to their best course of action, I'd love to know that too.

On the historical accuracy vs. gameplay argument: I've engaged in this discussion many times, both here and on CSW. I personally see no reason whatsoever that a game can't be BOTH historically accurate, and balanced in terms of victory conditions. One side or the other might be grossly understregth compared to the competition, but victory for that side can still be determined *relatively*, by doing better than that side did historically.

I believe that scenario #1 in PG Gaudalacanal has taken this approach, and I commend the authors for this choice. The U.S. must eliminate all Japanese on the island to win, but they cannot win themselves if they take more than 2 step losses. I like the approach very much. I just think they needed to take it one step further and tweak either the setup or the victory conditions so that the U.S. has half a chance. Maybe allow the U.S. to lose 3 or 4 steps, for example.

I suspect that the setup is the main problem. Historically, the U.S. came ashore without a single casualty. Now that's simply not going to happen if the Japanese are allowed to setup in the jungle on high ground adjacent to the landing beaches. So the Japanese setup is probably not historical, yet the scenario is asking the U.S. to do as well as they did historically. As I already noted in the review, some of the setup and victory hexes are faulty (the Japanese may start in the same hexes as the U.S., and some Japanese infantry start in the ocean with no sort of ships or landing craft!). Because of this, I'm inclined to believe that allowing the Japanese to setup by the landing beaches is probably either an oversight or typo.
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