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Sandy Petersen
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Let’s Play Panzerblitz

We are now traveling back in time. Not to 1944, as any rational person might expect, given the topic, but to 1970. Sandy Petersen is 15 years old. He has been playing wargames since he was 12. There is no game store for hundreds of miles, though occasionally one of the local toy stores mistakenly stocks something by Avalon Hill. He doesn’t know of ANY wargames besides Avalon Hill’s.

He loved Gettysburg, Blitzkrieg, and Midway, tolerated Anzio, Guadalcanal, and Battle of the Bulge. Tried really hard to like 1914 but no dice (even made a east front variant of the latter). Sandy Petersen cracks open his latest game from The Hill and in the brochure there is an ad for something called Panzerblitz. Tactical battles? What are those? “Geomorphic” boards? Tanks? Infantry? I didn’t know ANYTHING about the Russian front except a lot of Germans didn’t come back. This sounded … incredibly interesting. Ordered the game. “Please wait 4-6 weeks for shipping”. And in those days, it really was 4-6 weeks.

A month later, mom says, “Sandy you got a package.”

Oh beloved brown paper wrapper I know what you conceal. “Mom! I’m feeling really sick, I don’t think I can go to school today.”

“Oh poor baby, you stay home.”

The rest of the day is spent investigating, gloating, and glorying in Panzerblitz. Wow, it changed my gaming paradigm forever. Generic maps? “scenarios” – never heard of those before. Each game was a single battle in the old days. Ranged weapons? I remember ranged artillery in Guadalcanal, but that was nothing like this – everything has a range. Special rules for Close Assault (the mind spins when I realize all the best moments in every war movie I’ve loved was probably a Close Assault in game terms). Overruns, making tanks all-powerful.

And look at the neat gadgets! With pictures of tanks. I was in heaven for weeks. And unlike, say 1914 (which I also anticipated eagerly), Panzerblitz was a riot to play. My friends and I were stuck on it for months.

What is Panzerblitz? It may not be the first tactical wargame, but it was the first successful one. It introduced tens of thousands of wargamers to the concepts of line of sight, range calculations, and even gave lip service to combined-arms combat. It is probably the second-most important game to me, Sandy Petersen, in terms of what I learned. (The first was my first wargame, Gettysburg 1964).

Why Panzerblitz Rules
1) Leaving aside its historic importance, it is still a pretty fun little game. The scenarios are generally well-balanced, and the rules are not so obnoxious that it takes years to learn.

2) The little pictures of tanks sent the panzer-geek in me into paroxysms of well … not orgasmic, but at least ecstatic pleasure.

3) It opened my mind by listing ToE and organizations for a huge variety of Soviet and German units.

4) Moves fast and you have just enough options to try out lots of stuff from the quick overrun to the carefully-planned close assault, to the artillery barrage, hoping to disrupt the baddies enough to make their position untenable. But (and this is important) there are not so many options that you suffer from paralysis, or from surprise when your enemy makes a weird move.

5) Attractive board and pieces (always a consideration with me)

6) The two sides fought differently. Usually the Germans rely on mighty artillery and supertanks blasting the bad guys from a distance, siting themselves on hilltops and scanning the countryside for commies. The Russians, with powerful infantry and fast-but-weak tanks use close assaults and overruns from cover, trying to stay out of sight until the big attack.

Why Panzerblitz Drools
1) It’s highly inaccurate. For one thing, in East Front accounts, it’s not the Germans who had the mighty artillery. Quite the reverse. Also, the game does not really support combined-arms tactics at all. You’re pretty much way better off just having a force of all tanks and ignoring the infantry, in game terms.

2) Not enough pieces to construct those ToEs.

3) I ran out of scenarios pretty quick (there are only 12). Then what? I did not have the ability to make my own back in the day.

4) Preaches the propaganda of German superiority which may have been true in the early war but by 1944-45 is obsolete. The background material makes completely false statements such as "The Russians were never able to breach a German line with its artillery intact." This is not really Dunnigan’s fault. Unbiased Russian Front accounts were nearly impossible to get back in 1970, and even the US Army was fooled.

5) Only really fit to cover 1944-45. Even 1943 is a little early for the counter mix as is obvious from the Kursk scenario, where you have to repurpose t-34/85s as t-34cs.

Summary
Unlike many historically important games, it’s actually pretty fun. Just don’t worry about the accuracy. Sadly, when they tried to improve on the accuracy with Panzer Leader, the game took a nose dive in fun. Then they did the abominable Arab-Israeli game and wow that was terrible. Not fun at all.

Are there better games today? You bet. But I never felt impelled to pretend to be sick so I could stay home and play with them.
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Brian Train
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Nice story!

But what did you play when you were three?
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Lewis Goldberg
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ltmurnau wrote:
Nice story!

But what did you play when you were three?


I was wondering the same thing. A couple of my kids did "play with" wargame components when they were that age (I started the brainwashing early ), but can't say that they were really playing it.
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Leo Zappa
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Nice write-up, but as someone who was gaming when these were still in print, I can't say I agree regarding the closing comments on Panzer Leader and Arab-Israeli Wars. I thought both of those games only improved on the experience, and I have played PanzerBlitz with opportunity fire rules ever since, which makes for a better game in my opinion. I've actually been playing PB lately and having a lot of fun with it. In addition to op fire rules (slightly modified from PL/AIW), I also use a variant on indirect artillery rules, as well as some rules to eliminate some of the gamey tactics surrounding wagons and trucks (e.g. spotting, prevention of overruns, etc.). Here's a pic from a game I just finished last week - the old warhorse is still getting played!



Long live PanzerBlitz!
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Seth Owen
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I don't play Panzerblitz too often these days, but when I do I also use the OF rules from Panzer Leader.

It's long been surpassed in the realism department, but it's still pretty fun.
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Gregory Wong
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I learned to identify tanks by those black silhouettes in PB. Because of advances in printing technology, game publishers now use colorful side views with camouflage renderings. But I actually prefer the old black silhouettes. The purpose of the camouflage paint schemes is to partially obscure the outline of the vehicle. Guess what? The well meaning publisher does exactly that when he shrinks the side views to fit on a 1/2" or 5/8" counter. These old eyes can't make out the outline as well anymore.
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Brian Train
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Ditto.
I bet those camouflage-painted tank counters sure look nice when they are blown up to 5 inches square on the graphic artist's computer screen, though, which is why this keeps happening.
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Richard Boyes
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I enjoyed The Arab Israeli Wars even more than Panzerblitz!

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Bill Eldard
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Sandy Petersen wrote:
Summary
Unlike many historically important games, it’s actually pretty fun. Just don’t worry about the accuracy. Sadly, when they tried to improve on the accuracy with Panzer Leader, the game took a nose dive in fun. Then they did the abominable Arab-Israeli game and wow that was terrible. Not fun at all.

Are there better games today? You bet. But I never felt impelled to pretend to be sick so I could stay home and play with them.


Yeah. I was 16 when Panzerblitz hit the street, and we were very excited about it. It didn't take long to discover its inherent flaws (the game became known as Panzer "Bush" thanks to one of the unrealisms), but the welcome improvements that arrived in Panzer Leader and Arab Israecome Wars made for a fun system.

There are better tactical WW2 systems since, but Panzerblitz was a major milestone in the wargaming hobby.
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Ron Shirtz
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Your experience with PanzerBlitz are similar to mine. I too was 15 when I discovered it at a local toy store. The awesome orange & black cover with that Jadgpanther, along with the description on back with several tank profiles was heady stuff for this WWII aficionado. Graphically it beat all hallow other wargames that used the traditional unit symbols on counters to denote divisions, battalions, etc. Whatever the PB lacked in depth & accuracy, it sure made up for it in style.

I spent all day in my room punching out the counters and geeking out over the tank stats. I learned real quick as the German player why Hummels and Wepse's are the best units (At least in game terms) for dumping a massive amount ordinance on time and on target. It's sequel, Panzer Leader was a disappointment. The mechanics were better, but somehow it lacked the same flavor and energy.





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alex w
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Sorry. I don't quite agree with your review's statement that PB is better than AIW.

Felt that AIW is much more enjoyable.
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Tom T
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PanzerBlitz first appeared in S & T magazine. It was just one scenario, but man, what a sensation. It was so different. Units had ranges.

And I repectfully beg to differ. It did provide some lessons in the use of combined arms. You would disrupt the defender with your artillery, and then finish it off with an overrun, Or, you would back up your armor and AT guns with infantry to prevent an overrun.
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Dan Edelen
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When I young, I played children's games. Then PanzerBlitz arrived, and I put away childish things.

I remember that new PanzerBlitz rush too. Ironically, I math traded my original copy just a couple months ago after holding onto it for decades. While I don't play wargames anymore, PanzerBlitz will always be the game that made me a board gaming man.
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Robert Carroll
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Thanks for the review/reminiscence. I too had a similar experience, when, at age 14, a friend introduced me to PanzerBlitz. It was my first "real" wargame (not counting Risk) and opened a whole new world of gaming. I immediately went out and purchased Panzer Leader--MY first wargame. Consistent with some comments above, I find Panzer Leader more realistic; however, PanzerBlitz more playable. Thanks again--for the memories.
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Sandy Petersen
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Oops. I actually started playing WHEN I was 12 years old. Not FOR 12 years. When I was 8 I did have a copy of my Dad's Gettysburg game with no rules though, so I just toyed with the counters and the map.

Well, I am not surprised some people like Panzer Leader and (gag) Arab-Israeli Wars better. But for me the fun was gone post Panzerblitz. I guess Panzer Leader added just one rule too many. And Arab-Israeli Wars added a bunch.

You have to understand that I was super-interested in Panzer Leader at the time, because the obvious problem with Panzerblitz is no Americans. Despite this natural attraction, it didn't quite make it for me. I'd rather play Blitzkrieg.

And yes I guess there is a teensy little bit of combined arms in Panzerblitz. But not much.
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troy martin
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I have a nice copy for sale with the counter tray and the Avalon Hill Wargamer review rag.
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Byron Henderson
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>Well, I am not surprised some people like Panzer Leader and (gag) Arab-Israeli Wars better. But for me the fun was gone post Panzerblitz. I guess Panzer Leader added just one rule too many. And Arab-Israeli Wars added a bunch.

Agreed. Panzer Leader added rules for realism that really aren't all that realistic (OpFire being one of them; it is far too dangerous in PL) or fun. Panzerblitz is like Kelly's Heroes--enough realism to get by and a TON of fun! AIW, while it was even more realistic, is simply far less fun.

There are "bits and pieces" that you can add to Panzerblitz such as Morale and perhaps a limited form of Opfire (if you can get players to agree to them) that will still fit in and be fun but the original game is easily the best IMHO.

Nice write-up!
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alex w
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Don't get me wrong, I like PB and PL too. It's just the added rules in AIW that makes it less gamey and more realistic for my taste.

The planes and choppers added to the whole feel too.
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Keith Plymale
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Nice write up. I still find this old game rather interesting.
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roger black
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We're still supposed to be able to see the counter symbols ?
I bought a 4x vision dome, but of course I have to be able to see it in order to find it in order to use it.
What a box cover. Take it to a cafe in a University town & see what happens. ...

-"Interesting, is that a co-operative game?"

--"Not really, one side plays Hitler & the others side plays Stalin."

-"!"
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Ron Shirtz
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One other quibble not mentioned about PB I have is the 81mm mortar units. In game terms, they are the most useless of all units. Yet the humblest mortar tube by all historical accounts caused even the hardest grunt to stop in his tracks and hit the ground. Seems to me they should have a greater chance to disperse any infantry unit they fire on.
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Keith Plymale
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There have been optional rules written in recent years to allow the 2 and 3 strength mortars and infantry guns support CAT attacks. That give more tactical options and brings these weapons more back into there historical use at the unit/time/ground scale of the games IMHO.
 
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