PANZER LEADER is a tactical simulation of armored warfare on the Western Front, 1944-45. The original PANZERBLITZ Game System, upon which this game is based, was created by SPI’s James F. Dunnigan in 1970. PANZER LEADER is the product of a joint design effort by Dave Clark, Nick Smith, and Randall C. Reed. The game was published by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) in 1974. PANZER LEADER, it should be noted, received a minor update (changes to several of the Scenario Cards) in 1975.


The German Offensive, code-named ‘Wacht am Rhein’, opened at 0530 hours on Saturday, 16 December 1944, with a massive artillery bombardment along a thinly-held, eighty-mile section of the American front that wove its way through the forested region of France and Belgium known as the Ardennes. The main armored weight of the German offensive — spearheaded by Waffen-SS Obersturmbannführer Sepp Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Armee — was directed against the northern section of the American line near the Belgian villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath and Elsenborn. The capture of the Elsenborn Ridge — a four-mile long stretch of high ground near the northern shoulder of the German attack— was crucial to the 6th Panzer Armee’s offensive timetable because its position overlooked the roads to the north and west. These roads had to be cleared quickly; they were the best and shortest routes for an armored drive west towards the Meuse River.

The initial German moves against the area around the Elsenborn Ridge were conducted by infantry units from the 277th Volksgrenadier Division. At first, the Volksgrenadiers made good progress against the stunned Americans, but their attack soon stalled in the face of stiffening resistance from the soldiers of the US 99th Infantry Division, and heavy and accurate American artillery fire. By nightfall on the 16th, it was clear to the Germans that a greater effort would have to be made against the determined Elsenborn defenders. Despite the difficulty of the ground east of the ridge, the German commanders realized that panzers would have to be thrown into the battle.

During the night of 16 December 1944, the commander of the German Ist Panzer Korps, General Hermann Priess, ordered SS Obersturmbannführer Hugo Krass to prepare his 12th SS Panzer Division (the Hitler Youth Division) for an assault at first light on the dug-in American forces defending to his front. Elsenborn Ridge had to be captured, and quickly. As planned, the German operation began during the early morning of the 17th with preliminary attacks by elements from the 12th SS Panzer against the forward positions still held by the US 99th Infantry. By late morning, survivors from the 99th, now reinforced by elements of the US 2nd Infantry Division, had been driven back into the twin villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath. The American fall-back was orderly; largely because it received crucial covering support from the gallant men of the US 741st Tank Battalion who succeeded in preventing the panzers from overrunning the retreating American infantry, but at a heavy cost in men and tanks. This action showed, yet again, that the thinner-skinned, out-gunned American Shermans were no match for the German Panthers. The American retreat, however, did not bring a pause in the action. Instead, the tanks and panzergrenadiers of the 12th SS advanced and rapidly redirected their attacks against the GI’s in the ‘twin villages’; but, just like the Volksgrenadiers on the previous day, the soldiers of the Waffen-SS could not dislodge the Americans from their defensive positions amongst the ruins of the pair of now-shattered Belgian towns. Finally, at around midnight, the fighting sputtered out. However, both sides knew that the fight was certain to be renewed on the 18th; it was now clear that, with time rapidly running out for the Germans, the tipping point of the Battle for Elsenborn Ridge was almost certain to occur within the next few days.


PANZER LEADER is a tactical (platoon/battery) level game of armored warfare on the Western Front, 1944-45. One player commands the German forces and the other controls the Allies. The game is played in game turns, and each turn is further divided into two player turns: a German and an Allied turn. During each player turn, the phasing (acting) player performs the following game operations in exactly this order: Combat Phase (friendly Minefield attacks are also conducted); Movement Phase (during this phase, Overrun attacks may be conducted); and the Close Assault Phase. Once this series of player operations is completed, the defending player becomes the phasing player, and the sequence is repeated. At the conclusion of the second player’s turn, the current game turn ends and the turn marker is advanced one space on the Turn Record Track. Because of the simulation scale of the game, units do not possess zones of control (ZOC’s), and there are no supply rules. In addition, unlike a number of other games dealing with tactical armored warfare during this historical period — such as, SPI’s PANZER ’44, for example — there are no morale or command and control rules in PANZER LEADER. Stacking limits are identical for the two sides: four units per hex. All combat units display four numerical values on their counters: fire strength; fire range; defense strength; and movement allowance.

The four-color, geomorphic, hard-backed game maps are admittedly a little bland by today’s standards, but terrain features are clear and map ambiguities are almost nonexistent. This last feature is particularly important in a tactical game like PANZER LEADER. In addition, although there are four map boards included with the game, the ‘beach’ map board will only be used in the D-Day Scenarios. Not surprisingly, terrain types are more varied than in PANZERBLITZ, but are still limited to clear, town, roads, woods, swamp, slope, hilltop, slope/woods, cliff, stream, beach, and sea hexes. Because PANZER LEADER is a ‘fire’ oriented game system, blocking terrain, concealing terrain, elevation, and line of sight are critical factors in determining which units may fire and be fired on in any given combat phase. All ground combat is resolved using a traditional ‘odds differential’ Combat Results Table (CRT). Anti-aircraft attacks, on the other hand, are resolved based on the flak strength of the attacking unit or units. Moreover, combat is not restricted to fire attacks, alone. During a typical player turn, four different attacks against an enemy unit may occur: minefield attack; fire attack; overrun attack; and close assault. Destroyed armored units are replaced by a wreck counter, and, upon placement, stacking in the ‘wreck hex’ is reduced by one unit for both players.

PANZER LEADER is played using a multi-scenario or “mini-game” format. Eight back-printed Scenario Cards are included with the game; these cards provide the specific orders of battle, set-ups, and victory conditions for twenty different West Front battlefield situations. Each scenario typically attempts to reproduce a different, but common type of engagement between German and Allied forces — from the landings at Normandy to the final battles for Germany — during the period covered by the game, 1944-45.

PANZER LEADER also offers ‘optional’ rules covering Infantry Quick-Time Speed, Opportunity Fire, Naval Support Fire, and Panzerblitz Assaults. In addition, the designer has included several ‘experimental’ rules for those players who want to increase historical realism at the cost of diminished playability. These ‘experimental’ rules include: Functional Mobility for Turreted AFV’S; Artillery Field of Fire Limitations; and Smoke Shell Concentrations.


PANZER LEADER has now been around for almost thirty-six years; yet it continues to be my favorite World War II tactical game. I still play it just about every chance I get, and in fact, I completed a PBeM series of PANZER LEADER matches just a little over a year ago. For me, at least, the game never gets stale. I suppose this is because the scope and tempo of the basic game system captures precisely those elements that I personally find interesting about tactical-level armored engagements; and it does so without bogging the game down with a lot of record-keeping, game charts, or die-rolling. Certainly, there are better simulations of armored engagements at the tactical level currently available — James Day’s ARMOR or Mark Herman's study of modern armored combat, MECHWAR 2 (1979), for instance, come immediately to mind — but these other titles, in my opinion, simply don’t match PANZER LEADER either for ease-of-play or for excitement. Moreover, these more detailed simulations often take on some of the worst characteristics of armored miniatures. A good example of this ‘miniatures effect’ carried to extremes can be seen in Harold Hock’s game of tactical armored warfare in North Africa, TOBRUK. Hock’s detailed and carefully-researched design appeared in 1975, a year after PANZER LEADER; I played it a few times and then never looked at the game again. And I was not alone: most of my friends had exactly the same reaction to the game as I did. Sometimes, I guess, there really is such a thing as putting too much research into a game design.

The basic game system of PANZER LEADER, of course, is based on Dunnigan’s 1970 East Front design, PANZERBLITZ. In my opinion, however, PANZER LEADER, viewed purely as a game, is far superior to the Dunnigan original in a number of important ways. For one thing, Dunnigan’s pro-German biases — so clearly evident in the game mechanics of PANZERBLITZ — have been pretty much eliminated by the Avalon Hill design team of Clark, Smith, and Reed. Thus, a player, if he is so inclined, can actually convert a PANZER LEADER Scenario into a somewhat playable SQUAD LEADER Situation. I challenge anyone to try the same thing with PANZERBLITZ and then see if they can find an opponent gullible enough to play the Germans in the SQUAD LEADER conversion. The second big improvement in the original game system is the elimination of the ‘PANZERBUSH’ effect through the introduction of an optional set of rules for Opportunity Fire. And yet other nice addition to the PANZER LEADER game system is the substitution of pre-plotted (spotted) Indirect Fire for the instantaneous and almost magical version used in PANZERBLITZ. Admittedly, the artillery rules in PANZER LEADER are still not perfect — stacking units in a hex dilutes the effects of artillery barrages, oddly enough — but they are still much more reasonable than in their East Front incarnation. The other nice improvement over PANZERBLITZ, is the addition of airpower (even if somewhat abstracted) into the game mix. If nothing else, the Germans at last have something to do with all those flak units that repeatedly show up in their Scenario ‘Orders of Battle’.

For those in the hobby who bore easily: another excellent feature of PANZER LEADER — particularly for players who really like to experiment with their favorite games — is that it has been the inspiration for a number of innovative game variants and expansions. For example, new rules, scenarios, and unmounted counters were published in the General, Vol. 15, No. 2, for Ramiro Cruz’ interesting variant on the first battle for France, PANZER LEADER 1940; rules and scenarios for paratroops were added by Oscar Oates in the General, Vol. 20, No. 2, in PARA-LEADER; and finally, Alan Arnold’s nicely-realized, after-market PANZER LEADER expansion, PANZER LEADER — For King and Country was published in 2002, complete with additional rules, scenarios, and improved (corrected) British counters.

Sadly, PANZER LEADER, like PANZERBLITZ, has gradually lost a number of its once loyal fans as the years have passed; although not, as one might expect, to games like SPI’s PANZER ’44 (1975) or Yaquinto Games’ ARMOR (1980). Instead, quite a few of the armored enthusiasts I know, have, over time, transitioned to Avalanche Press' excellent PANZER GRENADIER series of games. And I completely understand their reasoning: it is a richly-textured and varied collection of titles. Nonetheless, speaking as someone who continues to enjoy the fast-moving (if less detailed) excitement of the older game, this development is still disappointing; even if it probably was inevitable. Interestingly, based on what I have seen within my own circle of gaming friends, more than a few of the players who abandoned PANZER LEADER and its armored tactical counterparts, seem to have migrated first to SQUAD LEADER and then continued on to immerse themselves in the simpler version’s vastly more complicated, mutant off-spring, ADVANCED SQUAD LEADER. One can hardly blame them, I suppose. For many really dedicated tactical players, I suspect that the denser, more richly-textured SL and ASL Game Systems are simply irresistible; they seem to be both a lot more realistic as simulations, and much more challenging as games. I confess that I even tried SQUAD LEADER, myself, many years ago; but something about the game system just didn’t work for me. Therefore, I am — at least for the foreseeable future — planning to stick with PANZER LEADER. It may be a little dated and unrealistic by today’s design standards, but it offers enough detail to suit me. Besides, I can carry my copy of PANZER LEADER under one arm whenever I want to take the game with me; and, unlike my ASL brethren, I am not obliged to lug along a steamer trunk full of gaming paraphernalia every time I head out to meet an opponent, just to be sure that I have everything that I could possibly need for the upcoming match.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 6 minutes per game turn
  • Map Scale: 250 meters per hex
  • Unit Size: platoon/battery
  • Unit Types: various German and Allied (American, British, and Canadian) Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs), self-propelled artillery (SPA), Nebelwerfer (rocket launcher), anti-tank, light flak, howitzer, mortar, engineer, scout (Allied), rifle, submachinegun (German), machine gun (Allied), armored infantry (Allied), security (German), wagon (German), truck, Bren carrier (Allied), halftrack, tank bridge (Allied), truck bridge (Allied), aircraft (Allied), fortification, mine, block, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average/above average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 1½-2 + hours (depending on scenario)

Game Components:

  • Four 8” x 22” geomorphic hexagonal grid Map Boards
  • 384 ⅝” cardboard Counters
  • One 8” x 11¼” back-printed combined Game Chart (with Combat Results Table, Anti-Aircraft Table, Situation Map, and Program Identity Code System (PICS) Diagram incorporated)
  • Eight 8” x 11” back-printed Scenario Instruction Cards (with Terrain Effects Chart, Target Elevation Table, and Weapons Effectiveness Chart)
  • One six-sided Die
  • One 5½” x 8½” Avalon Hill Game & Parts Catalogue
  • One 5½” x 6½” Customer Response Card
  • One 8½” x 11½” x 2” bookcase style cardboard Game Box

Recommended Reading

For more historical background on WWII, see my Book Review blog post of this title by Charles MacDonald:


  • Would argue that PANZER LEADER is--even still--the most successful platoon-level ground tactical game ever published. This was a most accurate review and well justifies why the game is your favorite and deserves to be played even after 36 years. Certainly Tom Cundiff (who makes all those gorgeous variant counters for PANZER LEADER/ARAB ISRAELI WARS in Old Soldiers magazine) would seem to agree.

    Whle I'm an ASL die-hard, I would NOT characterize that system as more realistic. It has a more convincing illusion of realism, but make no mistake, illusion is what it is. For the scale, PANZER LEADER would seem to me to be more realistic, especially if played double-blind with an umpire. The decisions players make as battalion/regimental/brigade commanders in the game are more appropriate than the company and battalion commanders in ASL make (e.g., deciding precisely when to fire a single tank at a single target--and what ammo to use). Of course, that appeals to the role playing/narrative aspect of the game, generating many unforgettable stories that get told and retold (ASL players often sound like D&D/AD&D players when they launch into those tales). In PANZER LEADER, while Battalion/Regimental/Brigade-level players decide how to move and shoot platoons, the minutae of combat is generally abstracted appropriately.

    Others have tried to transcend PANZER LEADER; witness West End's WESTERN FRONT TANK LEADER, Avalanche Press's PanzerGrenadier series, notably BEYOND NORMANDY, BATTLE OF THE BULGE, and ELSENBORN RIDGE, MMP's PANZERBLITZ: HILL OF DEATH and the CARENTAN expansion, and now (as of this writing), Lock 'N Load's WHITE STAR RISING. None so far have generated the kind of following PANZERLEADER did (and, arguably, still does). MMP's Brian Youse is talking about doing another PANZER LEADER style game using the PANZERBLITZ: HILL OF DEATH system (itself derived and modified from PANZER LEADER)--time will tell if it supplants this "grand-daddy" tactical wargame.

  • Greetings Eric:

    Much thanks for your insightful comments; they never fail to be worth reading and considering.

    What can I say? I just never get tired of this game. I even like the relatively unbalanced scenarios like "Celles" and "Elsenborn Ridge!"
    Unfortunately, much as I like PANZER LEADER, however, I could never summon up the same degree of enthusiasm for ARAB-ISRAELI WARS; I have no idea why.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • My friend and I have recently begun playing this game. What do you think is the best way to learn to play it?

  • Greetings Tess:

    Thank you for visiting.

    Without doubt, the easiest way to learn the PANZER LEADER game system -- assuming, of course, that you and your friend are not already familiar with PANZERBLITZ -- is to start with the introductory scenarios (those with little or no armor) and gradually work your way up to the bigger, more complex mini-games. The invasion scenarios, for the most part, are also interesting and a good vehicle for learning the "Indirect Fire" artillery rules.

    All things considered, I think that you and your friend will find that learning the game system (because much of it is both logical and intuitively reasonable) is really pretty painless.

    In any case, good luck with this great old game and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • The World War III variants are really good to. With the World War II scenarios you can create when you get the Italians, Japanese, Hungarians and extras for both the Allies and Axis.


  • Greetings Chuck:

    Yes, as I and Eric Walters noted above, there have been a great many worthwhile variants (scenarios, counters, maps, etc.) created in the years since 'PANZER LEADER' first saw print; something that says something, both about the ability of the basic game's basic platform to simulate new combat situations, and the long term staying power of its loyal fans.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Hi,
    always a pleasure to read your articles on games as I research something I remember from the past ...
    I was not a big player of panzerblitz, and never played panzerleader. You make the comment in your article that,

    "Dunnigan’s pro-German biases — so clearly evident in the game mechanics of PANZERBLITZ — have been pretty much eliminated ..."

    I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit more on this point?

    Thanks for an excellent site.

  • Greetings Tofu:

    When it comes to Dunnigan's pro-German biases, they are easily discernable in a wide cross-section of his early game designs.

    In the case, for instance, of PANZERBLITZ -- the example, you'll recall, that I cited in this piece -- the German units are mostly platoons while the Soviet units are mainly companies. Needless-to-say, this is not a trivial difference either in terms of manpower or in numbers of available AFVs. Hence my challenge to the truly masochistic PANZERBLITZ player for him to convert any of the PANZERBLITZ Scenarios into SQUAD LEADER Scenarios: what he will find is that the same Germans that tend to do very well in PANZERBLITZ will find themselves utterly swamped in the SQUAD LEADER version of the same scenario.

    As another example of Jimmy's fondness for the Germans , consider the disparity in combat power between the opposing infantry divisions in THE WAR IN THE EAST. In this game, the German divisions are 6-5s, while the Russian divisions are all 1-4s. Granted, the German infantry divisions at the time of the invasion were consistently superior in terms of training, numbers, leadership and doctrine; however, that advantage, important as it was, did not translate into a 6 to 1 German advantage on the battlefield. Yes, the Russian units tended to be poorly served by their leaders, but the examples of tenacious Soviet defensive fights in the face of determined German assaults -- even in 1941 -- are too numerous to be discounted.

    I could go on and list a whole collection of other games, but let me bring things to a close with just one more title: FRANCE 1940. If there was ever a more egregious example of Dunnigan's pro-German design bias, I haven't seen it. The astonishing thing about this game is that: not only can the Germans just about not lose; but they don't really even need their panzers to win.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • I was going through my games and came across my Panzer Leader game. A search of the internet pulled up this website. Do you still play? I am in the process of creating Panzer Leader tokens for the counters, to be used in Roll20, so I can experiment with online play.

  • Greetings Anon:

    While I still own the game, I have not played it in probably four or five years. There is certainly a good chance that I will revisit this great old game at some point in the future, but at present, my time is pretty much all taken up by several PBeM "classics" matches (including a Round 4 match in the currently running PBeM WATERLOO Tournament).

    Regarding your orignal question: If you are keen to find a PANZERLEADER opponent in the near term, I suggest that you visit both the Boardgamegeek.com and Consimworld websites. Both of these fine gaming sites have game forums devoted to specific titles, so I am sure that if you make your wishes known, you will quickly find a like-minded opponent.

    In the meantime, thanks for visiting and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Joe, I read with interest your Nov 28, 2015 comment about the pro-German bias of PB and France 1940. I have wondered about the unit scale difference of the Soviets and Germans (company vs platoon). Beyond the issue you mentioned, is there any justification to depict the two sides that way in a simulation (besides reducing the number of counters needed) -- something in Soviet doctrine that a game shows best by a company mass for attacks ?

    I realize the Soviet Army was for most of the war less able than their German opponents, but part of the unit size discrepancy always smacked to me of recreating the claims of the German generals who asserted that overwhelming Soviet manpower consistently swamped them on the battlefield, but that German prowess could often master the situation.

    My interest in this is not simply curiosity. I am (slowly) working on a 20th-century platoon level tactical game, and I am trying to determine if there is any reason to not depict the Russians/Soviets at the same echelon as the other armies. As you point out, things can look rather different when the Soviets are at the same echelon (Squad Leader scenario vs PB scenario).

    Finally, I note the same approach is present in most of the NATO-Warsaw Pact games: Soviet divisions, NATO brigades, etc. A PC-based game system won't worry about counter availability, so no worries there. But is there something fundamental and doctrinal that I'm missing ?

    Thanks for your comments! Wonderful site, I hope you take to updating it again.


    B. Wilson

  • Greetings B. Wilson:

    Sorry to be a little tardy with my response, but I had other more pressing matters to attend to that prevented me from addressing some of your questions.

    In terms of the disparity between the unit sizes of German versus Russian formations in PANZERBLITZ I suspect that counter limitations may well have played a role in the game's design. Granted, there are technological reasons that imparted to the Germans a very real battlefield advantage (radios in all AFVs and not just in selected command vehicles; better optics; superior combined-arms doctrine; and, perhaps most importantly, the Wehrmacht enjoyed a generally better-trained and more skilful pool of officers and NCOs which - in spite of ongoing losses -- really persisted right up to the end of the war).

    So far as your own design project is concerned: I suggest that you look at MechWar II, THE NEXT WAR, THE OCTOBER WAR, MBT and THE ARAB-ISRAELI WARS for ideas that might assist you with your own project.

    Good Luck and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Where can I buy For King and Country? Where is your home state? I would be happy to play Panzer Leader with you.

  • Greetings Captain Nolan:

    Regarding your inquiry: I suggest that you visit the PANZER LEADER forums at both boardgamegeek.com and grognard.com and make your interest known to the other visitors to these sites. There are also a number of wargame resale companies around (the specific company names will show up at boardgamegeek and on eBay), so you might check with them as well. I will note that when I did a quick check myself at such sites as "coolstuffinc.com", I could not find any copies of this excellent PANZER LEADER variant currently for sale.

    Regarding our getting together to play PANZER LEADER, my wife and I reside in Phoenix, AZ; unfortunately, I must temporarily decline your kind offer. The combination of my advancing age, along with the extensive house renovations currently underway here make such a get together unfeasible.

    Thanks again for visiting and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Greetings Again Captain Nolan:

    I neglected to mention the Avalon Hill forum at consimworld.com. It is possible that one of the regular visitors to that forum might be able to point you to an "after market" game publisher like Deer Valley Games -- which currently offers variant kits, although nothing for PANZER LEADER -- or to a player who may have the "For King and Country" variant available for sale or trade.

    Good Luck and

    Best Regards, Joe

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