THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART V

S&T Issues #’s 69, 71, 72, 73 & 75


INTRODUCTION

The following list represents the fifth installment in my ongoing series of relatively short (for me, at least) descriptions of S&T magazine games published during what is sometimes referred to as the “Golden Age” of SPI: the 1970s and 80s. These are S&T insert games that did not make it — sometimes for painfully obvious reasons — onto my “TOP 20 FAVORITES LIST”. Some of the early S&T titles featured in this post were well-received when they first appeared, either as simulations or as games, some were not. In one case, that of Sterling S. Hart’s ARMADA, the game, as originally published, proved to be utterly unplayable; hence, in order to quiet the complaints of disgruntled customers, SPI was obliged to extensively rework and then issue a major rewrite of the game’s rules. In another instance, that of NAPOLEON’S ART OF WAR, the ruling “Junta” at SPI — perhaps in an attempt to atone for the ARMADA debacle — broke with its usual custom of publishing one simulation per magazine and included two completely different Napoleonic battle games, each the work of a different designer, in the same issue: Omar DeWitt’s EYLAU and Bob Jervis’ DRESDEN. One unexpected characteristic of this latest collection of S&T games is that, although it includes the work of several well-known designers — David Isby and John Prados among them — there is not a single game in this particular batch of titles from the usually prolific James F. Dunnigan. That being said, all of the games in this collection, whether deservedly or not, have more or less faded into obscurity. Still, whether widely popular, moderately well thought of, or even generally reviled, I believe that all of these games are interesting at least from one standpoint: their place, however fleeting, in the history of game design and development. I hope that you, my fellow players and readers, agree with me.

FIVE MORE S&T PROFILES


21. Strategy & Tactics (S&T) #69, TANNENBERG,

included a game of the same name and, like the other magazines in this series of posts, S&T #69 (July/August 1978) dates back to the “Golden Age” of SPI. This particular issue featured the following articles:

  • Tannenberg and the Opening Battles in the East August-November 1914, by Richard Spence
  • Simulation: TANNENBERG: The Opening Guns, August 1914
  • The Next War: Modern Conflict in Europe, by Charles Kamps, Jr.
  • Outgoing Mail, by The Editors
  • Data Files 005, 006
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Briefings
  • KHARKOV Errata
  • Feedback, by Vox Populi, Vox Dei

S&T #69 Magazine Game: TANNENBERG: The Opening Guns, August 1914, designed by David C. Isby with graphics by Redmond A. Simonsen, is an operational-level simulation, based on the GREAT WAR IN THE EAST Game System, of the defeat and virtual annihilation of the Russian 2,sup>nd Army by the Germans in the first days of World War I. Interestingly, although Tannenberg — like the other campaigns in the east — tends to be largely ignored by students of military affairs in favor of the bloody battles on the Western Front, its outcome had enormous strategic significance for both Germany and Russia. At the very least, the unexpected and decisive defeat of the Russian invasion of East Prussia in August 1914 transformed the precarious German position in the east. After their crushing victory — which, it should be noted, really took place almost thirty miles from the town of Tannenberg: the name was actually assigned to the battle by its victors for historical and propaganda reasons — the Germans abandoned the concept of a static defense against the Russians and, instead, adopted a strategy of aggressive offensive action. The German Lodz-Warsaw Campaign, for example, would never have been possible if General Samsonov had not led his army to destruction at the hands of the Germans. Looking back now, it is difficult to guess what the ultimate impact on the War in the East would have been, had Max von Hoffman not conceived the German plan that ultimately led to the destruction of the Russians at Tannenberg.

TANNENBERG, or as a friend of mine once called it, “PANZERGRUPPE HOFFMAN”, is a very conventional design with a few unconventional “wrinkles” which, considering that this is a World War I game, allow for a surprising amount of fluid, mobile action. The game is played in game turns which represent three days of real time. Individual game turns are divided into a Russian followed by a German player turn; however in certain scenarios, the German player will move first, as the Russians are assumed to have already acted in the initial game turn. A four-color, hexagonal grid game map depicts the region in East Prussia (now part of Poland) where the main events of the battle occurred. The back-printed unit counters represent the historical combat units (brigades, divisions, and corps) that took part, or that could have participated in the actual campaign.

The basic mechanics of TANNENBERG, as is the case with the other titles in the GREAT WAR IN THE EAST series, are simple “Igo-Ugo” with each player moving and then attacking in turn. Movement is restricted to two types: regular ground movement and rail movement. The supply rules — although important from the standpoint of movement, combat, and attrition — are neither complicated nor particularly onerous. The real essence of the game system comes from the command and control (headquarters) and Tactical Competence Rating (TCR) rules. To move or attack normally, a unit must not only be in supply, it must also be within range of a friendly headquarters unit. Each headquarters unit — very much like Russian leaders in PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN — has both a command “span” (the range in hexes over which orders may be broadcast) and a command “capacity” (the number of unit stacking points that may be controlled in each game turn). Interestingly, while command from a headquarters, depending on the TCR value of a unit, might not always be necessary for movement, it is absolutely required for a unit to attack. The TCR rules are, in some ways, a natural compliment to the headquarters rules. Each unit in TANNENBERG has a TCR value of from 1 (the best) to 4 (the worst). These ratings are important because, not only do they affect a unit’s movement initiative, they also affect both its ability to traverse difficult terrain and its ability to retreat into or through enemy zones of control (more on this retreat effect, later). Returning to the issue of movement initiative, units that, for one reason or another, do not receive movement orders from a friendly headquarters, or cavalry units that are being attacked by enemy units may still be activated via a successful die roll. In these situations, if the die roll is greater than a combat unit’s TCR value, then the unit may move normally, or, in the case of “screening” cavalry, may withdraw before combat.

At its core, the combat system for TANNENBERG, like the rules for headquarters, is very reminiscent of PGG. Combat between adjacent enemy units is always voluntary; however, as noted earlier, a phasing unit MUST receive “orders” from a friendly headquarters to be able to attack. The game uses a PGG-style split-result, odds-differential combat results table (CRT), with combat results displayed as numerical values. In the case of the defender, losses may be taken either as steps, as retreat hexes, or as some combination of both. However — this being a game about World War I — the attacker may never retreat, but, instead, must always extract any required combat losses from his assaulting forces as casualties. Needless-to-say, with this type of combat system, it is very difficult for the attacker to inflict battlefield casualties on any defender who can retreat as a result of combat. This all changes, however, if the defender can be surrounded prior to combat resolution, is not adjacent to any friendly-occupied flight hexes, AND has a TCR value of 2 or more. The defender’s TCR value is important in this instance because units with a TCR of 1 (think: Germans) may retreat through enemy ZOCs without penalty, while all other units (think: Russians) are subject to elimination.

Although TANNENBERG, viewed as a whole, works pretty well both as a simulation and as a game, two aspects of the game’s design are, at least in my opinion, somewhat disappointing. The first of these has to do with the graphic layout of the game charts and tables; the second has to do with the special Russian “idiocy” rules included as part of the Historical Campaign Game.

In the case of the game map, the playing area is actually nicely done, being both reasonably attractive to the eye and unambiguous; the problem is with the swarm of different game charts and tables that clutter a large part of the map sheet’s borders. Because these various charts and tables, depending on where they are positioned, are oriented to face in different directions, they can be extremely difficult for one or the other player to quickly check during regular play. This may not be an issue for some gamers, but I found it distracting enough that I finally cut one chart section away from the rest of the map sheet (something I virtually never do!), just so I could reposition it for ease of use.

My second criticism of TANNENBERG is a little more subjective. To help the Russian player march the 2nd army into disaster, the designer has included a set of special rules which severely constrain the actions of Generals Samsonov and Rennenkampf. From a simulation standpoint, David Isby’s decision in this regard makes a great deal of sense; from a purely gaming standpoint, on the other hand, it is a bit frustrating. Personally, I usually find “idiocy” rules — whether in FRANCE ’40, TURNING POINT: THE BATTLE OF STALINGRAD, DRIVE ON STALINGRAD, or the DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER — off-putting at best, and downright irksome, at worst. That being said, there are also certain games that, because of the peculiar circumstances that they model, just don’t work that well without the addition of a few rules of this kind; for example, ANTIETAM and BORODINO both turn into very different (and historically incomprehensible) simulations of their respective battles if the limitations imposed by the designer are discarded. TANNENBERG tends to fall somewhere in the middle; thus, while I personally disapprove of Isby’s reliance on “idiocy” rules in this case, their inclusion is not really detrimental enough to seriously damage the game. Besides, if the players choose to, they can always chuck the whole lot of “special” rules, and leave the Russian player free to make his own mistakes.

To provide players with a bit of replay value, TANNENBERG offers a Historical Campaign Game and, for those players who prefer to experiment, a Free Set-up Campaign Game which, interestingly enough, can be played by either two or three players (in the three-player game, by the way, the two Russian commanders may not coordinate their planning or even talk to each other during play). Moreover, for those who do not want to battle through the entire campaign, the game includes two shorter “snapshot” scenarios of different critical stages in the larger battle: The Battle of Tannenberg and the Second Masurian Lakes. In addition to the various scenarios, the game also offers a German “Hidden Units” option (in my opinion, a MUST when playing the Free Deployment Scenario) that makes the game even more exciting (or nerve-racking, if one is playing the Russians).

Victory, in TANNENBERG, is determined on the basis of victory points which are accrued through the control of geographical objectives and by the elimination of enemy combat strength. Given the historical outcome of the battle, General Samsonov can expect to have a very tough time of it in the Historical Campaign Game, and, although Russian prospects are — depending on whether the two-player or three-player version is chosen — somewhat improved in the Free-Deployment Game, the baked-in German TCR advantage, in concert with the Hun’s “Hidden Unit” option, can go a long way towards neutralizing the Russian numerical advantage. A complete copy of TANNENBERG includes the following game components:

  • One 22” x 23” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track, German West Front Reinforcement Chart, Terrain Effects Key, and German Hidden Unit Display)
  • 200 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” set of GREAT WAR IN THE EAST Standard Rules (stapled in the magazine)
  • • One 8 ½” x 11” set of TANNENBERG Exclusive Rules (these also come stapled the magazine)
  • One 9½” x 13¼” combined Victory Points and Scenarios Chart
  • One 8½” x 9½” combined Terrain Effects Chart and Combat Results Table


22. Strategy & Tactics (S&T) #71 CASSINO,

included a game of the same name. This issue of S&T dates back to the “Golden Years” of Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI). This was the period when James Dunnigan and Redmond Simonson were still running things at the most prolific game publisher of its day. Content-wise, this copy of S&T #71 (Nov/Dec 1978) featured the following articles:

  • The Battle for Cassino: Assaulting the Gustav Line, 1944, by John Prados
  • Simulation: THE BATTLE FOR CASSINO: Assaulting the Gustav Line, 1944, by John Prados and Redmond Simonsen
  • BATTLES FOR THE ARDENNES: May 1940 and December 1944, by Danny Parker
  • Outgoing Mail, The Editors
  • Data Files 010, 011, 012
  • Briefings
  • THE CRUSADES Errata
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Feedback, Vox Populi, Vox Dei

S&T #71 Magazine Game: THE BATTLE FOR CASSINO: Assaulting the Gustav Line, 1944, designed by John Prados with graphics by Redmond A. Simonsen, is a two-player tactical-level simulation of the third Allied attack on the German Gustav Line in March of 1944. The game focuses on the attempt by Freyberg’s New Zealand Corps (Operation Dickens) to eject the 1st Fallschirmj√§ger Division from the Italian town of Cassino and from their position in the mountaintop ruins on Abbey Hill, ruins of what had been, until it was destroyed by Allied bombers, a medieval religious site built over the tomb of St. Benedict. Not surprisingly given the terrain in the battle area, the German defenses at Cassino were extremely strong. At the point at which the game begins, the Allies had already tried and failed to drive the Germans out with two previous attacks on the Gustav Line (the First Battle of Monte Cassino in January, followed by Operation Avenger in February, 1944); nonetheless, this third attack, despite the previous bloody setbacks, had to be made: the Cassino position was simply too dangerous a threat to the Allied campaign in Italy to be bypassed. As long as the Germans occupied the high ground around Cassino, they could observe and direct artillery fire against all of the Allied positions exposed in the valley below.

The strangely unappealing, four-color hexagonal-grid CASSINO game map is a topographical representation — with varying elevations displayed in 50 meter increments using different map colors ala WELLINGTON’S VICTORY (1976) — of the terrain in and around the town of Cassino over which most of the historical action was fought. Each map hex is fifty meters from side to side. [Maybe I’m missing something, but there seem to be a number of very odd features depicted on Simonsen’s game map: several of the roads seem to be wrong; the buildings are both too generic (SNIPER! Anyone?) and scaled too large; and weirdest of all, the “north” marked on the map looks to be a full 90 degrees off — in reality, the due north shown by the map compass star is actually “northwest”!] The unit counters in the game are mainly companies and platoons, and represent the infantry, armor, engineer, and headquarters units that actually took part in the historical battle. Artillery and, in the case of the Allies, air power are represented in the game as abstract bombardment points. A single game turn is composed of two symmetrical (and interactive) player turns, and each player turn follows a set sequence of three basic action phases: the Preparation Fire Phase; the Movement Phase; and the Combat Phase. A single game turn is equal to six hours of real time, and each twenty-four hour period is composed of two day and two night game turns.

Combat in CASSINO falls into one of three categories: Opportunity (regular fire); Bombardment (artillery, air, or mortar); and Close Assault combat. Attacks, depending on their type, can generate enemy “Pins”, step-losses, retreats, and/or alterations to terrain (the creation of ruins).

As might be expected, in a tactical simulation like CASSINO, the nature of ranged fire — which can be either regular (small arms/tank) fire or mortar/artillery/air bombardment — makes both target observation and “line of sight” determination critical features in the game’s design. Oddly, however, in Prados’ view of this engagement, distance and elevation have little effect on fire effectiveness except at very short ranges. Fire attacks are resolved, depending on the type of mission being conducted, on one of two combat results tables (CRTs): the “Opportunity” fire table, or the “Bombardment” table. Opportunity fire — which, it should be noted, can be performed by both the phasing and non-phasing players — is usually conducted to “Pin” enemy units (this temporarily affects a phasing unit’s movement and also halves its combat strength). Not surprisingly, bombardment attacks are resolved during the prep-fire phase and have the potential to cause more enemy losses, but also carry with them the possibility of creating ruins (which increase the defensive value of the affected hex) or of inflicting “collateral damage" to units (friendly or enemy) in adjacent hexes.

To win the game, the Allied player must capture the Continental Hotel in Cassino without losing 72 or more steps (a virtual impossibility against a tenacious and skilled German player); alternatively, he can win a decisive victory if he can capture both the Continental Hotel and the Abbey on the mountaintop high above. When it comes to the fighting in the town, the Allies, because of their shorter supply lines, armored combat power, and big advantages in artillery/air bombardment points have the edge. When the battle moves up the mountain towards the Abbey however, the situations of the two sides are largely reversed: the Germans then have the shorter supply line; they also have excellent defensive advantages because of the higher elevation and because of the multiplier effect of the ruins of the Abbey, itself. In both cases, the key to capturing the enemy-occupied ground necessary for an Allied victory lies with successful “Close Assault” attacks. Unlike some tactical games, combat units in CASSINO have ZOCs and combat between adjacent enemy units is mandatory. This means that every assaulting unit must attack somebody, and every defending unit adjacent to an attacker must be attacked. It also means that surrounds can be devastating to the defender, so the two sides (but especially, the Germans) must maintain a cohesive line when it comes time for the enemy player to move. This can be a bit tricky for the Germans defending in and around the Continental Hotel because a successful Allied bombardment attack against a weak unit during the prep-fire phase could blow open a hole through which a swarm of Allied units can then pour during their movement phase. To add to the German’s headaches, the Allied player’s Gurkhas have the unique ability to slip rather handily through enemy ZOCs and get behind the German line during any night turn that a gap in the Axis defenses makes such a move possible.

THE BATTLE FOR CASSINO, because of its subject matter and scale, represents relatively new ground for John Prados. In spite of this fact, however, the overall design comes across as both tired and derivative. To be fair, Redmond Simonsen probably bears some of the blame for the mistakes on the game map, but the final responsibility for the map’s inaccuracies must still rest with the game’s designer. Putting aside the issue of the game’s graphics, there just doesn’t seem to be much about CASSINO that is, from a design perspective, particularly interesting. Step-reduction and headquarters-based logistics, even in 1978, were certainly not new. And the use of bombardment “Pins” is straight out of the designer’s own YEAR OF THE RAT (1972), while the “Reserve” rule made its first appearance in another early Prados game, VON MANSTEIN, in 1975. Even the combat system, although workable enough, shows very little real imagination. The rules governing “close combat” in the obscure and largely unloved OMAHA BEACH (1974), for example, are more innovative than those of CASSINO; which, when everything is said and done, are almost identical to the combat routines of the old Avalon Hill classics, soak-offs and all.

In the final analysis, I suppose that my main beef with Prados’ treatment of the “Third Battle of Cassino” is that it delivers far less that it promises. On first inspection, CASSINO seems to be a bit like a cross between SPI’s PANZER ARMEE AFRIKA (1973) and GDW’s AVALANCHE (1976). For example, like PAA, the combat units in CASSINO all have huge movement allowances (they can, for the most part, dash all over the map in a single player turn), and the (rechargeable) supply-bearing headquarters units behave very much like mega-versions of the supply counters in PANZER ARMEE AFRIKA. In addition, the similarity in the time scale of the CASSINO and AVALANCHE game turns (6 hours and 8 hours, respectively), the reliance on company and platoon-sized units, as well as some features of the game platform are all suggestive of Chadwick’s larger game, although the difference in hex sizes — 50 meters versus 1,300 meters — means that the tactical feel of the two games is utterly different. Unfortunately, a single play-through of Prados’ game quickly shows that the apparent similarities between THE BATTLE FOR CASSINO and the two older titles are largely limited to looks. Moreover, like many of this designer’s other creations, this game has an oddly “unfinished” feel to it; hence, in terms of the way these three games play, they are as different as night and day: PANZER ARMEE AFRIKA and AVALANCHE are actually both historically informative and fun; CASSINO, on the other hand, is — at least for me — a tedious slog with little, if any, real simulation or replay value. There is undoubtedly an exciting and historically persuasive simulation of this battle waiting to be designed; regrettably, this isn’t it. In the meantime, my recommendation for those players who would like to try a more interesting and enjoyable treatment of the “Third Battle of Cassino” is to look either at Michael Bennighof's CASSINO '44 (2009) or at Courtney Allen’s “area-impulse” design, THUNDER AT CASSINO (1987). CASSINO '44 — based on the PANZER GRENADIER Game Sysytem — is a highly detailed, platoon-level treatment of all four battles for Monte Cassino. Allen’s game is less complicated and less textured than CASSINO '44, but both of these later games are a lot better than THE BATTLE FOR CASSINO!

A complete game of CASSINO is seventeen turns long. The game offers only the historical Standard Game; there are no additional scenarios, nor are there any optional rules. CASSINO includes the following components:

  • One 22” x 35” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Terrain Key, and Battalion Supply Status Boxes incorporated)
  • 200 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” set of Rules (with two copies of the Terrain Effects Chart, Opportunity Fire Table, Bombardment Results Table, Close Assault Table, and Line of Sight Gauge); these come stapled in the magazine


23. Strategy &Tactics (S&T) #72, ARMADA,

which also included a copy of the game of the same name. This copy of S&T #72 (Jan/Feb 1979) dates from the Dunnigan/Simonsen era at SPI and contains the following featured articles:

  • Armada: The War with Spain, 1585-1604, by Sterling S. Hart
  • Simulation: ARMADA: The War with Spain, Dec 1586-Oct 1588
  • Mechanized Warfare in the 1980’s, by Charles Kamps, Jr.
  • Outgoing Mail, The Editors
  • Data Files 013, 014, 015
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • CASSINO Errata
  • Briefings
  • Feedback , Vox Populi, Vox Dei

S&T #72 Magazine Game: ARMADA: The War with Spain, Dec 1586-Oct 1588, designed by Sterling S. Hart with graphics by Redmond Simonsen, is a grand-strategic simulation of the two most critical years in a decades-long economic, religious, and military conflict between Catholic Spain and Protestant England. This bitter religious, political, and military struggle — although none of the main belligerents could have guessed it at the time — would ultimately drag on from 1585 to 1604; and, at different times, it would involve — in addition to Spain and England — the Dutch, the French, the Italians, the Irish, and the Scots. Momentous political changes would result from this Western European religious and political struggle. In the end, the Spanish-led counter-reformation would be defeated, and this twenty-year period of conflict would see the beginning of the slow decline of Spain from its position of European military and political preeminence. At the same time, it would also see the emergence of Tudor England as a powerful new economic and military presence on the world stage.

Based on the preceding description, the generation-long competition between Protestant England and Catholic Spain for European supremacy would seem to be a perfect subject for a sweeping, grand-strategy game that encompassed the diplomatic, economic, religious, and military conflicts of an exciting and extraordinarily important period in history. Unfortunately, ARMADA, at least as originally published, is not that game. What it is, instead, is a pastiche of design ideas — some very good, some very bad — that when combined, form a design that is muddled, confusing, and hopelessly unplayable. This is unfortunate, both because the game’s designer, Sterling S. Hart, is no slouch when it comes to creating innovative game systems — it was he, after all, who designed KURSK ’71 — but also because the underlying architecture of the ARMADA game system is really quite clever. Apparently the powers at SPI felt the same way; hence, their response was swift: the game’s original developer, Brad Hessel, was dumped from the project; and, in his place, Greg Costikyan and Eric Goldberg, along with a humbled but still determined Stanley Hart, all threw themselves into the daunting task of fixing the deeply-flawed game. The product of this intensive new effort was a completely reformulated set of Second Edition Rules. [For those players who are interested, both the 2nd Edition Rules and an unofficial, but (I am told) excellent 3rd Edition of the game rules are available at Grognard.Com. See the link in the sidebar.] Given the problems associated with the original version of the game, the comments that follow, not surprisingly, refer exclusively to the revamped Second Edition of the game.

ARMADA (2nd Ed.) is played in game turns: summer turns are one month long; winter game turns (November – March) represent five months of real time. A single game turn is divided into four interactive phases (each of which contains multiple player segments) during which all game operations are conducted. These are: the Joint Activation Phase; the Naval Phase; the Land Phase; and the Joint Administrative Phase. The four-color, hexagonal-grid game map represents both that part of the Atlantic that borders England, Spain, France, and the Low Countries, as well as the Mediterranean coasts of Spain and France. One player represents Philip II of Spain, and the other assumes the role of Elizabeth I of England. The goal of both England and Spain is to conquer enemy territory, attain victory for their side in the French Civil War (Catholics vs. Huguenots), and eliminate enemy naval units. To accomplish this, the two players compete with each other using leaders, land and naval combat units, and, of course, money. Wars are expensive, and both sides must shrewdly allocate the funds in their respective treasuries if they are to build and maintain the military units necessary to pursue their strategic objectives.

ARMADA offers only the Historical situation as a starting point. No alternative scenarios or optional rules are included with the second edition of the game. Nonetheless, a great deal of variation is built into the basic situation because of the different strategic options available to both players. Spain, for instance, may concentrate her resources on land combat in France and/or Holland, or invade England in 1587 rather than 1588. England can choose to strongly support the Protestant Huguenots in France, or, alternatively, to invade Spain’s northern ports and destroy the valuable Spanish ships that, inevitably, will be based there. Between two experienced and inventive players, no two games of ARMADA need ever be the same. Please note that this game — putting aside the already alluded to rules issues — is above average in complexity and will require considerable study before players become familiar with its unusual game mechanics. Somewhat perplexingly, although spaces for only 16 game turns appear on the turn record track, ARMADA (2nd Edition) is actually 17 turns long. A complete game of ARMADA includes the following components:

  • One 22” x 33” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track, Terrain Key, English Activation Tracks, Spanish Activation Tracks, English Treasury Track, Spanish Treasury Track, Munitions Track, Victuals Track, and Spanish Armada and English Fleet Holding Boxes incorporated)
  • 200 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Wind Effects Table, Terrain Effects Chart, Naval Combat Results Table, Land Combat Results Table, Income Table, Purchase Chart, Irish Revolt Table, English Catholic Revolt Table, and Scottish Intervention Table incorporated) which comes stapled into the magazine

24. Strategy & Tactics (S&T) #73, PANZER BATTLES: Tactical Armored Warfare in World War II,

when it was originally mailed, included a copy of a game of the same name. S&T #66 (Mar/Apr 1979) contains, along with its insert game, the following articles:

  • Panzer Battles: The Evolution of Mechanized Warfare, 1939-1979, by David C. Isby
  • Simulation: PANZER BATTLES: Tactical Armored Warfare in World War II, by Thomas A. Walczyk and Redmond A. Simonsen
  • The Mongols and Their Impact on the Medieval West, by Ralph Vickers
  • Outgoing Mail, by The Editors
  • Data Files 016, 017
  • Errata: ARMADA and CASSINO
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Briefings
  • Feedback, Vox Populi, Vox Dei

S&T #73 Magazine Game: PANZER BATTLES: Tactical Armored Warfare in World War II, designed by Thomas A. Walczyk and with graphics from Redmond A. Simonsen, is a set of tactical simulations of armored engagements covering different time periods, and in different operational settings, during World War II.

PANZER BATTLES — much like THE PLOT TO ASSASSINATE HITLER (1976) — appears to be one of those games that players either love or hate; but with a lot more gamers opting for the “hate” rather than the “love” category. This is unfortunate because, for all its faults, PANZER BATTLES is an interesting game; not only because of its detailed design platform and the particular armored actions that it attempts to reproduce in game form, but also because of its historical place among the many design attempts by SPI to improve the realism of simulated armored combat at the tactical level. This quest on the part of SPI, by the way, has been a long one; in fact, it is probably accurate to say that it actually began with James Dunnigan’s first great (if unexpected) commercial success, PANZERBLITZ in 1970. From that day on, SPI began to experiment with alternative, often miniatures-based design mechanisms (pre-plotted, simultaneous movement and/or fire, limited intelligence, morale and/or panic rules, step-losses, terrain elevation, more detailed range attenuation rules, initiative and command and control rules, and differences in small-unit doctrine) in an ongoing, steadily-evolving effort to realistically capture the pace and dynamism of tactical armored combat. Over time, the result of all this design effort has been a string of different small-unit armored simulations; games like KAMPFPANZER (1973), TANK! (1974), PANZER ’44 (1975), MECHWAR ’77 (1975), and Mark Herman’s dual title, quasi-monster tactical armored game, MECHWAR 2: RED STAR/WHITE STAR; SUEZ TO GOLAN (1979), and — although it is not the final entry in this series — my personal favorite of them all, OCTOBER WAR (1977).

In the case of PANZER BATTLES: Tactical Armored Warfare in World War II, what players are greeted with when they first examine the game is a sort of “mini-me” World War II version of MECHWAR 2. This means that, while this magazine game is admittedly complex and somewhat challenging to learn, it does not swamp its players with detail like its much larger cousin. In this sense, PANZER BATTLES is — so far as I am concerned, at least — far more accessible (and playable) than either MECHWAR 2 or even Harold Hock’s TOBRUCH (1975). If nothing else, the game’s rules are considerably shorter and, more importantly, players have a lot fewer charts and tables (and hence, a lot fewer die rolls) to cope with in this game than in the others when it comes to turn-to-turn play.

The large four-color, hexagonal-grid PANZER BATTLES game map is actually sectioned into three different smaller maps, one for each scenario (more on these later) included with the game. Each map hex is two hundred meters across. The combat units in the game are primarily tank platoons with a smattering of mechanized (American) infantry and a single German PAK 88 and its crew. The operational strength (in vehicles) of an individual platoon is indicated by a numbered chit placed beneath each unit counter; these chits, in turn, are exchanged as combat losses occur. Prior to play, the platoons of each side are assigned by their owning players to different companies (for purposes of command) and, occasionally, these companies are further organized into battalions (for morale purposes). These company assignments are significant not just because of the command rules, but also because a company’s component platoons are required to remain within one or two hexes (depending on the unit’s nationality) of another platoon from the same company.

A game turn in PANZER BATTLES represents five minutes of real time and is divided into two separate, but interactive player turns. Each game turn follows a simple but rigid sequence of player actions: first, the phasing player conducts indirect fire attacks (off-board artillery), second, the non-phasing player writes orders for his coming player turn; third, the phasing player (based on his own pre-written orders) moves and/or conducts attacks; once all combat for this phase is resolved, the sequence is repeated and the two players exchange roles. At the end of the second player’s movement phase, the turn marker is advanced one space, and a new game turn begins. Needless-to-say, a lot more occurs in a single player turn than the preceding description might suggest, but probably the most important action that each player will perform is that of selecting orders for his own coming player turn.

The requirement that players write brief orders for each of their companies, although it would seem to slow play, really does not. This is because there are only five different types of commands, and two of them — Rally and Withdraw — pertain to issues of unit morale and not to regular combat operations. For the most part, the non-phasing player will issue each of his companies only one of three orders: Bound (every platoon must move); Overwatch (no movement is allowed, but all platoons may conduct “Opportunity” or regular fire combat); and Bounding Overwatch (at least one platoon must move, but the other platoons in the company may either move or fire, at the owning player’s option). This simple game mechanism eliminates one of the most pernicious and unrealistic features of the comparably-scaled PANZERBLITZ Game System: the tendency of individual armored platoons to scatter across the PANZERBITZ game map in a flurry of independent, yet perfectly-coordinated missions. In addition, it also gives the game a distinctly “si-move” feel, but without all of the cumbersome record keeping that usually accompanies a typical “simultaneous movement” game system.

In spite of the preceding catalog of its good points, PANZER BATTLES is not without its share of problems, as its abysmal 5.19 rating over at boardgamegeek.com clearly illustrates. And, of the game’s several problems, the most obvious, and probably the most off-putting is its somewhat convoluted combat routine. This multi-step process — which requires players to refer to several different charts and perform more than one die roll to determine results — appears, on its face, to be both complicated and cumbersome; and if compared to a game like PANZERBLITZ, it certainly is. However, a little practice with the PANZER BATTLES combat system will quickly show that, while it is not simple, it is, nonetheless, far easier to execute than the combat routines of either MECHWAR 2 or TOBRUCH. Unfortunately, combat is not the only one of the game’s woes. The other more serious problem with PANZER BATTLES is one that seems to crop up again and again in SPI tactical armored titles: the lack of lots of different scenarios. Because the designer has opted to focus on only three historical tank-versus-tank engagements, the game — besides largely ignoring the importance of “combined arms” doctrine on the World War II battlefield — offers very little in the way of replay value. Each of the situations is, at least, moderately interesting but, once they have been played through a few times, they tend to lose their appeal. This means that, in spite of its many good features, my own experience with the game shows that a lot of players tend to lose interest in PANZER BATTLES at about the same time that they finally master the game system; hence, I suspect that a fresh batch of scenarios (even though they would require additional, post-publication “DTP” counters and game maps) might, even at this late date, improve both this game’s overall popularity and its “staying power”.

PANZER BATTLES, as already alluded to, offers players only three different scenarios. The first, Action Near Gazala — 26 May 1942 is a ten-turn simulation of the action between elements of the 15th Panzer Division and the British 4th Battalion, County of London Yeomanry, in North Africa. The second is Arracourt — 20 September 1944, which recreates the armored clash between an American armored battalion from Task Force Abrams, and a German combined arms force from Kampfgruppe Junghannis. Arracourt is twelve turns long. The third and final game situation is the Defense of the Berlin Highway — 22 March 1945, a twelve-turn scenario that covers a clash between three advancing battalions of Soviet T34/85 tanks, and a single German company equipped with PzKw V (Panther) tanks. PANZER BATTLES includes the following components:

  • One 22” x 32” Three Section hexagonal grid Map Sheet (which incorporates the Game Tables, Turn Record Tracks, and Terrain Keys necessary for each Scenario)
  • 200 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” set of Game Rules (with the different Scenario Set-Up Instructions) which comes stapled into the magazine

25. Strategy &Tactics (S&T) #75, NAPOLEON’S ART OF WAR,

like the other magazines in this series, was published during the “Golden Age” of SPI and was accompanied, interestingly enough, by not one, but two insert games: EYLAU and DRESDEN. A copy of S&T #75 (Jul/Aug 1979) contains the following articles:

  • Napoleon’s Art of War, by Albert A. Nofi
  • Simulation: NAPOLEON’S ART OF WAR: Eylau and Dresden, by Omar DeWitt, Bob Jervis, and Redmond Simonsen
  • Commando: Special Forces in Modern Military Organizations, by Stephen B. Patrick
  • Outgoing Mail, The Editors
  • Data Files 019, 020
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Briefings
  • Feedback, Vox Populii, Vox Dei

S&T #75 Magazine Games: NAPOLEON’S ART OF WAR: Eylau and Dresden, designed by Omar DeWitt and Bob Jervis, respectively, with graphics by Redmond Simonson, are a pair of grand-tactical level simulations — both based on the forty-year old, but still popular NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System — of different battles from the Napoleonic Wars.

The basic game engine used in both of the games featured in NAPOLEON’S ART OF WAR, James Dunnigan’s NAW Game System, is one of the best-known in wargaming; for that reason, I will only briefly touch on it here. For starters, because this popular game system is grand-tactical in its focus, it is, with very few exceptions — Kevin Zucker’s NAPOLEON’S LAST BATTLES (1976) being one notable outlier — used by designers to simulate individual battles and only rarely, to model longer, more extended campaigns. All of the titles associated with the NAW Game System are played on hexagonal-grid maps and hex sizes will tend to vary in size, depending on the specific title, from between 400 and 800 meters. Each game turn follows a simple “Igo-Ugo” player sequence in which first one and then the other player moves and then resolves combat. And in most cases, game turns tend to equal between one and two hours of real time. Attacks may take one of two forms: direct (adjacent) attacks; and bombardment (from artillery units firing from two hexes distant). Zones of control are, with very few exceptions, both rigid and “sticky” and combat between adjacent units is mandatory. All phasing units adjacent to enemy units must attack, and all defending units must be attacked (either directly or by artillery bombardment). Combat is resolved using a simple odds-differential combat results table (CRT) and most results, except at higher odds, will take the form of Attacker or Defender Retreats rather than Eliminations. For this reason, successful tactical play in all NAW-based games depends on the proper timing, by both players, of retreats and advances in order to achieve surrounds against enemy units. Terrain types in these games tend to be relatively few, and will affect both movement and combat. Movement rates will usually be accelerated along roads, and terrain effects on combat, where applicable, will usually result in either a defensive multiplier or a reduction in the attackers’ strength. Along with this standard package of rules, NAW-based games will also often include special rules covering such diverse factors as weather, night operations, variable reinforcements, combined arms attacks, and demoralization. Interestingly, virtually all of the aforementioned special rules are present in one or both games in NAPOLEON’S ART OF WAR: EYLAU and DRESDEN.

Omar DeWitt’s EYLAU is a simulation of the bloody, but inconclusive battle that was fought between the French army, under Napoleon, and a combined force of Russian and Prussian troops, led by Russian General Baron Levin Benningsen, near the small Polish hamlet of Eylau, on February 7th and 8th, 1807. That the battle was fought at all was the result of an uncharacteristically audacious plan on Benningsen’s part to march 90,000 men into Napoleon’s rear and to seize the Vistula crossings over which the French army drew its supplies. Unfortunately for the Russian commander, the French Emperor discerned the purpose of his enemy’s movements almost as soon as the Russians began their march and, in his turn, rushed to trap Benningsen’s force before it could escape east. The two armies: one retreating, and one driving forward in pursuit, crashed into each other at Eylau. And for the ordinary soldiers of the two opposing armies, the engagement could probably not have come at a worse time. The Battle of Eylau — taking place, as it did, in the dead of the Polish winter — is still remembered for the unbelievably miserable conditions under which the two armies were forced to fight. The almost featureless battlefield was blanketed in four feet of snow, and much of the action of the two-day battle occurred during a raging blizzard.

Given the awful conditions that obtained during the action, Omar DeWitt’s treatment of the battle is uncomplicated, but interesting. To keep things simple and historical, the starting set-ups, as well as the reinforcement times and entry hexes for both armies, are all stipulated in the rules. In addition, because the rivers and lakes are all frozen, only town, ridge, road, and forest terrain hexes affect movement or combat. Stacking is limited to one unit per hex. And almost unique among this family of games, EYLAU — much like Avalon Hill’s now-aging WATERLOO (1962) — includes no “Demoralization” rules; so both sides tend to slug it out to the bitter end. Also, to add a bit of historical color, the designer includes a few special rules to liven things up: one of these rules restricts Russian and French movement during the first few game turns; a second provides for a divisional “integrity” bonus in attacks; and a third rule allows players to reinforce certain eligible units with a “fresh” additional strength marker just prior to the phasing player’s combat resolution die-rolls. In addition, to replicate the incredible confusion and disorganization created by the blinding snow, the game also offers an optional “Weather” rule which adds a second die roll to each combat, a die-roll from which there is a one-third chance that the original outcome of the combat will be dramatically changed. The end result of all this is a fast-paced and exciting little game that is simple enough for beginners, but textured enough to appeal to experienced players. EYLAU is twelve game turns in length.

Bob Jervis’ game, DRESDEN, is a simulation of the first major action to occur after the Austrian-brokered armistice between the French and Allies ended and Napoleon resumed his 1813 campaign to restore Gallic hegemony in Central Europe. The battle, which lasted several days, pitted a French army that ultimately numbered about 120,000 men, under Napoleon, against a substantially larger Allied force (estimated at 170,000) composed of Austrians, Prussians, and Russians, all under the command of Austrian Field Marshal Prince Schwarzenberg, at Dresden — then the capital of Saxony — on August 26th, 27th, and 28th, 1813. On its face, the Allied move against Dresden was — for Schwarzenberg, at least — fairly inspired: the Elbe city was both a major logistical center for French operations in Central Europe, and the capital of one of Napoleon’s few remaining allies, the King of Saxony. Unfortunately for Schwarzenberg’s troops, the French Emperor got wind of the Allied movement and dispatched a flying column of 20,000 men, under Gouvion Saint-Cyr, with the intention of reinforcing Dresden’s small garrison before the Allies could reach the city. The Emperor’s gamble paid off and Saint-Cyr’s men reached Dresden with just enough time left to establish rudimentary defensive works in and around the city before the first large-scale Allied attacks were thrown against them on the morning of the 26th. The French garrison, although initially outnumbered by almost eight-to-one, fought tenaciously and by late afternoon, substantial French reinforcements had begun to reach the battle area. At 1730 hours and with Saint-Cyr’s exhausted soldiers teetering on the verge of breaking, Napoleon took personal control of the battle and immediately threw four fresh French divisions against the Allied right; as additional French troops entered the city, they joined Saint-Cyr’s now reinvigorated men and soon these troops also surged forward to smash into the Allied center. By nightfall, all of the Allies’ hard-won gains from earlier in the day had been lost, and although Schwarzenberg’s total force now outnumbered Napoleon’s army at Dresden by over 50,000 men, it was the French Emperor, and not the Allied high command, that looked forward to a renewal of the battle on the coming day.

DRESDEN is a curious entry in the NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO family of games because it is the only one in the series that really centers on a battle for control of a very large city. It is also somewhat unusual in that bad weather — in this case rain: which halves infantry for both attack and defense — exerts a powerful influence on play for more than a third of the game. Rules-wise DRESDEN veers away from EYLAU in several other important ways. For example, the French player, besides his regular forces, controls a small number of weak and completely immobile garrison units; moreover, limited stacking (two regular units, or two regular plus one garrison unit) is permitted. And there are a few other significant differences between the two games, as well: infantry and cavalry units that are neither demoralized nor surrounded when they are eliminated, for instance, are considered “disrupted” instead of eliminated and are returned to play on either turn 6 or turn 16 (whichever comes next); both armies are subject to fairly severe “Reserve” restrictions; also, Allied units, because of poor attack coordination, suffer a 1-column odds reduction whenever units of two or more nationalities combine in the same attack. Finally, the “Morale” rules are considerably more onerous in DRESDEN than in most other NAW-based games; this is because, while an army’s “Morale” level is increased every time one of its units advances due to a combat victory, that level is also decreased both as a result of combat losses and whenever one of its units is retreated or displaced as a result of combat. This last rule has two interesting effects on play: first, it means that an offensive, once it gains momentum, can be very hard to stop unless the defender can throw reinforcements into the fight; and second, massive low-odds attacks (e.g., 1 to 1s and 1 to 2s) are not nearly as appealing in DRESDEN as they are in some of the other games in NAW series. What all this seems to translate into when it comes to actually playing the game — unless, that is, I’m missing something crucial about the design — is that DRESDEN appears to be a very tough game for the Allies to win. This is not to say that the overall situation is not interesting; only that — in my view, at least — the combination of French interior versus Allied exterior lines, the stringent “Reserve” and “Demoralization” rules, and the penalty for Allied “Coordinated” attacks all combine to make things very, very challenging for the Allied player. And although I have rarely seen a match go that long, for what it’s worth, a complete game of DRESDEN is thirty-two turns long.

The winner in both EYLAU and DRESDEN is determined by comparing the two sides’ victory points at the end the last game turn, and may take the form or a Decisive, Substantive, or Marginal Victory. A Draw is also possible. Victory points are typically accrued through the destruction of enemy combat strength points, the capture of certain important hexes, and, depending on which of the two games is being played, the meeting of other special requirements. NAPOLEON’S ART OF WAR includes the following components:

  • One 22” x 32” Two Section hexagonal grid Map Sheet (which incorporates the Turn Record Tracks, Holding Boxes, and Terrain Keys necessary for each Game)
  • 200 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” set of Standard Game Rules (with charts and tables common to both games) and two sets of Exclusive Rules (one each for EYLAU and DRESDEN) which all come stapled into the magazine

A FEW THOUGHTS ON THIS LATEST BATCH OF ‘ALSO RANS’

As I noted in a previous post, installments in this seemingly endless collection of S&T game descriptions — starting with Part III in this series — have been organized to reflect a more orderly and complete list of magazine issues than was featured in either Part I or Part II of this project. Where gaps in the numerical sequence of S&T issues do appear, readers should assume that I have probably already profiled the missing magazine game in a separate post. Moreover, either because of fondness on my part, or because of the relative obscurity of several of the titles covered in this particular post, I have fleshed-out most of these profiles a little more than usual. That being said, I sincerely hope that my long-suffering readers will find this expanded treatment of S&T magazine/game descriptions both interesting and useful; particularly, as there are still a few more of these installments still to be published.

Related Blog Posts

  1. THE 20 BEST S&T MAGAZINE GAMES FROM THE “GOLDEN AGE” OF SPI
    A Subjective List of My Personal Picks of the Best S&T Magazine Insert Games Published during the 1970’s and 80’s
  2. THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART I ,S&T Issues # 38, 41, 43, 45 & 48
  3. THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART II ,S&T Issues #’s 37, 39, 42, 44, & 46
  4.  THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART III , S&T Issues #’s 52, 54, 56, 58 & 59
  5. THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART IV S&T Issues #’s 62, 63, 64, 66 & 68 

4 comments:

  • Thanks for this instalment in the series. My short reactions to these issues (all of which I have and have at least tried to play) were:

    Tannenberg - yep, good one. I liked the Hidden units and three-player scenario ideas.
    Cassino - nope. Gave up on it.
    Armada - What? oh, yeah.
    Panzer Battles - great idea marred by fiddly subsystems
    Nap's Art of War - good, liked this one best of the five.

  • Greetings Itmurnau:

    Yes, I think that we're pretty much in agreement on this latest batch of magazine games.

    Interestingly, although I experimented with 'DRESDEN' quite a bit, I did not actually play 'EYLAU' for the longest time. I guess there was just something about the sheer misery of the historical situation that put me off the game. When I finally overcame my prejudices, however, I found that it was really quite a good little "beer and pretzels" game.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Kim Meints said...

    Joe

    Nice as ever.

    My picks

    Tannenberg-Good game.I liked Great War in the East quad and this being the 5th wheel it ranked well with me

    Cassino-Never could get into this one.

    Panzer Battles-a failure I thought.After having Panzer44 in a larger formatted game PB sort of feel short since it was restricted to a magazine format.

    Armada-Well what can you say,the S&T 1st ed was a flop with the rules as written but we all knew there was a game in there.The 2nd edition boxed version saved the game to be played and enjoyed.

    Napoleon's Art of War- Well I liked it but not as much as the Napoleon at War Quad.Dresden & Eylau were suppose to be part of a Napoleon at War II Quad but only these two battles saw production.

    I was slightly biased in that I thought the UK Wargamer's Eylau and GDW's game on the battle did a much better job.UK Wargamer also had the Simulations Games company and their Dresden was a real step above the SPI attempt.
    But still I play these from time to time

  • Greetings Kim:

    Thanks, as always, for your kind words.

    The "Wargamer" series of Napoleonic games is, I think, very under-appreciated by most players. Although the graphics of these UK games were a little bland (what else is new?) the games all seem to play very well.

    Best Regards, Joe

Post a Comment