Monday, January 02, 2006

Let's play! PanzerGrenadier:
Eastern Front Deluxe

I’m going to start the New Year waxing eloquent about one of the ‘other’ big sandboxes my brain likes to play in: Gaming – in particular wargaming.

Since nearly the Dawn of Time, I have been an avid wargamer. I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 or 15 when I picked up my first ‘real’ wargame, “Tank” in the old flat-box format from Simulation Publications, Inc. (aka: SPI). That particular archaeological artifact inhabits my ‘game closet’ still – something of a collector’s mentality being rather common in the gaming hobby.

The subject for the next few days is Avalanche Press’ recently-released game “PanzerGrenadier: East Front Deluxe” (or “EFD,” for brevity’s sake).

EFD is a considerably up-gunned remake of Avalanche’s original PanzerGrenadier game. In addition to some tweaks here and there to the Soviet and German forces, the game includes an all-new order of battle for the Romanian forces that fought in the south. This allows for numerous interesting additions to the scenario book and, indeed, EFD includes (I believe) 112 scenarios.

The enormous increase in scenario count over the original is abetted by EFD’s use of Avalanche’s new-style card stock game maps, of which there are 8 ‘geomorphic’ sections in the box. The original PG included 4 hard-mounted map boards. IMHO the new cardstock maps are a massive improvement, both in economy and in playability.

The ‘negative’ in the package is that some of the unit counters are printed on the thinner die-cut stock found in the series’ immediately previous release, Beyond Normandy. The thinner counters aren’t by any stretch unplayable, but I much prefer heavier counter stock – especially when it comes to considering how well the pieces will take a pounding over time.

I’ll admit that my assortment of PanzerGrenadier titles had been idling in the closet for some time before the release of EFD. I didn’t particularly care for either Afrika Korps or Desert Rats for some reason, although I did rather enjoy the few games of Semper Fi: Guadalcanal that I managed to play. But the two desert games sort of led my attention adrift and, what with my gaming time considerably reduced by the Baby of Mass Destruction, my wargaming focus went elsewhere.

But I am an East Front junkie, and the arrival of EFD (along with the receipt of Beyond Normandy as a Christmas gift) has re-kindled my interest.

A brief aside: My apologies, but time constraints prevent me from going into great deal detail about the hobby of wargaming or the specific mechanics of “hex-and-counter” war games. If you’re interested in them, you can gain a broader understanding of the topic by perusing websites like Boardgamegeek or Consimworld (see my links section).

For those more familiar with board wargaming, EFD portrays combat from roughly the battalion or regimental point of view. Individual playing pieces typically represent individual command elements (“leaders”), infantry or vehicle platoons or sections of heavier weapons like field artillery or anti-tank guns. Each hexagon on the map represents a scale distance of 200m from side to side, and each game turn represents 15 minutes of ‘real’ time. The 112 scenarios in the EFD scenario book cover a broad range of situations from small games using a single map and perhaps a half-dozen units per side, to very large games played on four maps sections with each player controlling several battalion-sized formations.

For the first test drive of the new game, what could be a better choice than one of the new scenarios, featuring the new Romanian order of battle? The initial scenario that I’ll be scribbling about here is Scenario Three, “Fontana Alba.” A roughly battalion-sized force of Romanian cavalry must cross a minor river, seize and hold a small town. They are faced by a smaller initial force of Russian infantry, although at some point (triggered by a dice roll) the Romanians will face a counter-attack by additional Soviet troops supported by off-board artillery.

Baby of Mass Destruction permitting, in the next entry I’ll kick off the Battle of Fontana Alba.

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