Games are supposed to be fun. Panzer Grenadier was designed to be fun, to actually be played rather than admired for its latest insightful creativity that changed all previous rules. A stable, consistent rules set lets you concentrate on the fun, not the constantly-altering game rules.
Presented with a chance to do something all over again – in this case, the Afrika 1944 scenario book – I took special care to remember the fun.
Afrika 1944 is a book supplement for Panzer Grenadier: An Army at Dawn (and Liberation 1944 and Elsenborn Ridge), re-using the playing pieces from an old supplement called DAK ’44. Which wasn’t a bad little scenario pack for what it was, but it requires games that are long out-of-print, and it wasn’t structured in our current story-arc format – each of the scenarios stood alone, for better or for worse.
The pieces themselves are so nice that we couldn’t leave them in storage forever. The printer who made these as far as I know is no longer in business, but they did an exceptional job with them (even the same vendor is usually inconsistent from one job to the next when the numbers are this small; this sheet was their finest hour). The finish is perfect, and the printing itself very crisp. They’re on a level with our newest silky-smooth pieces, though not as silky-smooth.
Among those pieces is a wealth of heavy metal, all in the German “desert” color scheme we use for the Afrika Korps and related formations: six Tiger II platoons, six Tiger I and eight Panther units. There are also eight late-model PzKpfw IVH medium tanks, and six more of almost-as-late-model PzKpfw IVF2. Plus three examples of the PzKpfw 747r, the Soviet-made T-34/76 in German service. Throw in some assault guns, tank destroyers and self-propelled artillery and there’s quite the collection of tanks and other armored fighting vehicles. And we’re going to use them all.
When we decided to re-use the stockpile of pieces, I knew that I wanted to do things very differently this time. The book needed to maintain a sharp focus; in this case, it’s on the 1944 campaign in Tunisia that never happened. It should draw on a minimum of other games for maps and pieces; initially I wanted to use only An Army at Dawn, but there aren’t enough Brits in that game so we also use Liberation 1944, which has a plenty including a great deal of late-model armor. I prefer to use just one core game for each supplement, but we really needed more British tanks to make the scenarios fun.
While An Army at Dawn has plenty of Americans, it’s kind of short on American armor. Well, there are 11 Sherman tank platoons, but I wanted more of them to really get some massive tank battles rolling. Elsenborn Ridge has 11 more M4 Shermans (75mm model), plus a half-dozen M4/76 models, plus a couple of M4/105 support tanks and some M18 and M36 tank destroyers. The Germans might have the Tiger II, but the Americans can swarm them.
The scenarios make up two chapters, one pitting the up-gunned Afrika Korps against the Americans, and one in which they face the British. Each has eight scenarios, with a “battle game” tying the scenarios of each chapter together as in other recent Panzer Grenadier books and games.
An Army at Dawn is a great game with plenty of small, tense scenarios featuring tight infantry fights with small amounts of armor. They play very well, their history is good, and they tell the story of the American involvement in Tunisia. They do their job and there’s no reason to add more scenarios more or less just like them.
Afrika 1944 also isn’t the only time we’ll visit Tunisia, and An Army at Dawn, with formations or weaponry that never really existed. Blackshirt Division has 88 pieces for the “M” Armored Division of the Camicie Nere, or CCNN, plus another 42 displaying German-made tanks (chiefly PzKpw IV and PzKpfw III tanks with the long-barreled 75mm and 50mm guns, respectively) and 16 scenarios just like Afrika 1944.
So Afrika 1944 needs to offer players something that the core game alone does not, and that the core game with Blackshirt Division added does not. I didn’t want to repeat the play experience of either one of those. Instead, I wanted to offer something different in terms of play as well as a difference in the forces involved. And so Afrika 1944 is a book of large-scale tank battles: when you’re making up history, make up a history that serves your purposes. In this case, to allow players to use all of those tanks in massive battles suitable for day-long gaming or even team play. And you get to make lots of explosion sounds, too.
The Tunisian landscape features hills, but next to no cover. The long-barreled 88mm and 75mm guns of the Tiger II and Panther tanks can use their full range, as can the merely powerful Tiger I tanks. There won’t be much opportunity for close ambushes – the Allied tankers are going to have to come at the Germans over huge swathes of open ground, trying to work their way around the hills. Fortunately, they have the numbers and bravery to help get them there.
I’ve long wanted to produce a Panzer Grenadier book devoted to huge scenarios suitable for team play, with lots of tanks blazing away at each other. Panzer Grenadier by its nature is a two-player game, though thanks to its unique activation mechanism it plays pretty well with just one, too. But what about a small group of gamers, together on a Saturday ready to play? Panzer Grenadier is designed to be easy to play whenever you have the opportunity: one set of rules, dozens of games, hundreds if not thousands of scenarios.
Afrika 1944 is designed to stand out among those thousands of scenarios, as the book you’ll reach for when you’ve got three or four friends on hand eager to blow up a few Tiger tanks. It’s a scenario set you’ll actually play instead of put on the shelf and admire, and that’s what this stuff is supposed to be all about.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.