A Study in History
Most of the time, the old ways exist because they’ve been proven effective. But not always. Just because something’s always been done that way, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it that way.
Four decades ago, the old Avalon Hill Game Company brought out its ancient Panzerblitz game, which set the pattern for dozens of tactical-level wargames that followed from many other publishers and game designers. There would be a mix of pieces and maps, and a set of “scenarios” – separate game situations using those parts. Usually there were a dozen of them, because Panzerblitz had 12. Many publishers and designers still follow this ancient ritual.
Not Panzer Grenadier: Broken Axis.
Broken Axis has 50 scenarios; since we launched the Panzer Grenadier series, we’ve made it a point to include many scenarios to give players plenty of play value. Usually these have been scattered snapshots of the campaign covered by the game, to give small vignettes of the different actions that occurred. And they’ve usually been pretty effective from that standpoint; each scenario told its own story, and often told it really well. But we left the overall story for the players to pick up from the context, to read between the lines.
Following the pattern laid down by developers Matt Ward and Daniel Rouleau for The Kokoda Campaign, the Broken Axis scenario set is organized into a series of battle games. The fighting along the Kokoda Trail neatly separated itself into a series of phases, making the battle arrangement a natural progression. It’s a little different for Broken Axis.
The Soviet assaults on Romania in April-May and August 1944 were massive operations involving thousands of tanks and hundreds of thousands of troops. There are enough interesting actions to give rise to dozens if not hundreds of good Panzer Grenadier scenarios. Designer Mike Perryman chose 46 of them for Broken Axis, and I added a few more to flesh out the battle game structure.
There are five battle games included in Broken Axis. Each has its own historical background, plus a varying number of scenarios (six to 10) and then the important part, the battle game rules. We’ve published detailed campaign rules before, in products like Hammer & Sickle or Panzer Lehr. Those include higher-level operations, in which players move their battalions and regiments from area to area on a small campaign map, and fight their opponents when they enter the same one.
The battle games in Broken Axis (like those in Kokoda Campaign) are much simpler, tying together the historical scenarios into a meta-scenario. You can play them separately or together, as you wish. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the more intricate campaign games like the one in Hammer & Sickle, but those are alternative-history settings so the story doesn’t depend on the scenarios taking place in a specific manner (forces, terrain, objectives).
That’s not the case in a historical game like Broken Axis, where the scenarios need to be individually as accurate as we can make them. So unlike the Hammer & Sickle campaign game, the forces, terrain and so forth don’t change based on the outcome of the previous scenario. Each scenario stands alone, but you play them in sequence to determine the winner of the battle game. It’s a simple and fun innovation, a really fine piece of design work by Matt and Daniel that we’ve carried over to Broken Axis.
The battle games in Broken Axis include:
• First Battle of Tirgu Frumos. Having driven the Axis out of Ukraine, the Soviets continued their offensive into Romania without pausing to regroup and resupply. The key road junction of Tirgu Frumos (spelled Târgu Frumos in some sources) became the prime target of Marshal Ivan Konev’s Second Ukrainian Front. The attack began on 2 April 1944, and the Soviets reach the town a week later. The German Grossdeutschland Panzer Grenadier Division, aided by the Romanian Royal Guard infantry division, retook Tirgu Frumos in a fierce two-day battle.
• Second Battle of Tirgu Frumos. On 2 May 1944, Second Ukrainian Front tried again. Grossdeutschland, along with 24th Panzer Division and the Romanian Royal Guards, repelled their attacks in what became a textbook example of mechanized forces fighting on the defensive – though the textbooks appear to have been based on some pretty self-serving German accounts. We’ve done our best to correct the record, delving into some Romanian-language sources.
• Tashlyk Bridgehead. The Germans struck back on 10 May 1944, attacking a Soviet bridgehad over the River Dnestr. Three panzer divisions and two assault gun brigades - totalling about 115 tanks and assault guns between them - struck Eighth Guards Army, the Heroes of Stalingrad. They fought their way close to the river, but were finally repelled by a stout last-ditch defense led by Guards Captain Vasiliy Zaitsev, the famed Sniper of Stalingrad (unlike Zaitsev’s duel with the fictional German super-sniper Erwin König, this is a thing that actually happened).
• Operation Katja. In late May 1944, the German Eighth Army gathered all of its mechanized formations to launch a spoiling attack against the Soviet divisions gathering north of Jassy, disrupting their offensive, securing communications with the important Romanian city and obtaining better defensive positions. The offensive gained its objectives, though at a serious cost in men and machines that the Germans could no longer afford at this stage of the war. The front then became quiet while the Soviets prepared for a renewed offensive and the Germans shuttled their best panzer divisions northward to shore up the crumbling Army Group Center.
• Romania Mare. The Soviets resumed their offensive on 20 August with a well-prepared attack. The Sixth Tank Army struck the Romanian VI Corps after a heavy artillery bombardment, and soon broke through the lines of the 5th Infantry Division. The Romanian 1st Romania Mare (“Greater Romania”) Armored Division had begun moving to counter-attack the breakthroughs even before the Soviets attacked. A series of fierce tank battles took place over the next four days, until Romania agreed to an armistice with the Soviet Union, beginning operations against the Germans the next day.
The massive battles of April through August 1944 in Bessarabia are little-known in Western or Russian historiography; the Soviet general staff’s history of the Great Patriotic War simply pretends that the April through June operations never happened. David Glantz’s Red Storm over the Balkans is probably the best/only work in English, but even it contains some serious errors. Glantz continually confuses the Romanian 1st Armored Division and the Royal Guard Division (a straight-leg infantry outfit), placing the armored division (and its tanks) at the front in April. Among others, Cornel Scafes’ Armata Romana 1941 – 1945 and Jipa Roatru’s Armata Romana in al Doilea Razboi Mondial (there’s apparently a title shortage in Romania) put the armored division (and its tanks) back on its training grounds where it apparently spent the entire April-June period.
Broken Axis offers outstanding game play and solid history. Not many wargames can make that claim.
You can order Broken Axis right here.
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.