How to Order
Online Store
Special Offers
Gold Club



Dragon’s Teeth:
Design Notes

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
May 2024

I usually get to approach game design from the topic. There’s a story that I think I can tell in game format, and I delve into the story and how I want to structure it, and then the needed parts sort of arise from that: maps, pieces and so forth.

Panzer Grenadier: Dragon’s Teeth came about from the opposite direction. We had some nice maps of the Ardennes region, which could easily double for any of the rough ground found along Germany’s western border. And we had a stockpile of pieces from a long out-of-print game called Battle of the Bulge, which my assistant insisted needed to be used or set on fire. She likes setting things on fire.

At first, I wanted to set the game during the German Operation North Wind, the attack into Alsace in January 1945. There was a lot of action during that offensive and in the American counter-stroke that followed, which hasn’t had a lot of attention in popular history or wargames (we did a small game on the offensive, and a small Panzer Grenadier scenario set, but there’s much more of the story to be told).

But the NSDAP’s party militia, the Armed SS, played a central role in the North Wind offensive, and the set of pieces did not include the Armed SS – it’s all U.S. Army, German Army, and some German Air Force paratroopers. That ruled out Alsace, but some reading and study revealed that very few SS militiamen fought in the Siegfried Line Campaign of September through November 1944. And that one battalion saw very little combat.

So I had my topic, and I also had a set of scenarios we published many years ago based on the campaign, most of them by Mike Perryman. Those had drawn on other games for maps and pieces, and I in re-reading them I found myself displeased with the development they had originally received. I could use them as a framework, but they would need major revision (and in some cases, complete replacement). That was still useful in deciding where I wanted the game to go.

The Siegfried Line Campaign also matches up with the way I like to design games these days, as a story that unfolds through the scenarios. The campaign took place in five distinct phases; I split the last, most intense phase into two parts to give Dragon’s Teeth six chapters of more or less equal length. Each of those chapters has a battle game that ties the scenarios together.

While wargames featuring American units tend to be more popular than those without, the historiography of World War II doesn’t always match that, at least not in terms of campaign accounts (there’s a great deal of good social history on the U.S. Army’s experience in the war, which can be very useful to set the context, just not as much trumpet-and-drum stuff as I would have expected). But there are now many after-action reports available online, the often-dry accounts by line officers of how individual actions were fought – these are the stuff of which Panzer Grenadier scenarios are made. The Germans have similar reports, though not as many now that more American documents are available, and of course often take the lead role in secondary accounts.

That let me dig into the story behind every scenario; it’s not always a simple thing (though at least this time the documents and secondary histories were all in languages I speak and read easily). The guys on the ground don’t always really know what happened to them, and at times their times and distances don’t add up, their place-names are incorrect, or the units present may not be accurate (especially regarding the enemy). I’ve ghost-written World War II memoirs so I’m quite familiar with this: combat is frightening, no matter how hardened a shell you may project, and memory can be fragile.

The Americans had stormed their way across France and Belgium, arriving at the German border tired and depleted, and short of fuel, food, and most of all ammunition. The Germans were in much worse shape, having had their asses kicked all the way home from Normandy. But the shattered remnants of the German divisions, joined by some decidedly sixth-line alarm units, did have the modern concrete-and-steel fortifications of the West Wall in which to hide.

So the Americans first have to get through the belt of fortifications, with depleted forces fighting against German barrel-scrapings. The initial goal is to isolate the city of Aachen, and then capture it, while the Germans fling what few complete and mobile divisions they have into somewhat quixotic efforts to break the encirclement. Both sides therefore are attacking and defending.

Once Aachen is secured, the Americans start pushing into Germany. The Americans are slowly filling out their divisions, but somewhat surprisingly, so are the Germans. Even without the West Wall, the Germans can still fight back effectively, using the forests for cover and fortifying towns and villages. And they still sacrifice what intact formations they have in fruitless counter-attacks, but this does give us the magic “both sides get to attack and defend” label.

And then the Americans start to get a firehose of replacements, additional formations, and above all loads and loads of artillery ammunition. Now they can conduct the American Way of War: better living through firepower. But somehow, the Germans have had their own revival. They’ve drafted new men, found others skulking in Air Force repair shops waiting to fix planes that will never exist, and sent the supply clerks and the less-and-healthy to the front. Combined with their factories finally starting to operate at full efficiency and pump out weapons and tanks in quantity (just in time for Allied bombing to send them back to the Stone Age), the Germans have somehow built a new army.

Now the Germans have an army that can fight back, and so they do. Artillery and numbers still usually favor the Americans, but the Germans have enough men and weaponry to hold the nasty terrain, and the assistance of truly crapulent weather. They even bring on a couple of panzer divisions to mess with American plans to reach the Rhine.

And that’s where we wrap up, with the Americans finally running out of momentum thanks to stretched supply lines and terrible weather. They’ll get to see those newly-refitted German divisions again just a few miles to the south, when the Ardennes Offensive erupts in Panzer Grenadier: Elsenborn Ridge.

Dragon’s Teeth turned out exceptionally well. It has a strong narrative that flows well, solid scenarios that give both players interesting things to do, and very nice maps and pieces. As both designer and publisher, I’m deeply pleased with it.

You can order Dragon’s Teeth right here.

Sign up for our newsletter right here. Your info will never be sold or transferred; we'll just use it to update you on new games and new offers.

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published an unknowable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and three children; he misses his dog, Leopold.

Want to keep Daily Content free of third-party ads? You can send us some love (and cash) through this link right here.




Golden Journal 39
Join the Gold Club here

River Battleships
Buy it here

Black Panthers
Buy it here

Elsenborn Ridge
Buy it here

Eastern Front Artillery
Buy it here