By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
We’ve brought Panzer Grenadier: Eastern Front back into print with a new cover, and it turned out much nicer than I ever hoped. And that’s given me a new appreciation of the game contained within the box, one with a heft that’s very noticeable when you apply the sleeve to the inner black box.
Until recently, I never put my own name on our game boxes. I guess I was repelled by the insufferable egoism that would lead an individual to plaster his name on a game in 14 different places, and then whine that he didn’t get enough credit. With this new cover I changed that (complete with Ph.D. for "Portfolio-having Dude"); when you’re proud of your work, you’d best take credit for it. And I am very proud of this game.
We released Eastern Front during our first full year of Daily Content, and since then it’s been the recipient of a huge quantity of history, variants, analysis and so on. Yet we’ve never given it designer’s notes. It’s a large game, with eight maps and 660 playing pieces.
The game is itself a re-make of the very first Panzer Grenadier game, which we always called “Eastern Front” but did not, in fact, say that on its decidedly unattractive box. The first game had four mounted maps, and we went with eight cardstock versions for the new game. The art files had either been corrupted or never been properly archived so we needed them done over, which Terry Strickland did. All of them are remakes of earlier maps; we originally commissioned eight for that first game and used four in that and two others in the long-forgotten Heroes of the Soviet Union game. The last two had sat around unloved for a few years.
The maps are serviceable, though they’re not nearly as beautiful as the work Guy Riessen has been doing in our most recent Panzer Grenadier games. They do provide a very nice variety of terrain types, and as a scenario designer I’ve found myself going back to these over and over. There is a trick to designing (as opposed to illustrating) a Panzer Grenadier map (and this probably applies to any game with geomorphic maps): don’t put too much crap in the corners. The Eastern Front maps may not be the loveliest in the series, but from a game design perspective they are easily the best-designed.
I wanted the game to include Romanians as well as Germans on the Axis side, and it’s got plenty of them. There’s also a huge array of tanks for all the armies involved, but Panzer Grenadier remains an infantry-centered game so there are lots of foot soldiers, too. The pieces are die-cut, something we don’t do anymore, but they are very fine examples of the type.
The Soviets get the expected vehicles: T-34/76 medium tanks and KV-1 heavy tanks. But there’s a lot more in the arsenal of communism: the five-turreted T-35 heavy tank, the three-turreted T-28 medium tank, the giant KV-2 support tank, scads of T-26 and T-60 light tanks, and plenty of BT-5 and BT-7 fast tanks. And they have cavalry and plenty of heavy weapons.
Germany also has an array of arms: PzII, Pz38t and Pz35t light tanks, PzIII and PZIV medium tanks (each in several models) and a Tiger heavy tanks. They also have cavalry, and also plenty of artillery, anti-tank guns, mortars and anti-aircraft guns. Plus a platoon of Brandenburg commandos.
Romania is much less well-equipped. They have their sturdy infantry, who are not all that good, and their cavalry and mountain troops, who are. They have some tanks, the French-made R35 and Czech-made R2, but are lacking in support weapons with only a few anti-tank guns and artillery pieces.
With Eastern Front, I accepted a challenge to write 112 scenarios for the game. It was a pretty childish idea; game designer Brian Knipple taunted me and said I couldn’t do it, so I had to do it. I guess I should be thankful he didn’t dare me to do something actually harmful. And it did yield a game with 112 scenarios.
They come in a big, thick perfect bound book (one with a spine rather than staples), and there are indeed 112 of them. Some are better than others; if I had them to do over again I’d do some of them over again. But while there are a few that could stand improvement, the set has many of my favorite scenarios in the entire Panzer Grenadier lineup. “The Crossing at Alytus,” “Crossed Sabers” and “Ride of the Seventh” are scenarios I like a lot. While I try to include many kinds of scenarios in a Panzer Grenadier game, the ones I tend to prefer are those that present the same challenges faced by the commanders on the spot – that doesn’t necessarily mean that the historical result is the most likely outcome.
The set also includes the two scenarios that started the Panzer Grenadier series, “Okhvat Station” and “Tank Attack at Okhvat.” I remember making the very first counters for what became Panzer Grenadier: I was 16 or 17 years old, and sat on the shag-carpeted floor of my parents’ living room carefully filling in numbers with a fine-point felt-tip pen on a set of pre-cut counters from some long-forgotten mail-order house. Then I colored them with pencils, green Germans and burgundy Soviets. I drew a map, and I played and played those two scenarios to make my new game work. My mother was pretty angry, as I recall, that I was wasting time that could have been spent studying, but my father was bemusedly accepting of his son’s strange ways. He died a little over a year ago, and I never thought to thank him for that precious gift that would serve me so well in adulthood.
So anyway, I’m glad I finally found the courage to put my name on a game that’s been such a part of my life since the closing days of childhood. While so much has slipped away as the years have passed, somehow, this game is still here. I hope it brings you plenty of enjoyment.
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