By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Panzer Grenadier brings you just about every type of World War II tactical combat you might wish to re-create. And after years of going without a true introductory game for the series, now we have two of them: The Kokoda Campaign and Invasion 1944. Today we’ll talk about the latter game.
Invasion 1944 is based on the fighting between American and German troops during and immediately after the 6 June 1944 landings in Normandy. The story picks up right after the landings (the beaches themselves are not covered – this is supposed to be an introductory game) and carries on until mid-July.
As with any Panzer Grenadier game, it’s the scenarios that tell the story. There are 21 of them, organized in the story-arc fashion that’s become the standard for recent Panzer Grenadier games. Mike Perryman designed them, and then developers Matt Ward and Daniel Rouleau added “battle games” to tie them together. You don’t have to play the battle games: you can still play the scenarios in any order you wish. But now you can play a whole series of them in the context of the larger campaign, and determine the winner based on overall performance.
There are also introductory scenarios, with detailed explanations of all the game functions, very much like our Free Panzer Grenadier set. If you haven’t played Panzer Grenadier, the Free Panzer Grenadier playset will get you started quickly and best of all, it’s free (you do have to pay for shipping it because we’re kind of poor).
You can get your own Free Playset, with a real map and real pieces, right here.
Invasion 1944 uses Panzer Grenadier’s Fourth Edition rules, a major step forward in ease of play for what was already a pretty easy game system to play. If you’ve played older Panzer Grenadier games, there’s nothing radically different here and you’ll be up to speed very quickly. We’ve cleaned up a number of concepts and made them easier to understand. Unlike the older rules sets, these come with full-color play-aids that make the game even more fun to play just by looking cool.
You can download Panzer Grenadier’s Fourth Edition rules right here.
So Invasion 1944 isn’t really a first step into Panzer Grenadier: you can take the first step for free (you know, with no money). It’s a second step. Once you’ve tried out the game system and find you like it, here’s a reasonably-priced, reasonably-sized game to get you started on a much grander adventure. We’ve published dozens of Panzer Grenadier games with thousands of scenarios; we have a lot of fun waiting for you.
Each scenario is based on an actual battle that took place in Normandy between German and American forces in June and July 1944. The players command each side, usually between one and three battalions’ worth of troops with supporting arms. The text explains not only how to set up and play the scenario, but gives its historical context in the campaign and what victory would have meant to either side. We like to weave text and scenarios together to tell our story, in that case, that of select American divisions (usually the 29th Infantry Division) in the days right after the Allied invasion of France.
In addition to its 21 scenarios, Invasion 1944 has 176 die-cut pieces, featuring both the usual units and leaders of a Panzer Grenadier game plus markers. The German Army, the United States Army, and the German Air Force’s ground troops (mostly tough paratroopers and a few decidedly un-tough infantrymen) are all present.
The pieces represent platoons of tanks and infantry, and batteries of artillery and other heavy weapons. The leaders represent outstanding individuals who influence the flow of battle, with their number and quality also representing their side’s command and control capabilities (good, battle-experienced formations from well-educated societies have more leaders, and usually of better quality). Leaders are necessary to rally dispirited troops, and to convince their men to advance against the enemy.
The units are rated for their firepower (direct fire, bombardment fire, and/or anti-tank fire), the range of said firepower, and their movement capability. Morale and initiative are tracked for the entire side, though sometimes the morale of different units on the same side varies. Morale represents a unit’s will to fight, to stand against enemy fire and to engage him in close combat.
Artillery units appear on the map, with the big guns usually firing in support from off the map (in that case, your leaders will also have to act as forward observers). Artillery is the god of war, and its proper use is necessary to make your combined-arms team (tanks, infantry, artillery) work together successfully. It can do great damage to an enemy, but it can’t take ground from him. That’s the province of the infantry.
Tanks provide a little of both: a presence on the ground, and tremendous firepower. Tanks are rated for their firepower like other units, and also for their armor protection. Tanks are pretty tough, but they are not invulnerable. To destroy a tank, you have to hit it with anti-tank fire, and penetrate its armor (using a simple differential). Invasion 1944 doesn’t have a huge number of tanks, so you’ll have to take good care of them and protect them with your infantry – tanks and infantry need each other, particularly in the close hedgerow country of Normandy.
Invasion 1944 comes with two maps, showing those hedgerows and the other dense terrain where the fighting took place. You place these two maps together to create the battlefield for the game, aligned as the scenario instructions direct. Two maps are plenty: they are loaded with hedgerows, plus some woods and a couple of villages that give plenty of cover for opposing forces to get very close to one another.
We built Invasion 1944 to serve as a second step in an introduction to Panzer Grenadier (after the Free Playset), but also to provide a challenge to experienced players. The scenarios are usually pretty small (they sort of have to be, with only two maps in the package) and don’t take too long. A significant proportion of Panzer Grenadier players like scenarios that they can play in an hour or two (that’s not a guess – there’s data to back that up). Invasion 1944 is a box that’s going to get opened and played. A lot.
You can order Invasion 1944 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. Leopold needs no introduction.