By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
After waiting way too many years, we eventually gave the Panzer Grenadier series what it always needed: a true introductory game. Actually we now have two of them: Invasion 1944 and The Kokoda Campaign. Today we'll look at Invasion 1944.
Invasion 1944 is designed to introduce players to the world of Panzer Grenadier, one that’s visited nearly every theater of World War II in dozens of books and games with thousands of scenarios. It’s not a difficult game to play, as wargames go, and Invasion 1944 makes it even easier.
Invasion 1944’s 21 scenarios follow American troops, usually those of the 29th Infantry Division, as they fight their way off the Normandy beaches and into the hinterland, facing both the German Army (usually not so good) and German Air Force paratroopers (often very good). The scenarios are organized to make it easy on the players to integrate more and more rules section into their games: the first ones don’t have many tanks, for example, and only a limited number of special rules. The scenarios incorporate more stuff as they go on. Veteran players, of course, can jump in anywhere they like.
As a Panzer Grenadier game, Invasion 1944’s units are platoons of infantry and tanks and batteries of artillery, anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank guns. Leaders, representing a side’s command-and-control capability as much as they do actual individuals, direct these units toward the enemy and restore their will to fight when they lose their enthusiasm.
There are several types of combat: direct fire (units shooting at other units), assault (units charging into the same hex as the enemy and fighting it out at close range), anti-tank fire (what it sounds like) and bombardment (the big guns). Combat inflicts losses in the form of, well, losses, and also disruption or demoralization, which degrade a unit’s ability to fight.
Morale plays a role in determining losses (sometimes a unit is called on to pass a morale check or suffer for it), and is also checked to recover from demoralization or disruption, or to perform certain other tasks. Morale varies by scenario (it’s not noted on the playing pieces, since it can differ), and usually a unit has better morale when at full strength than after it’s taken a loss.
Players command higher-level units - a battalion, regiment, or brigade – made up of the units and leaders on the game board. This higher-level command shows its effectiveness through the morale of the individual units, but also the number of leaders and their relative ranks (a good unit has an even balance; a poor one tends to have not only fewer leaders but they are clumped on one end of the rank scale).
All of the above comes together pretty intuitively to form an interactive game system that’s not hard to play. You can download the rules and charts here, and get yourself a free introductory set here.
Invasion 1944 goes a lot farther than just our small introductory playset. There are two geomorphic maps (meaning that you fit them together in different combinations to form the battlefield for the particular scenario in play) and 176 playing pieces, including leaders and units for both sides plus markers.
The terrain is well-suited for defense, and the Germans are going to need every advantage they can get in the face of American firepower. The U.S. Army is a solid force, having trained for years for these very battles. The German Army, not so much. They have good leaders, the veterans of many campaigns, but their troops are less than enthusiastic and many aren’t even German (having been conscripted in occupied Eastern Europe or from Red Army prisoners of war). Even so, the German Army still has some good units like the 91st Air Landing Division that can put up fearsome resistance.
The German Air Force has some anti-aircraft troops pressed into ground combat who aren’t happy to be there, but do have their awesome 88mm guns available to shred any Sherman tanks foolish enough to show themselves within their sight. And they have tough, well-led and well-armed paratroopers appearing in a number of scenarios.
It’s a good mix of scenarios, though none of them are overly large (this is not a big game). Players face a variety of tactical challenges, which should make for excellent replay value.
I was really pleased to add this game to our lineup, and I think you’re going to like it.
Don’t wait to put Invasion 1944 on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!
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.