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The Kokoda Campaign:
Integrating History and Game Play

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
December 2015

After years of publishing Panzer Grenadier scenario books in a standard format, with a large number of scenarios, each including all the information needed for play plus some historical context, I wanted more. More historical context, and more game play, so you could play a series of the scenarios in a simple campaign format.

The Kokoda Campaign, a game I never wanted, turned out to be exactly the game I wanted.

It didn’t really sink in until I prepped The Kokoda Campaign for printing. Even if I didn’t design or develop the game, I give everything we print a final, thorough editing pass. It’s apparently a quaint and forgotten notion these days, but it’s become an ingrained habit at Avalanche Press. I’d initially told developers Matt Ward and Daniel Rouleau to brush up the scenarios from our old Kokoda Trail book, so we could re-package them in a complete boxed game. They pleaded to do more, claiming they could re-make the scenarios into a deeper experience, both in terms of play value and historical insight.

Pretty much all of my experiences at Avalanche Press involving ambitious underlings have turned out badly. Sometimes they’ve turned out really, really badly. Aware I was probably making a profoundly stupid decision, but also aware that I always had the option to click “delete” on whatever godawful mess they turned in and just print the scenarios from the original book, I told them to proceed.

What they turned in is the future of the Panzer Grenadier series, and most of our other games as well. In some ways, the changes aren’t that big a deal; pretty much they execute the model I had already laid down for upcoming games like Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires. I had a notion that such an approach could create a far superior game experience, but I didn’t really understand how superior it would be until I saw it executed, and executed extremely well, by someone else.

Here’s what makes The Kokoda Campaign stand out. Like other Panzer Grenadier games, it has many scenarios, though at 30 of them it’s a relative lightweight compared to some others (even so, that’s several times what some other publishers will give you, and call it a “complete” game). Matt and Daniel didn’t treat them as thirty stand-alone undertakings, which has been our usual approach (one that’s not original to Avalanche Press, and dates back to the very dawn of wargame publishing).

The scenarios are instead organized into six “battles,” each consisting of a varying number of scenarios (it’s not an even split, but pretty close). Each of these battles has its own introduction and conclusion, with much more depth than what we usually give the individual scenarios, placing the scenarios in the context of the ongoing campaign. That’s how Fall of Empires is organized, and while it seems like a glaringly obvious way to organize things, by itself it’s actually a fairly major change for the wargame industry. There’s not a lot of history in many “historical” wargames.

What’s different in The Kokoda Campaign is this: each of the “battles” can also be played as a whole, a meta-scenario if you will. It’s a pretty simple method, one that should have been obvious but just hasn’t been used before (at least not at Avalanche Press, and not to my knowledge anywhere else), though it’s only going to work with a certain type of historical situation and scenario set. And then you can string those battles together to play the entire campaign, again, in a pretty simple method (you don’t need extra pieces or much bookkeeping).

In addition, there’s also a campaign game using our old Campaigns and Commanders system, sort of a role-playing adjunct to Panzer Grenadier. You guide one or more “Leader Characters” through the scenarios (up to all 30 of them), as they rise in rank and gain new special skills (jungle craft, close combat and so on). Like the scenarios, it's been updated to match the Fourth Edition rules set.

The game’s scenarios aren’t very large (the only comes with two maps, after all) and for the most part they don’t involve tanks or aircraft and many have no off-board artillery. That allows experienced players to play several at a sitting, making those battle games especially attractive. That also means that The Kokoda Campaign is perfectly suited to serve as an introduction to Panzer Grenadier, and that’s what Matt and Daniel have done.

The Kokoda Campaign starts off with three small scenarios, in which each step in the scenario instructions is explained in the same manner as our Free Panzer Grenadier introductory set. You only need to learn some of the game rules to play these scenarios. Then the rest of the rules are introduced for the other 27 scenarios. The introductory scenarios aren’t just an introduction; each of them also plays a part in the battles described above.

When we first introduced these scenarios in the old Kokoda Trail book, our marketing guru was not impressed. “How the ^%$ can you have Panzer Grenadier without $@%&#!^ panzers?” she demanded to know.

The Kokoda Campaign is how: with integrated history, with immense play value, with easy introduction for new players, with enormous play value. This is exactly what a well-crafted wargame should be.

Click right here to order The Kokoda Campaign. Do it now.

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 also has enormous play value.