Panzer Grenadier: Liberation 1944
By Mike Bennighof
Panzer Grenadier: Liberation 1944 has been one of the series’ most popular games since its release, thanks to the topic (the British drive across northern France in 1944) and the pedigree of its designer, Mike Perryman. Even so, when it came time to reprint it in Playbook format, I decided to take the opportunity to give it some improvements.
Liberation 1944 was already a very good game, but I saw a way to make it better – and I want all of our games to provide the very best experience we can craft, in terms of both game play and history.
The game is based on the British drive across northern France in the summer of 1944, starting with the fight right behind the Normandy beaches on June 6th. Like any Panzer Grenadier game, the heart of Liberation 1944 is the set of 41 scenarios. The first ones take place right after the British landings on Gold and Sword beaches, and include the secret weapons of the Normandy landings: tough British paras, and the strange armored vehicles known as “Percy Hobart’s Funnies.” The Germans strike back fairly quickly, with counter-attacks spearheaded by the 21st Panzer Division, an outfit equipped with all the scrapings of German tank depots across France.
We like our games to tell a story, with the scenarios moving the narrative forward, what we call the story-arc format. The scenarios are divided into chapters, and each chapter has still more historical background before it winds up with a “battle game” that ties the scenarios together, and lets the players measure their operational progress against one another.
Liberation 1944’s scenario set pretty naturally fell into 11 chapters, which coincidentally follows the pattern that designer Mike Perryman has used in later games, with shorter chapters that allow players to complete a battle game sequence relatively quickly. In the first scenarios, the British still have powerful off-shore naval guns to help them and are usually facing second-rate German units assigned to coastal defense. Even so, the fighting is tough as the Germans have well-prepared positions and the British are still a little disoriented from the landings.
Afterwards, the British have gathered themselves and brought their tanks ashore in strong numbers. But the Germans have received reinforcements of their own as well-equipped panzer divisions supplement the raggedy 21st Panzer and its array of weird weaponry. The British push their way forward and steadily mangle the elite of the German ground forces, and by the time the scenarios wrap up in August 1944, the Allied armies are poised to break out of Normandy. Along the way, the British engage in many kinds of fighting in the fairly dense terrain, with infantry doing to heavy lifting early on and armor taking an increasingly larger role for both sides as the campaign progresses.
The mix of units is supremely weird, which is why I really like this game. On the British side one finds the expected tank units: the American-made Sherman, which explodes pretty easily. The British-made Cromwell, which explodes just as easily. The Firefly, a British modification of the Sherman, which still explodes pretty easily but carries a huge cannon that can make German tanks explode pretty easily. Balancing those thin skins they have the Churchill, which doesn’t explode very easily but waddles about at the speed of a footsore duck.
And then things get a little strange. The British also have the Crocodile, a Churchill with a flamethrower, complete with a little trailer carrying more fuel. And the AVRE, a Churchill that fires a giant mortar round that blows down buildings. And the Sherman Crab, that can clear minefields. Unless it blows up instead.
The Germans come in two flavors, Regular Army and Waffen SS. The uniformed mass murderers of the Nazi regime have the very best weapons that Germany can provide: Tiger tanks, Panther tanks, Panzer IV tanks with the deadly long-barreled 75mm gun, and late-model assault guns. These SS formations are intended for front-line combat, and far more effective in battle than the cowardly occupation forces more usually associated with the SS. These troops are well-led, well-armed and for the most part well-trained.
The Regular Army is usually much less efficient. The “static” divisions encountered in the early days of the campaign are made up of troops lacking in enthusiasm for the Third Reich; some of them are not even German, but foreigners impressed into German service. Later in the campaign they do display the newer German weaponry: Tiger tanks, new-model Panzer IV tanks, up-to-date assault guns. But Germany is a poor country, and can’t afford many of those shiny wonder weapons, so the Germans make do through reuse and recycling (even the soldiers are sometimes former prisoners of war). Early on, the 21st Panzer Division lumbers into battle behind an array of jury-rigged armor, often Soviet-made field guns bolted onto the chassis of obsolete French or Czech tanks.
Those pieces are all our famed die-cut and silky-smooth type, the finest wargame pieces in all creation. They have a wonderful smooth coasting, and such sharp reproduction and rich colors that we’ve had to replace all of our older artwork to meet that standard.
But it’s the die-cutting that makes them even more special. Instead of being smashed with the force of the gods of Olympus on the mighty anvil of Hephaestus, the pieces are cut by microscopically-sharp blades that can’t even be touched by human hands, so keen are their edges. They cut through the chipboard with the gentlest push, leaving both sides of the playing piece smooth. There’s no thick, rippling rim around the edge of the piece’s flip side, and we have to mark it with a color stripe else you’ll not be able to tell front from back.
Rounding out the package are four heavy cardstock maps showing the Norman terrain. They are very green; you can see them right here.
With the scenarios re-vamped into the story-arc format, Liberation 1944 is an outstanding historical game experience. The scenarios aren’t just a random collection of “typical actions”; they tell a coherent story that gives a whole new dimension to your game play. For a very brief moment, Gold Club members can order just the new Playbook to upgrade their game to this exciting new standard.
You can order Liberation 1944 right here.
Please allow an extra two weeks for delivery.
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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, three children and his new puppy. He will never forget his dog, Leopold.
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