By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I designed and published Panzer Grenadier: Land Cruisers for one sole reason: to amuse my late friend, Larry Marak. The first Land Cruiser appeared in an April Fool’s fake-news press release (back before “fake news” meant “embarrassing stuff some politico wants you to pretend isn’t true”). Larry liked that so much that I made it into an actual product, an expansion book for 1940: The Fall of France.
I had great hopes for Land Cruisers. It had this dieselpunk vibe that I thought was cool and hoped would find traction outside our usual audience. But even at the time I knew that to reach a broader audience, it would have to be a stand-alone game, not an expansion requiring you to own another game already. But I didn’t want to derail our production scale for a new, weird full-sized game, or invest the necessary cash in something that could fail spectacularly. I went with the safe bet, a small expansion, and thereby limited the audience for Land Cruisers to the universe of existing Panzer Grenadier players.
Within that universe, its sales were acceptable but not spectacular. Were it a standard historical supplement we’d definitely keep it in print and it would continue to sell; as an odd number, Land Cruisers isn’t going to keep selling without support and promotion that I’d rather give to some of our other games. And as a $24.99 item, that effort’s not going to bring the return of a good, solid historical analysis work for Jutland or Fall of Empires, games with price tags triple that of Land Cruisers (so each extra sale we make is worth three times as much).
Here at Avalanche Press, we do things differently. That’s kind of obvious. What’s less obvious is that we also follow a different printing strategy than most publishers: we make games in small batches, with that largest batch coming when the game is new and then declining as its sales decline. Land Cruisers has reached the point where sales have slowed. Most of the games reach that point, and then we rejuvenate them with an expansion or some other kind of related book.
Land Cruisers won’t get that, for the reasons I babbled about up above, so it will fall permanently out of print when the last copies are gone. We dropped it to half-price to send it on its way; when the last copies are gone, we won’t be printing any more.
So what is this strange little game expansion?
Land Cruisers is set in the world of our Second Great War alternative history, where Imperial Germany (among others) is at war with France and Russia (among others) in a new world conflict that breaks out in 1940. That setting isn’t really integral to the Land Cruiser story, but there was no way in hell I was making a game about gigantic swastika-emblazoned phallic symbols pulping the untermenschen under their massive treads. I still wanted to draw on that mad-German-scientist stereotype, so the Land Cruisers serve the Kaiser.
The Land Cruisers themselves are huge fighting machines crawling on treads, armed with naval cannon and carrying their own accompanying troops. They have thick armor and lots of smaller automatic weapons to drive off enemy airplanes and would-be Luke Skywalkers, but they’re painfully slow and hard to maneuver.
In the story, and the game scenarios that help tell it, they’re ultra-top-secret weapons deployed by the Imperial Army in a last-ditch effort to stop the unstoppable French offensive. The French fling whole battalions of tanks and infantry at them, but not many airplanes (the fixed-wing airplane is not as big a deal in the world of the Second Great War as it was in our own history). And often the Land Cruisers just grind them up, but they’re not invincible. They can fall to a Lilliputian attack, if the German player isn’t careful or if the French set up their attacks.
That makes for a very different sort of Panzer Grenadier game, a weird and very fun experience. The Land Cruisers take up two hexes, and it’s just fun moving their huge, double-sized playing pieces and making screaming sounds when they overrun French infantry and crunch those R35’s like they were escargots.
We built a whole story around the Land Cruisers, with a background and a dramatic climax and all that good stuff. The developers - Matt Ward and Daniel Rouleau - whined at first that they weren’t getting some Eastern Front tank extravaganza that actually happened, but I think they actually had fun. They did turn in a really solid set of rules for the massive steel beasts, without breaking the basic rules structure of Panzer Grenadier.
It’s okay to play wargames for the fun. Trust me, I really do have a Ph.D. You don’t have to be all extra-serious all the time about armor penetration and orders of battle and rate of fire. This stuff isn’t real; the tanks are little drawings on colored bits of cardboard. You pretend they’re Panthers and T-34’s, so you can pretend they’re ginormous Land Cruisers, too. Go ahead; I absolve you. I have that power, granted me when I was hooded as a doctor of philosophy.
I won’t miss Land Cruisers: I have my own copy plus a couple of extras squirreled away just for my own personal use. And I still get to write about them whenever the mood strikes; the Land Cruiser intended for the now-cancelled expansion book will show up as downloadable modules exclusively for the Gold Club. So you can join up and get to play with some Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Land Cruisers waddling off to crush the Serbs, or Royal Polish Land Cruisers fighting the Tsar’s elite heliborne assault troops, and bring the German Navy’s crack Zeppelin Marines into the fray. But we’ll direct our actual publishing efforts to more traditional works.
I had a lot of fun designing Land Cruisers. I know game designers are supposed to say that about every game we make; I’ve finally become cynical enough to suppress my gag reflex at the traditional “I hope you have as much fun playing this game as I did designing it.” Designing games is hard work, and it’s not often fun. Land Cruisers actually was fun. You deserve some fun, too.
Click right here to order Land Cruisers right now.
It’s half price until it’s gone, and then it’s gone forever. And that’s a long, long time.
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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 eleventy-million books, games and articles on historical subjects. Some of them are actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.
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