Remember the Fun?
By Matt Ward
I didn’t expect this.
I was one of many who, when confronted with the April 1, 2015 announcement of a new series of Panzer Grenadier based on the Second Great War, reacted with shock, and, I admit, a bit of anger. Why are we messing around with an entirely fictional conflict developed primarily to provide additional venues for naval combat when so much of the Second World War remained for Panzer Grenadier to portray? As I was fond of pointing out, while some areas had received saturation coverage (the Bulge, Finland, Cassino, 1939 Poland, and Slovakia’s entire wartime experience) there were huge gaps in the oeuvre including Sicily, China, Manchuria, Russia, China, Spain and, of course, China (if any designers are listening and have access to sources for the Chinese experience in the 30s and 40s, you might find a buyer here . . . just sayin’). Certainly there were enough real battles remaining to cover in Panzer Grenadier that the invention of an entirely different timeline (and the likelihood that we would be entering an ersatz Doctor Who episode) was unnecessary and, indeed, superfluous.
Nevertheless I, like apparently quite a number of us, clicked on the link, cursing myself for doing so and wondering how I would explain the idiotic expense to my family who have already pointed out that the game room looks to be filled with boxes and Ziplocs beyond measure (It isn’t true! I have a complete record of every game owned and played – while the measure is immense it is not “beyond”). I do have a bad case of “completion compulsion” when it comes to Panzer Grenadier. At this point I own or have on order every product ever produced in the line so despite my distaste for the topic and setting of the Second Great War I would have to buy it. It was with a mixture of relief and self-mocking that the result of clicking the “you can buy it here” link was a lovely picture and the reminder that it was April 1st after all.
Fast forward to July, 2015 and Daniel Rouleau and I are finalizing our second development project for Panzer Grenadier, a lively romp through 1944 Normandy with the 9th and 29th Divisions. We had already begun our next project, a more southerly campaign, when Daniel and I were told by the powers that be that we will have two new supplements to work on that are urgent projects, both 10-scenario packs, one on the M Division, the Italian Blackshirt Division outfitted with real tanks from Germany, and one on the Land Cruisers, a fictional behemoth used by Imperial Germany in the Second Great War. The scenario packs are to be limited edition items, sold only to the Gold Club but their release is imminent so drop everything else and get these done.
Like the good grognards that we are, we grumbled appropriately and bent to the task. The first one that arrives is not, as I had hoped, the M Division, which at least existed and could have been involved in the Tunisian battles (logistical considerations aside), but rather the Land Cruiser item. The pieces are perfectly Prussian Blue and the Land Cruisers are “long” pieces, awkwardly filling two spaces on the board with the requisite ream of special rules necessary to provide direction in their use. Luckily, the first three scenarios are merely stage setters to the introduction of the Land Cruisers and are much more standard Panzer Grenadier scenarios with the nonstandard upgraded French Army which outclasses the Imperial German Army in vehicles, artillery and doctrine. They are enjoyable romps, especially since they provide some insight into what would have happened if the French actually used their superior machines to their best advantage in 1940.
But now we hit the meat of the supplement and the need to test out the two-hex rules for the Land Cruisers. A quick examination of the proposed rules indicated that it would be difficult to appropriately address many of the issues without expanding the ruleset considerably and testing the rules in play. Harking back to April 1st, I remembered my dismay at a totally alternate timeline for the system when so much “real” conflict remained to be portrayed. As Daniel reminds me, however, criticism should not precede experience. So, with my complaints unspoken, we set out a scenario.
I was thoroughly surprised at the result. Oh, there were tons of niggling details that we had to work out concerning the use of a two-hex unit, especially concerning assaults, fire angles, etc. As in any scenario development project we worried over balance, setup/entry instructions, force composition, objectives, etc. Somewhere along the line, however, all of that faded into the background. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how much fun these monsters are. At the end of our session, despite all of the inevitable halts to discuss rules, objectives and the other things that need to be ironed out in development, Daniel and I discussed just how much fun the play had been.
The Land Cruiser is slow but immensely powerful. The French will lose piles of troops and vehicles to their guns and supporting troops. The hope they have is to assault the cruisers and, if nothing else, silence their guns through close action while nicking away at the armor. The primary French tactic is therefore to swarm over the Land Cruiser whilst the Germans counterassault wherever they can to try to free up the cruiser’s guns. Lilliputian images are rampant. The stacks are ungainly, messy and ultimately almost comical but the battle narratives are compelling, riveting and so very, very enjoyable. The Land Cruiser is a fictional beast that almost couldn’t possibly exist even in an alternate timeline, but playing Panzer Grenadier with them is a romp.
Land Cruisers is one of those supplements that remind you that, underneath all of the fire ratings, armor ratings, history and simulation, Panzer Grenadier is a game system that is meant to be played. Unlike the game systems of other publishers, Avalanche Press excels in playable games that have not abandoned the history, even if, at times, the history needs to be made up. These rolling forts are just the toys to remind you of how much fun you can have in this hobby. If you are in the Gold Club and have balked at the alternate history, do yourself a favor and consider getting Land Cruisers. The order cutoff comes up soon and once it’s gone, it’s gone. If you aren’t in the Gold Club but you are a Panzer Grenadier follower, you might want to consider joining (and you can get the Golden Journal items free!).
Now if you’ll excuse me, the Mackensen needs to veer away from a host of motorcycle-riding dragoons looking to tie it down, the embarked German marines are prepared to repel the boarders and the big guns are seeking out French tanks to turn into bonfires. Meanwhile the Hutier is slowly cutting down the fire angle on a gaggle of B1bis tanks and the Rouleau is shaking off another assault, the second this turn. No Daleks or Tardis as yet, but the scenario still has another 15 turns . . . I’ll come back to this world after I have my fun.
Don’t wait to put Land Cruisers on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before they're gone forever!