By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
A little bit of dieselpunk has finally come to Panzer Grenadier.
Land Cruisers introduces massive mechanized fighting machines, much larger than a tank with a large crew and many heavy weapons. They are not powered by steam (they have diesels) and they’re not relics of the Victorian Age (the Second Great War setting begins in 1940), but like the aircraft-carrying zeppelins of the Second Great War at Sea books they definitely fit K.W. Jeter’s definition of “writing in the ‘gonzo-historical manner.’”
Our gonzo history, the Second Great War, posits an end to the First Great War in early 1917, leaving the great empires more or less intact: German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian. But Woodrow Wilson is no more successful forging a workable League of Nations than he was in our own reality, and there is jealousy, friction and eventually war. France, Italy and Russia wish to overturn Wilson’s Peace and seize the rewards of victory that their leaders believe they should have reaped in 1917.
Land Cruisers is a supplement for Panzer Grenadier based on some of the battles of this war that never happened. It includes a booklet with the background story plus 10 scenarios, and a sheet of 80 die-cut, silky-smooth mounted pieces: 72 normal Panzer Grenadier pieces, and eight double-sized Land Cruisers.
Land Cruisers grew out of our April Fool’s content. In 2013 we’d resumed our traditional April 1st spoofs, with Design on Demand that year followed by the Eritrean Elephant Corps in 2014. The elephants punked a number of readers (it’s kinda easy to do that with wargamers) and I decided to go with a fake game release for 2015. And in that fake game, I included a Land Cruiser. I’d had such a game on the list for our extinct line of downloadable games and supplements, because I thought the concept was cool and weird, and while I was making the counters for the April Fools’ game I felt like drawing one.
And then something strange happened: customers starting asking for a game with Land Cruisers in it, for real. Not a lot of them, but enough to make me think how they could be used in an actual game setting. And so we have Land Cruisers, a Panzer Grenadier scenario arc from the Second Great War setting.
The Imperial German Army is well-trained, but a much more conservative force than that of its French enemies. The German infantry is outstanding; the artillery still has many weapons left over from the Great War. German tanks are for the most part slow vehicles designed to support the infantry, organized in brigades held as army-level assets and battalions at corps level. The cavalry has some faster tanks in actual mechanized divisions, but these are paired with horsed cavalry divisions which limit their operational flexibility.
The French have spent the last 23 years planning and training for this day. They come at the Germans with waves of tanks concentrated in armored divisions, backed by copious tactical air power and artillery support. Their morale is good, their Somua S35 medium tanks are very good, their infantry-support tanks are … not so good (but there are a lot of them).
Two of Lorraine’s eight districts voted to join France in 1917; the other six remained with Germany along with all of Alsace. The scenarios in Land Cruisers describe the French Second Army’s attempt to conquer the rest of the province, with the weight of their offensive aimed just to the southwest of Diedenhofen (Thionville). There the Germans have a fortified line which the French soon breach with their combination of armor, air power and artillery.
Per their pre-war plans, the Germans counter-attack with tank-supported infantry, but the slow, howitzer-equipped SturmPanzer 35 is no match for the swift and deadly Somua. At this point the high command decides to commit its secret weapons to seal the breakthrough before the French break into the Rhineland and reach the Rhine itself. Eventually all eight of the Land Cruisers are in action against the invaders.
The scenarios take place on the Elsenborn Ridge maps, which are about the closest we have to the terrain in that part of Lorraine (which isn’t all that far from Elsenborn). The scenarios take their French pieces from 1940: The Fall of France; the Germans use the ones in the new set (since these are Imperial, not Nazi, Germans). They're in a new Prussian Blue color scheme, sporting the Royal Prussian seal as their national emblem.
An alternative-history wargame needs to offer something besides just a standard historical setting with different-colored pieces. It requires a higher Fun Quotient to justify its existence. Land Cruisers, of course, has Land Cruisers, and this makes it both fun and weird. Developers Matt Ward and Daniel Rouleau went for fun and play balance when working over the scenarios: since we wrote the history, we can re-write to for maximum play value as we wish.
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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.