Fourth Edition, First Look
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Panzer Grenadier, our game series of World War II platoon-level combat, has been around, in one form or another, since the late 1980’s and was first published a decade later. I’m pretty sure the first edition rules were the ones printed for sale at the summer conventions during the game’s initial release and only went into the first several hundred copies of the very first game, titled Panzer Grenadier. The second edition took over that fall and remained the standard until 2006, when we replaced them with the third edition starting with Road to Berlin.
Over a span of 15 years, almost 2,000 scenarios and 72 games/books/supplements, Panzer Grenadier has had just three rules editions including the short-lived first one. So the upcoming release of the Fourth Edition is a very big deal indeed, at least within the tiny worlds of Avalanche Press and Panzer Grenadier.
Panzer Grenadier (Modern) debuted in 2013 with the release of 1967: Sword of Israel, with a rules set based on Panzer Grenadier but with many differences. Some change was inevitable, to account for the different weaponry of a different era, but the new rules as written by John Stafford and refined by a fanatically dedicated team made significant improvements to the basic structure of Panzer Grenadier.
Sword of Israel received the new treatment we’re trying to give all of our boxed games, with color play aids throughout. So naturally Panzer Grenadier’s Fourth Edition had to have the same treatment. There’s a new marker sheet, with much more colorful pieces and a few new ones (illumination, wire, riverbank). And the chart cards are now full-color, with a similar look to those of Panzer Grenadier (Modern), including a new, totally re-designed turn record card.
What else is different? Almost everything; almost nothing, all at the same time. Panzer Grenadier still plays the way you know how to play it: the Fourth Edition rules are fully backward-compatible with those 1,900-odd published scenarios. In fact, at some point fairly soon the Third Edition rules packets will run out and we’ll start including Fourth Edition rules in the older games, too – with no scenario modifications necessary.
To achieve that goal, developer John Stafford has cleared up a number of inconsistent rules, improved language, added and expanded definitions and introduced many more illustrations. The game much easier to play now, but it is the same game. There are some refinements, to sections like Cavalry Leaders, Friendly Fire and River Crossings.
Some sections get heftier re-writes, like Spotting, Line of Sight and Opportunity Fire. Some new rules sections have been adapted from Panzer Grenadier (Modern) and added, like Disorientation (wandering lost in the jungle). Like Disorientation, many of the “new” sections aren’t new at all but have been appearing again and again in the Special Rules sections of books and games, and now are shifted to the series rulebook where they belong (for example, Dragging Guns). A few are completely new, like extra spotting abilities for reconnaissance units (simple yet effective, it lets them see things a little easier than other units).
And then there are the optional rules. And more optional rules. And still more optional rules. So many optional rules, that during layout we just broke them out of the main rulebook and gave them their own booklet. It’s still kind of a large booklet. Here’s what you get there (the new stuff, not counting the Third Edition optional rules that carried over):
• Consolidation. Merge two reduced units into one full-strength one.
• Excess Initiative. If you have a big enough initiative advantage, you can save an extra activation for later in the turn when you really need it.
• Formation Activation. Taken out of Panzer Grenadier (Modern), this lets you activate all the units of a formation together, if they meet certain requirements. Works pretty easily in practice.
• Logistics. Another one right out of Panzer Grenadier (Modern), where it isn’t optional (Modern units fire off a whole lot more ammunition).
• Hidden Units. Yes, this one’s been around for a very long time in Panzer Grenadier, but this is a new version of Jay Townsend’s favorite rule.
• Tank Riders. This one’s been around in the Special Rules section of seemingly hundreds of games and supplements. Now it’s in the regular rules, and no, cavalry cannot ride on tanks.
• Extended Assault. Another adaptation from Panzer Grenadier (Modern), this lets your armored vehicles make a cavalry charge. Sort of.
• Overrun. You can try to squash the enemy as you pass by rather than stock around and fight him hand-to-hand. It doesn’t always work.
• Move and Fire. It’s a more elegant form of the split move/fire previously allowed to just one unit (the M36 Hellcat tank destroyer), for troops that are very very good.
• Drumfire. I recognize this rule! I wrote one very much like it for the initial version of Infantry Attacks. Basically, you can pour artillery fire onto one location and anyone stupid enough to walk into it later in the turn gets blasted, too, not just whoever’s there during the firing artillery’s activation.
• Recon by Fire. Sort of like most hunting in Alabama – shoot at a hex that may or may not have something hidden in it, and see what comes running out.
• Smoke and Illumination Bombardment. What it sounds like – fire off smoke or illumination rounds instead of high explosive.
• Ruins. Now this one is ultra cool. When you hit a town/city hex with massive artillery firepower, you can blow stuff up.
• Mire. Taken from Panzer Grenadier (Modern), this presents a chance for vehicle units to get, literally, bogged down.
With all of those new options in play, Panzer Grenadier becomes a different game, one much more intense than what I originally had in mind, sort of like the “advanced game” rules that used to come with the first generation of wargames back 40-odd years ago.
Overall, John Stafford and his very dedicated team of Panzer Grenadier fanatics have turned in a solid set of rules that should remain stable for many years to come. Our goal has always been to allow players to open the box and start playing right away – if you’ve played one game in the series, you can play them all.
This is going to be fun.
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