By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Game designers are easy to come by. Quality ones, much less so. When long-time fan Jay Townsend wanted to design a Panzer Grenadier game, I figured we could always fix it in development.
Instead, he turned in such a complete and well-crafted design for Saipan 1944 that I soon began pressing him for another boxed game design. I had always thought we needed to take Panzer Grenadier to the Korean War, and steered him in that direction. For once, I made a very good decision. Pusan Perimeter, the first Korean War game is every bit as good as Saipan, but with more firepower. This is a fun game, and now I’m going to tell you why.
First off, it’s one of the first Panzer Grenadier games of the fourth generation. That means it’s a game that you very likely, if you’re reading this, already know how to play. If not, it’s a game you can learn pretty easily – here are the Five Minute Rules for the preceding Third Edition; keep watching Daily Content for the Fourth Edition’s Five Minute Rules. Once you invest those five minutes and know how to play, a world of 2,000 scenarios is open to you.
Among those are the 48 scenarios of Korean War: Pusan Perimeter – the first installment of an eventual 200 (yes, an even two hundred) scenarios in Jay’s four-volume opus. And they are really good. The North Korean People’s Army surged over the 38th Parallel on 25 June 1950, and didn’t stop surging until they reached the United Nations perimeter around the port of Pusan in early August. There the Americans and South Koreans, with some help from other United Nations contributors, brought the offensive to a halt.
That campaign is the basis of Korean War: Pusan Perimeter (two more games will cover the Inchon offensive that followed and brought the U.N. forces to the Chinese border, and the Chinese response that bundled them back to today’s North-South border). The North Koreans are much better trained and equipped than the South Koreans and even the Americans (in many U.S. Army units, “team sports” had replaced actual practice for battle).
Jay has crafted a fine variety of scenarios. There are no tank battles this time; in this war, the tank is an infantry-support weapon, and a very powerful one at that. The North Korean offensive is powered in large part by the T-34/85 tanks of the 105th Armored Brigade. Their infantry is good but not great; the ROK and U.S. forces, at this point in the war, are pretty bad. The North Koreans are strategically on the attack, but as in just about every Panzer Grenadier game there are plenty of chances for the Americans and South Koreans to strike back. There’s even a glorious South Korean cavalry charge (a successful one at that).
The scenarios also have what I really like to see in our games, a narrative flow. You can follow the story of this first segment of the Korean War just through the scenarios. They’re well-chosen to chart the progress of the North Korean offensive and the valiant defense outside Pusan that finally stopped it. When you play any one scenario, the context of the battle within the larger picture is instantly clear. That’s something for which we always strive in Panzer Grenadier games; Jay’s done a particularly good job of showing it in this one.
While rules and scenarios are the software that make the game go, it’s the hardware that attracts players at first glance, and the first glance here shows a wealth of new toys. Three forces are present in Pusan Perimeter: the U.S. Army, the Republic of Korea Army (the South Koreans, known then as now as ROKs), and the North Korean People’s Army, the NKPA or In Min Gun. Later volumes will bring on the U.S. Marine Corps, China’s People’s Liberation Army, the Commonwealth Division, the Turkish Brigade, North Korean guerillas and more.
These are very fine toys; Santa’s elves would be proud to claim them. The pieces are the standard thickness we’ve been using for the past year or two, laser cut but with the new scorchless and sootless technique seen in the Gold Club special Torpedo Boats set. They’re completely smooth on both sides – there’s no damage from getting hit by thousands of pounds of force in the die-cutting process. No more ridges around the edges, or huge dog-ears on the corners. These are the best game pieces I have ever seen, and I have seen many, many game pieces.
The U.S. Army follows the same color scheme as it does in the World War II games – this is, after all, part of the same series. The North Koreans are a rich brown with their red star; the South Koreans light gray with their taeguk symbol of universal harmony. This is not a tank-heavy game; the North Koreans have a strong force of T-34/85s and some Soviet-made assault guns. The South Koreans have some armored cars but are by no means a mechanized force and even bring horsed cavalry to the battlefield. It’s the Americans who have the big toys – tanks, heavy artillery, air power - though at this stage of the war, American firepower has yet to make itself felt. The odds are even at best, or tilted to the North Koreans.
Pusan Perimeter includes four standard Panzer Grenadier maps, numbered 92 through 95 and of course fully compatible with other maps in the series. The art is by Guy Riessen, and they depict the terrain of South Korea including a river on every board. You can see a full preview of them here.
We’ve been striving hard over the past year or so to greatly improve the quality of our products: their design, their development and especially their physical presentation. The new games bringing in Panzer Grenadier’s Fourth Age bring the well-loved series a major improvement in both their look (those scorchless, sootless smooth laser-cut pieces) and play (those Fourth Edition, color-play-aid rules). It’s a big step forward for us, and I hope you join us in the fun.
Don’t wait to put Pusan Perimeter on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!