By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
From the earliest days of Panzer Grenadier, when it only existed in a teenager’s daydreams, I wanted to take the series to the Korean War. And with Korean War: Pusan Perimeter, we finally got there.
Korean War tactical combat was intense, involving a great deal of infantry fighting in tough terrain – something the Panzer Grenadier game system shows particularly well. It includes armor, with powerful tanks like the M26 Pershing and the T-34/85 (as well as some not-so-powerful tanks like the M24 Chaffee). And all sorts of new weapons that only saw limited use at the tail end of the Second World War, like recoilless rifles and helicopters.
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. 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). Pusan Perimeter has 48 scenarios, the first installment of a a Korean War project that will eventually include well over 300 scenarios in multiple boxed games and books. We’re not in this for minimal coverage.
There are no tank battles in Pusan Perimeter; 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 (later raised to Armored Division status). 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 chart the progress of the North Korean offensive and the valiant defense outside Pusan that finally stopped it. The North Korean People’s Army is built around a very large cadre of Korean Communist veterans of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, and they show the guile and hard experience gained in years of intense small-unit combat. Each scenario is placed in the context of the battle, designed to make the larger picture is instantly clear.
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 pieces. 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 die-cut, with a silky-smooth finish. The die-cutting uses a new process that employs ultra-sharp blades to achieve a very fine cut, at far less pressure than employed in the old-style technology. That means that these pieces are smooth on both sides, without the “bathtub effect” seen on one side of playing pieces smashed by excessive force. We now have the smoothness of a laser-cut without the damage or a die-strike or the burning of a laser. These are very pleasant just to hold in your hands, and the print process is extraordinarily crisp, the best resolution I have ever seen in wargame printing - 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 - this is a game where bridges really matter. You can see a full preview of them here.
The smooth new pieces bring Pusan Perimeter up to the fine physical standard we’ve been striving to reach for all of our games. And it carries the Fourth Edition rules for Panzer Grenadier, with their smooth game play and full-color player aids. Panzer Grenadier has entered a Golden Age, and Pusan Perimeter is a central part of that evolution. You’re going to like this game.
Click here to order Pusan Perimeter.
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.