River Fleets Designer’s Notes:
An Unexpected Trip Down the Danube
By Matt Ward
I currently receive roughly one travel agency brochure per week extolling the virtues of a cruise on Europe’s rivers. Sadly I am of the age where travel agents consider me an appropriate target of such an indolent undertaking. Even more sadly, they are probably right. The Rhine tends to get the most press but the Danube remains a popular river cruise destination. As a result, when River Fleets made the cut for a new Panzer Grenadier enhancement, I began looking at the Danube a bit more closely.
After doing the development on Land Cruisers, Daniel and I saw the upcoming River Fleets as yet another escapade involving detailed and massive rule rewrites. Grafting entirely new weapons systems into the Panzer Grenadier environment is something that gives us heartburn as I am unable to stop tossing out new thoughts and Daniel is unwilling to let them be poorly thought out and vaguely drafted. With Land Cruisers at least we were working with just a big tank (OK, maybe a small mobile fortress). With River Fleets we had to come up with new movement rules and things that have never been considered in Panzer Grenadier before.
As a result, we thought that we could cut the time down somewhat if we just took over the whole thing from conceptualization to execution. This is helped by the fact that we don't have to worry about any historical sources for orders of battle or after-action reports.
Of course, we will have the usual odd changes to history where Austria-Hungary is not just a survivor of the Great War but has become an economic player in eastern Europe by devising a federal structure within which the various nationalities have some level of self-determination and political clout within the whole. Austria-Hungary in the Second Great War is not the anchor to Germany it became in the First World War but an actual partner capable of participating on its own. In other words, a complete fantasy.
But what good is alternate history unless it really is alternate?
We aren't done with everything on River Fleets but we have drafted enough to know some of the stuff you will find in the final package. Without further ado and with an eye towards the looming order deadline, here is the bullet point list of most of the new movement conditions:
• Kedging (optional)
• Reverse Engines
In addition you will find that your boats (river craft are all boats despite the fact that some are roughly 200 feet long) will have an operational tempo nearly twice that of ground units (they get two activations to every one activation for land based units). They also fight differently; here are some of the features added:
• Enhanced damage capacity
• Fast movement modifiers
• Reduced damage from demoralization
• Marine assault
• Mine Laying
The scenarios track the initial weeks of the war upon the Danube. Due to the use of the Danube as an economic pipeline through Austria-Hungary as well as Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, the Imperial and Royal Navy has a significant fleet of riverboats designed to protect that commercial traffic.
Serbia and Romania, being formally allied with Tsar Alexei's Russia but heavily dependent on the economic leavings from the Austro-Hungarian commercial miracle, were not brought into the Russian high command's confidence until only a week or so before the lunge into Poland to ensure that the Central Powers would have little time to prepare. As a result, the initial fighting on the Danube would be done by the standing forces of the combatants, in particular, their gunboat fleets, shore batteries and various marine units.
The two maps are styled after the environs of Belgrade and the Iron Gates (no, they aren't actual iron gates like the steel doors in the Luxembourg Gold Club special, but a stretch of the Danube cutting through the Transylvanian mountains called the Iron Gates) and, as such represent a broad river with some urban terrain and some higher ground, respectively consistent with the Danube in its stretch between Novi Sad and the eastern outlet from the Iron Gates. Be prepared, however, the Danube is generally over a mile wide in these sections and can have a strong current.
Scenarios cover a wide variety of actions, as follows:
• Shore battery suppression
• Amphibious assault
• Island control
• River crossing
• Shore bombardment
And, of course, plenty of boat-to-boat action and general mayhem.
Rest assured that there will be a battle game to tie all of the action together and the very best ahistorical history that we can devise to make reading the package as much fun as playing it. Oddly enough, the riverboats were quite real and would have been the first units to fight in a Second Great War as they actually were in the First Great War. Now at least, we have the chance to see what they could do.
While my wife and kids often wonder about the time I take with this hobby I can now truthfully tell them that by doing this project I no longer have to look at those Danube River cruise brochures. I know the Danube pretty well now . . .
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