The Last Days
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
A long time ago, a couple of friends who designa nd publish roleplaying games (Chris Pramas from Green Ronin and Steve Long from Hero Games) laid out a theory of game design to me: that the games we publish are just codified versions of what small children play in the back yard.
That’s a profound truth; really, it is. It’s pretty obvious when applied to roleplaying games, but it applies to wargames as well. We (game designers/publishers) provide the toys, and we also help players tell stories about them. In the roleplaying side of the game business, there are “core” books (with the main rules) and a couple of kinds of supplements: adventures with adventures, and “splatbooks” with cool extra stuff (swords, magic spells, pointy-toed boots etc.). We did the same thing with our wargame series like Panzer Grenadier, with “core” boxed games with the rules (and a fair number of adventures packed into each) and supplements with many more scenarios and some pieces and rules needed for them.
Secret Weapons is one of the handful of analogs to the RPG splatbook in our line. I conceived Secret Weapons as a catchall supplement for weird science (its project name, in fact was Weird Science): giant tanks, missiles and helicopters. Looking back, I kind of wish I’d stuck to that theme, and filled the book entirely with weird science and placed the scenarios in a separate scenario book with a connecting story line. Then we could have done a companion book with a story arc and scenarios set within it. The scenarios in Secret Weapons aren’t bad at all, but they don’t fit into the overall scheme of weird science goofiness that I wanted to bring across in the book. We tried to combine an adventire book with a splatbook, and it came out pretty well, but it could have been great.
And what makes it great? First off, it has helicopters. I have a thing for putting helicopters in games even though I’ve only flown in one a handful of times and dreaded every moment of it. Helicopters scare me in real life. In games, though, they have total mobility and can instantly change the battlefield. They truly make things three-dimensional, and I like that aspect as a game designer. There are three different types of German helicopters in Secret Weapons, in a total of six different models. Plus there’s a German tilt-rotor transport aircraft, an early predecessor of the V22 Osprey. There’s one American helicopter type, and one Japanese autogyro type.
They come with special rules for their use, and several scenarios where you can try them out. The rules here were later superseded in Panzer Grenadier (Modern), where John Stafford wrote much better rules for helicopters than I put in Secret Weapons. But the pieces are fully interchangeable, so you can (and probably should) use those instead for more fun.
While I like the helicopter section very much, the real drawing cards for Secret Weapons are the giant tanks. We have Panzer Maus, and the Tiger III (that sounded cooler than the name it’s more often listed under, E100). Plus the Panther II and two anti-aircraft variants, the Coelian and the Kugelblitz. The idea was that these could fight the giant Allied tanks from Iron Curtain: Hammer and Sickle and Iron Curtain: Patton’s Nightmare. The heavy tanks are very heavy and not all that useful as main battle tanks thanks to their feeble speed – the Maus is actually slower than infantrymen on foot. As armored, slightly mobile fortresses they are pretty awesome on the defensive with their death-ray-like anti-tank capability. If the airplanes don’t get them (that’s why you’ll need those Coelians and Kugelblitzen).
These wonder weapons appeared (at least on the drawing boards) in the last months of World War II, when Germany had already lost the war and was on the defensive on all fronts. So a lot of research went into defensive weapons, and that’s reflected in Secret Weapons as well. The Germans get a powerful anti-tank gun, the 128mm anti-aircraft gun, that’s lethal against most tanks but immobile (at least within the time frame of a Panzer Grenadier scenario).
They also get missiles: the X7 anti-tank missile, which may have actually been used in combat (though I have my doubts about this story). The missiles are highly effective, and since they’re carried by a team of foot soldiers they can be transported by vehicle or helicopter very easily (the missile crews themselves have a lot to carry, though, so they won’t be keeping up with the infantry).
And to fill out the sheet of pieces (in those days, we could only make full-sized sheets, though we sometimes split them in half), I added three types of giant British tanks: the very effective Centurion, the slower but otherwise identical (in terms of capabilities) Black Prince, and the huge and ungainly Tortoise. They also have scenarios for their use against the other giant tanks, though I do wish now that we’d held these out for use in an Iron Curtain book (which doesn’t preclude printing new ones, of course).
Despite all that cool stuff, we’ll be retiring Secret Weapons late this year: it draws on games like Eastern Front and Battle of the Bulge for the pieces and maps to play its scenarios, and those games are going away as well. It’s a fun splatbook, and adds a lot to those games. Pick one up while you can.
Click right here, right now, and order Secret Weapons.
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.