Battles for Seoul
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to really like the story-arc format we’ve adopted for Panzer Grenadier games: with scenarios organized into chapters with historical background and a battle game to link play of the scenarios together. That’s what I want to see in all of our new games in the Panzer Grenadier series, and its sister series Infantry Attacks and Panzer Grenadier (Modern).
Historical wargames aren’t exactly works of history; for one thing, the very act of rendering events into a map and pieces means that the designer is adding a pretty serious level of interpretation between player and source material. Some games include lengthy bibliographies, though I’m not convinced that every case of this means the books were ever actually opened or even seen (at Emory they taught us to recognize “padding the bibliography” on day two of professor school). What I want to do with our games is weave the story of historical events into the game itself; that will give one subset of players the context they crave (there aren’t many of these folk, but they’re the heart of our customer base) and those who don’t care, don’t have to (I suspect there are many more of these).
Our first Korean War game for Panzer Grenadier, Pusan Perimeter, pre-dates our adoption of the story arc format: it has a great many scenarios (48 of them!), but no historical background or battle games, and the scenarios aren’t organized into chapters to tell a story. That’s the way scenario-based games have been organized since the dawn of time (1970, when the ancient Panzerblitz game first appeared), and as far as I know they still are at other publishers.
Counter Attack, the second Korean War game, received a great deal more development attention, and the effort shows. It has the chapter organization and battle games that do so much to enhance the play experience. It has a huge number of scenarios (63 of them), but it could use more a lot more history to really tell its story.
Korean War: Battles for Seoul is a book intended to bring those features to Pusan Perimeter, and enhance them for Counter Attack. It’s called Battles for Seoul because the first two battles for the city (the June 1950 capture of the South Korean capital by the North Koreans, and its September 1950 re-capture by the Americans and South Koreans) bookend the action.
In between, those three months saw a whole lot of fighting (two games’ worth!) that Pusan Perimeter and Counter Attack cover in just over 100 scenarios (Counter Attack continues a little while after the second fall of Seoul, to include the American advance on Pyongyang before the Chinese intervened). The action is very much centered on the U.S. Army’s fight in Korea, with some scenarios including the ROKs (the Republic of Korea, that is South Korean, Army).
The bulk of the fighting on the Allied side was done by South Korean troops (and that’s not counting the 43,000 KATUSAs - “Korean Augmentation to U.S. Army” - the South Korean recruits, not all of them volunteers, who fought in U.S. Army units). The ROK Army went to war with 67,416 combat troops, organized into eight weak divisions, and had suffered 70,000 casualties by late July, compared to 6,000 for their American allies. They made good those losses with an indiscriminate draft and by incorporating their large national police establishment into front-line units (South Korea was, in those days, a hardline and unpleasant police state). The North Korean People’s Army suffered even more heavily, losing 200,000 killed or wounded and 135,000 captured by the time they retreated back across the 38th Parallel in October. Likewise, they impressed local men into their ranks, especially in and around Seoul; some unlucky souls managed to be conscripted by both sides.
So the story of the Korean War is very much a Korean story. American and other United Nations forces provided the air, armor, naval and artillery support that the ROK lacked, and certainly fought in the front lines as well. Those are stories we’ve told in the two core games, and will continue to tell in future games and expansions.
Battles for Seoul fleshes out the Korean side of the story, using more recent scholarship to bring the battles into better focus, in particular the role of the ROKs. The two core games closely follow the narrative laid out by Roy Appleman in the U.S. Army’s official history of the Korean War. Like all official historians, Appleman knew his audience, and the official story isn’t the full story. The Marines get short shrift, the ROKs shorter still, and where every other U.S. Army unit conducts a fighting retreat in good order, the segregated African-American 24th Infantry runs away in panic.
Between them, the two games have 660 units and leaders, not counting markers. That gives a plentiful number of North Korean People’s Army (NKPA), ROK and U.S. Army pieces, some U.S. Marines, and small contingents of ROK Marines and British Army. There are now enough of the first three forces to craft some larger scenarios, with ten map boards between the two games. So there are no new pieces or maps in Battles for Seoul; we have plenty with which to work.
Both Pusan Perimeter and Counter Attack have a far greater ratio of small scenarios than the usual Panzer Grenadier game, with just one board, sometimes two, and a small number of units in play. That makes the games popular with many Panzer Grenadier players, who like to have plenty of scenarios that can be completed in just a short time, allowing players to finish more than one of them in a single session.
Some, though, want bigger actions - and with two games to drawn on for pieces and maps, we can provide some much larger battles. Most of those involve ROK forces against the NKPA, since the American-involved battles are well-covered in the core games. By necessity these are almost always infantry-centered fights; the South Koreans had no armor of their own until after the war had ended, while the North Koreans usually deployed their armor along the key axes of advance, where they usually encountered the Americans and thus are already covered in the existing games.
We’ve taken this approach with other games (Jutland: Battle Analysis 1914 and Dogger Bank for Great War at Sea: Jutland; North Atlantic for Second World War at Sea: Bismarck) and I’d like to do more of these books for other games. They take a lot of work, so we can’t do as many as I’d like, but I think they add a lot to the game experience. Battles for Seoul will do the same for Pusan Perimeter and Counter Attack.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, 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. Leopold approves of this message.