Kursk: Burning Tigers
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
The ultimate Panzer Grenadier game of the ultimate World War II tank battle is returning.
Kursk: Burning Tigers is based on the northern flank of the June 1943 German offensive at Kursk, in central Russia just north of Ukraine. The German Ninth Army had six panzer and 20 infantry divisions, with 590 tanks and 424 assault guns. Opposing them, the Soviet Central Front deployed three armies with 27 rifle divisions supported by 573 tanks and self-propelled guns and over 6,000 artillery pieces. While a Soviet rifle division was smaller than its German infantry counterpart, those of Central Front had been brought up closer to their paper strength than most Red Army divisions. The German offensive would begin with the defenders actually holding an edge in total combat strength.
The resulting tank battles became epic clashes of armor as the Soviets poured in reinforcements in the form of Second Tank Army and 19th Tank Corps, plus more Guards rifle divisions, plus waves and waves of air support. The Germans made some progress before their offensive stalled; they would never again hold the initiative on the Eastern Front.
The new Playbook edition of Kursk: Burning Tigers is, like all Panzer Grenadier games, built around its scenario set. In this case, there are forty of them. We use the scenarios to help tell the story of whatever campaign on which the game is based (the northern flank of the Kursk tank battle for Burning Tigers), with historical background woven between them. The scenarios are divided into chapters, and each chapter winds up with a battle game that lets you see how well you’re meeting your operational goals (and have kept your opponent from meeting his or hers).
Burning Tigers also includes the burning Panthers – the actions of the German Army’s 48th Panzer Corps on the south flank of the German offensive. That included the Army’s elite Grossdeutschland panzer grenadier division as well as two more panzer divisions. The Grossdeutschland division had two battalions of the brand-new Panther medium tanks attached and you can see how much of a difference they make to the outcome.
From its start, the Panzer Grenadier game system was meant for the Kursk tank battles. It gives equal weight to both infantry and armor, and while it’s the tanks that get top billing, Kursk was as much determined by the infantry (and the anti-tank gunners) as it was by the treadheads. Panzer Grenadier’s Fourth Edition rules set is definitely the heart of the game, distilling years of play experience into a very well-ordered package. Panzer Grenadier has become even easier to play.
While Burning Tigers plays really well, it also has many of the more forgiving scenarios in the series: with so many tanks in your order of battle, you can afford to lose a few and still complete your mission. Losing one or two units isn’t usually catastrophic, since you’ve got a lot more of them. Since I’m really good at losing the most important piece on the board on the very first turn of the game, I really like the “hordes of armor” scenarios.
The Playbook edition retains the cover painting by I.M. Penteshina from the Military Medical Museum of St. Petersburg. It depicts Hero of the Soviet Union Valeria Gnarovskaya, a medical orderly from the 244th Red Banner Rifle Division. Defending her aid station from the Hitlerites attempting to massacre the wounded within, she killed 28 German soldiers before throwing herself under a German tank while clutching a bundle of grenades.
Burning Tigers comes with four maps, all on heavy cardstock, and 517 playing pieces, all of them our now-legendary (legendary!) die-cut and silky-smooth beauties. They’re gently sliced with a 21st-Century process using microscopically-sharp blades rather than being struck by the Hammer of Thor, leaving such minimal impressions on the flip side that we have to put a stripe on them, or you won’t be able to tell front from back. No longer do your Panthers look like they've been run over by Tigers. This makes for the finest wargame pieces in the known universe.
And on those near-perfect game pieces are lots and lots of tanks. The Red Army of Workers and Peasants relies on vast numbers of their workhorse T-34/76, most of them the new Model C with a few of the older Model B still on hand (Model C has better armor). They also bring along T-70 light tanks (these aren’t worth much), Su-122 and Su-76 assault guns, and some American-made Grant tanks provided via Lend-Lease (the so-called “Coffin for Seven Brothers”). There’s a small contingent of Soviet Guards too, mostly infantry and heavy weapons troops but bringing along some of their powerful multiple-launch rocket batteries.
On the German side, this is the Regular Army’s front and the panzertruppen are at their peak. They have powerful new weapons: Tiger and Panther tanks and Elefant and Brummbär assault guns. And they have the old reliable weapons like three models of PzKpfw IV and three more of PzKpfw III, some flame-throwing tanks, the Marder III tank destroyer and of course the reliable and ever-present StuG III assault gun. And they also get the tiny “Goliath” miniature demolition tanks, to try to blow stuff up.
During its run as a boxed game, we gave Burning Tigers very little support – no expansion books, no Campaign Studies, and only a smidgen of Daily Content. Yet it represents – along with its sister game, Kursk: South Flank – enormous story-telling potential. The Soviet victory at Kursk would be followed a whole series of campaigns across southern Russia and Ukraine throughout the rest of 1943 and into 1944 as the Red Army of Workers and Peasants expelled the invaders – battles that Panzer Grenadier has left almost untouched. That’s a huge chapter of the Great Patriotic War that we’ve left untold, and that needs to be rectified.
The new Playbook edition is going to make Burning Tigers, which is already quite good, into an outstanding game. For the moment, Gold Club members can order just the new Playbook to upgrade existing copies to this new, much higher standard. We’ll collect their orders and print extras to cover those, and won’t be offering that option again.
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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 a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and three children.
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