By Mike Bennighof, PhD
World War Two began with the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 (yes, Japan had begun a war with China in 1937, but no other nations jumped in to that conflict). I had always intended that Panzer Grenadier would cover this critical campaign, and for a long time I wanted to create a stand-alone game about it.
Instead, some years back I wrote an expansion book called White Eagles, and it turned out extremely well. It’s one of my handful of favorites of all the Panzer Grenadier books and expansions we’ve done, and we’ve done a lot of them (I think the total is 64; that may not be exact but it’s pretty close). It was tightly focused on its topic, it had really fine scenarios, and it included some very nice playing pieces. For the time in which we released it, White Eagles turned out exactly the way I wanted it to.
The book went a non-standard 76 pages long, which wasn’t a problem when we had our own in-house printing machinery. White Eagles fell out of print when we kicked that horror to the curb and couldn’t make White Eagles books at an outside printer without altering the layout. By that point the core games for the book were nearing the end of their lifespan (Road to Berlin, Battle of the Bulge, Eastern Front) so that was the end for White Eagles.
We had plenty of pieces still in storage, so when we had suitable games available, it was time to return to Poland with a new book, titled Panzer
Grenadier: The Deluge to complete the homage to the Sienkiewicz trilogy (along with Fire & Sword and Fire in the Steppe).
White Eagles was an early step toward the story-arc format we use now, with its scenarios organized into chapters. I went by theme (Polish infantry, Polish cavalry and so on) rather than campaign sequence so they didn’t tell a story the way we’ve used scenarios in more recent games. But the kernel of the idea was there, and we’ve expanded that into a full story-telling experience.
For The Deluge, I revised all of the scenarios to meet Fourth Edition standards, and to use maps and pieces from games currently in print (that would be Fire in the Steppe for the most part, with some pieces and maps from 1940: The Fall of France, Elsenborn Ridge and Parachutes Over Crete to flesh them out). I re-organized them into new chapters to follow specific parts of the campaign rather than the types of units involved.
That’s a lot of games; for our new expansions I prefer to just draw on one game or at most two related ones, to make them attractive to as many players as possible rather than just the hard core who own everything we make. While everyone would be much happier with every Panzer Grenadier game on his or her shelf, the fact is that not everyone has yet realized that this is the path to worldly happiness.
The Deluge probably should have been a complete boxed game, and for a very long time I thought about doing just that, from the earliest days of the game that became Panzer Grenadier. There’s enough interesting stuff here for a very fine stand-alone game, but as the new book could be put together relatively quickly (as much as anything ever goes quickly at Avalanche Press), I decided that in these strange pandemic times it would be best to stay with that format.
Like most Panzer Grenadier books and games, the heart of The Deluge is its scenario set. They take place over a relatively short span of time; ten of them (a full quarter of the set) take place on 1 September 1939, the first day of the invasion. The Poles stood up and fought the invaders from the very first moment.
Polish infantry matched up well with their German counterparts, and their cavalry both vastly outnumbered the German horsemen and proved to be far more effective. The Poles usually have strong morale and good leadership. In some scenarios, that allows the Poles to fight the Germans straight up, and even attack and win.
But that’s only in some scenarios. The Poles are severely handicapped by their artillery: the French 75 is exactly half as effective as the German 105mm howitzer, and has a shorter range. And they don’t have as many tubes as the Germans. Making things worse, the Germans almost always enjoy air superiority (almost; the Poles get air support sometimes, too). The Poles were ready for this, with anti-aircraft guns assigned to the infantry, but they can’t be everywhere at once while the airplanes seemingly can.
The Germans also have many more motorized formations than the Poles, who are often limited to the speed of the human or animal foot when the Germans are whizzing past in their trucks. The Germans have few very tanks that can match the firepower or armor of the clanking, wheezing Polish 7TP tank. But where Polish armor appears in battalions, German panzers appear in divisions.
All hope is not yet lost, even as the panzers surge forward. There are plenty of 37mm Polish anti-tank guns, which are perfectly adequate to punch holes in the Panzer I and Panzer II tankettes and light tanks that make up most of the German armor.
Panzer Grenadier is a tactical game: the scenarios reflect the situation on individual battlefields. The Polish player will have plenty of opportunities to face the Germans with equal or even superior forces, just as happened in 1939. The Germans suffered over 50,000 casualties in a month of combat, and those weren’t the result of friendly fire.
The Polish campaign of 1939 is a perfect subject for the kind of Panzer Grenadier game we’re trying to make these days. The action is clearly defined in specific geographic areas over brief spans of time so the scenarios can follow operations and tell their story, which allows us to craft solid battle games to go with them.
For the happy few who want some history in their historical wargames, The Deluge is just the thing to give it to them. And for the vast majority who don’t care, the scenarios are there and they’re fun and you can ignore the rest of the stuff.
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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.