By Mike Bennighof, PhD
When I set out to craft Panzer
Grenadier: The Deluge, I had in mind a revised version of the old White Eagles book, on the September Campaign of World War II, also known as the German invasion of Poland. White Eagles had good scenarios, and it had plenty of them - forty in total. It wouldn’t be easy - nothing in this wargame business thing comes easy - but it would be less difficult than most projects.
I of course had to change all that. The White Eagles scenarios were good individually, but in those days we published them in what we called the shotgun format (the same format used since the dawn of time and, as far as I know, by other publishers though I doubt any of them are insane enough to design 40 scenarios for just one book).
In the shotgun format, each scenario stands alone and tells its own story. In effect a game is a box of parts that lets you play X number of games, each of them separate unto itself. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it can yield a lot of fun.
We’ve long since abandoned the shotgun format for what we call the story-arc format, a variation on what role-playing games have done for decades. You can still play each scenario by itself, but they’re arranged in chapters that each tell part of the story of the campaign, and linked together in “battle games” in which the results of each scenario add up to the result for the chapter.
And that’s why I re-worked The Deluge with a whole bunch of new scenarios. The original scenario set didn’t have the actions I needed to flesh out the story. We had just two scenarios from the crucial Battle of Mlawa, on the southern border of East Prussia on the road to Warsaw. Here the Poles had built concrete fortifications the Germans never suspected, and stationed one of their best infantry divisions and a pair of cavalry brigades.
The Germans invaded with five infantry divisions, an ad hoc panzer division including both regular army and Waffen SS elements, and their lone cavalry brigade. The Polish defenders put up spirited resistance for four days before Army Modlin (the Polish Army had no corps structure) ordered 20th Infantry Division and its supporting units to withdraw. German frontal assaults failed, with the panzers used in a direct infantry-support role where Polish gunners shot them to pieces.
White Eagles just had two scenarios from Mlawa, both of them based on the actions between the German 1st Cavalry Brigade and the Polish Mazowiecka Cavalry Brigade. They were a natural choice, as the only battles between large cavalry formations that took place during the campaign. For The Deluge, we’ve added the German attacks against Stanislaw Sosabowski’s 20th Infantry Division, including the close-range destruction of a battalion from the SS Deutschland Regiment by the Polish 20th Light Artillery Regiment in the first commitment of the Waffen SS in battle during World War II. I could not leave a battle where the Poles crushed the SS out of the book. And we get the defense of Wladislaw Anders’ Nowogrodzka Cavalry Brigade on the Polish left flank.
Altogether it’s a fascinating battle; I did a battalion-scale treatment for a computer game many years ago. It makes for a great chapter and battle game, and really good scenarios. That’s how I want Panzer Grenadier to tackle historical topics: to tell the full story and let players play it through on the cardboard battlefield. Just a scenario or two of a “typical action” doesn’t do that. For one thing there is no such thing as a “typical action.” Every incident is unique in its own way.
Mlawa highlights the key aspects of the Polish campaign. The Polish infantry and their leadership are the equal of that of the Germans; their cavalry is clearly superior. But they’re badly out-gunned in terms of artillery; the Germans almost always have more of it and at greater strength. The Poles have few vehicles; only their cavalry gives them battlefield mobility. And while the Germans are limited to crapulent tanks (almost exclusively Panzer I and Panzer II), the Poles have none at all. They do have fanatic anti-tank crews and plenty of anti-tank weapons, so the Germans can’t run right at them without getting shot to pieces, but they can run around them and the Poles can’t do much about it.
Some of the other battles were fleshed out considerably better in White Eagles than was Mlawa, but all of them needed at least another scenario or two to complete the story. That adds up to a lot of scenarios when combined with the 40 from White Eagles, all of which are worth keeping, too: we’ve got one of the few documented uses of poison gas on a World War II battlefield, tank battles between German and Polish armor, an actual fight between two armored trains.
All of those need to stay, but not everything will fit in the book. The book needs history and other background to help tell its story, and can’t be devoted purely to game scenarios. That limits the count to about 40 scenarios, preferably closer to 35 but the old White Eagles had 40 so we need 40 in The Deluge or someone will cry. We stretched the count to 46 in Leyte 1944, which is heavier in scenarios than I would like but still tells a complete story. Some of the books drop under 30, but it’s easier to present the full story with fewer scenarios rather than too many.
All of that means that we have about 20 scenarios left over, all of them well worth publishing. So at some point we’re going to have to release another book. The Deluge covers the initial phases of the German invasion, when the Polish frontier armies fought back as best they could and the panzers began their halting first attempts to conduct blitzkrieg. The final battles for Warsaw, the scattered resistance against the Red Army and other later battles will have to wait a little while.
I’m deeply pleased with the result; The Deluge is the sort of product I want us to make, with rich historical background and game play that interlocks with the history to help tell the story. The extra effort to make all of those additions probably won’t get us many extra sales, but it satisfies me to make games that have something to say.
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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 countless 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.