Monday, January 18, 2016

Panzerblitz II

Marko and I had a game of Panzerblitz II, based on the original Avalon Hill title of ages gone by.

We played "Situation HOD4:Take the Hill".  The Germans are in position the rear slope of a hill; the Brits start at the foot of the hill. The map edges are just off the sides of the hill, so there's no room to circle around and attack a flank--the Brits have to launch a frontal assault and push the Germans off the objective.

British forces include: 
  • 21 mechanized infantry platoons with Bren carriers; 
  • 3 machine gun infantry platoons with Bren carriers; 
  • 6 Churchill VII platoons; 
  • 4 17lb AT platoons towed by halftracks; 
  • 2 Achilles platoons; 
  • 2 Crocodile platoons
  • offboard artillery
German forces: 
  • 12 Panzergrenadier platoons; 
  • 1 PzKw V G platoon
  • 2 PzKw IV H platoons
  • 3 75 Pak 40 platoons 
  • 3 Stug III G Platoons
  • 3 Tiger platoons
  • 9 improved positions
  • offboard rocket support.
Playing as the Brits, I put a couple of 17 pounders into the trees on the far right--probably a little too far right, in retrospect--and sent a couple of tanks along the left map edge, while I massed my main assault. Then I ran everything onto the hill and debarked ny infantry, losing a few to German fire as I drove in. On the right, my lead units got pinned down by fire and overrun by panzers. On the left, the Germans tried to stay under cover, but my 17 pounders managed to kill a StuG and my infantry cleared one or two of the German positions. In the center, I ran a kamikaze Bren carrier over the crown of the hill; the Germans brewed it up but that used their Reaction Fire opportunity, and my infantry could safely take the crest. We were halfway through turn 4 (of 7) and the Germans were celebrating the arrival of a couple of Tiger platoons when we had to call time.

The way initiative works is that you put chits into a cup and pull them one at a time. The chits are specified by the scenario and include scores of 0, 1 and 2 for Brits and Germans. If the first chit you pull is a Brit 1, the Brits can place the chit on a hex and activate everything in that space or within 1 hex of it (as long as it hasn't already activated). If the next chit is a Brit 0, then the Brits can activate a single hex worth. It's entirely possible to get two or more activations in a row. You have to choose with care where you're going to place your chits, to activate as many units as possible and to move them quickly, before the other side can react. The weird part about this is that you're putting down radius 0, 1 or 2 circles and units that are outside that circle don't move--even if the rest of their company is moving right past them. I guess that's a case of "there's always someone who doesn't get the word."
The stacking limits are a bit odd. You can have three Bren carriers in one hex, or three rifle platoons, but you can't bring in two loaded Brens into one hex and have the infantry dismount there, because that puts you at 4 units in a hex, which is over the stacking limit. Consequently, my infantry was spread over the whole width of the front at one platoon per hex, wherever I could find a space for them. Given the way the initiative chits work, this was bad--I should have had each companys compressed into the least space possible, so I could activate them with one chit pull. I think the intent was that a player should move a Bren three spaces, unload, and move backwards one. Then you can run a second Bren in and repeat the process, which at least gives you two platoons in a hex instead of one. That part felt more like "traffic engineer" than "assault commander"--although I suppose some staff officer basically is a traffic engineer, so to the extent that you want to simulate "the staff officer experience", the game does that. It did drive home the dilemma of "how far dare I run in my transports?" The infantry are horribly vulnerable while they're mounted, and you don't want to give the enemy any more Reaction Fire shots at them than you have to--but you also have time limits and dismounted infantry is slow. I decided to run the Brens onto the hill and dismount as they finished their turn, so they only had to survive one session of Reaction Fire but still got fairly close to the enemy. 
Speaking of Reaction Fire--each enemy unit gets to shoot at a single one of your units as they drive by. If you send a tank first, they can wait and hope something squishier comes along. Or if you send an unloaded Bren in first. the enemy can take the easy kill but miss the chance to shoot the infantry unit that came right after it. Perhaps it would make more sense for a unit doing Reaction Fire to have a chance to shoot more than once? Although that would slow the game down more.
The fire resolution process is a bit odd too. If you're shooting at a tank, what matters is the difference between your attack factor vs his armor factor. If you add another unit to your fire group, you merely get a +1 to that difference. However, if you're firing at infantry, what counts is not the difference between factors, but their ratio. Example: my firepower 12 tank fires at an enemy tank with a defense of 6, and I'm on the +6 table; if my tank fires on a defense 5 infantry unit, I roll on the 2:1 table. I assume that's because when you're firing at infantry, the more the merrier; but when you're firing at armor, it's the size of your biggest gun that determines whether you penetrate the armor, and adding an extra .30 machinegun doesn't really help you. 
Overall I had fun, although part of that was due to the nostalgia factor--the original Panzerblitz was one of my first wargames. Speed of play is the main problem, Admittedly it was a learning game, but it took four hours to go through three and a half turns--not because it's all that complicated, but because activating everything takes a lot of time. I had nearly 70 counters, plus status markers. I have to wonder if that scenario could be done with a third of the counters, maneuvering companies instead of platoons. 

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