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Panzer Grenadier: Afrika Korps» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Playing in the Sandbox – PG in the Desert rss

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Playing in the Sandbox – PG in the Desert



Introduction

Frankly, I was amazed to discover that this 2002 title doesn’t have a review on the Geek. So, I’ve cracked open my copy and had a few plays and a good look through the scenario book. So here are my impressions of Panzer Grenadier: Afrika Korps.

To disclose my bias, I quite enjoy the Panzer Grenadier series and have played quite a few games. I began with Panzer Grenadier: Airborne (Introductory Edition) (shudder) before moving to the Eastern Front.

Now Afrika Korps is the lowest rated Stand-Alone released to date (not including the 2009 titles) except for the Orignial Panzer Grenadier: Airborne. So is this fair?

I’m not going to go into the mechanics here. I will use Panzer Grenadier: Eastern Front as a comparison point, as I view Eastern Front as the “starting” point of the series. For a good overview of what Eastern Front offers please have a read through Xander’s Review

Panzer Grenadier System Game Play

For a breakdown of the Panzer Grenadier System, please check out Wargamer66’s System Breakdown and Nomad001’s Technical Review

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the real question that needs to be answered is…

What does Afrika Korps Offer?

1 Componants

Counters: Like the rest of the series (except Panzer Grenadier: Beyond Normandy) the counters are excellent. I specifically like how there are numerous pictures for the different infantry. Which is something you may not even notice, but it is a nice touch. (reminds me of the different silhouettes in the original Titan)

There has been some controversy over the one and only Italian Infantry counter with their hands in the air surrendering.



I won’t give my opinion here, but feel free to click on the picture and leave your comment if you find this offensive or not.

Besides Italians, there are a large number of counters for the British, Germans and Australians. A fantastic offering of units.

I give the counters a fantastic thumbsup

2 Maps

Afrika Korps only offers three maps. These are made from a thick paper (not cardstock) and are about three times larger than the Eastern Front maps. So overall you get approximately the same amount of possible “play area”.



The maps also are devoid of specific terrain features, but instead have coloured areas which can represent: nothing, wadi, hill, salt marsh or ocean. To identify which, you place a special counter on the terrain during set up.

Now, this sounded stupid to me at first. But in actual play it works surprisingly well. So although the system works, I still find the limited number of maps lack the variety of the Eastern Front or Road to Berlin maps.

Also, the maps aren’t compatible with the other games in the series and are therefore fairly useless outside of Afrika Korps.

40 of the scenarios only use one map, and many of them only use a fraction of it. Which is good, because the 8 scenarios that use 2 (and 2 scenarios that use all 3!) will require a very large game table!

In conclusion, I have to give the maps a thumbsdown

3 Scenarios

Components aside. The real reason you may purchase Afrika Korps is to play the scenarios. Afrika Korps offers 50 of them, ranging from Company against Company to massive clashes on a Regimental scale, taking place in 1940-1941. The book is the standard paper book, not the wonderful quality of the glue-bound book found in Eastern Front.

I find the scenarios to give a good range of situations and fun to play. Balance is one thing that plagues many of the Panzer Grenadier products, and Afrika Corps is no exception, as many of the scenarios (being historically accurate?) are somewhat “biased”. So, although not particularly “tournament worthy” I give the scenarios a thumbsup being on par with Eastern Front.

My one gripe here, is that there was a fair bit of errata in the first printing which was mostly corrected by the next printing (which I have). As I look on the official errata list I found that most of the errors listed did not apply to me. But I did find some errors that were not on the list! I think Afrika Korps, being the black sheep of the family, (honestly, no pun intended) sees much less play than the East & West front games and therefore has less exposed errors. (BGG only has 40 logged plays at the time of writing!)

4 Special Rules

The Afrika Korps scenario book has two pages of Special Rules. To outline the major ones:

d10-1 Italian Surrender – I had to re-read the wording of this rule numerous times to figure it out, as it was written quite poorly. In summary, it is a pretty simply rule that can make demoralized Italians surrender to British/Australian Infantry. Or non-demoralized Italian infantry surrender to Armour. I think :rock: It is a special rule that is enforced in particular scenarios only where it makes historical sense. It also explains why the infamous counter was included.

d10-2 Terrain – There is a large chuck of special rules to explain how to use the maps and the new terrain types. Again, this is poorly worded for both wadi and salt marsh and could have been more clearly conveyed.

d10-3 Guns – There are rules for dragging small AT Guns, and extended ranges for the large Artillery pieces. Straight Forward and a nice addition.

d10-4 Other – There are a number of other rules clarifying armour efficiency, who can command who, identity of the tank destroyers, armoured cars and APCs. The normal stuff.

d10-5 Random Event Table – There is none. Which, considering the scenarios is probably a good thing. The desert warfare wasn’t often one of unexpected surprise, and it makes no sense for the fleeing Italians to be given a Hold or No Quarter order.

Overall, I like the special rules, but the unclear writing is a let down.

Conclusion

So should you buy it?

Afrika Korps is a fine offering in the Panzer Grenadier series, but is definitely not the stand-alone I would suggest one starts with.

So, although a stand alone, I would treat Afrika Korps as an expansion that one would purchase if they would like to play through some battles in the early Mediterranean Front.

The actual game play is rewarding and the only let down is the maps which can make it feel a bit “same-ish” although the scenarios have quite a bit of variety.

So, if you enjoy the Panzer Grenadier series, I see no reason why you wouldn’t get a fair bit of enjoyment from Panzer Grenadier: Afrika Korps



edit: typo
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Ryan Powers
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GeneSteeler wrote:


I’m not going to go into the mechanics here. I will use Panzer Grenadier: Eastern Front as a comparison point, as I view Eastern Front as the “starting” point of the series. For a good overview of what Eastern Front offers please have a read through [url= http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/312008]Xander’s Review[/url]



For me the Desert terrain magnifies the wonkiness of scale inherent in the PG system. Making the desert ones far less enjoyable. That's not to say PG is a bad system. Every system has wonkiness somehere. I just think that the PG issues stand out more in the desert.
 
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Kent Reuber
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keethrax wrote:
For me the Desert terrain magnifies the wonkiness of scale inherent in the PG system. Making the desert ones far less enjoyable. That's not to say PG is a bad system. Every system has wonkiness somehere. I just think that the PG issues stand out more in the desert.


Can you elaborate on the wonkiness? (Not trying to pick a fight here--I just want to understand issues my compadres and I may take up the Panzer Grenadier series pretty soon.)
 
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Ryan Powers
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kentreuber wrote:
keethrax wrote:
For me the Desert terrain magnifies the wonkiness of scale inherent in the PG system. Making the desert ones far less enjoyable. That's not to say PG is a bad system. Every system has wonkiness somehere. I just think that the PG issues stand out more in the desert.


Can you elaborate on the wonkiness? (Not trying to pick a fight here--I just want to understand issues my compadres and I may take up the Panzer Grenadier series pretty soon.)


It's hard for me to fit the time/unit scale/ground scale abstractions together. It's really not that bad, but the lack of cover in the desert seems to amplify it.

It's hard to describe without going into some pretty tedious detail. But I'll try a short version.

Essentially 15 minutes is a long time for a platoon to be as limited as it often is in PG.

Another common complaint seems to be that people don't like the relatively low blood fire charts, but you have to keep in mind the hex size is pretty large. At those distances they seem pretty reasonable to me. And again at those sizes assaulting doesn't necessarily equal anything like hand to hand, it could just as well be simply closing to more effective ranges. I think a lot of those people are actually responding to the scale combination without knowing it. A single action implies a shorter time frame implies smaller hexes...

Time scale is a tricky aspect of any tactical scale war game. PG does a decent enough job of it. But in any system there are going to be some situations which stress the abstraction more than others... IMO in PG this happens most often in the desert. For the most part this is no big deal. And as I said, every system has some quirks.

Overall PG is a very nice system that gets a lot of solid play out of a fairly short rulebook. It's easy to play, easy to teach and I really do like it a lot.

I rarely play PG now, but that has nothing to do with not liking the rules and instead is because of the lack of support for online play and a lack of FtF opponents.
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David Murray
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Thanks Randy, a good overview.

I am currently writing the campaigns for the next Campaign and Commanders supplement and so I have been getting to grips with Afrika Korps. I agree with much of what you have wrote. My gaming buddies and I enjoyed many of the sceanrios from Desert Rats which appeared a couple of years after AK and appears to have a slighty better range of scenarios, although my evaluation is not yet complete.

I am really an East Front junkie, and my previous tactical desert experience is from ASL - we spent a six month perirod where we played nothing else but desert ASL a few years back. The desert experience in Panzer Grenadier allows you to reproduce some pretty large battlion+ engagements. Armour movement is pretty key in many of the secenarios, as it should be. Infantry often have a fair bit of terrain to cover and that can become a logistical nightmare as your leaders try to keep everyone moving. I find the desert games move along at a brisk pace.

Thanks for posting
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TrotskyTrotsky wrote:
I am currently writing the campaigns for the next Campaign and Commanders supplement and so I have been getting to grips with Afrika Korps. I agree with much of what you have wrote. My gaming buddies and I enjoyed many of the sceanrios from Desert Rats which appeared a couple of years after AK and appears to have a slighty better range of scenarios, although my evaluation is not yet complete.


Nifty. cool

I've just picked up the first Campaign and Commanders and I'll likely play that after I play a few more Australian Battles in Afrika Corps.

TrotskyTrotsky wrote:
The desert experience in Panzer Grenadier allows you to reproduce some pretty large battlion+ engagements. Armour movement is pretty key in many of the secenarios, as it should be. Infantry often have a fair bit of terrain to cover and that can become a logistical nightmare as your leaders try to keep everyone moving. I find the desert games move along at a brisk pace.


I agree. I love the way a number of OOBs give you a whole battalion(s) split into the separate companies. I find it really helps the immersion. The other hurdle to overcome is moving infantry through the desert being pounded by artillery.

Brisk Pace? Exactly! I should have mentioned this above. I have found great delight in the desert games as the battles just seem to move along alot faster. I've also found some of the scenarios are perfect for solo play, as the defender is relatively static after setting up his entrenched infantry. I'm actually very keen to replay scenario #2 sometime soon.

I also forgot to mention in the Special Rules section above:

d10-6 AT Ditches and Barbed Wire - A nice little addition which (the clearing of) is often used as additional victory conditions, which adds a bit more variety.

Thanks Ryan for your comments. I think the "wonkiness" you refer to is that the armour isn't as fast as it should be in the desert. Which I concede to. But as you said, this a PG "quirk", not one specific to AK. But, you've also highlighted the benefits of PG very nicely. I've been able to teach a friend who only plays Heroclix, Heroscape and Axis&Allies very easily. PG makes a great "first" hex 'n counter game, and is also great fun for an evening's distraction.
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Ryan Powers
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GeneSteeler wrote:

Thanks Ryan for your comments. I think the "wonkiness" you refer to is that the armour isn't as fast as it should be in the desert. Which I concede to.

That and the limitations on what you can/can't engage, and a few other timescale oddities make it seem like the time scale isn't 15 minutes. Now lots of other games compress time pretty badly by every unit getting to do something completely different every (some small time slice) turn. Which is just as wonky in the other direction. Most of thee time, many of those shorter turns should bee essentially "pass" as stuff happens in spurts. PG's 15 minute turns make this work out in a way that feels about right on average.

On the other hand, sometimes a lot of stuff *is* happening at once, and sometimes units react very well to it. Then the 15 minute turns become a liability. ASL, for example, has a similar timescale issue in thee other direction, even with a vague turn length. And vehicles and infantry can have some issues sharing the same scale in ASL.

Both ways of doing it introduce issues, there really isnt'a great answer. I just think the desert magnifies the issues inherent in the PG choice.

Quote:

But as you said, this a PG "quirk", not one specific to AK.


Yeah, it' not specific to the desert ones (including AK), it's just a little more noticeable in the desert. For me anyhow.

Quote:

But, you've also highlighted the benefits of PG very nicely. I've been able to teach a friend who only plays Heroclix, Heroscape and Axis&Allies very easily. PG makes a great "first" hex 'n counter game, and is also great fun for an evening's distraction.


Very much so, if VASSAL started being supported I'd be looking to buy essentially every PG product I could get my hands on. I really do like the system, I just lack face to face opponents.
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Marian Hilliard
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Thank you for taking the time to write a review! There is one point I'd be grateful to see elaborated:

GeneSteeler wrote:
Balance is one thing that plagues many of the Panzer Grenadier products, and Afrika Corps is no exception, as many of the scenarios (being historically accurate?) are somewhat “biased”.

This is a bit off-putting. Is it just a little challenging to win with the disadvantaged side, or really hard?


Marian
 
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Marian_LH wrote:
Thank you for taking the time to write a review! There is one point I'd be grateful to see elaborated:

GeneSteeler wrote:
Balance is one thing that plagues many of the Panzer Grenadier products, and Afrika Corps is no exception, as many of the scenarios (being historically accurate?) are somewhat “biased”.

This is a bit off-putting. Is it just a little challenging to win with the disadvantaged side, or really hard?


Marian,
In these scenarios, each side is given a specific objective to obtain. Often these objectives are not mutually exclusive. So for example:
Australians: Eliminate all Italian entrenchments.
Italians: Eliminate 7 or more Australian Steps.

Now, in many cases, this is really hard for the Australians, as they are facing a time limit, artillery, and quite a few Italians. So, they need to be quite hasty, yet as careful as a glasswalker.
Consequently, I'd prefer the "draw removed" and the victory conditions written as:

Australians: "Eliminate all Italaian entrenchments and suffer fewer than seven steps"

Italians: "If the Australians don't win, you do".

Even so, With fairly heavy artillery, the Italians can eliminate quite a few Australian steps with a few lucky rolls. To elaborate further, I suggest you read a few of my session reports, and you'll see what I mean.

BUT, and this is a big "BUT", gameplay is still satisfying. If you are ultra-competitive, sometimes the victory conditions may give you fits, but I played a game of ASL the other day where I rolled a few snake-eyes in a row. It was an easy victory after that.

I hope that helps.

 
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Drew Heath
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Good stuff as always, Randy. Keep it up.
 
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Jim Arnold
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This is my second PG title; I bought Casino a couple years ago, and liked it a lot.

Without having even played Desert Fox, I was looking at the AT fire table, comparing some of the armor ratings, and feel like I must be doing something wrong.

For example, a Pz IIIg (AT=3,Armor=3) vs a Crusader I (AT=2,Armor=3): Unmodified even-up, AT fire has 1/6 chance of getting a hit at medium range. The Pz AT = the Crusader armor, so there's 1/6 chance. The Crusader AT is -1 vs the Pz armor, so there's only 1/12 chance. Would a PzIIIg really do that well against a Crusader? Knocking out twice as many?

It looks to me like the nature of 2-dice results is a problem -- very non-linear.

Net AT vs Armor ... % Chance of hit ... Increase over lower advantage
-3 ... 0.0 ... -
-2 ... 2.8 ... -
-1 ... 8.3 ... 3x
+0 ... 16.7 ... 2x
+1 ... 27.8 ... 1.67x
+2 ... 41.7 ... 1.5x
+3 ... 58.3 ... 1.4x

Does anybody have historical examples to justify (or not) these probabilities?

 
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