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Playing in the Jungle – PG in the Pacific



Introduction

There have been a two reviews of Panzer Grenadier: Semper Fi! Guadalcanal in the BGG database to date. They are both somewhat critical. I’ve decided to investigate this for myself.

Guadalcanal has some definite beautiful aspects, and some ugly ones, which I will highlight below.

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 Guadalcanal Offer?

1 Components

Counters: Excellent. The vibrant colors make distinguishing the sided simple. (unlike Eastern Front!).



The biggest let-down is the limited number of guns/armour. But this was mostly an infantry campaign, so they aren’t required. But I really like my tanks…

2 Maps Beautiful!



Unlike the generic maps present in most of the titles, these are actual maps of the islands. The color scheme is fantastic and when the game is being played is gorgeous.

The one gripe is that by going “real” and superimposing a hex grid over top, it is sometimes a bit vague what the terrain type should be. The rules try to clarify “problem” hexes, like the beach in Tulagi, but I suggest you come to a consensus of any ambiguities prior to play.

The other minor issue is the map legend which doesn’t tell you what is a river and what is a creek.

3 Special Rules

Two and a half pages of special rules are required. Most notably are the banzai rules, terrain clarifications, Cave rules, jungle rules and rules for hidden Japanese units. In addition there are a number of new terrain types in an extension to the TEC.

Overall, they are easy to digest and implement, but they are sometimes a little vague and could have been written a little more clearly.

4 Scenarios

Well, here Panzer Grenadier: Semper Fi! Guadalcanal delivers the extremes. Some are fun and fantastic while others are boring, unbalanced, and virtually unplayable. Please see the detailed comments below.

Tulagi: (4 Scenarios)



I played the first two scenarios. Including the night one twice (with and alternate set-up). Scenario Reports can be found here:

Scenario 1/24: Tulagi: The First Day – Damn Caves!
Scenario 2/24: Tulagi: The First Night – Where superior numbers matter not!

I found the beach landing (which others complained about) and hidden Japanese units fine, but where the scenario bogs down is when the Americans reach the caves. There isn’t really much they can do but camp outside and rain down direct fire hoping to eventually cause some casualties.

The Americans need to be lucky though, to avoid taking casualties of their own, as the American win conditions are very strict on minimal casualties.

Which is why actually assaulting the caves, and giving the Japanese first assault fire (+1 leader, +1 Japanese puts them on the “13” column) is very risky indeed. In fact, why should a scenario’s success depend on a few die rolls? Either in assault or the lucky “snake-eyes”: or “box-cars”?

On a bigger scale, or with more casualties acceptable, this could be a viable strategy.

Consequently, after the first two scenarios, I couldn’t submit to myself to “more or the same” cave cracking and skipped Scenario 3, The Second Day and Scenario 4, Tulagi (which is basically all three scenarios put together for a 137 turn torture!)

Conclusion: Die Rolling Frustration. Avoid Tulagi.

Gavutu-Tanambogo: (1 Scenario)



Only a single scenario uses this map. The Scenario Report can be found here:

Scenario 5/24: Gavutu-Tanambogo – Two days of cave bashing.

A 195 turn scenario played on such a small map?! This scenario suffers from one-sidedness. There really isn’t much for the Japanese player to do, but the hidden units again pose a bit of a problem for the solitaire player.

But, this felt more like a puzzle than a fluid battle. Blame the caves (again). So, once again it was planning for the Americans followed by a lot of dice rolling hoping not too take too many casualties. A bit more balanced than Tulagi, but still success or failure can hinge on a few timely die-rolls.

Conclusion: Probably not worth playing. Give it a go if you can have a helper “place and spot” the Japanese. But not recommended for 2-player as there isn’t much for the Japanese to do (or really the Americans for that matter…)

Matanikau: (12 Scenarios)



No Caves! Which is bloody fortunate because half of the scenarios use the Matanikau map. Of these 12 Scenarios, 9 have hidden units. This is the primary map used in both Guadalcanal and the expansion Panzer Grenadier: Jungle Fighting

I played 4 of the scenarios, avoiding 8 of the ones with hidden units which I prefer to play with one of my face-to-face opponents. Scenario Reports are found here:

Scenario 6/24: First Action on the Matanikau – A lesson in timing your counter-attack
Scenario 7/24: Kokumbona - Can the Americans take the village without losing a drop of blood?
Scenario 21/24: Diversion II - Outnumbered three to one. Smoke if you got 'em.
Scenario 22/24: Clearing the Matanikau – Americans smash into a battered Japanese line

Overall, the Matanikau scenarios were a lot of fun. Often resulting in tense battles where one side is attempting to obtain their objective while the other side is trying to stop them. I mention this as in most of these battles the victory conditions quite often seem fairly one sided. If this really bothers you, then I suggest “swapping sides” with your opponent and try to do “better”. i.e. Fulfill your victory objective with less losses than your opponent.

I play a lot of wargames for the story they tell, and although I strive to gain my victory condition while denying the opponent theirs, I’m really not fussed at the end of the day. If you are looking for “championship” scenarios, then Matanikau is probably not the place to find them. (Although I’m not an authority on the 8 scenarios I haven’t played).

Conclusion: Many hours of fun await you. When you bore of desert tank battles, a night Banzai attack awaits you here.

Tenaru: (4 scenarios)



Of these 4 Scenarios, all 4 have hidden units. Consequently, I only played one scenario. Scenario Report is found here:

Scenario 8/24: Battle of the Tenaru – "BANZAI!!!" (Japanese for "You want blood? You got blood!")

This mission took place, for the most part, during the night.

Much of the map is covered in Elephant Grass (no spotting effect) and Palm Groves (limits spotting to 5-hex for non-vehicles). So visibility is relatively good.

To date, this has been one of the deadliest PG missions I’ve played. Turn one the point blank fire begins followed quickly by banzai assaults. Was it fun? Oh yeah!

Although only covering part of the Tenaru map, I do not see any issues (read: caves) with it. Also, the fairly wide expanses of elephant grass, palm groves, brush-strokes of jungle and rivers give it quite a bit of variety for the various missions.

Conclusion: Although all the missions use hidden unit, I recommend the Tenaru scenarios, specifically for face-to-face play.

Edson’s Ridge: (3 scenarios)



I played through all 3 scenarios, none of which have hidden units. Scenario Reports can be found here:

Scenario 12/24: Edson’s Ridge, The First Night – Japanese getting lost at night in the Jungle.
Scenario 13/24: Restore the Line – Sir! You are joking, right?
Scenario 14/24: Edson’s Ridge, The Second Night – American line holds against Japanese onslaught

The first and third scenarios, although quite similar to each other, offer up an interesting dash and break through the American lines.

These scenarios use the Disorientation Special Rule for the Japanese which is a handicap the Japanese requires to avoid them just dashing and smashing the American line. Having your units wander aimlessly through the jungle could be frustrating for some, but I found the rule almost humorous at times. Again, these are quite difficult for the Americans to “win”.

Scenario 13 is very imbalanced but is a quick diversion and could be used to introduce jungle rules.

Errata? Scenario 12: American Off-board Artillery refers to Special Rule #6. There is no Special Rule #6. As the rules for this scenario are almost identical to the special rules for Scenario 14 (The Second Night), I assumed Scenario 14 Special Rule #6 which refers to American requirement to pre-plot artillery for Scenario 12.

Conclusion: Two good scenarios for the night-time action. The jungle has little effect on spotting as the night visibility is 1-hex for the most part anyway.

Scenario Summary

Scenarios with Caves: 5 (all use Hidden Japanese)
Scenarios without Caves: 19
Scenarios without Hidden Japanese: 6

Recommendation: Begin with Scenario 7 to get familiar with the Special rules (particularly Jungle, Hidden Japanese and Banzai). This is a small scenario that can be played in an hour. Scenario 13 is very easy, quick and terribly one-sided. This can be used as a tutorial scenario. Let the newcomer play the Japanese.

Expansions

Panzer Grenadier: Jungle Fighting

I played a couple small scenarios of this scenario booklet.

Scenario 16/42: Battle Without Water – Thirsty American troops lack energy to take Hill 53
Scenario 17/42: The Third Day – Lots of time to take Hill 53
Scenario 18/42: The Fourth (and Final) Day – Taking Bets!

The majority of this expansion is played on (parts of) the Matanikau map. There appears to be plenty of good play here for both scenarios with or without Hidden Japanese. Overall, I think this expansion increase the value of Guadalcanal and is a good buy. If time allows, I will eventually do a formal review of it.

Panzer Grenadier: Kokoda Trail

I haven’t played any of Kokoda Trail but I’ve read good things about it. This expansion also contains the optional campaign rules. I suggest checking it out by clicking the link above.

Conclusion

So should you buy it?

Guadalcanal is a fine offering in the Panzer Grenadier series, but is definitely not the stand-alone I would suggest one starts with. Simply because many of the victory conditions are quite difficult to obtain and sometimes “different” thought may be required. Also, the novice to the series may start at scenario one (Tulagi) and give up before they hit the good stuff.

For the solitaire wargamer, most of the missions contain hidden units, so if this bothers you, you may want to seriously consider combining your purchase with Panzer Grenadier: Jungle Fighting, as there are plenty of scenarios in the expansion without hidden Japanese. As Guadalcanal is priced cheaper (US$32) than most of the PG stand-alones, if you purchase it with Jungle Fighting (US$14) will likely come in around the same price point. (In comparison, Eastern Front is US$48 prices from wargamedepot.com)

The actual game play is a fun diversion from the Europe Theatre and the only thing you really need to do is avoid the “dogs”, e.g. the first 5 scenarios in particular. This does mean that you may feel like a lack of value for money without the expansion. For more goodness, expansion Panzer Grenadier: Kokoda Trail has also received good word.

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: Semper Fi! Guadalcanal which offers a fairly unique experience amongst Panzer Grenadier products and an interesting break from the ETO.



Thank you to my fellow geeks who took the pictures. Please click on them and thumb the contributor if you found them helpful
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Joshua Gottesman
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Thanks for all the work you put into this review and the scenario reports. Very thorough and very entertaining.
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bill jaffe
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very well done review thank you

skinsfan
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Thanks for the kind words and you're welcome!

Luckily, it was a pleasure to play (except for those first couple scenarios) and I think Guadalcanal takes too much flak because of those. It's not the BEST product out there, but there is still alot of fun to be had.
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Andrew C
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Randy,

The amount of work put into all those session reports is astounding. If anyone is wondering about this game, you have made the game's strengths and weaknesses as clear as possible.

I went and thumbed (twice, one for the post and one for the thread) every session report and wish I could have given you 100 more. I am in awe of the coverage you have provided a relatively obscure game.

You rock.
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Luc VC
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Oh, no, here goes an other game on my wishlist ;p.

Thanks a lot for this great review!
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Cleitus the Black wrote:
Randy,

The amount of work put into all those session reports is astounding. If anyone is wondering about this game, you have made the game's strengths and weaknesses as clear as possible.

I went and thumbed (twice, one for the post and one for the thread) every session report and wish I could have given you 100 more. I am in awe of the coverage you have provided a relatively obscure game.

You rock.


Thank you very much. I am honored and humbled. modest It did indeed take quite a bit of time, but at least I had a fair bit of fun doing them! thumbsup

Randy
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mochara c
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Well done review, Randy. Still won't change my mind - the handful of scenarios that boil down to "roll a 12 to win" are non-starters for me. Those, the raft of errors and the fights in the dense jungle (which I'd so looked forward to) that become exercises in marker-shuffling just did me in. Sorry mate, but this still qualifies as the worst game I've ever played.
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moly19 wrote:
Well done review, Randy. Still won't change my mind - the handful of scenarios that boil down to "roll a 12 to win" are non-starters for me. Those, the raft of errors and the fights in the dense jungle (which I'd so looked forward to) that become exercises in marker-shuffling just did me in. Sorry mate, but this still qualifies as the worst game I've ever played.


Thank you for your opinion.

I agree, this is one of the weaker "box sets" for the Panzer Grenadier series. I've just began playing 1940: the Fall of France which is very nice indeed. Most scenarios aren't long (10-20 turn range) and appear to have victory conditions (VPs) which can facilitate different strategies. Looking Good.

But, I did have a fair bit of fun slogging through the jungle and it definitely offers a unique change of pace.

- Randy
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Matt Ward
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I continue to be surprised (although continual surprise would seem to be an oxymoron) with the ability of the PG system to simulate reasonably accurately platoon level combat. The frustration that the player feels waiting for that 12 to show up on the direct fire table is akin to the frustration the actual men felt in coming upon a cave fortified opponent. These battles actually pointed out that new tactics and weapons were necessary for such fighting. Another "well done" for the AP crew.
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meward wrote:
The frustration that the player feels waiting for that 12 to show up on the direct fire table is akin to the frustration the actual men felt in coming upon a cave fortified opponent.


Yes. But most of us don't play games just to feel frustrated So, if you enjoy being frustrated, Tulagi is for you! devil
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nick P
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I enjoyed your review immensely and it ALMOST wetted my appetite to try this set again. Alas, I have been bitten one too many times by Guadalcanal: the piles of leaders (who I wilfully reduced because it was just so too much), the uncertainties about terrain and the dense masses of counters forming up and entering battles that took hours to resolve - it just doesn't work for me I'm afraid. Well done though.
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