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Subject: Operation Grenade- For gamers who enjoy the unknown. rss

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Magister Ludi
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Operation Grenade
Designer- Joe Balkoski
Publisher - Simulations Publications Inc. (1981)
Strategy & Tactics magazine issue #84.




Grenade was the second game issued in 'Strategy & Tactics' magazine utilising what was known as the 'Victory in the West' system. Elements of the game system had their basis in some proven performers from the SPI stable, being 'Panzergruppe Guderian', which introduced the concept of unknown unit strengths and then 'Operation Typhoon', a well regarded 3 map monster game, which introduced random combat strenghts.

It was left to designer Joe Balkoski, who incidentally, had been involved as a developer on 'Typhoon' to further refine the system and apply it to a Western Front setting, firstly in Patton's 3rd Army: The Lorraine Campaign which had appeal due to the recognition of 'old blood and guts', but then to this second offering, Grenade, which was set in February 1945 during the US 9th Army's capmpaign in the Roer area and race to capture bridges over the Rhine. Due to the lower recognition factor of both the campaign and the forces involved, the game did not rate highly and is still available at relatively low prices today. This is a shame as Balkoski could always be relied upon to put out a solid, workmanlike effort on the games he worked on for SPI and the game itself is a great introduction to the series and a tense encounter at the same time.

The game components comprised a larger than usual countersheet ( 255 as against 200 standard) and a 22" x 34" map, of which the actual playing area itself was quite small, but left room to incorporate all the required charts and tables for both players, on their respective sides of the table which I always felt was a nice utility.



The map is shaded in yellow to represent the possible extent of flooding possible under different options available to the Axis player. The red hexes represent Axis entrenchments which assist in Axis defence. A skilful player will ensure that the multiple lines of defence are fully utilised. If you have a 'stand and die' mentality as the Axis player you will find yourself quickly defeated.




At the heart of the system, which is based on Battalion, Regimental and sometime Brigade level combat units, is a variable combat strength rating for Regimental units. Battalions are generally set strength of 1, whereas the larger units of both sides did not have their strengths determined ( or known to either player with any certainty) until the first time they were involved in combat. This was handled by units being assigned 1 of 3 morale ratings, A to C and size ratings, 1 to 3. As the countermix shows there was a pool of strength chits which were then randomly drawn for each unit at the time it was involved in combat and the strength determined. This could obviously lead to some large variances and outcomes of battle. At one level it modelled the uncertainties of exactly how a unit would perform in battle and prevented the 'perfect plan' strategy inherent in many hex and counter games of bringing exact odds to bear during an attack. Whilst I haven't checked it myself, a statistically minded friend indicated that the strength chits did roughly conform to a standard distribution curve.

Needless to say, not everyone enjoys the unknown outcomes that this variability sometime produces, but there are still enough fans of the system around to enable some further games utilising this system seeing the light of day, the first being Iron Tide: Panzers in the Ardennes and a further game being on MMP pre- order VCS Salerno.

The combat chart and resolution can also be confusing until a player becomes familiar with the system. After calculating straight odds based on the Attacker vs. Defender strength, there are numerous other factors that can produce column shifts depending on; defenders terrain type, combined arms status ( i.e having armour and infantry in the attack) and Divisional Integrity, which rewards a player for keeping formations together and attacking a common objective.

An example of a CRT from the system, is shown from the forthcoming VCS Salerno game. As can be seen, the system utilises 2d6 which also produces a wider range of outcomes than a simple d6 table. In some cases the attacker can suffer some nasty outcomes from a low roll, despite launching a high odds attack. Once again, many see this as a negative, but I believe it also enhances many of the uncertainties that can occur in a battle. In this respect it models what an Army commander must deal with. You can feed in troops, have logistics in place, but you cannot micro manage the outcome of each and every battle.

 



Whilst there have been comments that the system seems to represent a lot of effort for minimal outcome, it does cover the issues that a commander needs to focus on at this level of control, and provided you then play to these parameters you can tend to overcome an unlucky strength chit pull.

As a game, Grenade is not much fun for the Axis player, as they are very much on the defensive against a seemingly overpowering US attacker. However if defensive play is your thing then you will find play of the Axis a stimulating challenge, to ensure you retreat as slowly as possible and protect the precious Rhine Bridges. Some additional decision making is provided at the start of the game in planning whether to blow dams upstream and provide additional defensive benefits. For the US player, time is of the essence and you must ensure that every attack is well planned to ensure maximum combat shifts are available. A napping US player can also be faced with some nasty suprises in the shape of Axis counterattacks throughout the game as well.

All in all, this is a game system I enjoy and look forward to further releases utilising the system. Players who enjoy games with an element of uncertainty are encouraged to apply. Whilst Grenade is certainly not a world beating game, it is an interesting little situation that can handle mutliple replays and provides a low cost introduction to the system. It's also a game that is relatively easy to solitaire given the unpredictability of unit strengths the first time they are committed to combat.

I rate it a 7. Whilst its been a few years since I played it last, it's a game I would always enjoy playing against someone who knows the system. I am ever hopeful that there may be a reprint one day of Grenade, Patton's Third Army, and the final offering via S & T 'Sicily: The Race for Messina.'

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Russell Gifford
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Solid review for a solid game! Also, I will add I have found it stimulating, and an equally good candidate for solitaire or ftf. The unknown value of the units works well in solitaire, since you can be surprised on both as the attacker and the defender!

I think the reason people feel it seems like a lot of work for little action is they don't stick with it to achieve the breakthrough - then all hell breaks loose as it becomes a foot race to the bridges, and the nailbiting as the German rolls to see if the Volks units can generate enough trouble to hold up the Allies long enough to blow the bridges!

Your line, "can't micromanage the battle" is very apt, and a great way to look at this as a simulation, rather than just a game!

Your point is well shown by the system, which FORCES the players to pay attention to the unit's parent organizations to get the bonus shifts. That goes a long way toward removing the aspects of early wargames where commanders could search across the board to find a sacrificial unit from a distant unit to soak off attacks and protect your command's troops. Now the need to preserve those damaged smaller units to get your bonus shifts will prevent that 'gamey' move, and spur the gamer to think more like a commander.

Again, thanks for the great review!



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Russell Gifford
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Question?
Quesiton: Which do you like better - Patton's Third Army, or Operation Grenade?
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Magister Ludi
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Thanks for the kind words Russ. I was suprised that there wasn't a review on this game on BGG already. I actually find Grenade more to my liking than P3A, main reasons being that I find it a challenging little situation and whilst the Axis are hard pressed, the multiple entrenchments make it very tough for the US and it is always good if you can unleash a counterattack that will ruin the US players day.
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Russell Gifford
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I, too, am drawn more to Operation Grenade. There is also the added bonus that the German can blow the upstream dams makes it a completely different game in the early turns gives it a lot of replay value.

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Roger Morley
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Thanks Magister and Gifford, as I have just bought Operation Grenade, P3A and Sicily from ebay, and since I do a lot of solitaire play, it is great to read that Gifford rates them as a good candidate for solitaire and Magisters review is really good
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Magister Ludi
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Nice pick up getting all 3!

The good news is that once you learn the system you can use it to play the upcoming VCS Salerno game ( on pre order from MMP) which uses this system.
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Martin Gallo
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You can even use them as basic game rules for Killing Ground/Overlord!
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