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Panzer Saint-Lo 1944» Forums » Reviews

Subject: The Gateway Wargame - Review for non-wargamers rss

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Panzer: Saint-Lô (1944) is the first wargame designed and published entirely in Argentina. Although the most popular local game is a strategy game with a war theme, after reading this review you will know how this two genres of games are completely different from each other (i.e. this is no Risk).

Theme: The game recreates an important battle between the Allied and Axis armies in mid 1944. Soon after the landing in Normandy, Saint-Lô was one of the key points in the Allied route to Paris. Combat was brutal and 95% of the village was razed to the ground. Each player will represent a side and try to capture the enemy Command Posts. To do so, the player will have infantry, artillery, tank and aircraft units, taken from the historical scenario, available.

Components: The game uses the classic hex-and-counter format, with a board map divided in hexes in which players place their counters representing a particular unit. The rulebook is clear, to the point and barely 5 pages long. It comes with a nice Order of Battle, many graphics and examples of play, making it easy to understand and explain. The game uses dice for combat resolution in a simple and quick manner, still retaining the possibility of combined attacks (with artillery support) without the need of a CRT. The production phase utilizes generic "Supplies" that are spent by moving units and attacking, or used to deploy new units. It also features a deck of Battle Reports (player-onset events) that allow the players to gain tactical advantages or extra supplies. Overall, IMO it has outstanding aesthetics for the local market standard. With original art in every card and a good looking and detailed board, this is the game with the most eye candy in the local market since Life was released in the 80s.

Gameplay: In terms of how the game flows, I think the dynamic runs pretty smoothly once combat actually starts. The initial deployment can lag a little, as each player decides where to place his 65 counters, while looking the opponent’s deployment at the same time. Turns feel simple and fairly short, since there are a limited amount of actions to perform and both players roll dices and can play their cards in combat. Thanks to this combo of face-to-face action, an active defense (with choices to be made) and an almost instantaneous maintenance phase, downtime is almost non-existent. This is unusual in wargames as far as I know, and an important merit of the design. In my experience, if two players know what they are doing, this game should not last (after setup) more than 60 minutes; and if only one does, chances are it will not last more than 45.

Concerns: Initial deployment and a matching strategy is half your victory, and that takes time to learn. For this reason, I think the game could have benefited from some predetermined scenarios to facilitate initial deployment. Nonetheless, I imagine fans (or the designer itself) will come up with some in no time. Moreover, terrain takes a very marginal part in gameplay (mostly aesthetic). I would have preferred some special rules in this regard, maybe optional for advanced players. I think combined attacks using aviation could have been added without much trouble, to complement those of artillery support. But mostly, the 4-players variant seems little more than some house rules. Supplies, Battle Reports and actions per turn are (in fact) shared by teammates.

So far, the game can be acquired though the publisher’s website (www.spielen.com.ar) in Argentina and it costs little more than US$35. You may also have to pay that much to ship it to US/Europe. Anyways, if you are visiting Buenos Aires and care for a trade, just let me know. I’ve heard the publisher is working on a downloadable translation of the rulebook and a POD cards deck (Artscow?) for international orders (other components are fairly language independent).

In my opinion, this game has a great potential locally among those adult players that knew the golden age of games in the 80s, but had little else new to play until now (yep, it’s sad, you can’t even get Catan in Argentina). This is a format that will inspire some suspicion initially, because it gives the appearance of being highly complex. It is not. Rules are very easy and clearly presented. Same as chess, the complex part is not the understanding of the rules, but to get your moves to make any sense. Loyal to the wargames style, luck-dependence is lower than in most AT (the games by default in Argentina). The skill of the player will be reflected in the battlefield, no matter what dices are rolled. Even so, getting wargamer’s attention will require an expansion with a higher level of complexity/depth (scenarios, weather and bocage terrain effects, engineers, etc.). In fact, I’ve already uploaded a simplified initial deployment variant (check files section) and another for greater realism is on its way. Anyways, I highly recommend this title to fathers. This is an excellent game to show younger boys that vision and intelligence wins battles, not hand-eye coordination. Nevertheless, as any worthy wargame, it’s enormously enjoyable also as a quick solitaire.
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