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Sim Guy
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Introduction
I am a long time fan of PanzerBlitz and its sister games; Panzer Leader and Arab Israeli Wars. I’ve been playing the games since the mid-70s and, by now, the rules are almost second nature to me (which is probably one of the reasons I still play them). That being said, if I were a wargamer coming into the hobby today, I probably wouldn’t give it a second look, and I might wonder what all of the fuss was about from devotees to the old game. No, today I would look at the current offerings and go with something like the new PanzerBlitz, one of the semi-miniatures games like Tide of Iron, or Panzer Grenadier, among others.
I resisted Panzer Grenadier for many years, mostly because I have an awful lot invested in my PanzerBlitz games: I own in the neighborhood of 16 sets of PB/PL/AIW, tons of extra homemade counters and maps (thanks Ward!), campaign game scenarios, solo rules, and variants. I just couldn’t see buying into another series that covered the same period, at the same scale, as a game I intend to keep playing.
So When I picked up a copy of the original edition of Panzer Grenadier at a game sale, I knew I was tempting fate. But at the same time I was curious and I wanted to find out what I might be missing. What, I thought, did I have to lose?
This forbidden fruit languished on my shelves for maybe another two years before I finally took a bite and played a quick scenario. As I feared, I was hooked, just check my collection page for Panzer Grenadier if you want to see how hard I've fallen. As with PB, I intend to do a lot of scenario and campaign design, so I want lots of maps and counters – big enough for corps level clashes, and with lots of different nationalities – so I’ve ended up buying into PG in a big way. What follows is my review of Panzer Grenadier: Road to Berlin, one of my more recent acquisitions.

Images used are taken from the BGG game pages.


The Game
Road to Berlin, by Avalanche Press, is a Platoon level treatment of WWII combined arms combat on the Eastern Front, covering the Russian fight to push the Nazi forces back to Germany. The game was released in 2005, and uses a revised and expanded version of the original Panzer Grenadier system, which premiered in 1998. The refinements from the first game are small but many, and the cumulative effect is an overall improvement in game play, without changing all that much in a solid set of mechanics.



First impressions

Road to Berlin is a colorful, modern looking item, on the hobby store shelf, or in an online catalog. It’s a nice heavy package, promising much, and delivering, with over 800 oversize counters, and eight heavy card stock map sections. These components are fine examples of the current state of wargame graphics. Add in a few simple charts, a shop manual size scenario manual, and a surprisingly small rule book (only 16 pages), and you've got what it takes to make a wargamer happy. Right out of the box, a Grognard will like what he sees, especially if he is an old PanzerBlitzer like me.


The Maps – You get eight sturdy geomorphic maps, a little wider and shorter than PB maps, with a larger, 1” hex, grid. Like PB, the hexes represent 200 meters, but because of their size, the map board only amounts to about half the amount of real estate as a PB map section. Even so, they are true works of art - looking like they were painted using aerial photographs as guides - and they are much less sterile than the stock PB/PL maps.


The Counters – The double-sided unit counters take advantage of the advances in gaming graphics that we are all enjoying today. Instead of just a cold NATO symbol on the troop counters, we have a few soldiers in action poses. The fighting vehicles are highly detailed, top-down depictions, as opposed to the (very cool for their day) PB black silhouettes. Dedicated transports are differentiated from their fighting brethren, with an oblique angle view, and their obvious lack of combat values.
Aside from the graphics, the units are printed in distinctive national colors, and there is quite a bit of information on each counter:
The familiar NATO style symbology, and unit size indication
The unit type name
A distinct national or unit insignia
Movement value
Attack and range, in different colors to denote direct, indirect, or anti armor fire values
Armored defense value for armored vehicle units

Despite all of these symbols and values, the counters don’t appear cluttered or confusing, and there are no mysterious icons to decipher.

A PB devotee will find some new special counter types: Leaders and Air units. Sure air units appeared in Panzer Leader, but they were very generic. Road to Berlin has Stukas and Sturmoviks, Ju-88s, He-111s, P-39s, and many others in the series. Leaders, however, were a glaring omission in PB/PL/AIW. Adding these units is what really distinguishes Panzer Grenadier from simpler PB style games. We’ll talk more about them below.

Rules
The 16 page series rule book is well organized and understandable. It uses the now familiar SPI style case and sub-case outline format. Section 1 is a concise summary of the rules, which may be all the rules you'll need to refer back to, once you’ve given them a quick read through. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more graphics – PG’s not a difficult game, but a few examples of play would go a long way.

It should be mentioned that there is also an ultra-condensed, one page, version of the basic rules, that you can download free from the Avalanche Press web site, that will get you up and playing quickly. The site even provides a sample map and counters for a simple scenario, so you can try before you buy.

Mechanics
The game scale is Platoon level with single Leaders, hexes are 200 meters across, and turns are 15minutes.

Road to Berlin
, like most of the games in the series, is generally a two player game, but some larger scenarios may be conducive to team play. Avalanche Press believes in providing players with plenty of scenarios in their tactical games, and Road to Berlin is no different; the proof is found in the 75 scenario booklet, included in the game. The scenarios range in size from a couple of dozen units fighting over a single map board, to one hundred and more on a side, ranging over a six section map. You’ll probably be able to find a scenario to suit whatever time and player availability situation you can think of.

Set Up
Like most tactical games, set up is freer than in a themed battle game. Each scenario will describe a map board configuration, the initial and any follow-on forces, objectives and victory conditions, and either entry points or area boundaries for both side, along with initiative and morale values.

Game Play
Players roll for Initiative, modified by the initial Initiative value of the side, and any step losses taken so far. The winner is the first to take action, possibly quite a lot of it, before his opponent will be able to respond.

During the Action Phase, players alternate activating unit stacks, or stacks of units under a leader’s control, for movement and combat. Additionally, players may fire off-board artillery and take Opportunity Fire on moving enemy units. Players take turns to activate, move, and fight units, until every unit each player wishes to activate, has been. Leaders are the key to multiple unit activation, as a leader may activate the units stacked in his own hex, as well as units in each of the six hexes around him. If one of those surrounding hexes also contains a leader of lower rank, that leader and the units under and around him may activate as well, and so on. Large numbers of units may be able to activate at once, if there are enough adjacent leaders. Leader activated units may take any legal action during their segment of the Action Phase. While units which self activate may not do much more than shoot and hide as they cannot move closer to an enemy unit that can fire at them. Leaders are vital for mounting any sort of offensive action.


Combat
Large caliber artillery and mortars attack using indirect fire, called Bombardment in PG. All other units employ Direct Fire, while armored and infantry units may also Assault. Direct Fire may be normal or Anti-Armor and uses different sets of attack, defense, and range values for each. Most armored fighting vehicles have both Direct Fire and Anti-Armor combat values. Assaults take place in the same hex and can be somewhat complicated, but they come easier with practice.
Combat may result in step losses, or loss of morale, rendering the unit disrupted or demoralized. Demoralized units may be forced to retreat to cover, if they can't recover their morale. Leaders play a major role in maintaining unit morale and rallying the troops.

Scenarios
The scenarios are plentiful, mostly interesting, and well organized, covering the increasingly desperate fighting as the Soviets closed in on Berlin. It won’t take long for a player to sort them out and get into the game in short order.

Feature Study: Leaders
Leaders are a tricky concept in a tactical game. Designers can either assume they are part of a unit and ignore them, or separate them out and dedicate rules to them. PG actually does both as armored vehicles are assumed to have a leader associated with the unit and other leaders are represented by their own piece. In PG, the leader is involved in activation, attack, defense, morale, and morale recovery. Careful management of your leaders is almost a defining characteristic of this series. They are busy units and it slows down the game, but IMHO it adds more than it costs to the game play. My main problem with Leaders is that they aren’t attached to any particular units: any leader can command any unit.

What’s missing?

I would like to see a campaign game of some kind, a way to link games together so that the scenarios aren’t just isolated contests, but events which are affected by what has come before and have a bearing on what comes next.

I’d also like to see some sort of organizational chart so that I can build a higher echelon unit, such as a Battalion or Regiment. It would also be handy for home made scenarios and campaign purposes.

Solitaire - Tactical games are notoriously difficult to play solitaire, PG:RtB is no different. There are no rules supplied to accommodate solo play in any of the series games. I would like to see this addressed eventually.

Overall Impression

The components and maps are as good as anything you’ll see in a well turned out contemporary wargame. The counters are attractive, informative, and uncluttered. The maps provide an attractive background that can be a little confusing in some of the busier areas, but generally they are very good. Carts and other game aids, may not be works of art, but they are clear and functional. The rules are well written, and mercifully short for a detailed tactical game, but they could use more examples. The scenarios are plentiful and well written, enough to keep even an avid player busy for a few months.

I chose to review Panzer Grenadier: Road to Berlin because I wanted to be able to make a direct, side by side comparison to the earlier PanzerBlitz by setting up similar scenarios and playing them out with each game. What I found was that I got much of the same feel from the scenarios in both games: I got the same satisfaction as the German player, when my brilliantly executed delaying action blunted a massive Soviet armored assault, only to feel it turn to the despair of having to face a second wave, even stronger than the first.

Road to Berlin plays slower than PanzerBlitz, but I also felt more involved in the battle. Instead of units running pretty much all over the place as in PanzerBlitz, I had to think about maintaining the integrity of my units under their commanders. Road to Berlin rewards a coordinated well planned attack, which in PanzerBlitz consists mostly of pinning an enemy, then massing whatever forces can reach it, into a brute force bludgeoning.

Both games felt right, but both played very differently. I enjoyed them both, but the Panzer Grenadier system benefits from 25-30 additional years of the development of the state of the wargame design art. It feels more realistic than PanzerBlitz and, as much as I love my old friend, it is Road to Berlin that I would recommend to that new wargamer I mentioned so long ago.

EDIT: Recently picked up a copy of Campaigns and Commanders: War in the East. It almost gives me what I'm looking for: Within are organizational charts, in terms of the PG units, that let you build up Battalions, Regiments, and Brigades; there is a point system for unit purchase; and step by step instructions on how to build your own scenarios and, if you like, link them together into a type of campaign. Now I say 'almost' because what I'm really looking for in a campaign is a large size campaign map and forces that are limited to an extent, and linked in such a way that if a regiment gets mauled in one battle, it will appear weaker later in the campaign, until it can absorb replacements somehow. Campaigns and Commanders comes close, and it will let you follow an officer through each linked battle and build him up in an RPG fashion. This could be a sneaky way to lure an RPGer who's curious about wargaming into the vortex. At any rate, I would recommend C&C to anyone who is into Panzer Grenadier.

My Collection Ratings:
PanzerBlitz: 7
Panzer Grenadier: Road to Berlin: 8
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Xander Fulton
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SimGuy wrote:

What’s missing?

I would like to see a campaign game of some kind, a way to link games together so that the scenarios aren’t just isolated contests, but events which are affected by what has come before and have a bearing on what comes next.

I’d also like to see some sort of organizational chart so that I can build a higher echelon unit, such as a Battalion or Regiment. It would also be handy for home made scenarios and campaign purposes.


Uhhhh...have you seen War in the East or The King's Officers? They do that.
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Mark Stadel
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XanderF wrote:
SimGuy wrote:

What’s missing?

I would like to see a campaign game of some kind, a way to link games together so that the scenarios aren’t just isolated contests, but events which are affected by what has come before and have a bearing on what comes next.

I’d also like to see some sort of organizational chart so that I can build a higher echelon unit, such as a Battalion or Regiment. It would also be handy for home made scenarios and campaign purposes.


Uhhhh...have you seen War in the East or The King's Officers? They do that.


Panzer Grenadier: Cassino '44, Gateway to Rome also has a campaign mode/ruleset.
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Dean Petters
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SimGuy wrote:

What’s missing?

I would like to see a campaign game of some kind, a way to link games together so that the scenarios aren’t just isolated contests, but events which are affected by what has come before and have a bearing on what comes next.

I’d also like to see some sort of organizational chart so that I can build a higher echelon unit, such as a Battalion or Regiment. It would also be handy for home made scenarios and campaign purposes.

Solitaire - Tactical games are notoriously difficult to play solitaire, PG:RtB is no different. There are no rules supplied to accommodate solo play in any of the series games. I would like to see this addressed eventually.


As has been mentioned, there is a campaign system out there. I've never used it so I'll let others comment on how good it is.

As for solitaire play, I play almost all my games solitaire and I find PG to be rather easy to play solitaire by playing both sides. There usually aren't a lot of hidden units, which are really troublesome to play solitaire. The biggest issue is being able to not react to what one side is planning prior to the execution.

Now, if you were looking for some sort of AI to control one side, i'll agree: there's not a system for that... yet.
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Sim Guy
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I haven't paid much attention to the Campaigns and Commanders series, because it seemed to me that they were concentrating on the aspect of developing the officers in a role-playing type of adaptation. Not that there's anything wrong with role-playing in wargames, I've done it. It sounds though like it would be worth my while to pick one up and give it a closer look.

I am aware of the Cassino '44 campaign, and this is exactly what I had in mind for RtB, when I said it was missing. I don't have any problem with using the Cassino '44 campaign as a guide for creating an RtB campaign in the same style. But there are a lot of people out there who don't have the time or the inclination to work up a set of rules and scenarios for a campaign of their own making.

I can play pretty much anything solo and have a good time doing it, and (as an AI guy on the job) I've put a lot of effort into coming up with play aids to help drive my 'opponent' during a solitaire session. Most of these are written for PanzerBlitz, but I'm slowly converting them over and they'll appear in Files sections... eventually.
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Greg Sager
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I consider this the finest review I have ever read on BBG.
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Drew Heath
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It's interesting to read someone praising the early-style maps for a change. Most PG fans don't like them.

Oh, and on the off chance that you haven't stumbled across it already, have a look at Panzer Grenadier Headquarters

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Sim Guy
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Shad wrote:
It's interesting to read someone praising the early-style maps for a change. Most PG fans don't like them.

Oh, and on the off chance that you haven't stumbled across it already, have a look at Panzer Grenadier Headquarters



Hi Shad - PG-HQ, is one of the best fan sites I've seen. I'll probably sign up soon.

I think the maps across the PG series are excellent overall - better than the PB series, and leaps ahead of most other platoon level games (First Battle, Assault, etc.). There is a fine line between appearance and function that AP crosses from time to time: the Cassino '44 maps are awesome, but a little hard to take after a while - almost too much going on behind the counters. Sometimes the simpler maps are more conducive to an extended session.

Cheers
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Drew Heath
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SimGuy wrote:
Sometimes the simpler maps are more conducive to an extended session.

Cheers


A wonderfully insightful observation. I find myself agreeing. I look forward to having you on the site!
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Gian Carlo Porciani
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Ok guys, it's a little OT but I hope I can find help here... Last month I've bought this game but unlucky some pages (32-45 included) from scenario rulebook are missing or unreadable, since avalanche press seems ignoring my mails, and those of "my seller", I'm asking you if somebody can send me the missing scanned pages via e-mail thanks... it's a great game but I'm really disapponted by "politics" of ignoring cusomers by the company...

Thank again Gian Carlo
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Xander Fulton
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SimGuy wrote:
I think the maps across the PG series are excellent overall - better than the PB series, and leaps ahead of most other platoon level games (First Battle, Assault, etc.). There is a fine line between appearance and function that AP crosses from time to time: the Cassino '44 maps are awesome, but a little hard to take after a while - almost too much going on behind the counters. Sometimes the simpler maps are more conducive to an extended session.


This is definitely true.

It's one of the reasons I like Guy Riessen's maps ('Elsenborn Ridge', 'Fall of France', etc) - an artistic style to them that gives them a nice visual flair...but very much still easily usable.
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Albert Brasington
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My thoughts are very similar to yours. I would rate Road to Berlin 8.00 as well. I got hooked on the PG system. It fills my tank to tank need. What I would like to see is frankly a Vassal Module of the game as my friend who enjoys the game is out of town. I amen you recommendation. Avalanche did a good job.
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Sim Guy
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Avalanche has been very frustrating in their relationship with online gamers. They offer only a single Vassal/Zuntzu module for the PG:Airborne game. Bennighof is paranoid about people being able to play the modules without first shelling out for the game, and will actively defend his copyrights against any module writer who attempts a PG module for Vassal et.al. I'm not sure how much business would actually be lost, compared to new players who would buy games based on a Vassal play, but apparently AP believes it would be significant enough, in such a low margin industry.

I don't think AP is totally against online play, they just want to maintain a certain level of control of their product, which is understandable. I think that they may have established some guidance and requirements for module writers that must be met before AP will allow a module to be released, but I'm not familiar with what they might be.
 
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Joshua Gottesman
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At this point APL will allow VASSAL modules, however it's going to have to be outside people who design them.
 
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Sim Guy
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Joshuaaaaaa wrote:
At this point APL will allow VASSAL modules, however it's going to have to be outside people who design them.

That's the way I understood it, as well.
 
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