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Subject: Cassino '44 - One of the Best Yet rss

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Sim Guy
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Introduction
Reviews of Series games can be repetitive by definition. So this review of Panzer Grenadier: Cassino ’44 will include much of the same, or similar, material as other PG reviews I’ve written. If you are a player with some experience with the Panzer Grenadier games, you may want to skip over the discussion of the rules, components and such and get right to the game specific bits. But I also realize that this may be the first review you’ve seen on the series, so I’ll make a full accounting of my look at this particular title.



The Panzer Grenadier Series is a direct descendant of the tactical games from the early days of the wargaming hobby. Games like PanzerBlitz, and Mech War ’77 broke ground for the squad/platoon/company level tactical games of today. I have a long history with the PanzerBlitz series, and many of my references compare it to the Panzer Grenadier games. I still play PanzerBlitz, a game that was well ahead of its time, and one that has stood up well. But the system is dated, and I’ve added a great many house rules to bring my games more up to contemporary standards. I would not recommend PanzerBlitz to a new gamer, and would certainly push him toward a more modern offering like Panzer Grenadier, in fact it would be my first choice.

Images used are taken from the BGG game pages.
Thanks to [toku42] [Comrade_Sarayev]

The Game

Panzer Grenadier: Cassino ’44, Gateway to Rome, by Avalanche Press, is a Platoon level treatment of WWII combined arms combat, which takes an in depth look at the fight over the famous Monastery in Italy. The game was released in 2009, and uses the latest version of the Panzer Grenadier system rules. Cassino ’44 is a bit of a departure from the other games in the series in that, instead of a set of interchangeable geomorphic map boards, you get a set of maps that can be joined together to depict the actual battlefield, and there are rules for playing a series of scenarios in a linked campaign setting. This practice has been seen before in such tactical games as Advanced Squad Leader in their Historical Modules, Kampfgruppe Peiper I & II, for example.



First impressions
PG: Cassino ‘44 is a fine example of the state of the art in wargame design, with nearly 1000 oversize counters, and four heavy chart paper map sections. There are a few loose charts, a scenario manual, a set of campaign rules, and the standard 16 page Panzer Grenadier Series rule book. A very impressive package for a Grognard like me, who has just about seen it all, and what we’ve come to expect from Avalanche Press.




The Maps
– The maps for Casino ’44 are not the usual PG geomorphs. This time out, you get four large maps that together give you the entire setting of the battle. The monastery sits on a rugged hilltop, commanding the surrounding, only slightly less rugged, approaches. It is an impressive sight, and you’ll need some space if you want to see it, as the full map measures about 4 x 6 feet. The map is overlaid with a 1” hex, grid each hex representing 200 meters. These maps are IMHO the best looking in the series to date. There was an impressive amount of research, as well as artistic effort, dedicated to their production, and it shows.


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.

In addition to the ground forces, PG provides individual Leaders and Air units. Air units vary depending on the game and Cassino ’44 comes with primarily Allied air units; Beufighters, Kittyhawks, P-47s, with the odd Henschel and Stuka showing up from time to time. Leaders, however, are what really distinguishes Panzer Grenadier from the earlier, simpler tactical 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 is 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.

For more in-depth study, additional examples, and explanations, I recommend downloading the Unofficial Players Guide 3/2010, found in the Files section for this game page. It’s produced by the friendly folks from the excellent Panzer Grenadier HQ fan site – which you should also check out. http://www.pg-hq.com/

Mechanics

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

Cassino ‘44, like most of the games in the series, is generally a two player game, but some larger scenarios may be conducive to team play – and in this particular game even more so. Avalanche Press believes in providing players with plenty of scenarios in their tactical games, and Cassino ’44 has the added bonus of being able to link together many of the individual scenarios into campaigns. The scenarios are generally a little larger than in most of the other games of the series, reflecting on the focus of the battle; the monastery itself.

Set Up
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. Cassino ’44 often requires all four maps for a scenario, and because of the historical basis for both the maps and the situation, set up is somewhat more restricted, more like a themed wargame (which it essentially is) than what most tactical gamers expect.

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 set 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

Thirty scenarios are provided, most are smaller actions focusing on a specific unit and its role in the campaign. Each specifies set up, any special rules and victory conditions with a short historical commentary to place it in context. Set up instructions a clear and players should be into the game in a few minutes.

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 of his nationality.

What’s missing?
Truthfully, not much. My issues with the Panzer Grenadier series overall are the lack of campaign rules, and some guidelines for unit organization. Cassino ’44 provides both, plus a unit cost chart for extended campaigns as well. As a matter of fact, the campaign rules can, with a little fiddling, be adapted to many of the other PG titles. I’ll be looking to do something like this on my own unless someone else beats me to it.

Solitaire - Tactical games are notoriously difficult to play solitaire, Cassino ’44, like the rest of the PG series games has no rules supplied to accommodate solo play. However, because of the nature of the battles for the monastery, Cassino ’44 lends itself more easily to solitaire play than most because of the straightforward attacker/defender roles each side must play. Solo gamers should have a much easier time with this title.

Overall Impression

Panzer Grenadier: Cassino ’44, Gateway to Rome is a different sort of game when compared to the rest of the PG offerings. Like the rest, the components and maps are as good as anything you’ll see in a contemporary wargame. The counters are attractive, informative, and uncluttered. The rules are well written, and mercifully short for a detailed tactical game, but they could use more examples. The scenarios are well written, and the campaigns are thoughtful and easy to follow.

The maps. One the one hand, I think these are the best maps in the series: the attention to detail and the artwork is just beautiful. I almost feel like I’m floating above the battlefield, especially when all four maps are laid out for the larger scenarios. On the other hand, the detail is almost too much to absorb over along game – and the games have a lot of potential to run long. In one gaming session, after a couple of hours, I kept losing units because they sort of melted into the background, or I’d reach for a unit and catch myself before I tried to pick up a feature that was drawn on the map. I found that if I took a short break from time to time that I had an easier time spotting units again. I can only guess that this was some sort of visual fatigue effect and recommend that players, in a long session, follow my example and take about ten minutes away from the map every hour or so – because I would be the last person to advocate putting out a simplified map, this one just looks so good.

Another great thing about Cassino ’44 is the variety of units and nationalities that come with it. The battle for Italy was very much an international effort, and it is reflected in the units. Going up against the Fallschirmjaegers and Panzertruppen, we have American and British troops, along with the Poles - who eventually were the first to raise their pennant over Monte Cassino, and a plethora of Commonwealth troops: Indians, Gurkhas(!), Kiwis, Maori(!!), even a company of Canadian tankers. I am thinking of running a game of Cassino ’44 in a local gaming con, and the nationalities would lend themselves to multiple players, especially on the Allied side.

I am excited by the campaign rules and am looking forward to trying them out, and then boiling down their essence and applying them to other games in the series. If it works out well, watch these spaces for some files.

I regard Cassino ’44 as one of the better games in the PG series, and may end up as one of my favorites. I can’t really say right now, as I’ve only really played enough to get a good feeling for this review. My only real problem with the game is that it is all about Monte Cassino (well duh!). The Italian campaign was a long hard slog, starting almost a year before D-Day, and lasting until practically the end of the war. There’s an awful lot of gaming territory left to explore here. I’d like to see some new maps and scenarios for this part of the ETO.

I would not recommend Cassino ’44 to someone unless they were familiar with the Panzer Grenadier series, or they were an experienced tactical wargamer. It’s a lot to bite off otherwise. But I also see this game as a possible bridge game, to draw operational level gamers into a tactical system via a grand tactical game. It hearkens back to some of the old SPI monster titles like Wacht am Rhein, or Highway to the Reich, which were operational in nature but tactical in design. If you're on the fence about this title, and are wary of the price, keep an eye on the Avalanche Press web site and jump when they have one of their many special offers. If you're a Panzer Grenadier fan, this is definitely a 'Buy'.


My Collection Rating:
Panzer Grenadier: Cassino ‘44: 8.5
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I've played over a 100 scenarios of PG, and I agree, Cassino is definitely in the upper echelons of the series.

If you haven't been to pg-hq.com.au, it would be great to get your input over there, particularly your "data" for played scenarios.
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Drew Heath
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This review doesn't have the [Fresh Voices] or new voices or I forget which voices tag on the front like the Road to Berlin review did. What's the significance there?
 
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Shad wrote:
This review doesn't have the [Fresh Voices] or new voices or I forget which voices tag on the front like the Road to Berlin review did. What's the significance there?


See here for more information
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Andrzej Sieradzki
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I rise my pennant over your excellent review as well. Thanks for the timeload you sacrificed for the work.
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Jim F
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Am quite interested in this one. Is it fully playable without any others in the PG series?
 
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Wulf Corbett
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Ashiefan wrote:
Am quite interested in this one. Is it fully playable without any others in the PG series?
Completely - all the boxed games are now (the only exception was the out of print Heroes of the Soviet Union: The Defense of Mother Russia 1942-43 ).
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Jim F
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Thanks Wulf
 
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Wulf Corbett
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Incidentally,it is rather difficult to play without a 6'x4' table... the maps are about 5'x3'6", and the scenarios don't nicely fit on single map sections...
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Drew Heath
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Wulf Corbett wrote:
Incidentally,it is rather difficult to play without a 6'x4' table... the maps are about 5'x3'6", and the scenarios don't nicely fit on single map sections...


(brought to you by Panzer Grenadier Headquarters)



Scenario Footprint
Cassino '44 #1 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #2 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #3 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #4 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #5 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #6 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #7 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #8 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #9 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #10 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #11 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #12 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #13 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #14 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #15 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #16 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #17 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #18 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #19 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #21 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #22 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #25 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #26 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #27 43 x 28 cm
Cassino '44 #28 43 x 28 cm

Cassino '44 #20 85 x 54 cm
Cassino '44 #23 85 x 54 cm
Cassino '44 #24 85 x 54 cm
Cassino '44 #29 85 x 54 cm
Cassino '44 #30 85 x 54 cm

Cassino '44 #31 170 x 108 cm
Cassino '44 #32 170 x 108 cm


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Re: Table Space

A lot of the scenarios only use part of a map as well, so you can effectively fold the maps along a crease if you don't need part of it. So, table space above would be the maximum table space required.
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