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Subject: Initial Impressions of GMT's rendition of Jim Day's PANZER board wargame rss

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Eric Walters
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I remember when I first bought Yaquinto's venerable Panzer (first edition) game. Must confess I was generally predisposed to liking it, having lost myself in Hal Hock's Tobruk: Tank Battles in North Africa 1942 when The Avalon Hill Game Co published it back in 1974. Played that game to death, even given the heavy dose of wristage. In 1979, AH's Squad Leader and Cross of Iron were dominating my tactical gaming, but I had problems getting other people to play given the heavy investment of time in doing the Programmed Instruction to get to play with those cool armor rules. The Yaquinto game just seemed to fill the bill for quick entry into maneuvering mighty masses of mobile metal on the Russian Front. We had many a beer-soaked adventure with this game, in 2-player but ideally multi-player venues with non-wargamers. I have a lot of fond memories about that.

I sold off my beat up copy of that old Yaquinto game when I got heavily into Advanced Squad Leader. When Excalibur (Board Game) republished it, I confess I picked up a copy, only to immediately sell it given the atrocious graphical treatment (the infamous side-silhouette counters instead of the overhead depictions in a game where facing mattered!). Lost Battalion Games had their miniatures rules set of the same name but I didn't go for that either. I figured I'd simply moved on.

Sure, I had Jim Day's other designs for AH that were similar--MBT and IDF (Israeli Defense Force). I played them and I loved them. Having been a former Marine armor officer, I so much wished I had them when I was a lieutenant trying to teach my charges tank tactics. They were perfect for that.

When GMT announced they were streamlining and updating the original game and would include two expansions, I was seized with nostalgia. But after the initial rush of emotion subsided, I thought better of pre-ordering these games. After all, I thought I'd outgrown them. Sure enough, I followed the discussions on the game, saw the new graphics, appreciated the changes. But I wasn't willing to commit to it. I was playing all the other squad-level/individual vehicle games...why did I need to take this giant step backward into a 1970's era miniatures-based tactical simulation? I didn't.

GMT has to be marketing geniuses because eventually all the gouge they were publishing--plus some of the playtester discussions and fan buzz--got me to plop down my credit card for the pre-order offer. I thought I could always sell them if I wasn't all that thrilled with them; besides, the pre-pub price was a steal. Why not, I thought.

Then, the games arrived. I don't think I'll be selling these. Nope. Now I suppose I need to explain why.....

Panzer (second edition), the "base game" comes in a box that is heavily evocative of the old PanzerBlitz box art that The Avalon Hill Game Co published. Okay, they got to me right there with that. But it was opening the box and perusing the components that drew me in.

This is definitely a 1970's era game here. The "base game" comes with one map--that's it. It's suitably generic and very reminiscent of old SPI generic terrain maps for their tactical game series. Okay, GMT provides a lot better color than those old SPI graphical treatments, but the flavor remains the same. Sigh. Gone was the moveable woods, hills, and buildings of the original game.

The large counters are gorgeous overhead full-color depictions of common AFV for both the German and Soviet armies. Easy to read and easy to handle. One side has one vehicle, the back side another. No problem given that the game system provides status markers (particularly wrecks for "Knocked Out" tanks and flaming wrecks for "Brewed Up" AFVs) so that you have no need to flip these counters for any reason. The accompanying data cards are actually cardboard and not cardstock--and lavishly illustrated with larger top view diagrams of the AFV on the counters. Wow. The data cards are quite functional, very legible for these middle-aged eyes even at a distance, and easy to use. Okay, I'm liking this.

The rules are lavishly illustrated and in full-color, as you'd expect from GMT. I'll get into the system aspects in a bit. But you'll find these easy to read and get into. The basic rules are only 17 pages and very intuitive. Players can get into the action quite quickly. Thankfully, the LOS rules are quite easy to absorb. Facing and fire are simplified--it's pure AFV combat here, folks, and nothing else.

The Advanced Rules (40 more pages!) are what people will itch to get into and feature most of what tactical wargame aficionados expect. If you've played any armor heavy tactical systems, you'll have little trouble getting through them. What discriminates this game is a focus on specialized units that perform command and fire direction functions--headquarters, recon, and Forward Observers. Additionally, there's an overall Force tactical proficiency Grade (governing the entire side in the scenario), a specific Formation tactical proficiency Grade (generally governing specific companies), and individual Unit tactical proficiency Grade. Grades run the gamut from Elite to Veteran to Seasoned to Regular to Green. The better the overall Force Grade, the more likely it is that the side will possess the initiative every turn. Better Formation Grades help in C2 tasks, better Unit Grades help in individual unit actions/morale events.

Initiative is a huge deal in this game. Players allocate commands to their units before knowing who will get the first and second moves in a turn. Commands include "Direct Fire," "Move," "Split Fire/Move or Short Halt," and "Overwatch." Firing can only be done against units already spotted. When one wins initiative in a turn, deciding whether to be the First or Second Player in firing/moving is crucial. Firing first means that enemy targets may be Damaged, Knocked Out, or Brewed Up before they even get a chance to fire back. Firing and moving second might allow a player to blow a hole in an opposing line and maneuver through it before the enemy can do anything about it. "Overwatch" is often good insurance against this, but fire capability is degraded, especially outside the frontal firing arc for turreted and 360 degree weapons. "Short Halt" may seem like a good compromise, but fire capability is heavily shortchanged and moves are half of what they otherwise would be. Player decisionmaking can be quite nail-biting and often what seemed to be prudent when assigning commands turns out to be disastrous when the command finally gets to be executed, depending on how the initiative roll and First/Second Player determination is made.

The tank/anti-tank armor game is fairly streamlined so that combat adjudications are handled with a minimum of fuss. Just about all the impacts you'd expect in such combats are taken into account. Checking out various weapon Armor Penetration values versus target AFV armor characteristics is a must prior to play to formulate effective tactics for a particular scenario. It's pretty clear what the probabilities are and percentile dice make such calculations easy (especially compared to games like Advanced Squad Leader and Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit which use 2d6).

Infantry, crew-served weapons, indirect fire, engineers and obstacles as well as airpower are all here, but the tanks nevertheless take center stage in the scenarios. Optional rules (12 more rules pages) will seem de rigeur to treadhead grognards like me, as they cover Morale, turrets, C2 and radios, tank fright, mines, counter-battery fire, and more.

The command and control rules--coupled with initiative--really define how play unfolds on the gameboard. Better quality formations have more commands they can execute and they can afford to spread out more compared to their "Regular" and "Green" opponents that must clump together and aren't as agile. Couple superior AFVs with better force/formation/unit proficiency and a small but high quality force is going to tear through a much larger but poorer quality one.

There are 10 scenarios in the playbook, but it feels more like 8; Scenario 1 and 2--involving only armor--are repeated in Scenario 3 and 4 which add a smattering of infantry, prime movers, and anti-tank guns. Really, these are designed to get players comfortable in the system. The time frame is 1943-1944, so the early war romps by the Germans are not portrayed in the "base" game. Equipment-wise, the scenarios are reasonable match ups and lead to tense contests.

For those who already have squad-level WW II tactical ground games, it's reasonable to ask what is special about this title? For one, most of the games in the genre have been infantry games since the venerable Squad Leader family came out in 1977...such games were infantry centric with only a few guns and vehicles. Not so Panzer (second edition). Here, the armor takes center stage; it's all about the AFV, baby, and there's lots of them with comparatively little in the way of infantry and non-AFV support.

I also hesitate to judge this game and game system purely based on the "base" title. The expansions do a great deal to enhance the gaming experience and will be reviewed separately. But at the end of the day, the grognards among us will be hearkening back to those 1970s era armored slugfests, since that is what this system does best.

Is this game/game system for you? That depends. I'd hesitate to recommend it to gamers already deep into their favorite WW II tactical ground system, particularly those with individual vehicles/squads. Panzer (second edition) is such a retro title, such a throwback. But if players don't know those earlier heavy-metal centric games from a bygone era, this title may seem very fresh and new. Will it replace your favorite tactical system? Probably not. But it might provide an entertaining alternative.

For those gamers who love Jim Day designs, you will definitely love this treatment. It's a definite improvement over what's come before. I'd only hope we see expansions that cover the same ground that the old Armor and 88 games do. And dare I hope for an update to MBT and IDF (Israeli Defense Force)? A man can dream, can't he?

Die-hard Advanced Squad Leader and Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit players will likely pass this game by, as will hardcore Advanced Tobruk System aficionados. The benefits in better C2 modeling won't make up for the losses in "design for effect" and random chaos/friction those games provide to the tactical combat experience. That's okay. To each their own. Even Lock 'n Load and Valor & Victory players will likely cling to the narrative power their particular tactical systems engender.

I'd think, however, that GMT's Panzer (second edition) might appeal to the Conflict of Heroes and Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles player who wants to "level up" into something more hardcore, or the Combat Commander Series series guy who longs for tanks in his tactical recreations.

This game is really for the treadheads, the tank warfare buffs, the hardware geeks who will argue over hit probabilities and armor penetration. Sure, the other stuff is there in the box, but we all know what lured most of us to hearken back to our teenage wargame years--hell, it's why GMT did that box art the way they did! GIVE ME TANKS! LOTS 'O TANKS! I WANT TO BLOW UP TANKS!

For me, I can't help but wish I had this game back in the early 1980s so I could have trained my Corporals and Sergeants in tank tactics on the gameboard, even if using WW II Russian Front AFVs. The game is just that suited for it. The basic game is just so ideal to teach to non-wargamers and the action is fast, furious, and tense.

For more on the Expansions, check out the below:

Initial Impression of PANZER Expansion #1: The Shape of Battle--The Eastern Front, 1943-45

Initial Impressions of PANZER Expansion #2: The Final Forces on the Eastern Front
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Boots
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Re: Initial Impressons of GMT's rendition of Jim Day's PANZER board wargame
Great review - thanks. I've been on the fence about this one for a while, and reading over your take on the differences between the various other ground tactical systems and this has sharpened my view. I'd like to try something with more Command and Control baked into it, but I'm not an armour fan, so this one will likely stay off the buy list.

There's one thing that would turn me around onto it - is it easy to teach? My two most frequent wargame sparring partners are dyslexic and find the huge amount of stuff to remember about every moment in ASL hard to keep in mind. I really want to tailor my wargame collection to them, so this one caught my eye because it seems to have fewer exceptions but more detail to make up for it. Is that a fair take on the system?
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Benjamin Kindt
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Re: Initial Impressons of GMT's rendition of Jim Day's PANZER board wargame
Nice write-up!

I do find it a tad amusing when someone describes the basic rules as "only" 17 pages... surprise

I'm just thankful GMT posts the rules online so quickly so one has a good idea of what they're signing up for.
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Eric Walters
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Boots01 wrote:


There's one thing that would turn me around onto it - is it easy to teach? My two most frequent wargame sparring partners are dyslexic and find the huge amount of stuff to remember about every moment in ASL hard to keep in mind. I really want to tailor my wargame collection to them, so this one caught my eye because it seems to have fewer exceptions but more detail to make up for it. Is that a fair take on the system?


Two reasons why I think this is a great game to get players into wargaming:

-- Despite those 17 rules of Standard game, it really is quick to set up Scenario 1 and 2 and get people into playing the game fast. You can teach most of the rules along the way and they are pretty easy to remember. It only takes a couple times of doing armor combat before using the charts on the data cards becomes second nature.

-- Play moves along fast and there's plenty of tension regarding initiative decisions and stuff gets blown up. Not unusual to have the last turn become a single tank versus tank duel for the win, with wrecks littering the board.
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Great review and I think your comfort with the history of the system may be selling this short.

I'm coming at it from an ASL, CC, & COH mindset. I LOVE ASL Armor rules. They have so many fun nuances and options that I actually feel like I'm driving tanks.

That said, the C2 elements in ASL are largely non-existant with the exception of radioless Soviet armor.

Panzer provides a really streamlined system that grows with the player. I don't think it's necessary for someone to upgrade from CoH or CC into Panzer. You can truly use it as a springboard for wargaming given how simple the basic rules are.
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Boots01 wrote:


There's one thing that would turn me around onto it - is it easy to teach? My two most frequent wargame sparring partners are dyslexic and find the huge amount of stuff to remember about every moment in ASL hard to keep in mind. I really want to tailor my wargame collection to them, so this one caught my eye because it seems to have fewer exceptions but more detail to make up for it. Is that a fair take on the system?


The game is easy to teach and easy to learn. The command counters make it clear what each unit is going to do. Combat results are easy to figure. The data cards in the basic rules require only the front and rear armor values and the weapon data is on the card, so nothing to memorize. The damage results chart from ap fire is one little chart. The sequence of play is very simple and easy to follow.

I would say even with 17 pages, the base game has been my favorite system I have played when compared to Fighting Formations, Conflict of Heroes and Band of Brothers. I have not tried Advanced Squad Leader, so I cannot make a comparison, but I really love the focus on tanks. And with the focus on tanks, its nice to see tanks modeled with as much complexity as you wish to game with. They are not just boiled down to a couple of numbers that represent an attack strength and a defense number.

When I compare to Band of Brothers, it's nice to see that all units, including infantry, follow the same rules. There is no seperate facing and combat rules. This consistency made it much easier for me to slowly add in more complex rules. It is a modular system allowing you to pick and choose what you want to add without overwhelming the new player.
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I agree. Great review.
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Well done Eric!

I just started looking over and clipping my counters on Vol.1, and I am eager to give it a try.
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Great review and I agree 100%. I just played Scenario 1 and found the rules very easy. 17 pages yes, but illustrations and clearly written examples are part of that 17 pages.

The Basic Game is a great way, IMO to get someone into this Hobby. It is not complicated by any means. I agree, in that it is simple, quick and fast.

As a veteran Wargamer, the basic game is okay to start and get a feel for the command and spotting rules. It takes about two turns and then you are familiar. I think for the veteran, the fun will be in the Advanced Rules. I have started looking through them and it seems to add some excitement and I am looking forward to implementing them.

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I absolutely love the box cover. I've got a lot of good memories associated with panzerblitz.

I like a lot of the lighter games, but they just don't have enough meat on the bones, so it looks like I might be giving this a try. The fact that you can play with more than two also is appealing to me, because I might actually be able to try that with some local gamers.

P.S. Request: Could you put the link to your review of expansion 1 at the bottom of your article so that folks can jump directly to it? I enjoyed reading all three articles in sequence.
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Eric,

Could you comment quickly on the counter artwork? From the scans that have been uploaded here I was thinking that some of the armor artwork looked too "busy" in that there were too many lines and too much detail on them. Specifically with the SU-76 and the Marder II's I'm just seeing a whole bunch of lines rather than being able to visualize what the tank looks like. On the other hand these sound like they are 1" counters so maybe in person that isn't a problem.

P.S. Great review.
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Eric Walters
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autumnweave wrote:
Eric,

Could you comment quickly on the counter artwork? From the scans that have been uploaded here I was thinking that some of the armor artwork looked too "busy" in that there were too many lines and too much detail on them. Specifically with the SU-76 and the Marder II's I'm just seeing a whole bunch of lines rather than being able to visualize what the tank looks like. On the other hand these sound like they are 1" counters so maybe in person that isn't a problem.

P.S. Great review.


Some of the counter AFV drawings can look muddy because of the color camouflage, but you won't mind it because the same artwork--in a much larger format--is on the AFV data cards and they look simply breathtaking!
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Great review! I think this game will be easier than ASL or ATS to get new players into. The basic rules are pretty easy to teach...and there's a lot more when you want it.
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ericmwalters wrote:
autumnweave wrote:
Eric,

Could you comment quickly on the counter artwork? From the scans that have been uploaded here I was thinking that some of the armor artwork looked too "busy" in that there were too many lines and too much detail on them. Specifically with the SU-76 and the Marder II's I'm just seeing a whole bunch of lines rather than being able to visualize what the tank looks like. On the other hand these sound like they are 1" counters so maybe in person that isn't a problem.

P.S. Great review.


Some of the counter AFV drawings can look muddy because of the color camouflage, but you won't mind it because the same artwork--in a much larger format--is on the AFV data cards and they looks simply breathtaking!


Great, no worries then.

Edit: Just looked at some images of the uploaded AFV cards. They look awesome.
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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Fantastic review Eric, with a nice dose of detail to whet the appetite for action.

A couple of things I garnered:

1. AFV counters are double-sided. Much like MBT/IDF - even Tobruk I suppose. I take it they shouldn't wear too much in play?

2. Turret rules are only used in the optional rules section? Turreted covered arcs are the bane of cardboard tank games for me because they hide the beautiful AFV art underneath! Did I read you right though, that turret use is only optional?

Otherwise, I'm pretty set to pick this one up.

By the way, I agree with your dislike of side-drawn vehicles and guns. It's one of the reasons I gave up on Fighting Formations. The ATG's especially, looked silly upside down.

I only wish that Jim had gone with top-down infantry in Panzer too, for the same of thematic uniformity.
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Adam Parker wrote:
Fantastic review Eric, with a nice dose of detail to whet the appetite for action.

A couple of things I garnered:

1. AFV counters are double-sided. Much like MBT/IDF - even Tobruk I suppose. I take it they shouldn't wear too much in play?

2. Turret rules are only used in the optional rules section? Turreted covered arcs are the bane of cardboard tank games for me because they hide the beautiful AFV art underneath! Did I read you right though, that turret use is only optional?

Otherwise, I'm pretty set to pick this one up.

By the way, I agree with your dislike of side-drawn vehicles and guns. It's one of the reasons I gave up on Fighting Formations. The ATG's especially, looked silly upside down.

I only wish that Jim had gone with top-down infantry in Panzer too, for the same of thematic uniformity.


Regarding your questions:

1. Yes, the AFV counters are double sided like MBT/IDF (Israeli Defense Force)--Tobruk: Tank Battles in North Africa 1942 had wrecks on the back. Time will tell about wear, but I would suspect that, yes, they will wear a little faster with the double sided vehicles. But there are SO many counters for both sides, that the vehicles that will see wear are likely the most popular/favorite--Panthers, Tigers, and the like--and the most common--T-34s of various flavors, Mk IVs of various types, etc.

2. Yes, turret rules are optional. For those of us who got used to them in Cross of Iron and have played with them through Advanced Squad Leader and many other tactical games, I can't imagine playing without them, optional or not. But if approaching this game for the first time and not having had that experience, I can sympathize with your point of view. Do understand there are other markers that might cover up your AFV in any case--commands, fire-spot markers, move-spot markers, and damage markers. Most players will put them on the side, but when playing with the C2 rules where your vehicles tend to be adjacent to each other (if not actually stacked in platoons for "Regular" and "Green" Grades), you'll end up putting the markers on top of the AFV!

For those of us raised on Advanced Squad Leader and its ancestors, Advanced Tobruk System, Lock 'n Load, Valor & Victory and other like games, having infantry squads with "ground" view art isn't a big deal, even with overhead depictions of the vehicles and guns. I remember one of the major criticisms of the graphics in the original Yaquinto Panzer (first edition) game and its sequels was that overhead depictions of infantry looked like "ants" on the counters. To each their own!
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Thanks! for the nice review. I've got the entire Jim Day's games and have loved them since the Yaquinto's came out. And I've kept them all except that sad Excalibur version. I would way prefer that IDF be next, as opposed to other WWII titles.

However I wasn't too happy with the Basic Combat rules. If you've played 'heavier' wargames before I'd suggest just going straight to the advanced (AG) direct fire AP rules. It will be much more in line with previous games in the Jim Day series, an in my opinion more satisfying.
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Thanks GMT for bringing us back these good classic wargames! I was too young back then when the game was first released, thus missing it in my collection. Any good boy who doesn't fantasies with tanks and their guns? It is always fun to 'game' the data cards, just like those data cards of air fighter in Air Force and cards of tanks in ATS games. I am looking forward for the great fun!
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If one happens to have the Yaquinto versions of the game, would the parts of that game be usable for this game (as in, the maps)?
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RustyColeman wrote:
If one happens to have the Yaquinto versions of the game, would the parts of that game be usable for this game (as in, the maps)?


Usable components would be geomorphic maps and the moveable terrain, though I don't think you could use them for any of the published scenarios in the GMT update. That said, they'd be perfect for the Design Your Own (DYO) efforts you would mount.

You can also use the combat counters--AFVs, infantry units, etc--although they would look quite different from what you've got in the GMT set. But if you need extras, have at it. One can never have enough T-34s, right? Ever....

The old AFV cards and charts/tables--to say nothing of rules--you can pitch. The new system is just that much better.
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Many thanks for the thorough review. Well done!
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Thanks for an intresting review. However, how does it handle the infantry and artillery. I love a tank slug fest as much as the next guy but the reality was that most of the combat was infantry with armour in support (maybe).

Could you give me an idea of the infantry vrs infantry and inf vrs armour aspects.

I assume the command and control aspects you mentioned also apply to infantry if so that sound good.

William
 
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wkeyser wrote:
Thanks for an intresting review. However, how does it handle the infantry and artillery. I love a tank slug fest as much as the next guy but the reality was that most of the combat was infantry with armour in support (maybe).

Could you give me an idea of the infantry vrs infantry and inf vrs armour aspects.

I assume the command and control aspects you mentioned also apply to infantry if so that sound good.

William


Personally, if that's your bent I do not recommend this game. Expansion #2 has urban scenarios where the infantry gets its due. But it just seems to pale in narrative power compared to other squad-level infantry games that are out there. Same goes for the artillery rules--they are out there, but it's nothing to write home about. If you are familiar with IDF (Israeli Defense Force) and/or MBT you know what you are getting. The initiative/command system is still pretty influential but not to the degree--perhaps--as it is with the AFVs hunting down each other....

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Tom McCarthy
United States
Parkville
Maryland
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Well, now I know what I'm using my Fall Sale P500 discount on. Thanks!
This was an excellent review and, as mentioned above, better than most full reviews I have seen on this site.
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Brian Isikoff
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Valuable, thorough review (this and the other two First Impressions in the line).

I felt much more informed going in, and I'm sure my flgs (EndGame, in Oakland CA) didn't mind at all when I stopped in on my way to the office and picked up all three in a clean sweep. devil
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