It Ain't Broke...
non nocere - "First, do no harm"
Let's be clear, PanzerBlitz is a great
game and always has been. It is fast-paced, tense and enjoyable and the
easily visualised action afforded a groundbreaking experience in military
board games back in 1970. The rules are concise, play is brisk and
the game scale and organisational flexibility of the playing pieces
enables an impressive variety of plausible objectives and victory
conditions. By using the basic building blocks of military formations the
game has enabled an aftermarket industry providing abundant variant forces
and scenarios, some generously offered at no cost. What is not to like?
The legendary designer, James
F Dunnigan, successfully captured the fluidity, pace and, yes, the
confusion of combined arms combat at the molecular level and chose the
greatest military conflict in history as the setting.
Yes, it is a truly great game,
and if one doesn't mind watching in helpless frustration as one's opponent
exercises one or another of the 'minor superpowers,' like virtual
invisibility and invulnerability, occasionally granted units in the
original rules, it would probably be played more often. The designer,
clearly, answered these criticisms with the cogent argument of playability
and one suspects a view that it matters not if a cat is black or white so
long as it catches mice. The popularity of the game, however, speaks for
itself and it remains an all-time military board game bestseller.
It is a game, nevertheless, somewhat notorious
for delivering victory to those who play the rules, so to speak, rather
than the history. Notwithstanding his original 'the game is a game'
defence against such criticism, Mr Dunnigan continued to extend, revise
and experiment with various rules variations in subsequent tactical games
in similar scales; indeed these form a significant part of his oeuvre
in the decade following PanzerBlitz's release and no two share
exactly the same rulebook. Both the Panzer Leader and Arab-Israeli
Wars sequel design teams also made extensive revisions to the rules,
in some cases quite successfully in others perhaps encumbering a simple,
fast-paced game with inappropriate detail and cumbersome mechanics.
It seems, furthermore, that coherent revision of
the PanzerBlitz rules endures as something of a 'holy grail' among
fans who tinker with games and there are numerous credible attempts by
other designers and amateurs to solve the PanzerBlitz code, so to
speak, once and for all.
So here is our effort. As a matter of policy we
will always start with the original brief and concise PanzerBlitz
rules and work forward; we believe that the original rules were elegantly
crafted and extensively play-tested to produce the effect the designer
sought. At the same time pressure to complete the original game led
to some loose ends and eleventh-hour revisions that warrant review and
So we will address shortcomings and look to the
sequels for helpful rules but will always take for
guidance the ethos of the original game which favours outcome
over simulation and playability over precision. We will continue to
strive for plausible action and realistic problem setting in the course of
game play but intend to preserve the dynamic rhythm of the original game
above encumbering players with detail.
Counters and maps, more or less, are off
limits for overhaul by intention; the scope of our work implies new
wine in old bottles, the revisions must be playable with the legacy
counters and map-boards, at least. Given the existing artwork and
resources available on-line we intend to restrict our revisions to that
which may be accomplished within changes to the rules, charts, tables and
markers used to record the course of play. Not saying we won't have
some counters and/or maps in future, just that they will conform to
Please be patient as we roll out new pages, there
is much revision and editing going on which will eventually cease, on our
word. Use the links on this page to navigate to the various rules entries;
feel free to contact us with
comments or complaints. We intend to publish a free PDF version of
the rules when complete but it is hard to say when this will be completed
as this is currently a part-time project. Also, any suggestions or
help on the play-testing and user acceptance stages of developing these
revisions would be solid.
First, let's address spotting and then move on to
opportunity and indirect fire. Rules for spotting
enemy units, firing during the enemy
movement phase and firing indirectly
with observation have mutual dependencies and any rule changes
affecting one will likely have some affect on others. We should be mindful
of the implications when we tinker with such rules and plan to play test
them collectively. If we can get a coherent set of spotting,
opportunity fire and indirect
fire rules developed we are well on our way to smoothing out some of
the rough spots in the original rules.
We take the pledge:
To improve balance, enhance
fidelity to tactical doctrine and restore playability to games in the
PanzerBlitz franchise by revision of the rules of play, including
tables, mechanics, markers and scenario stipulations, while remaining
true to the original ethos of the game, adaptable to existing scenarios
via addenda only and entirely compatible with existing physical
components; specifically unit counters and map-boards.
Yeah, doesn't sound quite so easy when you
put it that way. This project is intended respectfully as a tribute to a
great game, its original design team and those who have invested their
time and energy in it for the several decades since. It won't be too
many years before it celebrates a milestone anniversary in the annals of
Rant on Movement
One of the conventional views which has emerged over the years, and it
reflects negatively on the original game, is that the movement factors are
unsound and dramatically overstate the actual mobility of the vehicles
they purport to represent. It seems the major objection is that players
tend to go steaming all over the map heedless of sober analysis of the
terrain, season, horsepower and so forth which insists it can't be done.
While this may be factually correct, there's a different view which sees
the game turn as a much less precise commodity than the clearly stated
'six minutes' implies. This view tends to see a game turn more as an
alternating pulse of activity where winning the tempo, like chess,
is the object and less as the battlefield equivalent of an egg-timer.
This view may even extend to considering an exact
chronology of an individual unit's move of borderline relevance to play
quality or outcome; perhaps even a misapprehension of the early game's
designed purpose. That this caution is forever enshrined in the Arab-Israeli
Wars version suggests that many cooks may have spoiled somewhat the
original broth. It might also go some way toward explaining the
enduring popularity of the first edition of the game for all of its
The generous original movement capability can be
considered a 'war emergency' maximum in the context of what the designer
sought in the early versions of the game; fluid, rapid movement with no
imaginary 'zones of control' alternating with quick, sharp, decisive
exchanges that left combatants quickly disabled if not demolished.
The early game seeks to simulate decisive and climactic engagements in
that fraction of the battlefield where victory is determined, not fuss
over fuel consumption, maximum road speed or ground pressure.
So one supposes that the duration of a movement
phase might be more usefully considered 'whatever period of time is
required to rapidly come into range of the next closest significant enemy
force' because moving rarely happens when engaged with an immediate
foe. Movement is the flexible interlude between slugging it out and as
such only needs to authentically simulate the relative capability
of the units involved; exaggerating them a little accomplishes this
nicely, perhaps even better.
We know that mobility was a major issue
differentiating various vehicles so it is nice to see it clearly on the
map-board; that the road movement rate for a company of T-34/85s yields an
impossible 55km/h perhaps isn't the issue unless you are gaming the
Paris-Dakar rally. Does it give the mobile attacker a bit of an edge?
Maybe a little but not inappropriately for a period where the sight or
sound of armour gave most infantrymen goose bumps.
and Ask Later
Opportunity fire is absent
altogether from the original PanzerBlitz and while an optional rule
appears in Panzer Leader, the rule is confounded in Arab-Israeli
Wars whose authors became entangled with it; see the harmony
for details. The simple
Panzer Leader rule is better than none and
we will expand on it while avoiding
some of the deep water encountered by the Arab-Israeli
We will boldly dispense, however, with the ¼
movement allowance expenditure requirement before permitting opportunity
fire on a moving enemy unit. Our new rule says that when an enemy unit
enters a hex where it is spotted, in line-of-sight and within half range
of an eligible friendly firing unit it may be attacked then and there.
This pares down much canonical rule-making from later editions and
discards the concept of an 'activated' unit.
A basic opportunity fire rule can be summarised as
Players may fire eligible units at moving
enemy units during the enemy player's movement phase, applying combat
The Arab-Israeli Wars authors
became entangled with the implications of opportunity fire during overrun
attacks and other difficulties requiring arguably burdensome solutions.
Ironically it is plausible that opportunity fire doesn't
change the outcome of play all that much, as may have been
understood by the designer who famously noted, 'the game is a game.'
An opportunity one misses, for example, during
the approach of an advancing unit is likely to come again eventually and
probably at closer range too. One only gets one shot per game turn and if
one's opponent is moving one likely gets the first shot anyhow. The trick
is to make it count.
Our new rule is based on the notion that setting
up shots on likely avenues of approach is standard procedure for prudent
defenders and it doesn't matter if the unit travels for a minute and a
half first or not; if it crosses the viewing reticle of an eligible
attacker it may draw fire at any time and it is the firing player's choice
which among the eligible hexes it traverses during its current move is
What the original opportunity fire rule does
do is throw a spanner in the works of what had been an elegant recording
method; simply inverting fired, moved or dispersed units which then return
upright at owning player's turn end. Inverted enemy units during the
player's combat phase can only be previously dispersed units and suffer
accordingly while during the subsequent enemy player turn they are immune
to fire and are additionally inverted as fired or moved with no ambiguity.
Opportunity fire renders this simple system
unusable; units are inverted during the enemy movement phase after
conducting opportunity fire, along with units dispersed by enemy attacks;
how does a subsequent infantry assault know if an inverted unit was
dispersed or not?
Another noteworthy consideration is that a moving
unit which suffers a D or DD result from opportunity fire reverts to fresh
status at the conclusion of the current movement phase; essentially
simulating a very brief halt and rendering the unit immune to further
enemy attack while vulnerable. We can live with this quirk but one wonders
if a one (1) turn delay on refreshing the unit status couldn't be built
into a DD result, for example, to create the occasional risk of
immobilisation under enemy fire when moving.
The original game provided a somewhat confusing range of direct fire
options which were abandoned in the later Panzer Leader and Arab-Israeli
Wars rules. All agree that a unit may be attacked only once per
combat phase but a few problems remain; primarily reconciliation of
aggregated attack factors against armoured vehicles by multiple units with
the 'tabletop' origins of the game. And it is attractive to retain
aggregation when conducting high explosive fire against non-vehicle units.
Also the issue of how to apply direct fire attacks against multiple units
in a single target hex remains.
This revision opts for a simple solution, only
one opposing unit may be attacked in any single direct fire attack and
armoured vehicles can only be attacked by single firing units; our rule,
then, can be refreshingly brief.
It could be argued that this has a minimal impact
on play, if a player has enough offensive power there should be no
difficulty in attacking individual units in a hex multiple times to
achieve the same result. If, however, one powerful unit is dominating the
attack we are content to give other units in the attacked hex the chance
to avoid destruction on the grounds that it is unlikely a platoon of
armour, for example, is going to cause that much destruction in a single
game turn. Furthermore our indirect fire rules create incentives for
advancing players not to stack units and our feature which allows an
opposing unit in both the indirect fire and direct fire phases adds
a certain lethality to combat results which now accumulate 'dispersed'
results like reduction steps.
Given that the firing player has options about
consolidating their attacks, like firing more than once on a defending
unit from attacking units in multiple hexes, this simplified rule is
designed to balance direct and indirect fire capabilities and encourage
the firing player to use them together as a matter of policy in each
An optional rule in the original game the more comprehensive Panzer
Leader indirect fire rules changed again in Arab-Israeli Wars
and for good reason. One obvious problem is how to apply indirect
attacks against multiple units in a single target hex. This revision is
intended to reconcile longstanding inconsistencies among all three
versions of the game when conducting indirect fire.
In the original rules the application of indirect
fire relies on the direct fire rules and a few inconsistencies like the
halving of indirect fire attack factors against units on slopes and
hilltops seem problematic, not to mention the exclusion of Soviet
howitzers and 160mm mortars.
In Panzer Leader things got predictably
fussy and indirect fire was allocated proportionally among defending units
in a stack; favouring, for example, the 'padding' of stacks with low value
units to absorb indirect fire attacks; a kludge reminiscent of the
notorious 'soaking-off' tactics baked in to the rules of early Avalon Hill
games. In Arab-Israeli Wars, alternately, the indirect fire attack
was applied to every unit in the stack but this implies that legacy
artillery unit counters are overpowered. Sadly the role of artillery has
been more confounded than clarified by all three revisions so we have our
work cut out for us here.
A sober study of the operational use of artillery
in battalion and regiment sized engagements, which is what PanzerBlitz
purports to simulate, suggests a couple of things which may have seemed
beyond reach to the original designers. Firstly, that doctrine to enhance
artillery effectiveness by timely aggregation of strength on the modern,
mobile battlefield was evolving rapidly during the period covered by the
game. Secondly, that a competent defence had the edge largely due to
pre-registered firing plans and established wired or wireless
communication networks; a hasty or march attack, in particular, is not
likely to bring as much artillery concentration to bear as quickly.
Additionally the lack of capability of organic
artillery was in inverse proportion to its availability, whereas
divisional and corps assets required more infrastructure, preparation and
delay. Neither of these is particularly easy to model in a game meant to
simulate an hour or so of action of engagements in various states of
development; breakouts, counterstrokes and delaying actions all have
different artillery environments. To address the first issue we have
attempted to give the scenario designer more flexibility in stipulating
realistic capability for the chosen period and faction and have provided
the following range of artillery configurations and capabilities: