PanzerBitz   Editor's Notes

Contents
bulletIf it ain't broke...
bulletThe PanzerBitz challenge
bulletA short rant on movement
bulletShoot first and ask later
bulletDirect fire
bulletIndirect fire
bulletA note on optional rules

  If It Ain't Broke...
Primum 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 amendment. 

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 existing standards.

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.

The PanzerBitz Challenge
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 board gaming.

A Short 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 alleged flaws.

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.

Shoot First 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 Wars designers.

We will boldly dispense, however, with the 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 follows:
Players may fire eligible units at moving enemy units during the enemy player's movement phase, applying combat results immediately.

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 preferred.

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.

Direct fire
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 player turn.

Indirect fire
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:

bullet'shoot from the hip,' independent indirect fire by autonomous batteries with indifferent but readily available observation which can be conducted without warning and under duress; this may be used to simulate surprise bombardments, 'lowest common denominator' performance and mediocre factions or formations
bulletregistered independent battery fire, the field standard for most modern armies providing full utilisation of individual units but which tips the enemy off to where and when; along with 'party line' it can aggregate batteries by battalion on specific targets
bullet'barrage,' rapid shifting of aggregated attacks by stipulated, heterogenous groups of artillery; aggregation of battalions by regiment on one among several targets, not widely achieved by Soviet regimental mortars, for example, until 1944; restores some element of surprise to powerful attacks and simulates indirect fire 'feints' and 'bluffing.'
bullet'rolling thunder,' corps and higher formation assets or naval bombardment; with 'barrage' a decisive force but almost always observed by dedicated observer units, though relatively scarce and sometimes vulnerable on the battlefield.

With this selection, for example, we can simulate the German 1941 field regiment organic artillery by permitting 'shoot from the hip' on targets observed by rifle platoons while restricting registered fire to targets observed by dedicated forward observer (FO) units, such as were available for each infantry regiment. Similarly independent medium mortar platoons could be used against targets observed by any rifle platoon, again restricted to 'shoot from the hip.' But they should also be permitted registered fire and even 'party line' aggregation on targets observed by the regimental forward observer; heavy mortars, however, are disallowed from using 'party line' on grounds of lack of interoperability of organic units among infantry regiments. Each regiment must use its heavy mortars independently.

But we have also provided the scenario designer latitude to enhance capability as required, permitting, for example, rifle platoons, when in a prepared defence, to observe registered fire for regimental or even divisional artillery using 'party line' attacks; scenarios could also provide first turn pre-positioned registration markers set-up on the map-board. Similarly a scenario representing a scratch force which has advanced rapidly might be obliged to use only 'shoot from the hip' in the first turns or until their forward observer arrives. In most cases non-organic artillery is unlikely to be observed by a rifle platoon infantry lieutenant and by late war fire control officers on the communications network would be allocating artillery resources on the basis of reliable requests from experienced observers only. Any scenario with regimental or divisional artillery, at least, should provide some dedicated forward observer units and restrict optimal capability to fire observed by them.

We will hopefully provide revisions stipulating our new indirect fire conditions for each original scenario to fulfil our 'challenge.' We will also strive to provide generic examples suitable for use by most major factions and periods which could be applied to scenarios from later editions and third-parties; expect to see more forward observer units in almost all cases.

A Note on Optional Rules
Optional rules are just that, optional. They are neither the designer's nor the editor's wish list nor the logical tournament rules. They are just a set of additional rules that have been left out largely on the grounds of usefulness versus playability. Some of them you might play with always and others might be appropriate to a particular scenario; a hasty mobile defence scenario might use, say, 'heavy equipment' and 'revealed movement.' Use them sparingly and they can enhance the game without burdening it too much.

Though it is ultimately up the players it is tempting to suggest that the scenario designer might also stipulate optional rules for specific scenarios.

Shaun Appleby
v0.1 Revised: April 12, 2013

1 It is interesting to note that this fundamental feature was not part of the pioneering Tac 3 release from TSG which preceded PanzerBlitz.
 

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