Sunday, 5 October 2014

Panzer Korps rules review



I’ve been playing these rules a lot recently, they are a bit out of the usual but I really like them so I thought I would do a write up. They are a Divisional level set, published by Hoplite Research in the US – in the UK you can get them from Caliver where they cost me £23-50. They are written by Manny Granillo, who provides excellent rules advice through a Yahoo group.

The first thing to say is that these rules are somewhat eccentrically edited, to say the least. They are fairly glossy, with plenty of photos, mostly of ordinary wargames models – this isn’t a Warlords publication with Perry miniatures professionally photographed. More to the point, the structure is difficult to penetrate, with important points stuck in seemingly at random, or left out altogether. A lot of interpretations and indeed important core rules can only be found by trawling the archives of the Yahoo group, or asking questions – which are always answered promptly, to be fair. If you expect your rules to be neatly organised, with all ambiguities eliminated and everything fully explained, then these are probably not for you.

So if they are difficult to pick up, why am I bothering to write about them? The answer is that they are well worth the effort, they contain several elegant but very effective mechanisms, and they really give the feeling, for me, of operating at this high level (Division or Brigade) – this is not a set where you move squads or platoons and call them battalions. Once you figure out how they work it all fits together very naturally, flows smoothly and gives an effect which matches the battles we read about in the history books. These are the sort of battles you read about in the Ospreys, not 30 men and a Sherman fighting 30 men and a Stug “somewhere in France”.

As I said, this is Divisional warfare – in a typical single-evening battle you will each command a single Division, though you can easily have larger multi-player Corp-v-Corps games. The basic unit of manoeuvre is the battalion, which is represented by three core companies, normally all the same type. In addition you can have up to four attached companies of many types. So a battalion has 3-7 bases – for example an infantry battalion might have three infantry companies, plus an HMG company, a mortar company and an ATG company. Whatever the make-up the battalion fights as a single entity with a single Fire Die. The type and size of the die depends only on the core companies. The attached companies affect combat by giving plusses to the score on the Fire Die. This means that you don’t have to mess about micro-managing every base – the arrangement of the three core companies shows where the battalion is and what it’s doing (fighting line or transit column) and the attachments are just tucked in behind. If you have, say, a Tiger company attached to your infantry you don’t go sniping enemy armour a mile away. The Tigers stick to supporting their infantry under local control, as they should.

In terms of models, there are two scales – 15mm/20mm where 1” on the table is 50m, and smaller 6mm/10mm models with 1cm = 50m. I use the 6mm models, with companies on 1” square bases – you can spread the bases of a battalion up to 2”/2cm apart to give a battalion frontage of a few hundred metres. At this scale a foot on your table is a mile, so a fairly modest 5x3 or 6x4 table gives you plenty of terrain for a Division offensive. In the larger scale you’d use something like an FoW team base or a single vehicle for each company, but in my view that does not give the visual impression of a large battle. This scale really suits the smaller models.

I mentioned there are some nice mechanisms and it’s worth covering them in detail. The first one is the time structure. Unlike almost all rules we don’t find an arbitrary sequence of turns, with some nominal time equivalent, so that a battle lasts “8 turns” or whatever. A Panzer Korps battle is divided into specific two-hour “Day Segments” – 0600-0800, 0800-1000 and so on. In each segment there are a variable number of turns, up to three. This is diced for at the start of the segment, and the main adjustments are based on the quality of the generals – better generals can get more done in a given time. It is even possible for two poor generals to get nothing done in a given segment, especially in poor weather. Only a good general can get his troops started at 0600, so most battles start at 0800, scenarios of course can vary this. The day ends with a dusk segment and the night is a single segment, with some regrouping allowed. A battle may well go into a second day or longer, as happened in history. This structure gives a very clear feeling of time passing, and the scale of the battle as hours go by. You don’t think “five turns gone out of eight”, you think “it’s 1600 and I have to get to the bridge before nightfall”. It may seem peripheral, but in my view this time structure is a key element to the flavour of the game.

Another key mechanism is the colour dice system. Battalions are organised into “Force Groups” – think Kampfgruppen or Brigades, though this is not rigid. Each turn each Force Group rolls a Decision Die, with a few adjustments. And each force group has a colour, from Black (best) to Yellow (worst). Your roll and the colour translate into a number of formation orders, as well as Auto Rallies and free moves if you are really lucky. The colour system means that a well-organised and trained force (say German 1941) will be able to do more in less time, and be more resilient to casualties, then a badly organised force like the Russians in the same year. A force with a Black die will get the same effect with a 1 as a force with a Yellow die gets by scoring 8 (requiring plusses, obviously). Use of the colour dice, along with the quality of the Generals (from A-H), allows for a lot of variation in army size and quality.

The next feature worth mentioning is the Disorder Marker (DM), which is the mechanism by which battalions take damage. The three core companies are never removed, though attachments can be lost through critical failures. The core of the battalion takes DMs from fire, representing casualties, yes, but more importantly confusion, disruption, disorganisation. You can also get DMs from causes such as moving through difficult terrain, and from morale failures. Each time a formation takes three DMs from fire it takes a Panic test; if it fails it retreats, and also takes more DMs. It automatically stops panicking at the end of the turn, no need to rally it, but there is a limit to the number of times it can recover, based on its quality – three times for Veterans, only once for Militia. If it panics again after reaching the limit then it leaves the field.
DMs can be removed by a formation during each movement turn, representing officers and NCOs getting the unit back in shape. You always remove one DM if you don’t move, one if you are Veteran or Regular and a few other causes. So a small number of DMs are quickly recovered. However once you start taking lots of fire and perhaps panicking they quickly mount up and become much more difficult to remove.  This mechanism makes formations become shaky, fall back to recover and then return, but eventually they withdraw and you better have another battalion ready to fill the gap. To me this seems a realistic simulation of what we see in actual battle histories.

Firing is done by single opposed die rolls. The attacking unit rolls a Fire Die whose size (D6, D8, 10 etc.) is determined by the calibre of AT weapons, or the unit’s quality in the case of AP/HE weapons, and modifiers are applied due to the attached companies and other situational variables. The defender rolls a Cover Die, again of variable size, based on cover or armour class. Infantry in the open roll a D4, in heavy cover they get a D10. The rolls are compared; if the Fire Die beats the Cover Die DMs are applied, based on how badly it is beaten. A Cover Die roll of 1 is a critical failure – an attached company is lost, and a Decorated Leader is killed if present. Obviously this is much more likely if you are rolling a D4 than a large die, so you need to avoid being caught in the open.

Decorated Leaders are another neat mechanism. They represent battle-hardened officers, Big Men to coin a phrase. You get a number of DLs to distribute to your formations, and they have two functions. If they are with an HQ they add to the Decision Die roll (the colour dice). If you have a large force with weak leadership this may be the only way to get your units enough orders to mount a coherent attack. DLs with fighting battalions add bonuses to the Panic roll, and also remove DMs each turn – so they make the unit much more resilient. Balancing these two uses of the limited number of DLs is a crucial decision in organising your force. 

All these mechanisms are quite simple, and soon become automatic – you’ll remember that your 75mm gun rolls a D8 Fire Die, and infantry in the open roll a D4 Cover Die, so reference to the tables is fairly rare. For me, they give a “realistic” feel for this level of command, meaning that what happens on the table matches the sort of Divisional encounters you read in the history books. As I said they are well supported by the author and the Yahoo community, with many free scenarios available. There are supplements with more collections of scenarios, TO&Es for various combatants and a campaign system which is highly suitable for solo play (a big plus for me). As I said at the start they take some getting into, and if you want to grab-and-go they may not be your bag. But in my opinion they are worth persevering with. There are few rule sets for warfare at this level, and fewer successful ones, and for me these hit the spot.

5 comments:

  1. Hello, and thanks for your review. I picked up these rules recently at Salute, but have not yet managed more than a quick read of the first part. Like you, I prefer larger scale battles such as can be gamed with PK. I have played Epsom several times, the first a slow slog with Spearhead, and later with Lightning War.

    I would be interested to know if you have found the rules to favour historical tactics. I like many rule sets, but it is often grating to see someone use a "gamey" tactic because "the rules allow it".

    Kind regards
    Andrew

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    1. PS also liked your battle report. Found your blog via your TMP post.

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  2. Andrew, that's a good question - I also don't like rules which allow or even encourage unrealistic tactics. My impression is that these rules do not do that - so for example the exact positioning of individual company bases is not critical, which reduces the opportunities for working the rules. However I can't be sure, since I have been playing them solo, against myself, and maybe if I found an opponent who was that way inclined, they might find loopholes to exploit.

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  3. Thanks for the review. Just bought the rules. Your review gave a nice overview of what to do.

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  4. Victor, I do hope you enjoy these rules. They are certainly different from the majority of rules on the market, and I do think that they give the feel of operations at the higher level.

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