Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Game review: SS Panzer

SS Panzer: Bloodbath at Kursk is the issue game in Command Magazine No. 36. It's tactical in scope, with every unit representing a company of Germans or a battalion of Russian, except for some platoons of Tiger Tanks, battling over 500-meter hexes. Each of the four game turns represents an hour.

Players shouldn't be fooled by the mere four-turn game length into thinking this is a quick game, however, as there are a lot of units. And the rules, although only eight pages long, describe a fairly intricate game system. And finally, this is a unit activation chit draw system, so both players are involved throughout the game turn and when a formation is activated there are a lot of different decisions to be made.

This is a unique game system. Every combat interaction between units has the potential for several die rolls. Generally speaking, whether it is anti-infantry or anti-tank fire, units are rolling for hits. The number of dice a unit fire depends on its circumstances. It can range from 1 to 3, but the base number is two. Likewise, the number needed to hit varies and can be modified, but a die roll of "1" is always a hit and that will often be the number sought.

The Soviet order of battle comprises five tank/mechanized corps and one airborne division, while the Germans have three SS Panzergrenadier divisions (although at this stage of the war they are really panzer divisions in strength and equipment.)

While, as usual in XTR games, there are sudden death victory conditions in case of overwhelming success, the battle will generally revolve around fights across the breadth and depth of the map for victory hexes marked with red stars for the Soviets and SS runes for the Nazis. If the Soviets capture 7 of their 10 objectives they win, the Germans need 13 of their 18 objectives. Any other result is a draw, which was the historical outcome.

Air strikes and artillery bombardments are also triggered by chit pulls, creating a very fluid game flow, as is usual in chit pull systems.

Both sides have to try to play very efficiently, as each unit counter will only get to move or initiate combat four times throughout the game.

Physically the game is attractive, with 320 large 5/8-inch counters and 106 1/2-inch marker and an attractive and functional map by Beth Queman. Vehicle units are shown with icons while non-vehicle units use NATO-style unit symbols.

While the game rules are short at just 8 pages, the game system is unfamiliar and will require close study of the rules, especially the first time. Despite the brevity of the rules I would describe this as a moderate complexity wargame.

It will take about 30 minutes to set the game up, and playing the whole four-hour fight will take just about that period of time.


(Yes) for Wargamers: An interesting depiction of a key battle. Lots of tanks, lots of die rolls.

(No) for Collectors: No special collectibility

(No) for Eurogamers: Too intricate a game system to appeal to the tastes of most euro-style players.

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