|Setup time||15 minutes|
|Playing time||45–180 minutes|
|Skill(s) required||Strategic thought|
PanzerBlitz is a tactical-scale board wargame of armoured combat set in the Eastern Front of the Second World War. The game is notable for being the first true board-based tactical-level, commercially available conflict simulation (wargame). It also pioneered concepts such as isomorphic mapboards and open-ended design, in which multiple unit counters were provided from which players could fashion their own free-form combat situations rather than simply replaying pre-structured scenarios.
PanzerBlitz was designed to simulate a clash between two opposing regiments or battalions, at the level of company sized infantry for Russian units, and platoon sized infantry for German units, as well as individual mechanized or motorized vehicles. Although not envisioned for division sized battles, with units that represented either Soviet companies or German platoons, because of unique game design, multiple players combining several boxed game sets could conduct such large battles. This scale of simulation had never been done before. Nearly all previous war games had focused on larger units such as brigades, regiments, and divisions. PanzerBlitz was published by Avalon Hill in 1970. The hex-grid map comes in several pieces to be fit together for various scenarios. As the board edges are mutually compatible, the three sections can be placed in 48 distinct arrangements. Different scenario cards gave the players specific missions to carry out in order to achieve victory.
Designed by Jim Dunnigan, an early version was published in Strategy & Tactics #22 (1969) as Tactical Game 3. As such, PanzerBlitz is the very first tactical wargame in the history of modern board wargaming. This early version had the essential rules, but only a limited number of counters and a single map sheet. The Avalon Hill boxed version featured an extensive array of unit types, and three geomorphic boards that allowed player-created scenarios to be played as well as the 12 'situations' that came with the game.
Much of the strategy in PanzerBlitz derives from the rule allowing units to shoot or move, but not both, in a single turn. Additionally, the difficulty of outright destruction of units encourages players to use combined arms rather than a simple concentration of one unit type to defeat the opponent.
The level of detailed information in PanzerBlitz was astonishing at the time it was published. The game included technical information on the weight, speed, gun size, and crew complement of every major tank used on the Russian front. Additionally the battles - which were tactical fights - featured the detailed organizations of fairly small units, all the way from mortar teams to the trucks and wagons needed to give the units strategic flexibility. Much of this information had never been published before, outside of Army field manuals and partially classified intelligence reports.
Avalon Hill followed PanzerBlitz with two companion games; one called Panzer Leader, which focused on the Western Front (an extension kit featuring the tanks of the 1940 French campaign was also produced), and a game called The Arab-Israeli Wars which covered the 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars in the Middle East. The numerical values used by counters in The Arab-Israeli Wars conformed to the same scales as the World War II sister games, so that players who wanted to create fanciful scenarios involving modern equipment facing World War II equipment could do so while maintaining the internal consistency and realism of the game system.
The rights to PanzerBlitz are currently held by Multi-Man Publishing, which developed and released PanzerBlitz: Hill of Death on March 27, 2009. This title was an attempt to invigorate the franchise, and a plan to release other titles using the new rules, which utilize new game mechanics such as chit pull activation, has been announced.
In the meantime, new units and scenarios for the classic version continue to appear in such venues as The Boardgamer, VAIPA, and Old Soldiers magazine, primarily through the efforts of Alan Arvold. There are even new maps and counters, created by Ward McBurney.
PanzerBlitz introduced a number of innovations to board wargames:
- Geomorphic mapboards which could be arranged in various combinations to create different battlefields. This became a hallmark of Avalon Hill tactical games such as Squad Leader. Panzer Leader included a beach board for invasion scenarios, while The Arab-Israeli Wars included a canal board to represent the Suez Canal. From the release of PanzerBlitz onward, wargamers started to call "geomorphic" any modular game mapboard, adding a new and peculiar meaning to that word.
- Armor units were represented by vehicle silhouettes rather than standard military symbols, making the game a departure from other operational level games as well as being reminiscent of miniatures games. Combined with bookcase-style packaging, it advanced Avalon Hill's reputation for physical quality.
- The game was not limited to the 12 scenarios provided with it, but included instructions for making a Design-Your-Own (DYO) scenario, or "Situation 13". The Designer's Notes showed players how many counters it would take to make up a complete Soviet Tank Corps, though this would require purchasing additional counter sets from Avalon Hill. (Players were advised against such extravagance, however, and urged to keep "counter density" low.) This open-ended approach made PanzerBlitz a highly replayable game system, a feature widely emulated by subsequent games.
- The wealth of technical detail was unprecedented, as was the detailed description of how this technical data was incorporated into the game. The Designer's Notes stated, "A glance at the PANZERBLITZ game components gives you the impression that you can pick up a considerable amount of historical data by just studying the game, much less actually playing it ... Unfortunately, you cannot take this data, as modified in the game design, at face value. Instead you must understand some of the decisions that were made about this game data before it was incorporated into the game."
In spite of the heavy technical payload, PanzerBlitz was easy to learn and play. The basic system was quite simple. PanzerBlitz was a vivid expression of Avalon Hill's design philosophy in that playability and design elegance were prized above exactitude. The game mechanics were abstract and aimed at giving a realistic "feel" for armored combat rather than a completely accurate simulation.
Although the abstract simplicity of PanzerBlitz attracted a wide following, certain unrealistic aspects were heavily criticized. Below are a couple of examples.
Units in towns and wooded hexes were invisible unless an enemy unit was directly adjacent to them, even though those units may have moved to that position in full view of the enemy, and fired from it as well. There is an optional rule called opportunity fire in which a unit moving in the line-of-sight of an enemy unit may be fired upon by that unit. This ability of units to hop from one woods hex to another without being attacked was called "Panzerbush Syndrome", and "Panzerbush" became a scornful nickname for the game itself. The game provided a cumbersome optional rule to overcome this, but the later versions of the system (Panzer Leader and The Arab-Israeli Wars) provided much better solutions, such as the optional opportunity fire and more realistic rules for spotting and visibility. In these systems, a hidden unit that fires on the enemy becomes seen and can be fired upon in return. A common practice for those who desire more realism is to play PanzerBlitz with the Panzer Leader spotting rules.
Non-vehicle units such as infantry and anti-tank guns are very slow or can not move at all and the game provides units specifically to carry them, such as trucks and wagons. Unfortunately, players were able to find ways to use trucks and wagons for things they were never meant to be used for because the game let them. One example is as a spotter since any unit could spot enemy units in town or wood hexes as long as it was adjacent. Another was as a roadblock to stop enemy tanks since, except for overruns in clear terrain, friendly units could not enter hexes occupied by enemy units.
By August 1996, PanzerBlitz had sold 275,000 copies. Computer Gaming World columnist Terry Coleman claimed that these figures made it the second-best-selling board wargame ever, behind Axis & Allies. In 2000, James Dunnigan stated that PanzerBlitz had sold the "extraordinary sales figure" of 320,000 game units in over 25 years, making it the most successful board wargame in the history of the hobby.
- A Comprehensive Article Index to PanzerBlitz, retrieved March 15, 2007
- Angiolino, Andrea; Sidoti, Beniamino (2010). Dizionario dei giochi (in Italian). Bologna: Zanichelli. p. 440. ISBN 978-88-08-19349-0.
- Coleman, Terry (August 1996). "No Joystick Required". Computer Gaming World (145): 179, 180.
- Wargames Handbook: How to Play and Design Commercial and Professional Wargames, by James F. Dunnigan, iUniverse; 3 edition (January 3, 2000), p.198