Design Background – Panzer and MBT

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Jim Day has been a respected designer in our hobby going back to the 1970s. When Andy told me a few years back that we had an opportunity to work with Jim on completely retooled versions of his terrific tactical wargames, I was thrilled, as I knew his systems were first-rate and was impressed at the major effort he was making to simplify those tactical systems while retaining the immersive game play that was their hallmark. What I didn’t know at the time is that Jim is a dream to work with. He’s a perfectionist when it comes to his systems, lavishing great time and much attention to detail on his creations, but he works well with others and shows great appreciation for the efforts of his team members. Those traits fit in really well with the way we approach things here at GMT, and they represent more than just the “Standard Designer Skill Set,” in my experience.

So I’m very thankful for the opportunity to work with Jim, and am really pleased that our first print run of his new Panzer was so well received that it quickly sold out. (Please go order the P500 reprint so we can print MORE! ) His next game, MBT, just passed 500 on the P500 list, so we’ll be prepping to give it a production slot over the coming months. 

The design background piece that Jim presents below is the kind of insight into the design process that I enjoy, and I very much appreciate Jim creating it for InsideGMT. By the way, my two cents on the new GMT versions, as a player, is that Jim “nailed it.” Less complexity, less time to play, but I get bigger battles, same historicity, and lots of scenarios for high “bang for my gaming buck.” But I have admit, I am just ever-so-slightly biased. 🙂 I hope you guys enjoy Jim’s article, and the games! – Gene

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Panzer CoverWhat is the relationship between the new GMT Games versions of Panzer and MBT and earlier versions of those designs? What follows is some historical perspective on the designs, as well as my VERY subjective arguments on the reasons for the new “GMT” version of the game system.

In its day, the original Yaquinto Panzer’s, and its successors, detail was quite in-depth while supporting a high degree of playability. Although certainly not the first game on the topic of tactical combat, it was probably one of the first to translate miniatures style play to a board game format. Because the game system was originally designed as a miniatures game, that wasn’t too much of a leap.
panzeryaquinto

Although it is often a struggle to determine what represents a reasonable balance between realism, complexity and play balance, the game elements and level of complexity of the Yaquinto version were right in step with the games of its day. The use of simultaneous movement (written orders) was not common in all games, but on the other hand was not an oddity either. As in the current game, each vehicle, gun, aircraft, leg unit, and others had their own specific data card that summarized all of the necessary information to play the game. panzer data card yaquintoThe system worked very well on a small force basis and was better for modeling vehicles than infantry. The morale rules were a little simplistic, but worked well enough as most players did not want that level of complexity.

 

mbtahWhen the Avalon Hill versions of MBT and IDF arrived, the game market had already changed as to the degree of complexity one was willing to tolerate in a game. Keeping the games on a reasonable level was going to be a challenge given the fact that post-WWII (modern) combat is by nature more complex than WWII combat, with the myriad of sophisticated weapon systems. Gone were the written orders, in favor of a counter-based command system, which was fairly innovative for the day. The unique hit locations per vehicle were dropped in favor of a generic system common to all vehicle units. The target angle wheel, a tribute to the game’s miniature roots, was replaced by a hex-based system. The leg unit and command control/morale rules were improved as well as a number of other aspects of the games. There were certainly other changes. The new designs still had their roots in Yaquinto Panzer, but by this point it was not a totally clear picture.idfah

The games were pretty well received by the hard-core community and commended for the degree of accuracy. However, in spite of the simplifications, some thought they were still too complex for the broad game market. I remember one quote where they were described as “tank games for engineers.” My intent was to reasonably capture modern combined arms tactical combat, but I was not looking to create a niche product either. By their release, the heyday of board games was already fading. Top-end sales had a defined limit and the sales potential for niche games were therefore even more limited. Call me evil and materialistic, but I would rather have a big seller than a small market success. It is really not about money, but more for the selfsatisfaction of having designed a broadly successful game.

By the time I decided to design the Panzer Miniatures Rules, the market had changed even more. On the broad front, players were looking for even more simplistic games that could be played in a reasonable amount of time. Why? Who is to say. Is it the video game influence, the lack of time, aging game community, or a host of other arguments? That being said, even in the ranks of miniatures rules, high complexity had met its Waterloo, so to speak.panzer miniatures rules

The miniatures rules reduced the complexity even further while again improving the leg units and the command control and morale rules among other aspects. In designing the new GMT Games Panzer, I made the data cards a composite of the original MBT and IDF style and Panzer Miniatures Rules. Again, more improvements were made.

The newest designs are significant improvements (here’s that subjective part again) over their predecessors on many levels. Improved rules for sighting, terrain effects, artillery, aircraft, command control, and more are just some of these improvements.

Date Card from Jim's Panzer Minatures Rules

Date Card from Jim’s Panzer Minatures Rules

One can field far more units than in the original games and still get all the flavor of single unit tactical combat. I do not feel anything has suffered in the long run with the simpler data cards. All of the important elements are still there. Ranged AP (with special ammo types) and GP combat, unique armor values over four different arcs for level, rising and falling shot, and many specific aspects that were never even considered when the original Yaquinto Panzer was published (for example, units lacking radios – one of the new optional rules).

We cannot ignore today’s gaming market. We need to publish games that appeal to a broad spectrum of players. On the other hand, I do not feel one must compromise what they like or look for when purchasing a game. I feel GMT Games Panzer and MBT bridges the gap. The modular rules, with Basic, Advanced and Optional rules makes it easy for players to play simple, intermediate or complex games by adding more and more elements from the Advanced game and optional rules.

Sequence of Play
The sequence of play evolved to a hybrid sequential system where the player/side controlling the initiative acts first in most of a turn’s phases. I believe that element is one of the most significant improvements in the game system; further enhanced by employing the Staggered Initiative optional rule.

Through that process, the superior force, from a command and control standpoint, dictates the flow of battle, albeit never as a sure thing since no such thing exists in combat. For example, that is one of the reasons the Germans defeated the French in 1940, as some of the French tanks were actually superior designs to their German counterparts. Of course, command capabilities at the platoon and company level also came into play with many of the French tanks lacking radios (yes, that element is also in the game as an optional rule). I believe this approach provides for a much more realistic outcome at a tactical level than artificially increase or modify individual units’ performance to accomplish the same outcome. Not specifically considered is a nation’s strategic vision of how armor should be employed. That is reflected in the scenario’s OBs and the TO&Es for specific units.

Data Cards & Scale

Tiger I Data Card from GMT's Panzer

Tiger I Data Card from GMT’s Panzer

The new Panzer and MBT data cards display more information than the Panzer Miniatures Rules and are what I believe to be the best approach to show all the critical information. The GMT games maintain a 100m per hex scale as I think that provides a good balance for potential ranges on a typical game board and the fact that a typical tank platoon has a battle space of over 100m. The game scale is intended to support more than one unit per hex, just not an entire force. That works hand-in-hand with the command and control system as there is a command range or span that units from the same platoon must maintain (advance game element) to enable certain command efficiencies.

M1A1 Abrams Data Card from GMT's MBT

M1A1 Abrams Data Card from GMT’s MBT

Speaking of the advanced game, the rules are organized into basic, advanced and optional sections. That way the players can not only quickly dive into the game but can also tailor the complexity to their own tastes. It can be played with just a few tanks or all up with all of the advanced rules and options to suit one’s own style.

Sequential vs. Simultaneous Fire
Let me speak to the logic behind sequential vs. simultaneous fire. With the original game’s simultaneous approach, I received many comments, and I personally observed situations where the superior forces were not afforded the proper recognition of their qualitative advantage. They should expect to get off the first shot MOST of the time. That is why their initiative advantage is not an absolute one – no guarantee. For example, consider the total number of T-34s lost during the war to that of Tigers; there truly was a qualitative advantage. The initiative may go one way or the other; that is truly the nature of tactical level games. At times, the balance hinges on just a few events – the trick is to control, dictate or minimize those times or be prepared to, in a sense, ‘roll-the-dice’ on the potential outcome. It is reasonable to expect that a superior force should generally control and dictate the action at a tactical level. With strategic level, or even operational level games, those outcomes tend to balance out.

In addition, having just a grade modifier is not enough of an advantage for the superior troops since that offers little if any difference at point blank range. Remember, that the rule-of-thumb for the US Forces was 5 Sherman KOs for every Tiger KO. The war’s final outcome came down to a numbers issue where quality just could not ultimately defeat quantity.

I have often also seen the reverse situation take place where a superior force was counting on controlling the initiative and then at the most inopportune time they lost it. That is why in Panzer and MBT orders are placed BEFORE determining who controls the initiative – one should not be able to totally predict the future.

This system results in a change in tactics. I believe it more accurately simulates the real action – it has a good feel to it.

Morale: Break Point & Cohesion
In Panzer, the Soviets Forces have a lower break point than the Germans. Does that mean they are a superior force? Not necessarily. The Soviets do have a lower basic break number than the Germans.

Keep in mind, though, the fact that the Germans will typically take longer to reach their Cohesion Point. So, the Soviet forces typically check for breaking before the Germans ever get to that point. That is one of the unique aspects in Panzer – while cohesion and breaking are both part of the Panzer Morale System, they are different aspects.

Also consider that Grade also modifies the break determination roll. Given that the German forces are typically a higher grade that also brings the probabilities closer to equal.

After researching a great number of accounts, I determined that the Soviets were very good at standing and fighting in spite of absorbing tremendous loses. By comparing the combat casualties between the Soviets and Germans, one would think that the Germans were the victors, however, as we all know, that was not the case. The Soviets also had a great deal of incentive to advance or stand and fight given that the NKVD troops were waiting to shoot any soldiers returning from the front lines. The rank-and-file soldiers had a choice, move forward or stand and fight and possibly survive or break and run and surely get shot – that was a difficult, but essentially an easy decision.

I believe that all too often, morale rules are one of the methods used to tip the balance in favor of the Germans to demonstrate their basic superiority. That basic superiority really is not a point of contention. However, in my opinion, that creates an artificial and unrealistic imbalance in games. It is very common to hear that in many games one cannot win with the Soviets – that is certainly not the case in Panzer. Let us not forget the basic fact that the Soviets did defeat the Germans. They had to win sometime.

In reality, they achieved victory by winning many tactical encounters. Even in 1941, when the Soviets were at their worst and the Germans were possibly at their best, there were a number of cases where Soviets forces defeated the Germans in tactical set-piece actions.

So, as a consequence, the Panzer break point/cohesion system is my attempt to simulate WWII armored warfare on a balanced level.

Concluding Thoughts

The new Panzer and MBT are in no way “just a reprint” of the original. They are new designs that benefit from many years of additional research, game evolution and changes in design style and graphic presentation. Some players may never go beyond the tank vs. tank aspects of the basic game. However, some may be looking for a more complex gaming experience. I believe that the gaming experience of the new game system is head and shoulders above the original Yaquinto Panzer, regardless of the difficulty level you choose to play. With the GMT versions of Panzer and MBT, I believe your gaming experience will certainly be enhanced and that the streamlined systems and faster play will  in no way compromise the historical integrity and  “feel” of the games.

-James M. Day

MBT-P500-TabPanzer Cover

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4 thoughts on “Design Background – Panzer and MBT

  1. I remember playing the miniatures version of MBT with Jim in about 1980 at a game convention at The College of Dupage.

  2. I owned both MBT and IDF in their Avalon Hill versions. They had their merits, but I thought that the games were deficient in several aspects:
    1. Infantry and artillery were not particularly useful or effective. These were essentially tank and anti-tank games, not combined armed simulations.
    2. The games did not simulate well the human factor. Israeli tanks were not generally better than Arab tanks, but Israeli tankers were much better than Arab tankers. A better tank crew not only has a higher probability of hitting the target, it can drive better, use cover and concealment better, and engage targets faster (i. e. attack more targets in a game turn).

    I am greatly interested in the subjects of the upcoming MBT series, but I would like to see that my concerns are addressed before I order the games.

  3. One thing I REALLY like about Panzer exp 3 is that you have geo AND actual terrain boards. This might be the 1st tactical game/expansion to do this. Anyhow, a very cool innovation and I’m glad you did it.

  4. Jim,
    it is an interesting tale. It is also interesting to see how the system evolved (had a look at the original rules back in time, own MBT, saw the miniature version, have the new Panzer but seeing the interactions between the various iterations was great) and, more importantly, what motivated them. I really appreciate the efforts involved in modeling factors outside the basic technical details. I am also happy in seeing that someone is challenging the view that the germans were so good at tactical level (well they were losing at tactical level too). It is worth to note that in 1940 often the French were winning the tactical engagements but unable to translate their successes to a larger level, more or less a similar situation to that of Germany in 1944 and 45.

    I am also happy that the series evolved from simultaneous to sequential actions. As much a lot of gamers I know think simultaneous movement/fire is something of hyper-realistic approach that has to be used, I think the action-reaction cycle is much more realistic. Have ot say I am very happy with the new system.

    On the other hand I am not overly persuaded by the 5 Sherman against a single Tiger myth. I am on Steven Zaloga side on this debate and I feel the numbers of losses never supported these myths (PAK and panzerfausts were far deadlier than Tigers in the western front).