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Posted on Feb 28, 2019 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“…we had no idea that France had tanks like that.” James Day’s “Panzer Expansion 4: France 1940” Board Game Review

“…we had no idea that France had tanks like that.” James Day’s “Panzer Expansion 4: France 1940” Board Game Review

By Rick Martin

Panzer Expansion 4: France 1940   Board Game Review.  Publisher: GMT Games   Game Designer:   James M. Day and Fernando Sola Ramos  Price  $65.00

Passed Inspection:  highly detailed but easy to learn, adds French and early German tanks, exciting solo rules which apply to all the Panzer/Main Battle Tank (MBT) games, super fun, adds Leaders to the World War 2 system

Failed Basic:   no British Expeditionary Forces, hidden unit/fog of war rules need clarification for solo use (one additional paragraph would clarify these rules), counters are a little too dark making it difficult to discern the front from the back of the tank or armored car, needs a rule and cards for fighters to escort or intercept the ground attack planes

“After a while, a fourth tank appeared through the orchard. It was a real monster and we had no idea that France had tanks like that. We fired 20 shots at it without success. However, after a few more shots, we managed to knock off its track. […] a fifth tank appears, another B1 firing all its weapons. […] We fired, but could not knock it out until a ricochet hit the turret. The next shot hit it in the rear. Calm returned and we abandoned our tank again because we had exhausted the ammunition.”  Feldwebel Karl Koch  Panzer IV vs Char B1 bis: France 1940  by Steven J. Zaloga

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Let me state upfront that I have great admiration for James Day’s Panzer series.  As a youngster one of my first war gaming experiences was getting the Yaquinto Games’ printing of “88”.  Yaquinto put out three tank games in the late 1970s – “Panzer”, “Armor” and “88”.  “Panzer” covered tactical tank battles on the Russian Front while “Armor” covered the Western Front and”88” was North Africa.  After Yaquinto’s game line vanished, there were a few misguided attempts to get these games back in to print.  But, thankfully, GMT has reissued the updated versions of these classic games (well all except “88” – come on James and Fernando – we need the North African front please!) and they are fantastic.  The games have been updated from the original written orders to using Command Chits which are placed order side down near each unit or formation of units.  When both sides have placed their orders, the Chits are flipped over and the battle commences.  In addition, rules have been clarified and the angles for figuring tank armor have been dropped from 16 in the original game down to 7 which greatly increases the speed of game play.

This is the 4th expansion to the GMT Panzer series.  It focuses exclusively on the Campaign for France in 1940 although the tanks, armored cars, trucks, halftracks, infantry guns, infantry and aircrafts can all be used in the other expansions. The player will need to have the base Panzer game in order to use this expansion.

Upon opening the box, the players will find:

  • 4 Counters sheets
  • 264 double-sided 7/8” counters
  • 160 double-sided 5/8” counters
  • 4 10” x 27.75” double-sided geomorphic maps
  • 21 double-sided 5” x 4” Data Cards (French and German, see below)

FRENCH

AMD-35

AMR-33

AMR-35

AMR-35(H)

Artillery

Bre.693 Aircraft

CA25 CA38 AAG

CA25 SA-L 34 ATG

CA47 SA 37 ATG

CA75 97/35 ATG

Char B1-bis

H-35

H-38

H-39

Infantry Mortars, HMG and Anti-Tank Weapons

Infantry Squads, Half-Squads & Sections

Limbers

Lorraine 38L

MB.174.A3 Aircraft

R-35

R-40

S-35

Truck AA 13.2

Trucks

UE

Unic P107

 

GERMAN
2cm FlaK 38 AAG

2cm FlaK Zgkw 1t

3.7cm FlaK Zgkw 5t

3.7cm PaK 36 ATG

7.5cm leIG

15cm sIG

Hs 123A-1 Aircraft

Ju 87B-1 Aircraft

Limbers

PSW 221

PSW 222

PSW 231

PzKpfw 35(t)

PzKpfw 38(t)C

PzKpfw IB

PzKpfw IIC

PzKpfw IIIF

PzKpfw IVD

SPW 251/10

SPW 251/2

STuG IIIA

 

  • Playbook: 44 pages
  • TO&E Booklet: 24 pages

 

The scenarios included in the game are:

  • Tank Battle at Crehen, Pt. 1: Crehen, Belgium, 12 May 1940
  • Tank Battle at Crehen, Pt. 2: Crehen, Belgium, 12 May 1940
  • Delaying Action at Ernage: Ernage, Belgium, 14 May 1940
  • Rommel Crosses the Meuse: Bouvignes, Belgium, 13 May 1940
  • Checking the Thrust: Philippeville, Belgium, 15 May 1940
  • The Capture of Stonne: Stonne, France, 15 May 1940
  • Counterattack at Stonne: Stonne, France, 15 May 1940
  • De Gaulle’s First Action: Montcornet, France, 17 May 1940
  • Déjàvécu: Montcornet, France, 19 May 1940
  • Closing the Trap: Lille, France, 28 May 1940
  • The 6th Panzer is Delayed: Monthermé, France, 15 May 1940 – Solitaire Scenario
  • Billote’s Charge: Stonne, France, 16 May 1940 – Solitaire Scenario

The two solitaire scenarios utilize a game driven AI system for French forces in the 6th Panzer is Delayed and the German forces in Billote’s Charge.

 

For those who have never played the Panzer or MBT series, the scope is tactical armored and infantry action.  Each unit is one vehicle or a squad or half squad of infantry or a heavy weapon team.  Each turn is from a few seconds to a few minutes long.

This is a wonderful expansion.  The challenges of either commanding or fighting against the French forces of the time period make this game extremely fun.  The French tanks have really good armor and decent guns but French doctrine limitations and the lack of quality radios in over 80% of their tanks makes maintaining a cohesive tank push very difficult.  French doctrine relegated the tank as an infantry support weapon although some Char 1 B units were allowed to be used in mass tank attacks.  The game reflects this doctrine in a couple of ways.  French tanks and other units have a  lower “command span” than the Germans.  That is to say that French units must be closer together in order to avoid being out of command due to the lack of radios.  In addition, the French are hampered by a -20 to their initiative rolls for each turn while the Germans have a +20 added to their initiative rolls.

As in real life, the French Char B1-bis (Char de Bataille, a “battle tank” ) is a monster of a tank! I have included a detailed picture of the data card for this unit.  The tank’s armor can almost not be penetrated by the guns of the run of the mill German panzers of the time.  But, as in real life, the tank does have its flaws which are well represented in the game.  The Char has two guns – one 47mm gun in the turret and one 75mm gun in the hull.  But the 75mm gun can’t be fired when the tank is in a hull down position or during a short halt.  In addition, the 75mm can only be fired in the front arc of the tank and suffers when shooting at a moving target.  There is a flaw in the armor of this beast; the Char has an engine air intake grill on the left rear hull.  This grill has far less armor than the rest of the tank and should be targeted by German gunners.  While being a monster of a tank, the Char is very slow; when commanding them I tried to keep them on the roads and tracks up until I needed to move the tanks in to cover just to get some extra speed out of them.

I found that the only way to take out the Char B1 was to use Panzer IIs or other tanks to fire HE rounds in an effort to suppress the tank’s crew  (especially if the Char B1 crews have their hatches open) and then rush the tank with Panzer IIIs and IVs.  Get to the side of the tank and then try and hit the air intake – it’s rather like the method used by the Rebels to take out the Death Star in Star Wars.

This expansion also adds Leaders in to the World War 2 mix.  Day already added leaders to the MBT game system (the same game system but adapted to modern combat).  Leaders can add extra bonuses depending on the skills shown on their cards.  Some add to your close assault chances of success or rally units more effectively while some add to a tank’s attack chances.  Leaders are available for both infantry and armored units.  My favorite is Steiner who was lifted from the book and movie “Cross of Iron”.

A major component of this expansion is the new solitaire system for Panzer.  Before I delve in to a review of the solo system, let me first say that I have been playing the Panzer system solo since I was given “88” as a gift for Christmas back in the 1970s.  GMT’s iteration of Panzer made it so much easier to play solo as the Command Chits can be easily used to determine what a specific enemy unit is doing for the turn.  I came up with a system whereby you determine what the enemy’s general objectives are.  I came with up with Defending, Attacking or Meeting Engagement.  Then I took the Command Chits and sorted them in to sets for each general objective.  For example, for a Defending, I had more fire and short halt chits than movement chits or for a Meeting Engagement I had an equal mix of Fire, Move and Short Halts and Hull Downs.  Then I put the Command Chits in a bowl or cup and drew them without looking at them and put them face down by each enemy unit.  During the turn I would turn them over and have the enemy do what the chits said.  It wasn’t perfect but it worked.  I actually designed the games Tiger Leader and Sherman Leader in order to have a better method of playing these types of games solo and for the early play testing I used Panzer for the game board and the units.

Panzer’s new official solo system is a work of art!  It’s not too heavy to learn and works very well.  In a nutshell, here is how it works.

Several of the scenarios are marked as suitable for solo play.  The specific rules and conditions for the battle are included in the scenario description.  In addition, I have found it possible to play any scenario (including player created scenarios) with the solo rules.  You just have to do a little work with the Hidden Units Rules.

The solo rules use the Hidden Units Rule as found in the core game.  With these rules, the enemy units are represented by numbered chits.  The solo scenarios provide a chart to role on in order to determine what the unit is.  Before rolling on that chart, you determine if you can spot the enemy unit and if you can, you role on a chart to determine if the unit is a real unit or just a false sighting.  Hidden enemy units may move and, if they do, only move up to 2 hexes.  To use the Hidden Unit Rules for scenarios that are not specifically solo scenarios, just assign the enemy units on the Hidden Units template from the core book.  There are 10 spaces on the chart.  Put the possible units in the boxes and when you sight a Hidden Unit just roll the 10 sided die and the number that comes up is what you have spotted.  This alternative system should have been addressed in the rules in my opinion.  Note that any unit which attacks is automatically spotted.  In addition, when a unit is spotted, there is a chart to roll on to fix its exact position in relation to where the Hidden Unit Counter is.

The turn sequence for playing solo is almost the same as the standard game turn sequence.  There are a few additional phases for determining what the solo units will do.

The sequence of play is:

1) Spotting

2) Command Phase

3) Determine Initiative

4) Air Phases

5) Move and Combat

6) Recovery and Morale

All of the solo tables are included on the back of the Expansion Rule Book.

To determine what an enemy unit will do in a turn, determine if the enemy’s mission is Attack or Defend.  Roll on the appropriate Attack or Defend table with appropriate modifications for the scenario and as to whether the unit is on a Victory hex.

The possible Attack actions are : Move, Short Halt, Fire, Full Cover or Find a Hull Down Position and lastly Entrench.

The possible Defend actions are: Move, Fire, Full Cover or Find a Hull Down Position, Entrench.

Once you determine what the units are going to do, roll on the appropriate action table.

For a Fire Action the table tells you to either Fire at the Most Dangerous and Nearest Enemy, Attack Nearest Enemy, or Attack the Weakest Nearest Enemy.

For a Move Action the table tells you to Move to: Greatest Cover Hex, Nearest Victory Point Hex, Highest Value Victory Point Hex, Move Towards the Most Dangerous Enemy, Move towards the Nearest Enemy

If a unit Moves – roll on a table which tells you how it moves: safest route, fastest route or the most direct route.

All of these action die rolls are modified based upon the experience of the enemy unit as well as other factors.

Solo rules are also provided for Attacking and Defensive Attitude (cautious, reckless, etc.) and Close Assault/Hand-to-Hand/Overrun attacks.

The 13 pages of solo rules explain almost everything you need to know. Then the handy 1 page chart makes it flow easily and smoothly.  I do wish the Solo Chart page was also included as a cardboard stand alone player’s aid.  I ended up making my own.

I found the enemy AI (so to speak) is almost perfect and I have ported the Solo Rules over to the other Panzer and MBT games as well as to the original Yaquinto versions of the game.

If there are any negatives to this expansion, they are few.  Namely the British Expeditionary Forces should have been included even if it drove up the price by a few dollars.  I would love to have Matilda Is and IIs in the game.

I also found that the counters were printed a little too dark for my eyes.  I had to get out a magnifying glass and use my phone as flashlight to figure out which was the front and back side of some of the tanks to determine vehicle facing.

I would like to see fighter planes added to the game.  While the game has ground attack planes such as Stukas and such, I would like to be able to have fighters escort the ground attack planes.  It could add a whole new tactic to this fine game series.  The rules wouldn’t have to be complex as they would represent the interception in the abstract.

In addition, with the core game and 4 expansions for the Panzer series, GMT needs to release a concordance for the rules.  Having to remember which rule is in what expansion is getting a little too clunky now.

All in all, this 4th Expansion to the venerable Panzer series is a must have for all players of Panzer or even MBT.  The Solo Rules and tactical challenges of the French campaign make this set incredible!

(Full reviews of the Panzer Core Game as well as all the expansions as well as the Main Battle Tank Games and an interview with James Day can be found here at Armchair General)

Armchair General Rating: 95 %

Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 to 5 with 1 being Poor and 5 being Perfect for Solo)

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!  Rick is also the designer of Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit and Sherman Leader.

8 Comments

  1. Rick, first of all, thank you very much for your thorough review. It’s much appreciated.

    I’d like to point out several things about this expansion:

    -I’ve tried to offer an interesting tactical puzzle to players, where the French have superior tanks hampered by initiative, commands and radios (well, rather by the lack of these elements) and the Germans have to work out a solution in each scenario to put them out of action thanks to, precisely, initiative and commands (in some cases a pair of 88s also help).
    -The terrain in this expansion had to be more historical than in the previous ones. I think I’ve achieved this issue.
    -The solo rules have taken a lot of design time. From the first v1.0 draft to the final v3.2 draft, a lot of work have been put into them. I think that the final version is a very decent solitaire tool. Not perfect, but a at least it is a good solo assistant. By the way, I’ve submitted 3 new solitaire scenarios for publishing.
    -I wanted to explore the boundaries of the system. Scenario 38 is a clear example of this. I think that Panzer can offer very rewarding situations that have to be explored. I feel the scenario selection is varied and interesting.
    -Finally, with regards to the inclusion of the British Expeditionary Force, although I wanted to include British units, if we included them the expansion would have grown too much and the price would have raised in consequence. Two new countersheets, two new maps, several data cards (remember how thick they are) and at least 3-4 scenarios to make a good use of these materials was too much. In the end I had to focus and I decided to concentrate only on the French. It has taken 2 years of design and development, so imagine with the BEF.

    I hope you all enjoy this expansion.

    Fernando Sola

    • Thanks Fernando for the insightful comment and for designing such a great expansion! Any thoughts on what I suggested to use the solo rules for any scenarios not just the specific solo scenarios?

  2. Board games are all well and good for those with the time and space(no cats) to play them. For the rest of us, check out a new WW2 card game for the computer called KARDS. It’s in beta(which I joined) and it’s fun and addictive.

    • Thanks for your comment Tony. You lack of enjoyment of the board game reviews is well noted and you don’t have to continue reminding everyone about this. It doesn’t serve you well. However, I hope you will note that we have already done a preview of KARDS several months ago.

    • By the way, I love cats too and they provide a unique challenge for those of us who play tabletop games or collect models. One of my cats stole a Mg34 off the turret of a 1:32 Panther thank I had. What he did with it and why he wanted it I do not know.

      • Sorry, Rick. Forgot about the KARDS review you did. It really is a lot of fun. Don’t know why you would be upset about most gamers not being interested in expensive and time consuming games with a limited market. That is just a fact. I don’t mean to denigrate board games. I DID say “well and good” for those who enjoy them. I loved them when they were the only game in town. Most gamers are not grognards. So this is aimed at a very limited market. There are dozens of military sim games for computer that are the choice of most these days. Games by John Tiller, Gary Grigsby, Battlefront Matrix/Slitherine games among others, run the gamut from beer and pretzels to extremely detailed. I realize this is a niche site and you cater to a small market. I guess that’s one of the reasons why Armchair General failed as a magazine, much as I loved it. Board games are obviously a labor of love for you and I guess there are not a lot of avenues to promote them. So you are providing a service. I would like to ask, do the companies who devote so much time and resources into a somewhat limited market actually make enough money to keep doing what they are doing? BTW, my cat ruined just about every game I ever played.

      • I see your point. In answer to your question – yes – there is a great deal of money to be made in the board game market. We are actually seeing a new “Golden Age” as more board games are coming out every month now than in the original Golden Age back in the 1970s. As of mid-2018, the board game market is now accessed at 12 billion dollars with an anticipated yearly growth rate of 9%. Doesn’t sound so much like a niche market now does it? As can be seen by our reviews here at Armchair General, there are board game companies starting up all over the world. We have reviewed games from Russia, China, Japan and Serbia as well as the more traditional countries pumping out war games. We are trying to get at least three more reviewers to help out with both board games and computer games for our site as it is very difficult for Ray, Greg and me to keep up with all the new product coming out every month.

  3. No, that does not seem like a niche market. I’m very surprised and happy to be enlightened. Glad it is thriving. I’m an avid reader. I love the tactile feel of a book. I also read on a Kindle, which is more convenient and can hold thousands of books at a time. There is room of both, even if you may prefer one over the other. The analogy holds in gaming. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have the concentration levels anymore for what is needed by complicated board games even though I loved the feel and look of the maps and counters. I’m glad many others still do.

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