Revised Panzergruppe Guderian system

Panzergruppe Guderian page

When it first appeared, the game system of SPI’s Panzergruppe Guderian was quite innovative.  It featured multiple movement phases for mobile German divisions only, overruns within those movement phases, untried Russian units, “sticky” zones of control, division integrity bonuses for German mobile divisions again.  It has a very limited air system and no special treatment of the “firepower arms” (air, artillery, naval fire support), but it is otherwise the point of origin for most of the systems used in the later SCS series from MMP.  SCS added fluid rather than sticky ZOCs and step losses for all units, as well as DG effects from firepower arms.

Many titles are available that use the original system.  Besides the original Panzergruppe Guderian which covers the battle of Smolensk in July of 1941, there are games in the 4 battles of Army Group South quad, Kharkov covering the May 1942 Russian counterattack in that area, and Drive on Stalingrad covering the “Case Blue” campaign of 1942 that came after the Russian defeat in the previous.  These are classic east front hex and counter wargames and I’d love to still be playing them, but the system shows age and realism problems, rules as written.  My modifications seek to leave the underlying playable simplicity, and its mobile warfare “hack and slash” nature, while fixing its biggest realism problems.

The biggest of those problems is the original CRT with its “optional” loss results.  These basically made it free to attack repeatedly with spearheads knowing that on any A1 loss result one could choose to retreat without taking losses.   There also needs to be a realistic expectation of losses even at higher odds columns.  Also, the Germans were given far more steps to lose per formation, and while they do deserve some advantage on that score, 6 steps per panzer division and 4 steps per infantry division vs the Russians getting 2 for their strongest units and 1 for most is too large a difference.

In the original, overruns were unlimited except by movement allowance, costing 3MPs each, while the combat value of the attacker was halved.  Russian mech got no mechanized movement phase, which is too large an asymmetry.  ZOCs that don’t slow movement or resist overruns but are complete solid “glue” otherwise are too strong, and encourage “flypaper” tactics of pinning enemies from the front with infantry divisions, instead of needing to envelope an enemy unit to immobilize it.  Forest terrain is made to double defenders without regard to unit types.  Air interdiction was barely shown and was not very effective.  All these need additional minor changes.

First the new CRT –


The new system uses 2D6 and has DRMs for armor vs none when the defender is in clear terrain, regardless of the attacker’s terrain.  Either side can earn this DRM.  In addition, the original rule for Russian HQs supporting attacks with combat strength points is replaced by each HQ being able to support one attack (only) per Russian combat phase within their command distance with a +1 DRM on that combat (never more than +1 per combat from this source).

Step losses are always required to be taken as actual losses.  Retreats must be taken as retreats except when the defenders are in a major city, when they may cancel their retreat for one additional step loss, assuming they can pay their losses with at least 1 step remaining.  All attacker retreats are 1 hex by all involved units, while defender retreats are 2 hexes, after which the attacker may advance into the defender’s hex.

Other changes –

Steps – 2 SP German motorized are single step units. Division integrity is earned whenever units from the same formation are stacked, even if some have been eliminated. Germany infantry are 3 step units 9, 5, 2.  Notice, this means that 1 SP step German units are ignored or removed, and that German infantry divisions on their reduced side get +1 SP compared to the original.  This also means a normal panzer division with 4-10 armor and 2 2-10 motorized has 4 total steps instead of 6, while a motorized division with 2 3-10 motorized also has 4 steps.

Optional Russian 2 step units – as an optional rule, Russian units with a defense strength of 6 or greater get 2 steps.  Use a blank or inverted “D” or “S” chit under one to show it has lost a step, and reduce all its combat values by half, rounding downward, if it has lost a step.  Note that this is realistic but in play balance terms it favors the Russians.

Terrain – rivers halve attackers across even if not all attackers are on the wrong side of the river.

Clear – no shifts, armor shift modifier possible, up to 2 air points may be used.
Woods – no shifts, no armor advantage calculation, max 1 air point used.
Town/Minor City – 1 left shift, armor shift modifier possible, max 1 air point.
Rough – 1 left shift, no armor advantage possible, max 1 air point.
Major City or City – 1 left shift, no armor advantage possible, max 1 air point, defenders may ignore 1 hex retreat results.

In addition, hedgehogs / trenches / fortification can have the following effects –

clear or woods – 1 left shift.
town or rough – defenders may ignore 1 hex retreat results (like city)
city – 2nd left shift (the only way to get 2 left shifts is fortified city hex).

As for armor DRMs, here is how I now implement those.

Calculate an armor-only odds ratio the same as you would for the whole CRT, using only armor symbol and mech symbol combat strengths. If that ratio is 1-1 or less, 1 left shift for defender armor advantage. If that ratio is 3-2 or 2-1, no effect. If that ratio is 3-1 or higher, 1 right shift for attacker armor advantage. Having armor strength vs none always gives that side advantage, assuming the terrain allows it in the first place.

ZOCs – These now cost +2 MPs to leave instead of leaving being prohibited. Only mobile formations can move zoc to zoc, and must stop after entering a new zoc.

Stacking – 3 units as in original, but all units from one formation count as 1.5 for this purpose, and all last step 2 SP Axis units count as only 0.5 units.

Overruns – cost 3 MPs as in the original but are also limited to 1 per movement phase. Combat strength is *not* halved.

Air interdiction – raise the movement cost +1 MP per hex in the interdiction hex and all adjacent hexes. Also prevent 1/2 MP movement rate for roads, and raise rail distance cost as in the original for their central hex only.

Phasing – Russians get a mechanized movement phase too, limited to armor, mech, and cavalry, but also limited to 1/2 MPs.  They may overrun in this phase if their MPs allow it.

Supply – units check supply only at the end of their own player turn, and remain in supply until the end of their next player turn if they were in supply then.  This means you cannot halve an enemy stack immediately just by driving around it, and is a major change to the game and its tactics.  Mark units out of supply only when they check, and they remain out of supply until their next friendly supply phase.

CRT new one used, see above. No quality or surprise systems. Armor (including Russian mech) in clear vs none earns attacker +1 DRM, or defender -1 DRM. No armor effect in any other terrain or if both sides have some. No density effects.

Russian HQ units – defense only strength equal to rating in one hex only; one step units. Can support 1 attack per Russian combat phase within their rating range (ignoring terrain and zocs) with a+1 DRM.  HQs also provide supply within rating MPs to Russian units; friendly units negate enemy zocs for this purpose.

Loss priorities – to pick an armored step as the one lost requires that its opponent has armored or mech units themselves, or major city terrain defender. Armor steps may still be forced to be chosen if there is no other choice. Loss priority must go to a full strength unit if possible, but this alone never forces an armor step loss.

Retreats – Retreat into ZOC causes 1 extra step loss to the retreating stack, but undisrupted friendly units negate enemy ZOCs for this purpose.  Players retreat their own units in both ordinary combats and overruns – ignore the original rule that sides choose their opponent’s retreat routes.  Major city defenders or rough/minor city plus entrenchment defenders may ignore 1 hex retreat results, but must take 2 hex or longer retreats normally.

Optional “op tempo” supply rules – This rule is optional because it adds some book keeping complexity to the original system, but it can add to realism.  Both sides get a supply pool initially and a number of supply points per game turn, specified by the game or scenario.  The Germans must use supply points to move most mobile formations in their second mechanized movement phase.  The Russians must use supply points to give attack bonuses with their HQ units.  All units may always move and fight normally in all other phases.

The Germans spend 1 supply point to move each 3 unit division formation (panzer division or SS motorized e.g.), or up to 2 2 unit (e.g. motorized, or reduced) division formations in their mechanized movement phase.  Single unit formations e.g. the 1st cavalry division, GD brigade, Lehr regiment can always move freely in the mechanized movement phase without costing supplies.

Germans can spend supply to move a formation in its motorized movement phase only if at least one unit from that formation is in supply, and only in supply units are able to move in that phase.  Note however that this supply status will be the one determined at the end of their last player turn.

The Russians spend 1 supply point to use any HQ for attack support (+1 DRM to 1 combat phase attack within the HQ’s command range).

Supply points for either side may be accumulated from turn to turn without limit and are never lost.  If a supply point cannot be expended the specified action cannot be performed.

In Panzergruppe Guderian, the Germans start with 12 supply points and get 6 per game turn from the first turn onward, inclusive.  Note that will be enough for all their mobile formations to fight at maximum “op tempo” for the first 4 turns (36 total supply received by then, 4 6 13 13 maximum supply cost as their mobile forces arrive), but not all will be able to do so thereafter.

The Russians in that game start with 6 supply points and get 3 per game turn from the first turn onward (inclusive, even though they won’t have a chance to use any on game turn 1, since the Germans aren’t yet on the map).

Panzergruppe Guderian game historical scenario

The above gave the minimum necessary changes to play what is still effectively the original game with the revised system. But for those interested, here is an updated more historical scenario with a revised Russian OOB and order of arrival. We have much more accurate information these days from historians like David Glantz about the Russian side of this battle, than was available back when the original game was first published.

A few balance rules are needed for that, to show the limitations of early Russian mechanized formations and the greater role of German air superiority than the original game does. In addition, it is clear from the battle narrative that the terrain effects in the original game are set too high – the Germans “bounced” major rivers pretty easily, none of the local cities did much as “forts”, only Mogilev holding a while as a pocket and places like Vitebsk and Smolensk falling readily to coup de main lunges. The forested areas certainly slowed high tempo operations but there is no sign they operated as natural “forts” doubling all defenders or anything similar.

Since the true OOB features twice as many of those Russian mech units, it matters that these balance limits be used along with the OOB revision.

Panzergruppe Guderian game historical scenario

First the pro German balance changes.

Here are the revised, more realistic and limited terrain effects on combat I recommend using along with the revised and corrected Russian OOB. Major cities – just one column left, not defender doubled, and overruns are allowed into them (see coup de mains above). Woods – no overruns allowed into them and armor units halved attacking them; armor symbol only, mech and motorized, defenders unaffected. Rivers – no overruns across them allowed and 1 column left if any of the attackers are crossing the river. I actually recommend these for the whole revised system, not just for this scenario, though it will make it “play” differently from the original games.

All German attacks in which at least one Russian mechanized unit (tank or motorized) is a defender receive +1 DRM. All Russian attacks in which at least one Russian mechanized unit is an attacker receive -1 DRM. These reflect the lower unit quality of the Russian mechanized forces at this early stage of the war, above and beyond their untried unit status, low combat strength values, and single steps to elimination. And second, in each of their combat phases (only), the Germans may pick up to 3 German attacks that benefit from air support and earn +1 DRM for doing so. There are no terrain restrictions of this support and it is in addition to the 3 interdiction counters per turn the Germans receive.

In addition to the above rules, Russians may not use administrative movement at any time on turns 1-4, anywhere on the map.  No unit that starts in or ever enters any EZOC or air interdiction zone may use administrative movement on the turn it does so.  Rail pick up and drop off are only allowed it major or minor town hexes, not between them, and any German air interdiction marker blocks rail movement through its hex.

Now the more accurate Russian OOB and arrivals, showing the true scale of the force the Germans had to tackle in this battle, which you should find sufficient to at least try to hold continuous fronts.

Turn 1 on the map at start, but frozen for turns 1 and 2 and unable to move –

within 1 hex of Smolensk – 6 rifle divisions, 1 tank division, 16th army HQ

within 1 hex of Vyazma – 7 rifle divisions, 3 tank divisions, 24th army HQ

Enter turn 1 from west edge Area C – 6 rifle divisions, 3 tank divisions, 19th army HQ

Enter turn 1 from west edge Area D – 8 rifle divisions, 4 tank divisions, 20th army HQ

Enter turn 1 from west edge Area F – 10 rifle divisions, 3 tank divisions, 13th army HQ

Enter turn 2 from Area B (Northwestern flank) – 8 rifle divisions, 22nd army HQ

Enter turn 2 from Entrance Z (Southern flank) – 8 rifle divisions, 3 tank divisions, 21st army HQ

Enter turn 2 from Entrance X (Moscow direction) – 4 rifle divisions, 5 tank divisions, Western Front Reserve HQ

Enter turn 3 from Entrance W (Rzhev Northeastern flank) – 6 rifle divisions, 30th army HQ

Enter turn 4 from Kaluga (Eastern direction) – 6 rifle divisions, 3 tank divisions, 28th army HQ

Enter turn 6 from Entrance X (Moscow direction) – 6 rifle divisions, 29th army HQ

Enter turn 7 from Entrance X (Moscow direction) – 6 rifle divisions, 31st army HQ

Enter turn 8 from Entrance X (Moscow direction) – 6 rifle divisions, 49th army HQ

Enter turn 9 from Entrance X (Moscow direction) – 6 rifle divisions, 32nd army HQ

Enter turn 10 from Entrance X (Moscow direction) – 6 rifle divisions, 33rd army HQ

There are no random division arrivals 1 per turn as in the original game.  In total the Russians will get 99 rifle divisions and 25 tank divisions, more than double the number of the latter shown in the original game.  The Russians historically had all of those, they just rapidly lost many of them in head on engagements with superior German panzer divisions, beginning right at the beginning of the period depicted in the game in the Kovel counterstroke around Vitebsk and Orsha.

For the historically inclined, the commitment of the reserve armies is depicted in the revised scenario as a gradual stream from the central Stavka reserve, which was what happened in effect, though the reserve wave of armies arriving in the second half of the 12 turn game historically formed up by rail arrivals in an arc from north to south west of Moscow.  It is assumed the Russian player might wish to mimic that deployment but does not need to do so.

Game specific rules for Drive on Stalingrad

Drive on Stalingrad adds a few new elements to the system, including a bit more involved supply range system.  In original Panzergruppe Guderian, the Germans simply needed to trace a supply line of 20 hexes or less to a valid supply source.  In Drive, the Germans rapidly outstrip their converted rail net, with railhead markers slowly marching east marking the limit of ordinary trace supply.  Then truck markers are provided that in the original have to follow an elaborate procedure to “ship” supply “tokens” to the front, that can be occasionally used to get full supply.  This is cumbersome and overly restrictive at the same time.

The revision instead treats these truck units much like Extenders are treated in the OCS system.  Meaning, trucks are either on their moving side with 13 MPs, or are on their convoy operation side with 7 MPs.  They can relocate using the former but only operate when in the latter mode, and they then operate by extending railhead supply distance by 7 MPs each, backward from their location to either a valid rail hex or another truck unit in Extender convoy mode.  There is no delay once they are in convoy mode and no supply “tokens” used or moved.

Truck units move only in the German mechanized movement phase, which means right before supply will be checked at the end of the German player turn. If they relocate, they cannot be used as extenders that game turn because they will be on their faster 13 MP side.  If they don’t move, flip them and they act as 7 road MP extenders.  Units that trace to a convoy mode truck unit that can trace through a chain back to a converted rail hex are in supply for the following game turn, others are out of supply.  Trucks themselves are always in supply in either mode.

As in the optional rule above, only units in supply from their previous game turn can expend a supply point to move in their mechanized movement phase, and all multi unit mobile formations need supply points to do so.