Trying out Panzer 8 for quick-play sci-fi mass combat

And now, for something completely different -- after weeks and weeks of our Song of Blades & Heroes campaign, the club was itching to try something off the beaten path. Let's see ... what's about the farthest you can get from 28mm fantasy? Oh yeah, 10mm sci-fi!

For one of our earliest club projects, we rebased a whole bunch of cheaply purchased Mechwarrior clix to create several good-sized 10mm sci-fi armies. The prepainted figures required virtually no work at all -- just pop 'em off the clicky base, put 'em on a new base and add some quick and dirty scenic effects, and we were good to go.

These visually impressive armies took the field this week for two introductory games of Panzer 8, a brief, bare-bones sci-fi mass combat ruleset that's available for free on the web. When I say brief, I do mean brief -- Panzer 8 comes in at a mere two pages, but before our evening was over we'd already begun brainstorming ways to expand upon the basic toolbox provided in the rules.

Mike put together a pair of sci-fi scenarios inspired by Cold War Gone Hot. On the first table, a recon force had seized a bridgehead over a river and were tasked with holding it against a large, disorganized counterattack. Here's how the game looked at the outset, with Tim's defenders arrayed around the bridgehead.

Mike's counterattackers were distributed haphazardly around the city that you can see on the lower left side of that photo. Here's a closer look at Mike's force.

Those are N-scale paper buildings printed off from Dreampod 9 and based up by Karl. He went all out on these buildings...they're completely modular, and the upper levels have flat magnets on the bottom so you can easily create towering skyscrapers.

Across the table, Karl, Mike M.  and Jon gathered for the second scenario: a breakthrough pitting an attacking Neo-Soviet force against some entrenched American defenders. In this pic, Karl musters his forces and then sends an armored column snaking along the dusty, windswept highway toward Jon's defenders.

A few things to note before proceeding. Panzer 8 is a fast-play ruleset that sacrifices lot of small details in the name of just playing the game. In particular, there's not a wide variety of weapon ranges. The most powerful gun (called simple "heavy gun") shoots out to 18 inches. Because of this, Jon had two options on his side of the table: wait for the attackers to get within range of his guns (meaning they would have crossed almost half the table) or advance from his fortified desert stronghold to meet them in the open field.

Jon chose the latter option! Here's his initial mobilization.

Now let's jump back to the first game, with Tim defending the bridgehead. Turns out he had some help on the way -- a whole bunch of heavy walkers commanded by yours truly. They arrived on the edge of the table on Turn 2, just in time to catch Mike's scattered counterattackers unawares. Here they are, assembled for war.

Now, my forces and Tim's were classified as 'green' in the Panzer 8 rules, meaning they had a really hard time hitting anything, and an equally tough time rallying if they were struck by incoming fire. That said, my initial assault with my 9 heavy walkers turned one of Mike's mechs into a towering inferno.

Alas, I never really did much beyond that. A combination of factors severely limited my shooting, allowing Mike's entrenched AT guns to take repeated potshots at my advancing walkers. Here's another lucky shot, as my heavy walker showered an enemy mech with missiles.

One of the cool little details baked into Panzer 8 is the rule that destroyed vehicles and walkers are supposed to be left on the battlefield and treated as terrain for the rest of the game. Fine with me! It gave us a chance to use my oh-so-fun fire markers, made from colored wool fiber twisted together.

The battle for the bridgehead was a real grindfest, but my 9 heavy walkers -- intended to be a relief force for Tim's beleaguered defenders -- were chopped  to pieces. The fact that the heavy walkers were left on the board created some serious roadblocks for me as a I tried to relieve Tim's defenders. In this final photos, you can see 4 of my walkers, all burning, blocking off a big section of the battlefield.

Now let's zoom back to the other side of the room, to Karl, Mike M. and Jon's battle in the desert. Here's how we left things: Jon was cautiously heading out into the desert to meet Karl and Mike M.'s invading force. They clashed near the rubble of a long-forgotten fuel depot.


Here are Karl (left) and Mike M. plotting their next moves. Those are the same foam rocks that featured heavily into our recent Song of Blades & Heroes game. Karl also wrote up a nice tutorial on how he made them.

The game was shaping up to be quite the bloodbath, with Jon blazing away with his tanks, walkers and infantry against Karl and Mike M.'s combined invasion force. Here's how the battlefield looked. Bit of a traffic jam, eh?

What's that in the upper right? Why, it's a small assault craft going down in flames! MAN I love the look of that fire-wool stuff!

Here's the final shot from the desert game. Wrecked fighting machines everywhere, plumes of fire shooting into the air -- what a glorious battlefield.

We all unanimously agreed that Jon had accomplished his mission of holding back the attackers and defending the desert canyon pass.

After that, we spent some time discussing Panzer 8 as a ruleset. In the past, we've used these 10mm sci-fi armies to play Future War Commander and Mech Attack. The former is a full-blown wargame that does a good job simulating company-level command and control. The latter is a rules-lite BattleTech clone that is fun and fast-playing.

Panzer 8 falls somewhere in the middle. The basic rules engine is just crying out to be tinkered with. We discussed a number of house rules, including grafting some sort of command-and-control element on top of the existing system. It wouldn't take much effort at all to come up with something workable.

On the flip side, the game is not that granular. That's to be expected for a ruleset that's just two pages long. But all the same, I saw a huge difference between my 'green' troops and Mike's 'regular' troops. Namely, his guys could reliably do stuff, whereas mine couldn't.

There are some interesting areas of gameplay to explore with Panzer 8. As our game was entering the final few turns, Tim observed that the close combat rules seemed designed to favor low-quality 'green' troopers who couldn't otherwise hit the broadside of a barn. In Panzer 8, you auto-hit in close combat, so the quality of the attacker is moot. You just go straight to the damage roll. The flip side of this is that close combat is NOT simultaneous -- and the alternate-activation sequence ensures that the defender always gets to strike first if he is assaulted by an enemy unit. Still, I can see how you can use the close combat rules to your advantage as an attacker.

Anyway, we enjoyed the game and agreed to spend some time fiddling with the ruleset. Oh, and a word about our venue. As you can see, we're not playing in my basement. We're actually at Games Plus, a fantastic and ridiculously well-stocked game store in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, just outside Chicago. They've got plenty of game space, and we try to make an effort to host a game night at Games Plus every couple months to meet with some of our occasional followers who can't meet up with us in the city. Cheers to Games Plus for a fun game night!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member


6 responses to “Trying out Panzer 8 for quick-play sci-fi mass combat

  1. Looks like a good couple of games. I've downloaded the panzer8 stuff before, but have yet to play them. Nice to hear your thoughts.

  2. I like the Panzer 8 rules – I have tried the WW1 divisional set and (with tinkering) it's a great game. I love the look of the other sets (and the battle reports the author writes on his blog are very interesting), and enjoyed seeing this report. Sometimes a simple set of rules is all you need to have fun with your figures 🙂

  3. Good to know that you had one evening of fun with my simple rules… thank you for the AAR and for your thoughts —Pz8

  4. Yes, and we've been clamoring for more! Several of our players have been wanting to play Panzer8 again, so I'm sure we'll schedule another game soon.

  5. Hey what miniatures are you guys using

  6. Fantastic to see a write up of this well-known but seldom-discussed game.

    How many elements did you play per side? I have armies of 50-100 elements, and want to get them all on the table of course.

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