After a two year delay, the 50th anniversary of the classic game was celebrated at WBC. PanzerBlitz was a brand new concept in game design in 1970. Since then, there have been many tactical wargames that built on it. Still the classic has its own character and playability.
After much preparation, GMs Rick Northey and Alan Arvold laid out new situations, expansion modules and maps for this year’s tournament. For the preliminary games during the week players could choose from any published situation, and any situation provided by the GMs, from any of the three games in the series, PanzerBlitz/PanzerLeader/Arab-Israeli Wars. Four dioramas were put on display, later to be awarded to the final four who qualified for the Semifinal, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place. Players also received their choice of a custom 50th anniversary t-shirt or mug designed by GMs Rick Northey and Alan Arvold.
Before play began, the GMs paused to remember 7-time champion Greg Tanner, who passed in the last year. Greg was a tremendous competitor and an all-around great guy to play games with. He was missed at the tournament and will be missed for years to come.
For this special year, eight new situations were featured to be the choices in the Semifinal and Final games. These consisted of three single board battles on boards 1,2 and 3, each lasting 6 turns that Alan created decades ago for the Wargamers Guide to PanzerBlitz tournament play. These were further playtested in 2021-22 and adjusted for this tournament. GM Rick Northey contributed five situations of his own to the tournament. Battles at Slonim and Werba 1941 beginning Operation Barbarossa, Case Blue Recce summer 1942, The attack on Kalach bridge during the envelopment of German 6th Army at Stalingrad Nov 1942, and Operation Buffel at the end of the Rzhev meat grinder was a final retreat of the German 9th Army March 1943. These new situations kept players on their toes as they had not seen them before.
Players trying to make the final four mostly “booked up” on these new situations in the preliminary games, while other players who were not planning to play in the elimination Rounds tried some longer more involved situations provided by the GMs. A PanzerLeader game between Grognards Rick Northey and Chuck Leonard featured the 82nd Airborne drop at Nijmegen in Operation Market Garden. Two more battles were fought by Steve Andriakos as the Commonwealth forces in Malaya vs Chuck Leonard as the Japanese forces in special PanzerLeader Pacific situations created by Rick Northey. GMs Rick Northey and Alan Arvold pulled out several of Alan’s modules he introduced at this years WBC. Two situations, one each from James Johnson’s Liberation series and from his Gross Deutschland series, which Alan edited, were played. Also, two situations from Poland 1939 were played. Situation 1 from the original PanzerBlitz game, “A Russian Rear Area Raid in 1944”, was played twice with the Germans winning one game and the Russians the other. In a game between John Sharp and Chuck Leonard, John’s German defenders held against Chuck’s Russian vanguard of Operation Uranus at Kalach Bridge, near Stalingrad. In all, 37 players played 48 games, which set a new record!
The final four, with GMs Rick Northey and Alan Arvold not playing in the Semifinal, were Bert Schoose, Art Dohrman, Curtiss Fyock and by tie breaker, John Sharp. After going through five levels of tie breakers, John was ahead of Marty Musella by one bonus point because he played one more game against an opponent who had played more games versus opponents with better overall records at the end of the tournament. Steve Andriakos actually finished third at the end of preliminary play, but he was not to be found at the time the Semifinal was to begin.
Art and John decided on Alan’s situation AAWBC3r1 “A Little Fight in the Woods Austria 1945” in Semifinal game #1; The Russian combined arms force attacks a hill on board 1 defended by a similar German kampfgruppe. In preparation for the opening firefight on the hill, Art’s German forces setup on the central hill with infantry deployed to the flanks. On his first turn, Art laid down suppressing fire while moving three platoons of armored cars to the right flank in the gully past the Russian lines. John’s Russian infantry started their assault on the central hill supported by cavalry and armor, while also sending loaded halftracks back to shield the artillery batteries from the German armored cars. On turn two, Art took the town of Adski in the Russian rear area worth 5VPs if he could hold it. Meanwhile, German batteries fired at advancing Russian infantry, destroying a rifle and engineer company. German infantry then pulled back from the front of the hilltop to avoid a retaliatory shelling. John moved his halftracks and unloaded some AT guns and mortars to counter the German occupation of Adski. Without infantry to support them, Art was forced to move his armored cars out of the town and attempted to hide in the woods. Russian infantry established a foothold on the hill, but not without losing two more companies of rifle units and AT guns. At midgame, the score stood at Germans 25 to Russians 15. Art made another attack on John’s artillery batteries positioned on the hill by moving his armored cars on the slopes, trying to spot for counterbattery fire. To this John diverted more assets, in the form of armor and AT guns. Art had an opportunity to exit his armored cars for 3 VPs, but instead tried to neutralize Johns artillery batteries to take pressure off the central hilltop. The German armored cars were surrounded and destroyed, with the Russians losing two more companies in the process. Meanwhile, on the center hilltop, an infantry battle resulted in three German platoons, including some elephants, eliminated on John rolling a 1 in a crucial close assault. This resulted in the Russian occupation of two more hilltop hexes. At the end of turn 4, the score stood at Russians 47 to Germans 29. Upon evaluating the position at this point, Art decided that regaining the initiative was very unlikely, and resigned the game. John then advanced to his first PanzerBlitz Final.
Curtiss and Bert chose situation AAWBC1r1 “Meeting Engagement on the Steppes of Ukraine 1944” for their semifinal game. This battle featured clash of two mobile forces on open terrain with the center town being the focus. At the start of this game, Curtiss’ German combined arms forces took up defensive positions in the center town. Burt then maneuvered his Russian armor with riders to simultaneously attack the town and also German mortars and AT guns in the woods on the right flank. Attack and counterattack went back and forth with each side losing three units. Curtiss diverted several tank companies to block the Russian push on his left side. Bert moved around the right side of the center town to try to surround it. Both sides lost another tank unit, and the Germans delayed the Russians from gaining a foothold in the town at the midgame point on turn three. A continuing attritive firefight around the center continued to pile up casualties on both sides. By turn 5, with one turn to go, the game was tie, both sides having 11 units eliminated, both sides controlling 7 town hexes, and both sides controlling a complete town, the center town still contested. On the final turn, Curtiss had two attacks on the town hexes in the center, and he rolled a one when he needed it to push out a Russian unit to win by two points. Curtiss advanced to his first Final. The final game was between two first timers for the first time in decades.
The finalists chose AAWBC1r3, which had been played in one of the Semifinal games as well at 7 preliminary games. To start this game, the German player gets to setup and move after seeing the Russian setup. This can be a great advantage depending on if the Russian player leaves any weaknesses that can be exploited. Otherwise, the German player must play with great flexibility in defense, as the Russians push for the hilltop in the center. From the start, John’s German force succeeded in stopping an attack on his right flank by a combined force of Russian armor and infantry. Curtiss rolled several 6’s and missed both his direct fire and close assaults. After two turns the Russians had lost four companies (12 points) and by end turn 3, seven companies (21 points). At this point John had a commanding lead. Russian infantry and cavalry were threatening the hilltop at this point, and John decided, rather than retreat, to defend the hill with his armor and infantry. Curtiss ranged in his artillery on the hilltop and succeeded in blasting the German front line units. In a series of close assaults by Russian cavalry overrunning the hilltop woods, Curtiss was able to eliminate some mortars, AT guns and infantry, while not losing another unit. On the final turn, with the John leading by a point, Curtiss gained another crucial hilltop hex to win by a very close margin. An exciting game! Curtiss became the PanzerBlitz tournament champion on this 50th anniversary year and took home the 1st place WBC wood, the champion’s gold handled mug and a big diorama awarded him by the GM.