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Three Moves Ahead Episode 60: Achtung Panzer and WW2 Tactics

April 14th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 25 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead, Wargames, WW2


Troy, Rob and Bruce participate in the wonkiest Three Moves Ahead ever, as Dr. Geryk makes up for weeks of absences with another tour de force rant. How does Achtung Panzer compare to Combat Mission? What do we expect from a WW2 tactical game, and how do these expectations mesh with reality? Turn based, real time and replay – how do they fit together? Bruce also recommends a bunch of books.

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Achtung Panzer

Rob’s review of Achtung Panzer
Tom vs Bruce: Combat Mission
David Glantz’s BARBAROSSA DERAILED: The Battles for Smolensk, July-August 1941
David Glantz’s Armageddon in Stalingrad: September-November 1942 (The Stalingrad Trilogy, Volume 2) (Modern War Studies) and To the Gates of Stalingrad: Soviet-German Combat Operations, April-August 1942 (Modern War Studies)
David Glantz’s The Siege of Leningrad: 900 Days of Terror (Cassell Military Paperbacks)
John Erickson’s The Road to Stalingrad (Cassell Military Paperbacks)


25 Comments so far ↓

  • Kalle


  • David Brake

    You so make me want to dig out my copy of Combat Mission again. Why are its designers messing about with modern era combat when they could use its new engine and reissue Barbarossa? Hell, I would pay full game price for just, say, 1942 on the Russian Front!

  • Sarkus


    The next Combat Mission game is back to WW2, though they are doing Normandy again.


  • Quinten

    Bruce’s rant on replays made me wish they were in every tactical wargame, especially Close Combat. A squad could get machine gunned, and all I can see of that is a bunch of dead bodies littering the ground in front of a building.

    I disagree with Rob about Close Combat 3. I felt it was the best in the series, and it made tanks feel powerful, but still made infantry important. If you are in a map with houses, you didn’t want to drive a tank past a building without sending infantry inside to clear it of AT guns or troops.

    I am excited to try out Achtung, and the price is perfect. My issue with Close Combat and Combat Mission is the price: Battlefront expects me to pay $20 for a ten year old game, and more for it’s sequels. The Close Combat remakes are similarly priced. I think high pricing for these titles could cause piracy. However, I am a poor college student, and they are succsesful game developers, so they are probably in the right here.

  • Tim James

    I’m masturbating furiously to this podcast.

    Does that make it more or less likely that Troy will do another one on the same topic?

  • Rob Zacny

    Quinten, I think the CC2 vs. CC3 debate is mostly a matter of personal taste. The structure of the Market Garden campaign really fit the way Close Combat structured its campaigns and smaller operations. Just the way the grand campaign fit together was much more satisfying to me.

    But I disagree about CC3, which I felt basically fell into two types of combat: infantry or armor, and armor grew more and more important as the game went on. In any sort of open-country. infantry was pretty much a wasted slot for your forces. I felt the game itself was putting pressure on me to build ahistorically armor-heavy units.

  • Quinten

    I will agree that the later parts of CC3 is too armor focused. I am not up on the history of the Eastern Front late in the war, so I do not know whether this is historical or not. I felt the last couple of campaigns in the game weren’t as fun as the first couple, which I enjoyed more than anything in CC2.

  • Nikolaj

    Great show as usual. I’d like to say that I’ve been missing Bruce, but frankly, I have a hard time telling your voices apart, so I’m never really sure of made which point. I guess I’m not a proficient podcast listener.

    Anyway, I’d love to hear a show on mechwarrior, and get an elaboration of how expanding rules can ruin a game.

  • Mutait

    Enjoyed the show. I’m still thinking about Bruce’s claim about the inherent problem with all RTS wargames (or those without replays). It seemed, like so many of his grand pronouncements, to be either kind of brilliant or kind of obtuse. I experience the problems he describes most in games like the 1C Theatre of War games, which I want so much to like but never quite can because they make you feel too keenly the artifice of being this commander who has the ability to see and affect the entire battlefield in theory, but is only capable in practice of following and microing one or two units at a time.

    I do wish the panel had been able to talk more about Achtung Panzer itself rather than all the historical debates and meta-commentaries. I do admire the game a lot, but I’m still struggling a learn how to enjoy it. For some reason, the game always fills me with a weird anxiety that I don’t feel when I play Combat Mission, Close Combat, etc. — a constant sense that I’ve made some disastrous mistake that my troops will soon pay for. It might be all the dirty snow and the gloom and those noisy diesel engines. And the night operations are particularly scary.

    I hope you guys get a chance to talk about Scourge of War soon. I’m liking it so far, though it can be frustrating in ways the previous TCM games weren’t. I really feel this one banging against the constraints of the engine (revamped, I know, but still sprite-based).

  • Joseph Crook

    Good to have Bruce back! I am ashamed I knew nothing of Achtung Panzer until this podcast. I downloaded the demo, and it is quite different. But so was Combat Mission when it was first released. So I think it is something that will grow on me, as Combat Mission did, and I think I’m about to go for the full game. After all, it’s only 20 bucks, I’ve paid much more for far worse.

    I am of like mind with Troy on the subject of the sound design, I too feel it is one of it’s strongest elements. Everything sounds great, that’s for sure. Still learning the intricacies of the game proper, so it would be unfair to judge the game further at this point, though I do like the “Flavor” of the game’s presentation if that makes sense.

    As for talking about a specific game/games, or talking meta-gaming/historical debates during your podcast (As mentioned by Mutait), I think that you guys are fully aware of, and handle this balancing act just fine. Being a history buff and a strategy/wargamer, I enjoy a good mixture of the two. I feel that if the podcast were missing one or the other, it would not be as compelling as it is. I mean, these games wouldn’t exist without the historical events they are based on. Someone had to be interested in these subjects to make these games in the first place. So pardon me, If I am baffled that someone would want to play any sort of even mildly complex strategy/wargame, and not be interested in the subject matter or historical events it’s based on. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned or something.

    Anyway, in short, I ask, no beg, that you guys do not change a thing. Keep up the good work. Ok, everyone have a great weekend, back to Achtung Panzer!

  • Paulo Gaspar

    Great podcast, as ever. A couple of nails got hit in the head on this week’s show. First, Rob’s feeling of how tanks often seem so fragile when they’re supposed to be vulnerable to other tanks only. I too, can’t shake that feeling.

    Second, the importance of a replay feature in RTS wargames, like Bruce said. Being able to watch all the little dramas that unfold during each 1-minute turn is essential to enjoy this kind of games.

    I have a question, though (only slightly related with the show’s topic). Why does Combat Mission: Shock Force have such a bad rep with you guys. Whenever any CM-related subject comes up, CMSF always gets at least a snide remark. It’s not a rethorical or a “loaded” question – I’m really curious why the panel feel that way about it. I have the game but never got really into it, so I would like to know why is CM:SF has such a bad rep.


  • mutait

    Just to clarify, I’m not at all opposed to historical or meta discussions. In fact, I would have welcomed any amount of rivet-counting, Kharkov lore or general wonkery. I love that stuff too. My problem was that it seemed like so often, just as the conversation arrived at some interesting issue, the guys would start quizzing each other or debating esoteric matters that didn’t really bear on the topic at hand. For example, I would have loved to hear more about the point Rob started to make about how often games that attempt to represent combined arms combat end up forcing players to use unhistorical tactics to win. He’s totally right. It’s a problem I’ve thought about and not been able to figure out, and I wish there’d been a little more discussion. It’s always disappointing how even those games that are the most obsessive about accurately recreating ballistics, vehicular damage models, armor penetration, range etc. end up muffing how combined arms actually seems to work in reality. And I wonder if there’s a way for some future game to get it right (or at least closer to right).

  • Johnathon Carroll

    Comments like Tim James’ make all gamers look like complete twits; not that I’m particularly insecure about my hobby, but finding decent content online where you can find three or four adults to discuss wargaming topics in a meaningful way is almost impossible. Moronic comments like Tim’s just ensure that fewer people will bother. Why go to the trouble of producing a 60 minute podcast, invite learned guests to participate, etc., if all some idiots are going to do is describe their bodily functions in the comments section thinking it is any funnier now than when they were in junior high school?

  • Julian W.

    I’ve been listening for a long time, but Bruce’s excellent analysis of the inherent weaknesses of real-time tactical gaming drew me out of the lurk. It was beautiful and miraculous in the same way that artillery fire hitting its mark from miles away is beautiful and miraculous. Of course real-time games have some strengths as well, but it’s a good thing to step back and look at the weaknesses of dominant design choices from time to time. I can certainly appreciate both forms, but as a person who tends to prefer turn-based systems over real-time systems for precisely the reasons laid out here, I feel somewhat vindicated hearing this argued so eloquently and convincingly. Bravo.

    Also: the history wonk stuff is fun. Keep on doing what it is that you do; it’s the reason we’re all here. The day you start worrying about what the listeners may or may not want to hear instead of focusing on having a discussion that interests you is the day you lose the very thing that makes this podcast special.

  • Otagan

    I agree with Julian’s last sentiment. The draw of this podcast is the ensemble far and away more so than the topic of conversation for the week. I’m sure people will let you know in the comments here if they don’t like what they’re hearing, but I imagine you would have to get pretty far off the beaten path before anyone would start taking issue with the topic of the week.

    In other words, don’t worry about it.

  • Blarghhh

    Just an observation re: Bruce’s analysis of real time tactics…

    Part of the reason there are usually multiple live commentators for RTS competitions is because the observers themselves are limited to the same viewing aspect as the players and are constrained to a small area of the map at any moment and one observer may be missing all of the action and key plays going on at another side of the map.

    You guys (TMA) alluded to this in the Starcraft 2 episode where you suggest that the player’s attention is basically the third resource in that game which is absolutely true and a core part of Starcraft. As one of the players, you may miss the sneaky reaver drop on your peons or expansion grab your opponent just made because you were focused on another side of the battlefield and ignored the audio cues and minimap pings because you made a decision to focus on whatever you’re looking at as being more important at that point of time.

    You can see that narrative unfold later with 20/20 hindsight in the replay when the game is over when you’re wondering how you lost and you see those were the critical plays that you missed that determined the match but during the game, those split second decisions of what information to review and what to ignore and what’s hidden is what makes the game.

    If it were a turn-based game, anything happening to your units in your line of sight and out of the fog of war will usually get reported on so that you can react however you decide at your leisure on your turn.

    As mentioned in the podcast, Combat Mission works great because during the real time phase, the control is taken out of the player’s hands and the AI runs its routines based on the orders given in the planning phase as well as other variables. The players can’t do anything until the replay is over and the next phase begins.

  • Tim James

    The maddening thing about poring over critical moments in RTS games is that even if you have a replay, most of them can only play forwards due to technical limitations with how the file is stored. That makes it hard to look at things closely. But I heard Starcraft 2 lets you rewind, which I think is huge for competitive RTS games.

  • FhnuZoag

    Hmm, I don’t think the panel’s view that tank combat were slugging matches where tanks were slowly whittled down is very realistic. There are anecdotes of engagements between tanks on the Eastern front on places like, e.g. http://www.battlefield.ru/en/memoirs/

    In most of these accounts, engagements are fast, often with single kill shots, relying on surprise and good spotting.

  • FhnuZoag

    I think that real time and turn based both have their merits – the thing Bruce misses is that real time combat models confusion, in a way that you don’t get in turn based strategy. Turn based strategy also doesn’t really capture how the tempo of combat can change suddenly, between a sedate manuvering with no enemies sighted, to frantically clicking to get everyone away from that King Tiger.

    (That said, maybe it’d be interesting to experiment with a game with dynamically altering turn lengths.)

  • Rob Zacny

    Actually, I think Bruce specifically tried to make the point that tank battles weren’t slugging matches, and I don’t necessarily disagree. Tanks guns were specifically designed to penetrate enemy armor, so they usually couldn’t slug it out. Hence, as you say, spotting and surprise were crucial.

    The point I was trying to make is that this doesn’t always make for a great game, especially later in the war, when German tanks can devastate enemy armor (particularly American armor). If tanks are blowing up every time they take a hit, the entire battle can be decided with a handful of shots. If you’re advancing on an objective and a couple Panthers move out of cover and destroy all your tanks in five minutes, well, that’s pretty much the ballgame.

    The nice thing about AP is that the most effective tank-killers of the war aren’t in the game. So armored units enjoy greater survival, and scenarios are less likely to be decided by who spots and shoots first, or who is lucky.

  • Kineas

    Great show and a very good analysis from Bruce. Sadly tactical wargame developers still can’t let go of the realtime format. I don’t know why is that, maybe they didn’t give up all the hope about mass sales yet.

    I remember all the discussion we had on the BFC boards about their new realtime system, back in 2006-2007. We tried to point out that all realtime games suffer from the click-per-minute syndrome (the guy with the faster cpm speed has always an advantage, and will exploit that in many situations). Some said that the new game (CMSF) would be “different”, you won’t miss any important events etc. etc. But practice proved otherwise.

    In my opinion wargaming demands (practically) unlimited think-time.

  • One Move Behind – The Problem with Mechanized Warfare | RobZacny.com

    […] Last week’s Three Moves Ahead was probably the most enjoyable one I’ve done in awhile, in part because it gave me a rare opportunity to get into a really detailed, nuts-and-bolts conversation about wargames and how they model certain aspects of warfare. The catalyst for this discussion was Achtung Panzer, but we ended up going in a lot of different directions, and there were a lot of discussion points that we didn’t quite hit. […]

  • IML

    Great show with Rob and Bruce. I would like to hear more about mechanized combat in the future.

  • tonywkim

    I got Achtung Panzer. I can’t figure it out! I need a tutorial that actually works! I agree with you Rob on your comments regarding tutorials and diagree with Tom that strategy games just need a pdf manual.


  • Rob Zacny

    Tony, with Achtung Panzer it is definitely worth printing out the quick reference PDF that comes with the game. I kept it with me throughout my time with the game. The manual is also pretty short, so it’s not too hard to find the important info.

    But the most important thing to realize about that interface is that it’s lousy at telling you an order has been received. So you need to watch your guys for a few seconds to make sure they’re doing what you wanted. Eventually you get used to it. I’d say the learning curve is nearly vertical in the very beginning, but it gets very flat once you scale that initial wall. It’s worth your time to do so.