Panzer Grenadier Battles on February 20th:
An Army at Dawn #32 - Kasserine Pass: Gore Force Nihon Silk #2 - Koepang, Day One
An Army at Dawn #33 - Kasserine Pass: Egged On
What's with the Medals?
by Matt W, 2011-11-10

Writer Bio: Matt W

headshot of MattW

Matt Ward is, he tells us, 54, married with two children, living in Virginia and works in US healthcare finance, an arcane field at best. He swears that he went to college and graduate school but this being the Internet he might actually be 15 and living in a basement somewhere.

He protests that he is not technologically savvy so photographic proof must wait for another day (Shad's Note: likely photo has been included), and with photoshop we have to be concerned about such "proof" anyway.

His first game was the AH chestnut Afrika Korps, and now over 300 games later he has joined us as Matt W (cleverly hiding his real identity).

If you are like me (and a whole bunch of you are based on a review of your profiles) part of the fun of the PG series of games, supplements and whatevers is sitting down with the close to 1,500 scenarios and trying to figure out which one to play next. I have spent entire evenings reading through scenario descriptions and force compositions trying to figure out which one I should play next. Most of the scenario booklets have little stickies on them with scenario numbers and notes as to which ones can be played on which playing surfaces that I own. I had developed my own process of monitoring my progress through these "selected" scenarios prior to PG-HQ's existence.

Given the extent of my collection of PG which currently includes all available titles with the exception of the original Airborne and Panzer Grenadier itself I have piles of scenarios books (actually, now it's a bookshelf with two shelves reserved for PG titles), each with that little yellow reminder of what I promised myself I would get to one day. Those little yellow notes mock me with their quiet admonition, "you promised..." With my children grown into teenagers my guilt is now piled on by inanimate objects...

An artist never really finishes his work;
he merely abandons it.
~Paul Valéry

For the foreseeable future it appears as though those of us who play PG are doomed to watch the number of scenarios increase faster than our ability to play them. During 2011 we have seen, Winter Soldiers, Power of the East, the new and improved, third edition of Airborne, Carpathian Brigade, Little Saturn, and Go for Broke. That's 128 new scenarios in a less than 8 months, and that doesn't include Nihon Silk or Kursk (either flank). This is not, however, the end of the line for the series as there is plenty still to game (e.g. Sicily, Crete, Sevastopol, virtually all of 1942 on the Eastern Front, the big China game).

This means that any mortal with a job and other responsibilities is likely to see the number of unplayed scenarios increase well beyond their capacity to play the darn things. At this point, I've played over 100 some scenarios and seeing the finish line continue to recede into the distance could be very disheartening. Indeed, even if I only played a third of the scenarios as being physically feasible (I have trouble tabling a scenario that is larger than 6 boards) and vitally interesting from an action and force standpoint, I am still looking at a multi-year project to catch up to my initial goal line even if PG stopped being published today. If I was prone to despair I would follow Valery's path and abandon the work.

Humor is... despair refusing to take itself seriously.
~Arland Ussher

Yet through it all there is the idea that there is something to pursue other than a rapidly vanishing end point. Based on my current speed of about 7-8 scenarios a month, I will need another 15 years of playing nothing but PG to finish all the scenarios. As I have more than 300 games stored carefully around the house I don't think that's likely to happen. I have another 5-6 years just to finish those scenarios that jumped off the page at me. There has got to be another way to achieve something, right?

Along came PG-HQ with the ability to gain ranks as one completes scenarios and then, with the bounty system, a way to get credit for boldly playing what no man has played before, or at least writing something up about it (apologies for Star Trek fans but this is a universe, right?). That made it all worthwhile even if the ranks and the bounties were only for the consumption of others who were afflicted in a similar manner. Now the residents of the mad house knew that there were people who were as seriously warped as they and were willing to show it to the world.

It was comforting to see that JayTownsend or beast013 were playing more often than I. That gave me the ability to tell my wife that I wasn't as absorbed as she thought. But yet there was that nagging feeling at the back of my mind that I was still chasing an unattainable dream. And then I saw the medals.

"How silly," I said to myself, "why would anyone play a bunch of less interesting scenarios just to get a medal for completing all of the scenarios in a particular product?" My wife and kids chimed in with the answer, "Well at least you'd be done, wouldn't you?" I sat, dumbfounded.

This was an Archimedes in the bathtub moment. While I didn't run through the streets of the city (I live in a suburb), naked (not only against the law, but in my case, decidedly less than attractive), screaming "Eureka!!" (Noise ordinances abound), but I went back and looked at the number of scenarios in any single product. Of course, Eastern Front Deluxe is the granddaddy of the series with 112 scenarios, followed by Road to Berlin at 75, but all of the products were of a level that would permit completion in a matter of months, rather than years.

I had followed GeneSteeler's quest through Blue Division with a bit of confusion and was happy for him when he reached the end as it permitted him to focus on other, perhaps more entertaining scenarios. After this epiphany, however, I went back and reread many of his AARs and found that some of the scenarios that I had passed over in my review of the supplement were riveting affairs with swings of fortune well beyond what I had expected. Obviously, my reviews didn't capture the essence of the scenarios. There was something beyond the written word that could enhance the experience.

It's annoying to be disapproved of by people who know only half the story - especially when you're not sure which half they know.
~Robert Brault

Immediately after my epiphany I was given a chance to playtest a product and became aware that scenarios are not just thrown into the book to reach a magic number (regardless of the number of 10 scenario supplements that Mike Perryman has written) but that there is a story being told by the designer and crafted by the developer. By picking and choosing from amongst the scenarios we are showing a certain level of disrespect to the product itself. An expected disrespect in that in tactical games selection of scenarios is one of the joys, but a disrespect nonetheless. By skipping over those small infantry battles, or the clearly one sided affairs, we are missing a portion of the story being told.

Upon my completion of the playtesting (you don't really finish, see the first quote above...) I decided that I would try out this idea of finishing one of these products. I reviewed my collection and saw that, under my physical constraints some games would be impossible to finish at this time, while others were well within my capabilities (at the time I was constrained to a four board scenario limit). (Editor's note: some constraint! That's over 1,200 scenarios, Matt!) Of those with four boards or less I looked to see which ones had a number of scenarios that I wouldn't otherwise play. First Axis rose quickly to the top of the list. I had played several of the Hungarian conflict scenarios and found them to be more interesting than I had felt going in (I had an original thought that I should play at least one scenario from each game and supplement – which remains a driver as well). I therefore girded my loins (which literally means putting on your underwear, I was thinking more of the armoring process) and entered a three month (plus a little) project to complete all the scenarios of First Axis.

Over that three month period I found that there was far more to be said about the Slovak experience in WW II than was apparent in the scenarios and the historical material included in the book. The Slovaks were undergunned, undermanned, poorly led and of fair to middlin' morale, but they fought on and on against a broad canvas of the armies of WW II. They fought from March of 1939 to the end of the war in 1945. I got to the point that I could see the whole story being told, not just the half that I had seen through the words on the page. You could actually feel the enthusiasm of the early war turn into demoralization as the Slovaks were pushed back in Russia, to, finally, desperation as they fought for their freedom from the collapse of the Axis.

I became familiar with their leaders, especially the fascist ideologue, Rudolf Pilfousek, who was a terrible battlefield commander and whose mark was invariably seen in the early Soviet conflict. I could find a way to let the Slovaks "succeed" through my familiarity with their tactics and weaponry that I never would have if I had months separating the scenario plays from each other.

The obscure we see eventually.
The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.
~Edward R. Murrow

Most importantly, however, I believe that in playing all the scenarios I gained a great appreciation for the work of the designers and developers in that there were insights into the Slovaks which were well under the surface of the printed product. In supplemental reading (mostly online as there is little printed material on the Slovak experience in WW II), my findings through playing the scenarios reflected reality. There is a reason that the scenarios are what they are, in the order that they are and that they have not been thrown together just because they use the same units. These are printed materials and the game designer is, indeed, an author. It seems odd to finally understand that they might be telling a story.

Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.
~Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland

So where do we go from here? Should we stop picking those really fun-looking scenarios? Of course not! We play these games for a number of purposes and one is obviously to have fun. But when it seems as though you've played a bunch in a supplement and "finishing" it is within reach, do it. Then look back at what you felt about the scenarios and be a little surprised at what you may have learned.

Oh, and you'll get a shiny new campaign ribbon.

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