When I first began discussing my idea for what would eventually become Panzer Grenadier Headquarters a few people jumped right in. These early supporters formed the core data entry team that loaded 1,100+ scenarios into the PG-HQ Library in only 6 weeks.
Most folks I talked to though were unsure or downright dismissive of the concept. But we've got CSW! and But we've got BGG! were common refrains. Lastly, there were the ASL guys who simply sniffed: Cute. We've got ROAR.
So it came down to trust from my core team, hard work, and the hope that once PG-HQ was out there for people to see and try, they'd start to "get it". We believed that we had found a niche, and we were going to do our best to exploit it. The lingering question, really, was how many other Panzer Grenadier players were out there...?
(one hundred and) 40 Days and Nights
Empty databases are little use, so the launch team scraped together 172 records beforehand, fully 45% of which came from Jay Townsend. It was a great launch, we hit the ground running, and we and never looked back: only 140 days post-launch the 1,000th record rolled in.
I've always been a numbers guy, and one thousand records was enough data to start really analyzing our progress. I grabbed a snapshot of the database, rolled up my sleeves, and dove in.
The Stats & Ranks page is kiddie stuff compared to what follows. Grab a cup of coffee and take a seat, this is gonna take awhile...
In the initial flood of new members we surpassed 500 records within the first month. Those first 500 are almost all just people dumping in back plays, old records, so things slowed down after that. By the end of August we had reached a consistent pace of a little more than 3 plays a day. Not bad at all.
When we launched the site and people started dumping in old plays, I became really curious just how far back some of our members had been keeping Panzer Grenadier play records. Patrick McGovern and petermc are anchoring the start of that graph with recorded plays from way back in 2002. For those of you new to Panzer Grenadier, the only "modern series" games available back then were Afrika Korps and Battle of the Bulge. As for that vertical spike, that's our buddy Jay Townsend again. He was kind enough to toss all those records in before launch, but he set all the play dates to the default - January 1, 2010.
I had a few hypotheses in particular I wanted to test before running all of these numbers, one of which was to check if our members were playing more heavily on the weekends. The red line is the flat average, should every day have an equal number of plays. Apart from Wednesday and Friday apparently being pretty quiet, there's really no clear trend as far as days of the week go. Maybe most of you guys are retired?
Must Own, Must Play, Must Discuss
Apart from Sinister Forces and Arctic Front Deluxe, the standalone boxed games are the most widely owned - no surprises there. What's more interesting is looking at the prevalence of AARs compared to overall plays for a given game. This is a great measure of how hot or compelling a game is. Battle of the Bulge gets lots of plays, but they must not be very stirring because comparatively few people are writing about them. Fall of France is burning up, however, with 3x the plays and AARs of its sister 2009 release Cassino '44 despite equivalent ownership.
In the second half of the library, Kokoda Trail leads the pack, with March on Leningrad and West Wall inspiring devoted AARs for every battle. Polish Steel and Black SS were only just arriving in mailboxes when we hit 1,000 plays, so very few people had them in their collections.
As I mentioned above, one of the most vexing questions swirling around PG-HQ's development and launch was how many PG people are out there?
When we hit 1,000 plays we had 259 enlisted members, but as you can see to the left the numbers dropped off a cliff as you delve deeper into the site. By the time you get down to AAR authors, our pool of participants has dwindled to only 37.
From a site admin's perspective, that breakdown is not at all surprising. Now, I certainly would love to have every member out there recording plays and writing AARs, but that's just not realistic. Even so, come January we'll be launching a new feature designed to encourage direct participation with the site. Nothing extraordinary, but it'll serve to highlight in a new way those who drive us forwards.
The Road to Victory
The following section is presented by special request from Alan Sawyer... Out of the 1,200+ scenarios available, about 140 feature situations where both sides can be considered attackers. If we exclude those from our analysis, we're left with:
- Attackers have won 48.7%
- Defenders have won 39.4%
- Draws occurred 11.9% of the time
But that wasn't enough for our man Alan, he wanted more...
It's obvious that if you don't have much time - in this case 10 turns or less - you're going to be hard-pressed to overcome any advantage the defender might start with. For every other situation, however, Panzer Grenadier certainly appears to be an attacker's game!
When sorted by counters, no real trend emerges. That defender-heavy result for 181 to 200 is reflective of a low sample size, nothing more.
One Man's Trash, Another Man's Treasure
Scenario ratings were a core principle of PG-HQ from the beginning, but I was a bit apprehensive about how useful they would really prove to be. If you've spent any time at BGG you know that their 10 point rating system is totally screwed up. The vast majority of ratings are 8s, 9s, or 10s, many of which are added simply after opening the box and looking at the contents. Then you've got so many spiteful, wrathful 1s that they had to develop a Byzantine compensation formula to try and massage the results into something resembling useful data. Lastly, designers get the stink-eye if they even THINK of rating their own work or that of their competitors. In short, a perfectly reasonable rating system has been hopelessly destroyed by a bunch of idiots.
Warily, PG-HQ launched with ratings, but under two restrictions:
- You can only rate a scenario if you've played it.
- Games cannot be rated.
The logic behind the first restriction should be obvious, that behind the second perhaps less so. As a series, Panzer Grenadier shares a core ruleset. Furthermore, apart from maps, the system artwork is more or less consistent. When comparing games within the series, if we exclude rules and art, the sole remaining area of note is scenario design. So, rather than accepting direct ratings for games, we let the scenarios speak for themselves and produce an overall game rating.
In the end, though, if people only toss in 1s and 5s it's all for nothing...
Thankfully, the members of PG-HQ are a sensible lot! After 1,000 plays the site average rating was a respectable 3.22, with a nice distribution curve. I found the discrepancy for Plays with AARs interesting. Essentially, our members appear less motivated to share their experiences if it was a middle of the road scenario - rated 3 or 4. But for either end of the scale - scenarios either awful or outstanding - members are eager to recount their tales.
The red dotted line represents the site global average rating of 3.22 from here on out. Among standalone titles Elsenborn Ridge paces the pack and Guadalcanal brings up the rear. Given how much jungle rules hamper the core tenets of the series, it's no real surprise to see Guadalcanal lagging. What is a real surprise is the discrepancy in ratings between Desert Rats and Afrika Korps. Series maturity and scenario design play roles here, as the former game was released 2 years after the latter.
Aside from the sheer volume of expansions, what jumps out at you here is how many are rated above the global average. Black SS and Siegfried Line are benefiting from only having 1 rating each, so we can ignore those. Among expansions that people are actually playing, Iron Curtain, Fronte Russo, March on Leningrad, and Arctic Front Deluxe are the real top-flight expansions.
In the following series of graphs, we'll examine the popularity and quality of the varying parts that make up a scenario. Series % is the percentage of all scenarios in which that item appears, while Play % is the percentage of all recorded plays in which that item appears.
Off-board Artillery appears in nearly 85% of all Panzer Grenadier scenarios, to no one's surprise. The two areas of note here, are that scenarios with Reinforcements are quite popular, and those containing Randomly-drawn Aircraft are not.
If you're looking for a good time, head for a Minefield? Stay away from Caves? I don't have an explanation for the popularity of minefields, but digging Japanese out of caves is notoriously hard - and apparently not much fun. It's also interesting to note that scenarios with no conditions lag well-below the global average.
Among the six major nations in Panzer Grenadier, the Americans are clearly the most popular - getting played far more frequently than they're represented. By the way, major nations here refers solely to scenario count. Don't bother trying to give me any grief for sticking your country in the next chart...
Red Hot: France.
Remarkably consistent, isn't it? 12 out of 24 nations are more or less pegged to the global average. Among the standouts, New Zealand is the first of that bunch with some real meat behind it. After a respectable 14 ratings it's still sitting well above the pack. At the other end of the spectrum you've got Japan, a victim of frequently unbalanced scenarios, leaving our members less than satisfied.
Lastly, there's poor Slovak Republic, who with 16 ratings is the clear anchor of the bunch. Why do scenarios with the Slovaks suck so much? Anyone out there wanna take a crack at a full-blown PG Slovak Analysis? Seriously, drop me a line. We'll run it as an article.
Battle Types are one of PG-HQ's cornerstone features. With categories drawn-up and assigned by the community itself, they've brought order to chaos whilst simultaneously highlighting the situational diversity available.
Among the major battle types, and again major/minor is solely based on appearances, Road Control and Hill Control are lacking in popularity. I suspect the former due to the inherent difficulty of success. As for the latter, those scenarios do seem somewhat less appealing when compared to more exotic situations.
Among the minor battle types, Meeting Engagements, River Crossings, and Surprise Attacks are quite popular. The avoidance of Bridge Control is interesting. I suppose with bridges typically occupying only one hex on the map, defensive options do tend to be limited.
Rescue is getting a boost here from having very few votes, though I must say the one rescue scenario I've played was a hell of a lot of fun. The love for River Crossings mystifies me. I've had nothing but pain crossing rivers in the Panzer Grenadier universe!
On the Table, Literally
As our analysis draws to a close, it's time to focus on the physical aspects of wargaming - maps, counters, and time. The results below might surprise you...
First, it should be said that titles with custom maps like Guadalcanal and Cassino '44 have been generalized to a geomorphic footprint for this analysis. In all cases this resulted in only a slight tweaking of the areas.
As you can see, 4 GeoMaps is the most common layout - fully 1/3rd of all PG scenarios are 2x2 arrangements. The majority of members plays are to be found on 1 and 2 map scenarios, though. Lastly, 6 GeoMap layouts are popular with Avalanche Press, but clearly avoided by our members.
And yet, all those people playing 1 and 2 map scenarios aren't very happy about it! What a contrast! By our results, any scenario with 5 or more maps is probably going to be a winner. The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn here is people who play the monster scenarios know what they like.
No real discrepancies arise when it comes to turn count. There's a slight preference for shorter scenarios but nothing earthshaking here.
But yet again, you have the lesser played situations earning better ratings. Scenarios 21 to 30 turns in length get less plays than they should, but outrank all other brackets in terms of quality.
And this is where things really get silly. There is a clear player preference for scenarios with lower counter totals, but...
...it's still the monster grognards who are the happiest!
If anything, you've seen the tremendous variety of the Panzer Grenadier series first hand having finished reading this article. Already a decade old, the series still has room to grow. Most importantly, according to the players the series has and continues to improve.