Wargame Wednesday: Panzer Battles plus John Tiller and David Freer Interview

Wednesday , 3, May 2017 6 Comments

During the Campaign Series Q&A, John Tiller mentioned Panzer Battles so I went ahead and purchased Battles of Kursk – Southern Flank and David Freer was good enough to send me Battles of Normandy. I started getting familiar with Kursk but was soon sidetracked by the free demo; mostly because of the challenge posed by heavy French Souma tanks against an early war Panzer Regiment. Now I’m getting familiar with the Normandy scenarios.


John Tiller was good enough to answer a couple questions plus I interview the Panzer Battles project coordinator, David Freer.     


In the comments section of my last post someone asked if I preferred Campaign Series over Panzer Battles…


What I prefer about Campaign Series:


  • . The 3D views. If Pz Battles had the same feature I doubt I’d play anything else for a year or so. John Tiller and I discussed the game’s graphics in the last interview and it all boils down to it being labor intensive. If you are good with graphics, love this series, and have free time to donate, please contact Johntillersoftware!  Despite that, I’m finding myself warming to some of the maps and there’s probably an element of getting used to a new interface. 




  • Each Panzer Battles game is a deep dive into a particular campaign while Campaign Series is more universal.  Advantage to Pz Battles for greater fidelity in OOBs, maps, and unique features while in CS you get all theaters of WW2 in one package.



Here’s some of what I love about the new Pz Battles series:


  • Continuous action – allows one to conduct combat and avoid clicking on each report dialog for firing and close assault.
  • Starter tutorials and notes remain outstanding
  • Chance of automatic air interdiction (depending on available air assets) during unit movement.
  • Automatic counter battery fire.
  • OP fire also includes automatic artillery support, especially when a player prepares to conduct a close assault.
  • And more: check out that free demo.


Don’t let the screenshot of the small tutorial scenario map fool you as thought must be given on your advance and decisions made concerning your limited smoke and Engineer assets. Mine fields, obstacles and hedgerows must be negotiated.  Charge forward across this narrow front and you are in for a bad day. In this scenario and the first Kursk tutorial scenario you must close assault the bunkers. If you try to disrupt the defenders by direct fire (screenshot above with disruption caused by 155mm artillery notwithstanding) you’ll never capture your objectives.



For experienced CS players here are a few items to watch out for when playing:


  • Reachable hexes – not in view menu as manual says.  It is the icon just to the right of the binoculars (visible hexes).
  • Column movement seems to be by division only.
  • CTR-T for transport mode but that’s not only for infantry and motorcycle riders but includes armored vehicles. I was wondering why my scout cars were so slow. All units move further in transport mode but will only fire at half strength. Excellent feature.
  • Try to call in your artillery at the beginning of your move. Another excellent feature is the use of spotters. A unit cannot call for artillery support if they have move or fired already. If you wait too long during your turn you may not have spotting eligible units left. Same with air strikes. Another excellent feature and improvement on CS.


I don’t expect Panzer Battles to be to everyone’s taste. It is a full on, old school, grognard game. To play well against a human opponent you’ll have to spend a lot of thought on each move and unit management.  For example, there are OP fire settings and if you leave each unit’s OP fire standing orders on default an opponent will take advantage by drawing OP fire at long ranges then get in close once your OP fire action points have been depleted.


For those seeking an ASL substitute I’d say this can fit but Squad Battles would be the go.  Did I mention that the demo is free?  If you like it the games retail for a little under $40 and for fans of the Mediterranean Front Panzer Battles 3 is coming out soon.


Finally, mobile apps for different platforms (with a free trial scenario) are available here.



Panzer Battles Q&A


Scott Cole:    Based on your comments in the Campaign Series (CS) Q&A I’ve picked up a copy of Panzer Battles. My initial impression is this platoon based game has a more “realistic” feel to the play than Combat Series. I’ve been using AT guns as a litmus test and I’m happy to see they survive longer on the battlefield and are more effective when engaging soft targets compared to their CS counterparts.


John Tiller:     The Panzer Battle series is a result of years of experience starting back with the Campaign Series and continuing for years with other tactical and operational games.  So I think you’ll find that there is a really nice balance to the game.


SC:     What are you most proud of with the Panzer Battles series?


JT:     It addresses the 250m platoon-level scale in a way that I wanted to do for years.  You’ll notice that the maps are enormous.  We have a map creation technology that allows us to make incredibly accurate maps of large areas.  You saw that with Panzer Campaigns and now you are seeing it with Panzer Battles at an even higher level of detail.


SC:     Are there significant differences “under the hood” between the CS and Panzer Battles game engines in programming and computer language?


JT:  They both result from the same C++ development approach and are both based on the Model-View-Controller programming design pattern.  But Panzer Battles is probably a cleaner implementation since it is a next generation development.


SC:     How are the mobile apps coming along? Are you attracting many new gamers this way?


JT:  Yes, the mobile apps are a nice way of putting our games out there for both existing users to enjoy as well as for something easy for new users to try.  You get a lot of trials associated with the free apps and this can translate into the paid apps and then finally the PC-based games where a user has the full capabilities available.  So it provides someone a pathway to go from easy to detailed in each game series as well as giving users a nice mobile version for times when they are away from their desktop.


SC:     David, I know JT Software has a policy of not talking about future releases but I have to ask if players can expect the series to expand to other campaigns?


David Freer:  We have been a little more vocal since we formed the Wargame Design Studio on what we’re working on. Our recently released Demo, available here; showcases the potential of the game system.



SC:    I rave about CS’s OOB (link) in my last post but with Panzer Battles’ focus on specific campaigns my thought is you purposefully moved away from a general OOB concept to a more focused deep dive into the force composition during the battle. Was most research done with primary sources?  


DF:  Yes, we’re very focused on accuracy. We have used primary sources in the main and even have documents from the Soviet archives that were specifically procured for us. We have a real preference to keep our focus narrow and really investigate a battle. If you look at the OOB in the Demo you can see we have German units from different periods of the war and the variation in composition quickly becomes apparent. We actually have some blog posts up on our website that explains the work that goes into building an OOB and a full game.



SC:     Even if you have native language speakers available translation must be a huge task. Do you hire translators or does one quickly before familiar with the terminology on the organization charts?


DF:      It’s amazing how proficient you become reading another language, even if you don’t speak it. We also found Google Translate became our friend – regularly! The great thing is that once you looked at the Organisation charts often enough you understood that things such as Бригада means brigade it became easy.It’s all pattern recognition! The cyrillic is very literal in translation and the letters shown actually convert to brigada – not hard to deduce the english equivalent.


SC:     I love this post from the design studio blog . For Panzer Battles Kursk what were some of books your team found most useful?


DF:     For Kursk there were two primary sources, Valeriy Zamulin’s Demolishing the Myth; The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943: An Operational Narrative as well as George Nipe’s Blood, Steel and Myth. The II.SS-Panzer-Korps and the road to Prochorowka, July 1943 were used for many of the scenarios. We also used a lot of documentation from the Russian, German and US archives to round out our review. An even more comprehensive book was released in 2015, Christopher Lawrence’s Kursk, The Battle of Prokhororovka which is the work on the battle. Unfortunately we didn’t have this when researching the game.



SC:    I’d say it’s a safe bet you read military history for enjoyment and not just for game development. Which historical periods interest you the most and who are your favorite authors?


DF:    That’s a hard one! I read primarily World War 2 with no preference for author. I read many other periods and am particularly interested in the experience ‘on the ground’ – what’s it like in battle? I have just finished a book that covered off a range of first person experiences at Waterloo that were utterly fascinating. That said, my current read is the New Zealand history of the fighting in Crete in 1941 – the Commonwealth countries write some amazing official histories, right down to the battalion level.



SC:    How did you get involved with John Tiller Software?  Were you involved with Campaign Series?


DF:     No – I wasn’t involved with CS. I first became involved with Tiller through Panzer Campaigns Kharkov ’43. It was a full blown mod I had done, which I offered to them for publishing – the rest is history. We’re very lucky to have Berto (Robert Osterlund) join us and he has been coding the latest revisions of CS for Matrix Games and now Panzer Battles for us.


SC:     Are you able to leverage research and data from Squad Battles and Panzer Campaigns or does the different scale and focus require a lot of rework?


DF:  We originally leveraged the Panzer Campaigns map from Kursk but everything else was done from scratch. Normandy was even more bespoke and a prior team had done a huge amount of work which we ultimately replaced as we felt we had more up to date information. All our titles going forward are fully hand crafted to maximize accuracy. The scale is dramatically different between the three titles and that’s why we think they all have a place in the wargamers library.    


SC:     From a Project Manager and game designer viewpoint what are the types of information that usually can (or cannot) be ported over to a new project?


DF:     The great thing with John’s systems is that they are extremely flexible. John has built a games infrastructure that allows us to model season as well as geographical differences extremely well. The more I become involved with these projects the more I realize the ways I can model various situations. A starting point is always understanding the facts of a battle, but more importantly the motivation of the leaders to become engaged. Sometimes, it’s a deliberate assault, other times it’s coincidental that forces meet. All of this can be modeled extremely easily.



SC:     Each hex representing  250 meters was the same scale used in Campaign Series. What do you view the pros and cons in game design for this scale?


DF:      Scale is always important. You have to consider hex scale and time when looking at a simulation. I’m a little surprised the CS system was only 6 minutes at this scale, versus Panzer Battles 30 minutes, as you struggle to get men to march that far in 6 minutes. That said the time and size scale is a great approximation for platoon/company engagements and I find it works very well. At 250 metres you can model a much clearer ‘take that hill/defend that village’ versus the lower Squad Battles games. Ranged weapons come into play and weapons differentiation is one of the biggest differences to the higher scale Panzer Campaigns.



SC:     Are you involved in other JT Software projects beyond Panzer Battles?



DF:    We are involved in a range of projects. Having created the last two Panzer Campaigns games (Kharkov ‘43 & Moscow ‘42) we are still involved in that series. We’re actually looking to relaunch that series with a ‘Gold’ edition with all new graphics, units and a lot of additional content. This is a big job, but its proceeding nicely. We have also taken over another of John’s series but aren’t ready to announce that yet. It’s been a dream of Berto our programmer to cover another historical period beyond the 20th century and John has been kind enough to avail that wish.


SC:     Less a question than a sigh of relief but I’ve reviewed this post on the Panzer Battles Demo and grateful to see that the OOB includes a host of new nations, allowing scenario designers to recreate battles in most theaters.


I’m a minor allied fan, do you have the names of a few minor armies that have made the cut into the OOB file?


DF:    How does Romanians (Axis and Allied), Bulgarians (Axis & Allied), Hungarians, Italians and even Siberians (subset for the Soviets) sound?


SC:     Excellent!! But you’ll have to go direct to primary documents for the Romanians. If not,  Mark Axworthy’s Third Axis Fourth Ally is a must. I was thinking of ideas for a small book on the Romanians that would eventually expand and Axworthy already wrote it!


DF:  We have only done basic research on the Romanians to date – thanks for the call out on the book! The Italians are a different story. I’m very happy with what we’ve done to get them ready for our next game.



SC:     David thank you for taking the time to answer these questions and thank you and the team for the hard work that goes into these enjoyable games.

DF:    It’s a real pleasure – we have a dedicated team that definitely do it for love (we all have day jobs!). Passion is a wonderful thing it drives you on and I’m proud to be one of a pretty industrious worldwide team.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    Going to have to take a look at Squad Battles.

  • Great interview.
    Agree about the 3D map.

  • Mac says:

    Good stuff!

  • Bob Scott says:

    I have the Demo for Panzer Battles but I find the game itself very confusing. That being said I am new to JT games. I have read the menu but still confused. Very hard to understand game fundamentals. Cannot move nor shoot with units. I must be missing something. I would like to get the game but hesitate due to my not understanding the rudiments.

    • Scott Cole says:

      It has been a while since I played but first step is to click on the unit you want to move and fire.

      Best to watch this video as it goes into great depth on starting a scenario, victory conditions, visibility, moving, firing, etc:

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