PC Game Review: Panzer Corps
James Cobb gets his hands on Panzer Corps, the spiritual successor to Panzer General. Is it worthy of such a claim?
Like Panzer General, Panzer Corps Wehrmacht defies categorization. The game’s simple mechanics seem to make it a beer-and-pretzel game, but that belies the amount of acumen needed for strategy and purchasing of units. Some commentators call it a puzzle game, but every combined arms operation resembles a puzzle. Abstraction of terrain and scale rule it out as a grognard historical simulation. The best characterization may come from the Flash of Steel podcast that called it a “bridge” game, introducing beginners to historical gaming. Fortunately, Panzer Corps has attractions for the hard-core also.
Familiar Basics Made Better
scale depends on the scenarios. The hexes and unit sizes are functions of the
nature of the scenario, so the scale of the Low Countries would be less than
Graphics are much improved with many resolution options. Terrain has a 3D look and units are clear on the two-zoom maps. Mousing over terrain also tells terrain type. Combat is animated and some units like the 88 lowers or raises its barrel as it switches between its AA and AT roles. Yellow and red icons indicate low supply states. Unit stats and force reserves can be easily seen through sliding panels. The purchase screen also shows unit stats while an abbreviated unit side panel displays key stats of selected units. A toggable strategic map encompasses the entire scenario setting with cities as shaded circles and victory hexes as circles ringed with gold. Two illustrated buttons on the side panel give quick information on the weather and forecast; with clicking on them yielding details.
Sound effects and music are very nice. The voice of the German staff weenie is resurrected to introduce campaign chapters, even though “corps” is pronounced “corpse” leading to a possible zombie surprise.
The mechanics of unit movement are simplicity itself. The non-stackable ground units are selected with a left-click, showing reachable hexes. Mechanized units always have dots in their hexes since they are always combat ready. Units that may use transport such as motorized infantry and artillery have hexes with dots and trucks. If a hex with a truck is selected with a right click, the unit arrives loaded, not capable of combat and vulnerable. Sea and rail transport are possible for units in ports or cities with rail roads. Air movement is similar but dots are red if planes reaching them will run out of fuel the next turn. Paratroops have the special ability of loading into planes, moving great distances and jumping the next turn. Players select a drop hex but the jump may scatter. Sea movement is a simple left-and-right click.
Ground combat usually occurs when a unit moves adjacent to an enemy. A red target reticule appears, giving probable losses for both sides. More details on the combat factors can be had by a keyboard shortcut. These factors are some of the 23 stats for units. The initiative factor is key for combat as the unit that strikes first inflicts damage limiting the second unit’s riposte. Attackers also get a benefit from “mass attack” where more than one combat-ready friendly unit is adjacent to an enemy. Therefore, players should consider moving more than one unit close instead of blasting away immediately. Units adjacent to defenders and artillery within range can add to defense. Other factors affecting combat are suppression caused by ranged artillery or air strikes, terrain and a quasi-random “rugged defense” event. Another event is the “ambush” triggered by a moving unit passing a hidden enemy. Combat results include suppression, strength loss, retreat and elimination.
Several units have special abilities. “Pioneers” use heavy equipment against fortifications; artillery uses ranged fire in offense and defense; Gebirgsjaeger fight well in mountains; submarines are invulnerable against everything except destroyers and may evade those; bridging units allow other units to cross rivers swiftly. The twenty unit classes all have their strength and weaknesses, making success a matter of combined arms.
The six-scenario tutorial campaign and 35-page manual cover most of the basics but leave a few murky areas where players figure things out for themselves. A library provides information on vehicles but not other units. A more comprehensive documentation would have been nice as the manual and tutorial must be used in conjunction with each other.
Of Prestige and Purchases
Panzer Corps’ elements are packaged in 26 scenarios and four campaigns, playable on five difficulty levels. The scenarios can be played as either Axis or Allies and by PBEM on Slitherine servers. The scenarios each provide a different mix of units, both at the start and for purchasing. The AI combines very good defense with opportunistic counter-attacks. A favorite defense is backing-up a garrisoned city with a semi-circle of AA, AT and artillery so that each complements each other. Players must attack such a formation with the right units in the right sequence. Re-play is guaranteed with a very easy editor to modify existing scenarios or to create new ones.
The heart of the game, though, is the branching campaign system. The 1939 campaign covers the entire European war. The two Eastern Front games cover 1941-1945 and 1943-1945 respectively while the Western Front campaign handles 1943-1945. Each scenario has a time limit for a decisive victory by taking victory hexes. A decisive victory puts players on the path to complete victory. Capturing all objectives after the time limit leads to a marginal victory and a less glorified path. Not taking everything by the end of the scenario ends the campaign disgracefully.
This system puts players on the horns of a dilemma. Prestige points are gained by killing units and capturing objectives. These points are used to buy new units, replace losses and upgrade core units that follow players through the campaign. If players choose to grab victory hexes quickly, they won’t get points for by-passed objectives, leaving them with fewer points for the next scenario. Also, core units may miss battles that would give them experience or medals enhancing various qualities. Thus, players must balance time against gaining points. This conundrum is further enhanced by the question of replacing losses with regular troops or spending more points for elite replacements. Further problems arise because operations such as replacements, re-supply and upgrades cost time as well as points. Each scenario has limits to the number of units deployable, so some elements will be all dressed up with no place to go.
Some players miss the North African theater and the
Pros – Fine graphics, great interface, beautiful campaign system, easy editor.
Cons Documentation could be
OS: Windows® XP/Vista/7
CPU: Pentium 4 or equivalent
RAM: 1GB RAM (XP) or 2GB RAM (Vista/7)
VIDEO: 64Mb video card
SCREEN: 600 pixels high
Windows XP home
Pentium(R) Dual-Core CPU E5200 @ 2.50GHz (2 CPUs)
1 GB RAM
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he deals with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online, Gamesquad and Gaming Chronicle.