28 August 2014

PC Game Review: Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps

Chris Reichl tells us about his experiences in the North African desert with the latest expansion to the Panzer Corps series. Does it portray the warfare of the "Desert Fox" accurately, or is it overly ambitious?

Published on 3 OCT 2012 11:35pm by Chris Reichl
  1. world war ii, turn-based, north africa, strategic, online or multi-player, single-player, pc, yes, yes

Publisher: Slitherine

Developer: The Lordz Games Studio

 

 

            “In a man-to-man fight, the winner is he who has one more round in his magazine.”
            ― Erwin Rommel

 

Introduction          

While the epic battles of the Eastern Front, such as Kursk, Stalingrad, Kharkov, are favorites to many World War II gamers, I tend to like the maneuver and thrust of the North African Campaign of 1941 – 1943. Not to mention Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the legendary "Desert Fox", is one of my favorite German generals. So I was more than enthused to review the latest installment of Panzer Corps, the spiritual successor to Panzer General; Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps. This game is a standalone expansion to the already successful Panzer Corps series from Slitherine.          

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The Game

Panzer Corps came out in November 2011 and was warmly received. But this release left some asking: "Why isn’t the North African Campaign portrayed?" The original Panzer General had implemented Rommel’s struggle in North Africa. The answer was: the game's tiles weren't set-up for the terrain of North Africa. So after successive DLC campaign releases, which bring the war from Poland in 1939 to the Russian Front and the final battles of 1945, in April 2012 there was an announcement from the team: North Africa was next. The Tigers would at last rumble across the desert sands of North Africa with more than twenty new scenarios offered to the gamer.

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If you haven't played Panzer Corps before, you don't have to get the original Panzer Corps in order to enjoy Afrika Korps as this is a standalone expansion. In fact, the documentation for both games is essentially identical: Afrika Korps lacks its own dedicated manual and is actually supplied with the original Panzer Corps manual in both digital and physical copies. However, they seem to be addressing this issue currently and a new manual is to be expected in a subsequent update. You can also get the Grand Campaigns DLCs and still be able to play them with Afrika Korps. Though the similarities may be many, this expansion is still accompanied by a tutorial; so if you wish to learn the fine points of conducting a German blitzkrieg you are certainly able to do so. The tutorial allows you to learn just enough in order to play the game, and the difficulty is ramped up as you advance.


The basic concept of Panzer Corps is simple but allows much replayability. You command a force that is made-up of infantry, tanks, anti-tank guns, artillery, fighter aircraft, tactical bombers, strategic bombers, and many other unit types. You are able to control this force, carrying it over from scenario to scenario (in the campaign game), all along the way upgrading them with newer equipment, attaining more experience, and building traits. Traits can increase various modifiers of the commander in question, which range from defense and attack, to initiative and spotting. Your goal in each scenario is to win decisively by seizing or maintaining control of all of your objectives. Depending on the campaign, if you score enough decisive victories you can alter history; but other less fortunate scenario outcomes are also possible. The campaign determines (limits) how much history can be changed. Essentially, that Panzer II unit you started with in 1939 could be the one that climaxes into the King Tiger (Tiger II) in 1945. That fighter aircraft unit that began flying with Bf 109s could eventually end up flying Me-262s during the final days of the Reich.

Your units also gain experience and, in some cases, gain heroes and medals. A total of ten new heroes dedicated to this specific theatre have been added. “Veteraned” units are easily distinguished by their extra strength. Experience also gives your units increased bonuses, such as a a better defense rating, or improved spotting or initiative. In the "Brevity" scenario of the Afrika Korps campaign, I was able to earn three Iron Crosses with three different units—not too shabby. The campaign of Afrika Korps allows you to go from the introduction of the “Deutsches Afrika Korps” (DAK) and the 5th Light Division, to the possibility of raging across the Suez, Arabia, and then into India; or even a thrust north into the Caucasus opening a new front with the war against the Soviets! The possibilities are nearly endless here, but has this diverted the focus of the game?

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The allowance for alternative history is certainly welcomed in a game with campaigns compiled of linked scenarios, but it seems that Afrika Korps has taken it beyond what would even be considered “possible”. Reaching the Suez was certainly within grasp, and even rolling across the Arabian Desert would have been likely—had the Axis diverted more forces and supplies from other fronts while strengthening Rommel’s logistical support. A thrust, then, into the Caucasus might have happened, especially considering the spearhead executed in that direction from the north (Fall Blau)—a possible link-up might have been desired. But from there, reality gets skewed. The Wehrmacht is then allowed to unleash on Iran, an Iran that’s already been occupied by an Anglo-Soviet coalition, roll through the passes of the Hindu Kush and into the Indus River valley (India). The ambition is certainly flattering, but could this be an attempt to make up for the lack of creativity and diversion from reality seen in the Grand Campaign DLCs? A recreation of the rarely covered (nearly forgotten) exclusive Italian expedition in North Africa prior to the arrival of the Afrika Korps, or attempted invasions of Malta or Cyprus, might have served better than the “Alexandrian” trek to Bombay.

Units that are equipped with trucks or half-tracks are easily embarked after a distance—a characteristic most welcome in the vastness of the arid desert terrain featured. Mobile warfare certainly proved ideal in these conditions. You can also zoom in and out using your mouse wheel, clicking and dragging the mini-map with the left mouse button to move about with ease. Your game difficulty options range from “Sergeant” to “Field Marshall”. The “Colonel” setting is right in the middle. You gain marginal victories for accomplishing minor objectives (such as controlling one or two objectives), but if you manage to seize all your objectives you get a decisive victory. Regardless of the difficulty chosen, just marginal victories aren’t going to sustain your campaign—at minimum the occasional decisive victory is often required in order to maintain a viable balance of forces between yourself and the foe. Too many marginal victories—they will advance you through the campaign—will gradually tip the balance of numerical/experience superiority in the AI’s favor. This certainly is a reflection of the historical strategic situation on the continent, as astounding successes were required in order for the Axis to maintain a fighting chance in the desert. Though plundering these decisive victories may be a bit more difficult than it sounds, as the modifiers range drastically from one difficulty setting to the next—a problem not experienced in the previous DLCs/core game. It was difficult for me to advance on the “Colonel” setting. Additional settings of this ambitious game involve fog of war and visible hexes, and various supply rules.

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A nice feature available is the ability to compare your existing unit with a potential upgrade unit, so you can better make the decision on whether or not to upgrade. The ratings for each unit indicate values such as hard attack (versus amour), soft attack (versus infantry and personnel carriers), range, spotting, initiative, defensive values, ammo, and fuel; as well as its cost in prestige points. You gain prestige points through victories: winning your battles in each scenario by defending or seizing objectives.

 

This expansion does offer an improved AI. In addition to this, dynamic scenarios have been implemented—things can change during the heat of battle. This new feature is certainly something to be aware of, because you might find yourself literally in a race against time to achieve the decisive victories you are after—so be ready for the unexpected. The battles change as well, from breaching a defensive fortified line (“Ras el Mdauuar”), to being on the defensive holding on to your gains and waiting for the opportunity to counterattack (“Brevity” and “Battleaxe”). A word of advice: reconnaissance is key in this terrain. You must find the enemy positions, as there is nothing worse than one of your units blundering into a fortified position. “Fortified” is loosely used in this arid terrain. The fortifications comparable to those of Europe are scare in this region, and minefields are used in its stead. Mines are deployable by specific units, which help to better represent the historical strategic situation in North Africa—minefields played a significant role in several battles in that theatre during the war.

 

Dynamic Scenario Example

In the first scenario in the campaign "Reconnaissance in Force" your initial orders are to assume a defensive posture to defend the Italian positions, who have been just routed by the British earlier, Should "favorable circumstances occur" you could be permitted to seize Benghazi, as the British forces are over-extended. As conditions develop victory conditions change, and you could then be permitted to go for all of Cyrenaica. After probes are made around Tobruk you’ll find that the city is well defended and entrenched. You will then receive new objectives: cut-off and besiege Tobruk. These adaptations to the tactical situations presented to the player create a “living campaign”, pushing the boundaries of computer wargaming ever closer to the realistic, unforeseen and unforgiving conditions of actual warfare. It does change the tempo of the game.

 

During all of this uncertainty, you will have to worry about making sure your units are armed and supplied, which can make the difference between victory and defeat. Predicting or anticipating a setback will save you time, making you more prepared for such circumstances. I found myself, at key moments, needing a crucial artillery barrage to weaken an entrenched defense but having to resupply artillery units, and so losing time. There were also stressing times where my tanks nearly ran out of fuel and ammo—yet another variable depicted that was certainly experienced by the “Desert Fox”.

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Additional Features

There are interesting and unique units, more than twenty new ones total, representing the theatre accurately: notably the Flammpanzer, the Kradschutzen unit (motorcycle unit), as well as the Italian Bersaglieri and the Daimler Dingo (which represent the LRDG: Long Range Desert Group). These units will appear throughout a campaign, especially the latter, popping up like sand fleas to attack my units on their trucks or half-tracks, or ambushing recon units! (which they did in the actual war) The game library is also a great feature showing the data, history and specifications of the infantry, mobile, and air units represented in the game series.


The audio volume seems to vary in different areas of the game—I found myself adjusting it time and again at various times (the briefing to be exact). Although, the volume settings are helpful in this regard because there are different controls for music, sound effects and speech. There is also a game editor included. Which was updated recently: you are able create your own battles/scenarios and campaigns. With the new units and terrain tiles it gives you a lot of options. Also, as a turn-based strategy game, PBEM is offered through Slitherine’s PBEM server.

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Conclusion

I have been playing this game since it landed on my hard drive. I find myself looking for a different strategy every time. The new dynamic scenarios make things much more interesting, adding an element not found in many other strategy games. This certainly represents the mobile and back-n-forth characteristics of the World War 2 North African Campaign. It doesn't feel like you're forced to play in the scripted way either. You still have options in how to proceed. Coupled with the urge of wanting to recreate Rommel’s exploits and victories in the desert, marching your panzers east, the AI has also been improved to handle the new desert arsenal. The last campaign game I played I was about to embark on Operation Battle Axe, the second British attempt against Halfaya (“Hellfire”) Pass to relieve the siege at Tobruk. Ah, I love the crack of the 88mm in the morning... These minor quibbles are just that, minor. The lack of a specific manual is certainly a drawback, but I’m also certain the updated Afrika Korps one will be more similar, than different, to the current manual. But with the available tutorial this doesn't take away from enjoying the game, which is a worthy standalone expansion. This isn't just Panzer Corps dressed in Desert Yellow. With the news of the Western Front '43- '45 Grand Campaigns on the horizon, and the eventuality of playing the role of the Western Allies or the Soviets (possibly in the Pacific?), an already great series will portray yet another perspective of the greatest war the world has ever seen.

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Review written by: Chris Reichl

 

 

About Chris Reichl

Chris Reichl has been a gamer since he was 9 years old when his mother bought him a copy of TSR's Dungeon. He still remembers the 1st Edition AD&D and started to play wargames when he was in his teens. His love of history is partly due to the fact his father was in the Navy, and during their many tours he managed to visit Waterloo, Culloden, Yorktown, Appomattox Court House, as well as many castles in Scotland. He is an avid reader and reads anything he can get his hands on from history, historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi. In addition to his gaming activities he also enjoys playing electric guitar and music. Chris didn't get into PC gaming until he had his own computer. He started playing with Panzer General. This eventually led to Wargamer.com, which he has been a member since 2006. His first article "The Once and Future King of Britannia (a King Arthur AAR)" was featured on Wargamer.com in 2011. Chris is currently residing in Appleton, Wisconsin and working on an Associate's Degree in IT as a Computer Support Specialist.

Forum username: Reich36

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