Kharkov ’43 – PC Game Review
Panzer Campaigns: Kharkov ‘43. PC Game. John Tiller Software. John Tiller. $39.95.
Passed Inspection: Pleasant graphics, excellent sound effects. Detailed strategic scope but easy to learn. Challenging AI.
Failed Basic: The 3D view is uninspiring. Turns can last a little too long.
Almost every aspect of World War II combat is modeled in this amazingly detailed game.
John Tiller Software has released amazingly detailed strategic and tactical wargames which challenge the player without overloading his or her mind with tons of rules and keystrokes. While designing for the wargamer, Tiller has also designed simulations for the military. With this new release using his classic Panzer Campaign game engine, John Tiller Software concentrates their scope on the German push during the Eastern front battles of Kharkov in 1943. It was these battles which developed in to the Kursk Salient and the massive armor battles to come. Battles which saw the German military lose their edge in the East as the Reich was pushed back on itself from three sides.
Panzer Campaigns: Kharkov ’43 comes with a wonderful PDF manual over 100 pages in length. It is well written and serves as both a nice reference source and a testament to the forethought of the game design. While all elements of the manual do not necessarily apply to the Kharkov ’43 game alone, the rules tempt the taste buds of the strategic wargame connoisseur to sample more selections from the menu of this company. I have not been so excited by a selection of strategic wargames since the glory days of SSI’s releases on the Commodore 64 and the Amiga.
The game itself covers the three phases of the battle in a battalion/company size scale were each hex equals one kilometer and each turn is equal to two hours. The game can be played in several different views of the traditional 2D, unit notation counters or in a 3D view with icons instead of counters. The 3D view is neither terribly dramatic nor interesting so I preferred playing it with traditional counters. Each unit is rated for command, mobility, fire power and other factors.
There are over 3000 individually rated units in the game representing everything from German tanks, assault guns, infantry, SS units, artillery, and even Italian units which served on the Russian front. The Russian units feature the Russian Guards with their heavy armor as well as a variety of other types including the dreaded Katyusha rocket launchers whose sound sends shivers down my spine as I’m sure it must have to the actual combatants.
Speaking of sound effects, the programmers really spotlighted the dramatic aspect that sound can add to a game. When your units move by train, you hear the clatter on the tracks and the sound of the train whistle. When artillery fires you hear the scream of shells piercing the air. Tank tracks clatter, and infantry boots hit the ground—kudos to the programmers for exploring the fascinating aspects of sound in strategic war games.
Almost every aspect of World War II combat is modeled in this amazingly detailed game. Units can dig in, limber and unlimber artillery, move by rail, re-organize armored units to move quickly by road (which can become deadly fast if you are attacked while in a road travel line), call in air support both for ground strikes and reconnaissance, lay land mines, etc. After each two hour turn, the computer gives you a complete report of your armies including what units are out of command, re-organizing after battle damage, getting replacements troops, trucks or tanks, rallied from disruptions or routes, etc. For each turn you also have a weather report. The game also tracks the hours of the day and night and how the time of day reflects combat conditions.
The artificial intelligence is incredibly competent without being annoyingly infallible. A tribute to the programming skills of John Tiller Software. For those who wish to challenge their friends to a great wargame, options are available for play by email. LAN play, two player hot seat, or live internet play. Single-player games may be played from both the Russian or German sides.
The game map itself is huge; the hex-based map covers over 95,000 hexes of detailed terrain. But don’t let this overwhelm you; the players can zoom in to specific areas for a detailed view of units and terrain. You can also scroll around the map in both zoom in and zoom out mode.
The only downside to the scope covered by this game is the time it takes for the turns to play out. Sometimes, it takes up to an hour to cover each two-hour turn as you wait and watch the computer move and attack with each unit. This can make a 48-turn game scenario take 24 hours to complete. It does make for an incredible play-hours-to-price-ratio though.
All in all, Panzer Campaigns: Kharkov ’43 is a must for any fan of strategic war games and a tribute to the programming skills of John Tiller Software.
Armchair General Rating: 94 %
About the author:
A college film instructor and founder of Nouveau Cinema Group, Inc., an organization which rescues old movie theaters, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!