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Posted on Nov 1, 2012 in Electronic Games

Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps – PC Game Review

By Neal West

Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps. PC game. Publisher: Slitherine/Matrix Games. Developer: The Lordz Game Studios. Download $19.95; boxed (with download) $29.95

Passed Inspection: A stable expansion to the Panzer Corps universe. Decent additions to AI, terrain, and unit diversity.

Failed Basic: Debatable that the new features warrant the price tag. Difficulty levels make the game too hard or too easy. Earning supply/prestige by capturing objective hexes unrealistic.

Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps is an expansion for existing Panzer Corps owners as well as a stand-alone game for new players. This review will not attempt to cover all aspects of the core Panzer Corps game but the features of this new expansion and some comments on the series as a whole. Please see Avery Abernethy’s Panzer Corps game review on ArmchairGeneral.com.

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Since the original Panzer Corps, Slitherine and Matrix Games have continued to release a series of campaign scenarios recreating the European Theater of World War II. For Panzer Corp: Afrika Korps, however, they have added more than just a new set of campaign scenarios. This time they have taken us to a completely different continent. New in this set are:

  • 20+ new units
  • 24 new scenarios
  • New desert-related weather types (sandstorms!)
  • Ten new Afrika Korps heroes (your Italian comrades have their own heroes)
  • Ability to purchase/reinforce Italian units

Aside from the new scenarios, terrain, etc. players will also find a newly improved AI. Allied forces in Panzer Corps always had a talent for striking that isolated unit, but according to the press release, it now works smarter. Another new feature is changing objectives in the course of a battle. You may start your scenario with Tobruk as your objective only to have it suddenly change to points south of that vital port in order to cut its supply line back to Egypt. This requires the panzer general to keep an open mind and be prepared to alter his lines of operations at a moment’s notice.

But do these new features justify Afrika Korps’ increased price ($19.95 download, $29.95 box with download), given that previous expansions to the series have cost a good bit less?

New Panzer Corps features
The most noticeable new feature added into Afrika Korps is the aforementioned changing scenario objectives. As you are driving toward your primary objectives, you can suddenly receive a message from high command cancelling your original objective points and directing you to do something completely different. An example of this occurred as I was investing Tobruk. I was under orders to maintain control of the siege lines and stop a British relief force from the south. Comando Supremo then charged me with sending a thrust around the British left flank to destroy their ammo dumps. This not only forced me to severely weaken my siege lines but also jeopardized my ability to counter the Allied relief column.

Slitherine also says that the AI in more intelligent than before. While I did notice the AI avoiding the more suicidal assaults in favor of more hit-and run-tactics, some of the old algorithms remain. For one thing, the AI still holds back its combat power until later in the scenario when you have exhausted yourself; not a bad tactic per se, but it does leave one with a vague feeling the AI is cheating somehow.

Other old habits remain as well; throwing cannon fodder in the path of the AI is still an effective tactic. I did this quite easily by throwing an almost dead motorcycle unit in the path of one armored and two infantry units closing in on a victory hex. They took the bait and wasted a turn destroying the cycles, giving me time to bring up reinforcements.

In retrospect, I did not notice any vast changes in the competence of the AI. Make no mistake, the AI does a thorough job in punishing mistakes, but experienced players can still misdirect and delay the AI if the game is in the balance.

The ‘Dark Continent’ offers new challenges

One would think that the vast deserts of North Africa would provide many opportunities for armchair panzer generals to let fly their armored chariots on wide-ranging sweeps. This is true, but it is also true that many of the victory hexes are on the coast—and near the coast is where you will find the escarpments, mountains, etc., that serve as bottlenecks to your tanks. It often takes brute force, in the form of air and artillery, to batter down the Allied defenses.

World War II buffs (or anyone who has seen The Desert Fox) know about Erwin Rommel’s success against the British in 1941-42. What is incredible is that he accomplished these feats on a shoestring logistical supply line. Afrika Korps simulates this by pulling resources, such as air support, at the most inopportune times, which makes an Axis victory even more difficult than it already is. Add those game-changing objective diversions and victory appears as elusive as it was to Rommel 71 years ago.

Time for a truly new Panzer Corps?
The Panzer Corps series is often reviewed, correctly, as a "fun" or "beer-and-pretzels" game. However, the fun you derive is often inversely proportional to the difficulty level you select. The higher difficulty level does not increase the AI competence; it simply increases Allied combat power while decreasing yours. Conversely, the lower difficulties do the opposite: decreasing Allied power, but leaving yours the same. It becomes difficult, then, to set the AI to the level where it remains challenging, but still winnable. This is, I believe, is the most unfortunate compromise in the Panzer Corps system.

You start each campaign with a certain number of "core" units. These core units, if they survive each battle, gain experience and combat expertise that makes them more effective in battle. However, replacing combat losses will cost you "prestige" points—a small number of points for raw recruits, a large number of points for trained replacements. If you have supply rules turned on, then you will use up even more prestige to arm and fuel your troops. Prestige points are gained by capturing victory hexes, and here lies the issue: there are never enough prestige points at the higher difficulty levels. Your units get weaker as they take losses capturing the closest victory hexes, so you replace losses with experienced replacements. Soon, your prestige pool depletes so you fill the ranks with raw recruits that weaken your combat power. Then, you are too weak to capture victory hexes to replenish any losses; the Allies counterattack and begin killing your core units as you spiral down to defeat. If you do happen to eke out a marginal victory, you begin the next battle in your campaign with only a skeleton force of half or quarter-strength core units with barely enough prestige to build them up to full strength—and that usually of raw replacements. Actually, turning off supply and weather rules (which allows unfettered access to your Luftwaffe) is often the only way to give yourself a fighting chance, pun intended, of surviving a full campaign.

Setting the difficulty level to a lower level goes in the opposite extreme; it becomes obscenely easy to roll over all opposition. At the end of the ’41 campaign in Panzer Corps, at the "lieutenant" difficulty, I had amassed over 20,000 prestige points and maxed out the combat strength on all of my core units.

I suspect the developers are attempting to recreate the military maxim that combat power decreases the farther you are from your supply sources, but I think the way it is implemented, both in the original Panzer General series and this modern reboot, is faulty. A better model, I believe, would be to separate supply from the prestige: prestige gained from capturing victory hexes would encourage OKH to reinforce you with new, experienced, units and replacements, while supply would continue to provide fuel, ammunition, and raw replacements.

Still fun, but …

The preceding, of course, is simply my opinion of some possible improvements. While this new reboot continues to build on the legend of the classic Panzer General, perhaps it is time to go beyond tweaking the AI, adding new campaigns, terrain tiles, and units and begin creating a new Panzer GeneralPanzer Corps series that remains fun while adding a bit more realism for the thousands of armchair generals who love this game. Panzer Corps and its expansions are faithful recreations of the ’90s wargaming classic but fail to move the genre forward, which leaves room for new contenders such as Unity of Command.

Armchair General rating: 83%

About the Author
Neal West began playing Avalon Hill board games in the 1970s and is now a retired USAF veteran living in Southern Maryland with his wife of 32 years. He is living history volunteer at Manassas National Battlefield Park, has a BA in American Military History and a Master of Arts in Military History, Civil War Concentration. Neal is a frequent contributor to ArmchairGeneral.com.

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