Panzer Corps: Grand Campaign ’44 West – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Simple interface, interesting scenarios, nice graphics
Failed Basic: Abstract history, linked scenarios, manual needs an addendum for changes
Slitherine’s Panzer Corp Wehrmacht represented a rejuvenation of the classic “lite” wargame, Panzer General. This refurbishing alone is worth applauding, but the publisher has taken the system one step further by breaking the campaigns in the base game into “Grand Campaigns” featuring a number of scenarios on a topic that was covered by one scenario in the base game. Including the stand-alone Afrika Korps, ten add-ons covering the early war, the entire Eastern Front and part of the Western Front have been released. Are these add-ons just marketing ploys, or do they truly enrich the series? The latest add-on, Grand Campaign ’44 West, may tell the tale.
Coloring the Panzers Brown
Unit graphics in this series consists of angled views of almost 3D versions of infantry, vehicles and planes. Attention to detail on tanks and planes is particularly gratifying as each model can be recognized without resorting to sidebar information, e.g., the distinctive bulge on the Bf 109G is clearly visible. The camouflage painting on some tanks and planes stand out nicely. Strength and experience is shown under each unit and small symbols indicate low supply status. Terrain shows up well on the zoomable two-level main battle map. Of special importance is that trails are distinct from roads. A togglable strategic map shows the entire field with board game–type counters and gold-ringed objectives. Sliding sidebars contain sixteen attributes of units.
Animation and sound effects play an important part in these games. Animation includes flames from engineer units, muzzle smoke from artillery pieces and flashes from machine guns. Sounds include the usual rumble of movement, roar of plane engines, rattle of small arms and boom of artillery. Sound is also used to show upgrades in weapon systems. For example, the attack sound of early Stukas is the whistling bomb; later on, this sound is replaced by the deep-throated rattle of tank-busting cannon. Animation and sound may have a psychological effect on players. The Allied AI begins with a very large number of units. Watching the AI turn, players can be shaken to the point of despair by the lightning-fast movement and cacophony of combat noise.
Game mechanics are simple. Left-clicking a unit shows reachable hexes in white and targets with a red reticule complete with probable results. A right click moves or shoots, with units usually being able to both move and shoot in a turn. Most units can only fire on adjacent units but artillery can fire over two or three hexes; a railroad gun can fire up to four hexes. Planes can attack ground units directly beneath them, or they can attack adjacent enemy air units.
Fire and movement have limits. Bad weather stops air attacks and slows ground units. Each unit has limited ammunition and fuel stocks, so every unit must eventually lose a turn to resupply. Planes needing fuel must be on or near an airfield to avoid crashing.
Combat is more complicated than it appears. Attacker and defender both fire, with the most experienced unit going first. Losses are in strength points, but air and artillery attacks cause suppression, weakening the defense. Special circumstance can also affect combat. Hidden enemy units can halt movement and deliver unanswered attacks. Entrenched units can mount a rugged defense that beats the odds, especially when supported by artillery units within range that contribute defensive fire. Attackers get the “mass attack” bonus when friendly units are on either side of the defender.
Prestige points are crucial to the game. They are earned by capturing strategic hexes and destroying enemies; losing either element costs prestige points. These points are used to resupply units and to buy new units and replacements. Replacements come in two forms: normal troops that dilute experience (and therefore diminish a unit’s abilities) and experienced men that keep the unit up to snuff but cost more points.
Simple though the mechanics may be, winning can be tough. Beginners or veterans who want to play all scenarios quickly may want to start at the lower of the five difficulty levels, which give the player more prestige and experience while giving the AI understrength troops. The middle level is challenging; the high levels are formidable.
Stemming the Tide
Players lead their German core units through fourteen linked battles: Anzio, Cassino, Monte Cassino, Beaches of Normandy, Bayeux, Villers-Bocage, Caen, St. Lo, Falaise, Toulon, Montelimar, Arnhem, Nijmegen and Eindhoven. The title Grand Campaign ’44 West is a bit misleading, as the battles of the last quarter of 1944 such as the Huertgen Forest, Patton’s operations in Alsace and the Bulge are not represented.
Although the game is purportedly at corps scale the units feel like regiments and battalions, unlike the divisional feel of the base game. The Germans obviously can’t decisively stop the Allies, so objectives per scenario are usually just blooding the enemy nose while preserving a player’s core group. A new twist is that eight units of the core group from the ‘42/43 West Grand Campaign can be imported into this game—although the mechanics of this feature aren’t very well documented. New weapons such as the Tiger II, better aircraft and artillery are introduced.
Battles in this series are a mixture of history, abstraction and play balance. For example, the Germans can’t destroy the tremendous D-Day invasion force with its overwhelming air and naval punch. Therefore, the Germans’ objectives are to capture two or more clusters of beach hexes temporarily and then get out of Dodge. The German fixed fortifications are a great aid in this effort, but the point is to get armor in and back before air and naval power chew them up. Allied paratroopers can slow the advance to the beach, but one wonders how those 75 mm guns got so far behind the beach. Players can command Michael Wittman at Villers-Bocage.
Some scenarios have nice sub-missions. At Cassino, a German truck convoy moves artifacts from the abbey to safety; accomplishing this task rewards the player with more units. Gaining a decisive victory in any scenario yields more prestige points, while a marginal victory doesn’t help players at all. A loss ends the campaign.
The Panzer Corps series is the epitome of replay opportunities. Different victory conditions and difficulty levels allow players to play campaigns again and again. An accessible scenario editor allows players to roll their own, and the multiplayer option is easy to use.
Panzer Corps: Grand Campaign ’44 West has the flaws hardcore gamers will find with the entire series: the history is questionable, there is no real logistic system, and combat results are too dependent on the randomizer. Forget all that and accept the game as the entertaining introduction to historical gaming that it is. This add-on just whets the appetite for the rest of the campaign in the West.
Armchair General Rating: 85%
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 dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Grogheads, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad.