Panzer Corps: Grand Campaign ’45 West – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Easy to learn but still challenging, great replay value, low cost.
Failed Basic: Low historical veracity, inflexible linked scenario system, standard NATO unit symbols not available.
Panzer Corps: Grand Campaign ’45 West is a fun, quick and easy to learn, but hard to master, light PC strategy game. The game depicts the Wehrmacht‘s fight against the Western Allies in late 1944 and early 1945. The followup to Grand Campaign ’44 West, it is the latest, indeed the final, installment of the downloadable content (DLC) expansion packs to the venerable Panzer Corps game. As an expansion, ’45 West requires either the basic Panzer Corps or Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps to play.
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’45 West features five new units including experimental airplanes such as the Gotha jet airplane and the V-1 and V-2 Vengeance Weapons (Vergeltungswaffe). There are also 18 new historical scenarios: St. Vith, Elsenborn Ridge, La Gleize, Houffalize, Celles, Bastogne Siege, Bastogne Assault, Nordwind, Colmar Pocket, Wesel, Ruhr Pocket and End on the Elbe. Also there are 6 new counter-factual (what-if) scenarios: Liege, Antwerp, Brussels, Gates of Berlin, Dunkirk45 and Sealion45. Sadly, the player may not enter into the individual scenarios, but must play through the campaign to reach the later ones.
On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched OPERATON WATCH ON THE RHINE (Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein), attacking a weakly defended part of the American line in the Ardennes Forest with 200,000 men and over 600 tanks and other armored vehicles. The plan was to break through the Allied lines to the port of Antwerp, cutting off four Allied armies and forcing the Western powers to make a separate peace with Germany.
After some initial German successes, the American’s stubborn defenses of St. Vith and Bastogne stalled their plans. Patton’s Third Army turned 90 degrees, attacked the German’s left flank and relieved the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne. The Wehrmacht never crossed the River Meuse and did not even approach Antwerp. By the end of January 1945, the battle was over and the Germans, for no gain, had thrown away their carefully husbanded ground force reserves and the Luftwaffe was a broken force.
After that, the Western Allies fought into Germany, breaching the German’s vaunted Siegfried Line and crossing the Rhine at Remagen. There was hard fighting inside Germany, especially in the Ruhr valley. After that the war was all but over. The Americans and British met the Soviets at the River Elbe and the Western leaders let the Russians pay the price to take Berlin.
’45 West looks excellent. The interface is clean and easy to use. The battlefield graphics are also nice and clear. No guessing if your unit is in a city, forest or in the open. The sight and sound of the explosions, gunshots, cannons firing, etc are all well rendered. The unit icons really pop off the screen and have some good details as well (the player can just look and see the difference between tank models, or airplane types). However, a minor nit to pick here, having the option to switch from the picture icons to the standard NATO unit symbols would have been a great option for some (of us) old grognards.
As an expansion pack, ’45 West follows the game mechanics of its main game. It is turned based, “I go, you go” (IGOUGO) game. The player selects his units with a mouse click, this click reveals the movement range and any attacks that unit may make. Before movement a unit may also be reinforced, replaced or resupplied. After the player has made all their moves and attacks, then the AI has its chance to play.
Units have ratings for movement, detection of the enemy, range and attack types. Different units have different abilities; artillery makes ranged attacks and adds its defensive fire to nearby friendly units. Aircraft can fly long distances to scout and attack ground units, they also fight other air units. Armored and infantry units may attack adjacent enemies, but the tanks move further and usually hit harder. Terrain affects combat; for example, infantry in the open are very vulnerable to air and armored assaults, but much less so in urban or forested hexes. As units are attacked or attack, their strength goes down, shown in numbers below the icon, as is the supply status.
Anyone who has played a hexed-based PC wargame would be able to play this game (or any of the other Panzer Corps games) with little more than a quick look at the rules and the interface.
The heart of the game’s concept is the “prestige points” system. Players are given prestige points based on the scenario’s level of difficulty. Taking victory hexes and winning games gives the player more prestige points, which are than spent to replace and upgrade units. However, losing units and scenarios is punished by the loss of prestige and the player is put on a path of harder scenarios. In short, losing one battle in the campaign makes winning the next one that much more difficult. With five difficulty levels (Sergeant, Lieutenant, Colonel, General, Field Marshal) finding the best one to challenge the player’s ability without raising their frustration level is not easy. However, the prestige system and the difficulty settings give the game a lot of replay value. Lose badly at the “colonel” level, dial the setting down and try again. Find the “lieutenant” setting a cake walk, go up to “field marshal” and see how you do.
Strategy? Yes. History? Not so much.
The AI is no pushover and is pretty smart; attacking when it can and retreating when it must, but it is no “Patton.” Generally, it will go after weaker units first and try to launch multi-unit attacks against single friendly units. But it rarely, if ever, does it seem to go for the deep penetration, or wide flanking move.
While the game uses the Western Front in 1944-45 as a template, its relationship with the units that actually fought there is merely a nodding one at best. The player has the ability to grow and then import a core set of units into the scenarios, essentially demolishing any resemblance to actual history pretty quickly. Not that that diminishes the game as a game, but if the buyer is looking for an accurate simulation of the Second World War, they should look elsewhere.
Panzer Corps: Grand Campaign ’45 West is a fine and fun final expansion pack to Panzer Corps (or Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps). If the player already owns the basic game, then they know what to expect and this pack delivers very well on that expectation. With 18 scenarios at a mere $4.99, PZGC ’45 West is a great value for your game-buying dollar.
Armchair General Score: 87%
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee working on games and simulations for training. He cut his wargaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He has Bachelors’ degrees in Education, History and Political Science. He just earned his Masters in European History and has decided to use all his education to play more games and bore his family.