Title: Panzer Corps
Release Date: July 10, 2011
Publisher (Developer): Matrix Games and Slitherine.
ESRB Rating: “Everyone” (no Nazi or SS references)
Pros: Easy to learn, simple interface, hard to stop playing once you start, you don’t have to be a serious wargamer to appreciate.
Cons: Very similar to an old game, Panzer General, serious wargamers might object to simplicity and ahistorical elements.
Overall Score: Two thumbs up, A, 93/100, * * * * * 1/2 out of 5
When it comes to reviewing Panzer Corps in 2011, there’s one huge elephant in the room: Panzer General, from 1994. I’m going to shoot that elephant first: If you played and loved Panzer General, then you need to get Panzer Corps. Yes, it’s just about the same game but the design has aged well and all the ideas that made Panzer General great are here, with (admittedly small) updates.
For everyone else, let’s take it from the top. Panzer Corps is a turn-based wargame set (at least for single-player) entirely from the perspective of the Wehrmacht in World War II (WW2). It’s a brilliant idea, as it pits the player as the aggressor. Artificial intelligence is always going to play a better game on defense and, just by forcing the player to generally be on the offensive, the game generally is going to be better. You can play starting in 1939 and cover the whole war, or start in later, more difficult scenarios, dealing with the Allied invaders as they press on every front.
I Got Your Tanks Right Here
Your army potentially covers a wide range of the basic troops and the main joy of the game is assembling your own personal army to fight the various battles. Your initial army has a few units but you’ll quickly want more, paying with prestige points, the currency of the game, granted for achieving objectives.
There are many types of infantry (from basic to mountaineers to heavy weapons to even cavalry), tank, anti-tank, artillery, fighters, tactical bombers, strategic bombers and anti-aircraft units. There are additionally a few other unit types (like ships, pillboxes and radar) that you can’t actually have in your personal army, but most battles will provide some auxiliary troops which you can also control, for that particular battle. Look at that screenshot again: There are so many types of tanks there’s a scroll bar to show them all, and that’s just for the Germans! Other countries likewise get detailed treatment.
Using your army well is key and this is where gameplay shines. Combined arms are the order of the day, as you must carefully organize your attacks to pick apart the enemy’s extensive defenses. Taking a city with your great tanks is risky and expensive, so there’s a temptation to use cheaper infantry but infantry are hard pressed to defeat determined defenders. You might want start with air attacks against the city defenders but anti-aircraft positioned behind the city might make that difficult. You can bring up artillery to stifle the batteries but then your valuable artillery will take damage from defending artilley and so the unit types come into play every turn. It’s very difficult to manage a successful campaign if you lack any part of combined arms.
World War II is the first war to see vast and fast improvements in technology The tanks of 1939 are woefully inferior to the tanks of a few years later, or by the end of the war, and the same could be said of the other unit types. As you build your army, you’ll have to choose between cheap minor upgrades or to pay for an overall superior design (eg, going from an early model panzer hull to a panther or from a BF109 to an FW190). Even infantry get a major upgrade in 1943, and this constant drive to upgrade and modify your army only adds to the fascinating play. Units also gain experience during play, as well as heroes granting special bonuses.
When There are No More Lands to Conquer
The battles cover the classics of World War II in Europe. You start with a simple invasion of Poland, then come back to France and onward through the rest of Europe and Russia (no Africa, unfortunately). Each battle has you on the clock: Finish quickly (a decisive victory) and you’ll get access to optional battles. For example, if you defeat France quickly enough, you’ll get to invade England, knocking them out of the war. I wish some of the bonus battles were just optional. You’re actually forced to invade England even if you don’t want to. Similarly, you’ll have the chance to capture Stalin if you can capture Moscow quickly enough, which will make things much easier when it comes time for the Normandy invasion. Fight off the invasion and you’ll be able to invade the United States, desperately trying to conquer the entire country before nuclear weapons are invented.
These battles dramatically change from what happened historically and I rather wish the game gave you more options for picking your next battle, allowing you to win decisively and still follow history, more or less. On the positive side, some ahistorical units come into play (like the Maus, a super-heavy prototype tank) for these “what-if” battles. Serious wargamers might have an objection to violations of history, but Panzer Corps really isn’t a serious game and WW2 been done enough that I don’t mind a bit of effort going into making some new scenarios and combat units.
The Best New Game I Played to Death a Decade Ago
For all that this game is a copy of an older game, I found myself playing through most every scenario and campaign multiple times, trying to maximize my prestige points and minimize my casualties. In its day, Panzer General was the best introductory WW2 game around and Panzer Corps is a worthy upgrade and addition to the genre.