20 October 2014

PC Game Review: Panzer Corps Grand Campaign '44 East

New recruit Avery Abernethy tries to hold back the Russian hordes using new weapons in yet another expansion for the Panzer Corps series.

Published on 29 JUN 2012 2:04am by Avery Abernethy

Publisher: Slitherine

Developer: The Lordz Games Studio

 

The Grand Campaign ’44 East expansion for Panzer Corps is a $4.99 download (more for a physical copy) of additional missions on the Eastern Front in 1944. The expansion is designed to import the experienced forces the player developed from the earlier ’39, ’40, ’41, ’42 and ’43 expansions. Order processing was somewhat slow (1:30) and it took about six and a half minutes to download the 373mb file. Installation took less than fifteen seconds. The purchase and installation was satisfactory.

I had two core forces available, one easy difficulty and the other medium. I imported the medium difficulty force with 54 units. My imported core force was balanced, experienced, and easily imported into the first mission. 

My key core units were 5 FW 190A fighters, 3 ME 410 tactical fighter/bombers, 4 towed artillery, 2 Hummel tracked artillery. My armor were Tiger I tanks with a smattering of Panthers. Infantry were 3 Wehrmacht, 3 Pioniere, 1 Grenadier and 3 Gebrigsjager units. My special elite bonus units (which do not count towards the core unit cap) totaled three armor and four infantry (Gebrigsjager and Gernadier). All infantry and towed artillery used halftracks. Although I had two surviving recon units, they were never deployed in battle. Recon units are too weak to survive in 1944. I prefer armor to anti-tank units, and fighters and figher/bombers to anti-air.   Almost all units were four or five stars with a scattering of three stars. Players lacking a sufficiently balanced and experienced core force will find it very difficult to win ’44 East. Excepting the heavily entrenched Polish forces in the Warsaw Uprising, your German forces will be heavily outnumbered on the ground and in the air. 

 

Two major upgrades are possible as you play through ’44 East: Tiger II tanks and ME 262 fighters. I got access to Tiger IIs midway through the expansion and ME 262s became available in the last battle in Budapest. Both represent significant combat upgrades costing a lot of prestige. A big prestige bank account is needed to take advantage of these upgrades.

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Sufficient experienced fighters are essential. Having enough towed artillery and infantry is also vital. The Tiger tanks are the most survivable, and all-around powerful unit on offense and defense. By 1944 my force was heavily over-weighted to armor. But an all tank and fighter force probably could not succeed against heavily entrenched infantry and anti-tank units.

Eleven scenarios are available during any play-through. After the first two scenarios (“Korsun Pocket” and “Breakout”) players have the option of taking the “Northern” or “Southern” areas. I chose “North” because the hapless Romanian forces have been a war-long irritant. Both routes have one optional battle. There is not a 100% overlap in northern and southern route battles, but nor are the two paths totally different. Many battles overlap. So the two paths provide only limited replayability.

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There is one completely optional battle: a raid deep behind Soviet lines to destroy US/British bomber bases in the Ukraine. Because this briefing stated that I could not take my air force, I declined the battle. The risk of losing core units with no fighter cover was just too great for me.

Players don’t have to win every battle to advance. But some battles require at least a minimum victory or it is game over. Most battles limit your forces to around 33 units plus any special elite units you have acquired. For most battles I deployed 40 or so core units. Players lacking special elite units earned earlier in the war (or who lost them in combat) will be at a significant disadvantage in ’44 East.

Usually the player is the defender, or must defend initially, until enough Russian units are destroyed to enable an advance to capture target hexes. The June 27, 1944 Babruysk battle is a good example. The Russians have a huge superiority of ground and air forces—but the player is required to go on the offense and capture key hexes. I was on close to “total defense” for the first half of the battle and only went on the offensive when I had ground down the Russian land forces and eliminated the Russian air force.

This is the key strategy to ’44 East. Even when you are on the offensive, the player often must stay on defense long enough to whittle down the Russians to a manageable number. The AI will try to use their superior forces to work their way around your flanks. Keeping flanks defended and avoiding encirclement is vital. Encircled units cannot reinforce, resupply, and can easily be attacked multiple times in a turn. Even the mightiest Tiger II will fall if it cannot reinforce or resupply when attacked in one or two turns.

German air power must be used cautiously in most scenarios. I usually kept my air units behind the immediate front lines—using it to counter-attack Russian air units. I killed fighters first, before working on bombers. By declining to fly beyond the front lines I limited damage from the swarms of Russian AA units. Blunder too far beyond what you have spotted, especially for fighter-bombers, is asking for a wave of ground AA and air assaults which can send even the most experienced and over-strength air unit tumbling out of the sky. Russian air superiority, in almost every scenario, is a constant threat to mounted infantry units and tracked artillery. Hummels and halftracks hate air attack! Only after clearing the skies of Russian fighters did my tactical aircraft range ahead of the front lines.

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Because of my numerical inferiority and very large maps requiring careful flank management, I often had to be cautious staying on defense for many turns before taking the offensive. Decisive victories were often earned with only one or two turns left. ’44 East is the hardest add-on campaign yet.

This difficulty is also reflected in your pre-battle briefings. Time-after-time my Panzer Corps had smashed the enemy, but were told that my fellow generals (or the next-to-useless Romanians and Italians) had been defeated again; forcing me to retreat ever closer to the Fatherland for the start of the next battle. Regardless of your skill, you are not going to knock the Russians out of the war.

The “Strachwitz Offensive” had the single most difficult offensive terrain I’d faced during the entire war:   large swamps, a useless road net, impassible rivers, and many smaller rivers which held up movement. Add in swarms of Russians, and you have an offensive operations nightmare.

 

I enjoyed ’44 East. It was most certainly the most difficult add-on yet. The six different difficulty levels should enable any player to find a challenge. For $4.99 it is a fair, but not a great value. You get a number of professionally crafted linked battles. But there is limited replayability. Buying the entire expansion through to ’45 East would set you back $35. If you liked Panzer Corps and want professionally crafted and balanced expansions, they are a reasonable value. Overall, I rate ’44 East an “80.” It is fun and challenging, but lacks much in the way of replay value.

 

Review written by: Avery Abernethy

 

 

Avery Abernethy

Avery Abernethy is Professor of Marketing at Auburn University. He started playing Avalon Hill war games at an early age. He plays a variety of computer war and RPG games. Avery is also an avid bird hunter and clays enthusiast.