PC Game Review: Panzer Corps Grand Campaign '45 East
Al Berke is on the defensive as he shares with us his experience with the latest DLC of Panzer Corps featuring the final months of the Third Reich, on the Eastern Front.
- world war ii, air combat, ground combat, turn-based, operational, eastern front, pc, top down, english, yes
Developer: The Lordz Games Studio
Panzer Corps Grand Campaign ’45 East is the latest downloadable content (DLC) expansion for Panzer Corps, a turn-based strategy game descended from the venerable Panzer General series. Ownership of Panzer Corps is required to play Grand Campaign ’45 East, which is the seventh addition to the Panzer Corps dynasty. Players take the German side against the Soviet AI and battle through 14 scenarios on the Eastern Front during 1945. The majority of the scenarios take place to the north in Prussia and Silesia. The German offensive in Hungary to relieve the besieged forces in Budapest is also portrayed. Finally, the culmination of the campaign allows the player to attempt the defense of Berlin against the Soviets. Because the Germans are always outnumbered and under pressure from numerous waves of Soviet attacks, the scenario objectives are varied, with a major branch in the campaign that allows the player to adopt either a defensive or offensive posture.
Anyone who has ever played Panzer General or one of its many successors will be familiar with Panzer Corps. A review of the base game can be found HERE. However, I’ll give a quick summation below. Units represent land, air, and (in some cases) naval forces, that move and attack in any order on a hexagonal map depicting a historical or fictional battle.
As a “strategy” game, the forces are—at best—an approximation of the types and numbers of units actually involved, especially since the player can import an order of battle (core units) personalized from previous Panzer Corps campaigns. Relative force levels are regulated by a limit on the number of units allowed on the map, though both sides have the ability to reinforce damaged units and replace destroyed units. The key concept is the “Prestige” system. Each player is provided a certain number of prestige points based on the scenario difficulty level. Additional prestige points are earned for capturing objective hexes, usually cities or airfields, and winning scenarios. Prestige points can be used to purchase new units, add strength to existing units (replacements), or upgrade units. Normal units have strength of ten, but as they gain experience they can be designated as elite units and eventually reach a maximum strength of fifteen. Replacements can be of two types, “Elite” and “Regular”. Regular replacements are much less expensive in prestige points, but result in a loss of experience points and can only be used to bring a unit back up to the strength of ten.
Each unit is rated for movement, ability to spot enemy units, weapons range, and a variety of attack and defense factors that determines how effective it will be in combat with various units types. There is a definite rock-scissors-paper aspect to the combat model, but some thought was put into keeping the system from being too simplistic. The main differentiation is between hard (armored) and soft (infantry, guns, trucks) units, and the ability to engage land, air, or sea targets. Terrain is also a big factor: for example, infantry in the open is vulnerable to tank attacks, but is much harder to damage in forests and cities. Units attacked while on a river hex, simulating an attempt to cross, have their combat ratings reduced significantly. Defensive fire allows artillery to engage enemy land units attacking adjacent friendly units, while fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft guns perform the same function against enemy aircraft attacks. An initiative rating reflects the relative reach of weapons systems, essentially giving units with higher initiative a “first fire” advantage. The experience rating reflects the amount of combat a unit has conducted. As a unit gains experience it receives combat rating bonuses and can use elite replacements to increase its strength above ten.
Gaming the System
I want to be upfront that initially, I was never a big fan of the genre. The main problem is that I tended to take too many losses and fell behind in the prestige power curve, and ended up losing fairly early in the campaign. Since the system penalizes failure by making the losing branch scenarios harder, frustration set in and I gave up rather than continuing to beat my head against the wall. But here, Panzer Corps has five difficulty settings. I conveniently forgot my past and chose the middle (normal?) “Colonel” setting. I plowed forward in my indomitable style, scoring decisive victories in the first two scenarios. But at the start of the third scenario I had lost one third of my force and had nearly no prestige; losses then followed losses, as I crashed and burned.
I decided to drop down to the lowest difficulty level, “Sergeant”, to test out the differing aspects of the different difficulty settings. Initially, this was great for a guy like me who hates to lose. German units were 13 – 15 strength points with maxed-out experience, and I’ve got 10,000 prestige points in the bank. After doing this I noticed that the Soviets had 7 – 9 strength points, which resulted in them usually being eliminated with one shot. Now it is a turkey shoot, and there are some scenarios where I have taken every objective and killed every Soviet unit with half the turns still left. The good news was that I got through the decisive victory defensive branch of the campaign. The downside was that there was little to no challenge. However, the let’s-play-just-one-more-turn aspect of this type of game kicked in and I’m now ready to try again at the next difficulty level. Lesson re-learned. I have to find the “Goldilocks” difficulty setting in these types of games: not too hard, not too easy, but just right.
HAL in Action
The computer AI is challenging, especially when using multiple units to attack one defender eventually bashing it to pieces. Normal AI behavior is to attack towards objective hexes, focusing on weaker units first. Given that the Germans are usually outnumbered, this tends to be an effective tactic. The most annoying AI behavior is the movement of mobile artillery, especially Katyusha rocket launchers, forward into the front lines. If playing with fog of war, more often than not this triggers an ambush resulting in a “free fire” and the destruction of the Soviet unit.
The Campaign and Scenarios
The campaign features a variety of battles, situations and victory conditions, and the scenarios all have a couple of things in common. The Germans are always outnumbered by the Soviets and must endure several waves of attacking units, which at times can really set the player back on their heels, as per the historical account. About a third of the way through the campaign, I was starting to get a sense of when the next big assault would hit in a given scenario. But even then the size of the attack could be surprising. Since the campaign takes place in 1945, the full gamut of WWII equipment becomes available to both sides fairly quickly. King Tigers and JS-2s can battle it out on the ground while Me-262 jets take on Yak 9s in the air. For the German side, tanks and aircraft that historically never made it past the prototype phase can join the fight.
On the whole, I think that the campaign provides a good mix of scenarios. Most of them feature either purely defensive battles or limited counteroffensives to attain a specific victory condition, such as relieving a besieged force, rescuing pocketed troops or flanking a Soviet spearhead. The first scenario, “Goldap”, depicts a classic German concentric counterattack to “pocket” and destroy Soviet forces attacking from a river bridgehead. From there, the player can choose either an offensive or defensive branch. The fourteen new scenarios offered in the DLC are: Goldap, Pelleninkin, Parck, Laptau, Interburg, Pillau, Konigsberg, Osterode, Poznan45, Breslau, Budapest45, Seelow Heights, Berlin, and Berlin Redux.
The scenario type that I didn’t really care for was what I would call the “bug hunt”, where the player has to attack into enemy territory to locate and destroy a specific number of a certain type of unit: examples include bridge engineers, artillery units and even Soviet generals. At the same time, the Germans have to maintain control of objective hexes, often by defending a city. The decision to split up forces, or even to temporarily abandon the objective hexes with the intent of recapturing them before the end of the scenario, does pose an interesting puzzle; but I have trouble buying into the premise of a medieval type sally to break a modern siege. Cities were often surrounded and invested in for an extended period of time, if they proved to be a “hard nut to crack”: i.e. the Siege of Leningrad. Although, the game has implemented a three dimensional battlefield with several different unit types, so these strong points can be attacked in a historical fashion (using artillery, air, or mobile units), but not in a historical timeframe.
Other than the bug hunts, I enjoyed most of the scenarios. I thought “Budapest ’45” was especially well done. Here the German force races to relieve the Budapest garrison before it is overwhelmed. The “Seelow Heights” and initial “Berlin” scenarios were also good defensive struggles. Winning decisively in the end game scenarios results in flights of fancy rather than possible alternate history or a favorable peace—additionally, the idea that the Soviet Union could somehow be defeated in 1945 requires a suspension of disbelief I could not muster. Though, this late in the war an unhistorical conclusion may have been difficult to achieve, it was far from impossible and therefore the possible grasp of the game concerning the victorious outcomes that are achievable. A greater diversity in scenario advancement and pathways, and a wider scenario tree, would have been appreciated.
Overall, Grand Campaign ’45 East is an excellent addition to the Panzer Corps series. The game certainly focuses on the operational aspects of the enduring struggle, so its strong points aren’t strategic. However, those looking for a strategic implementation of the Panzer Corps series should keep their eye on this mod currently in development: The Struggle for Russia (found HERE).
Considering this, playing Panzer Corps has certainly rekindled my interest to the point where I have restarted a new campaign at the “Lieutenant” (2nd) level of difficulty. Now, part of me is wishing that there was a 1.5 difficulty level. But the rest is saying: “What’s not to like about a series of desperate battles against heavy odds?”
Review written by: Al Berke, Staff Writer
About Al Berke
Al Berke is a retired US naval officer currently working for the US Navy in Singapore. He has been an avid board and computer gamer for close to 45 years and a contributor to Wargamer since 1999. An Air Force brat, he got his start in wargaming in 1968 with Avalon Hill's Gettysburg, which proved to be a complete mystery until Tactics II showed him the light. Al turned to computer wargaming out of necessity after years of being unable to finish a boardgame due to the assaults of the family cats. He is also an avid military history buff, equally enjoying Simpkins on armor, Morrison on Midway and Jablonski on the 8th Air Force.
Forum username: ajb
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