PC Game Review: Panzer Corps Grand Campaign '42 - '43 West
Avery Abernethy heads to the Western Front in the latest DLC for the Panzer Corps series.
Panzer Corps Grand Campaign ’42 – ’43 West is the latest $5 campaign download in the Panzer Corps series. The earlier releases were either the earliest years of World War 2 or were focused on the Eastern Front. The ’42-’43 West is the first campaign focusing on the Western Front. This game can be purchased either as a direct download or as a disk copy for an additional fee. The game requires either Panzer Corps or Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps to play. Like the other campaign downloads, this is not a stand-alone game.
There are similarities to the earlier campaign downloads. You take the role of a German Commander of a combined arms force in WW2. If you win (or sometimes just avoid defeat) you advance to the next scenario. Here your forces start out as a fire brigade opposing landings on the French Coast against raiding British Commonwealth forces. If you are successful, you will fight multiple battles in Sicily and Italy. Like earlier releases in the campaign series, regardless of your military prowess the war will grind on and the German forces will continue their retreat up the Italian Boot.
This campaign has a striking departure from the earlier Panzer Corps Grand Campaigns. In earlier campaigns the player had the option to import their entire core force from earlier campaigns. If the player had carefully built up a powerful and balanced core force, then the familiar units were returned in the next iteration of the campaign. Players can become attached to favorite units, especially those gifted with multiple heroes who had pulled out epic victories in the past. But in ’42-43 West the player can only import eight core units (plus a handful of bonus units if won earlier) into their Western force. The rest of your loyal army stays on the Eastern Front and is lost to the commander. For example, I had thirty-six units in my core force from earlier campaigns but could only import eight units (plus a very small number of bonus units). The nature and composition of my army was radically changed.
The design decision to sharply limit the number of core units imported into this campaign represents a sharp contrast with earlier releases in the Grand Campaign series. In the early battles the player is managing a small “fire brigade” which is rushing back and forth over the maps to confront British raids in France. Often the player in the early scenarios must defend multiple static positions (such as ships, radar instillations, or encampments) which are spaced widely apart. This requires the Panzer General to have a highly mobile force capable of engaging and defeating an enemy task force, and then racing a considerable distance to defend a different set up of objectives. To be successful in the early scenarios probably means importing only the most highly mobile units (armor, motorized infantry, fighters and tactical bombers) while leaving behind less mobile units such as artillery and anti-tank units.
The design decision to allow only the most limited importation of core units achieves a good game balance. Regardless of the power of your ’41 Grand Campaign core force, your ’42-43 West Forces will not be overwhelming the enemy. This design decision makes this Grand Campaign much more challenging than the earlier releases.
Some of the early “fire brigade” battles employ some interesting and challenging AI programming. In one scenario there are multiple, widely-spaced British landings over a very large coastline. Your forces are too small to guard every objective (non-mobile radar instillations or camps) simultaneously. But your concentrated forces can beat any single British combat group. The British attacks come in waves. Some areas that you are guarding never come under attack. Other (widely spaced) objectives will get attacked and must be defended before the radar instillation can be ground down and destroyed. I reloaded this scenario multiple times, both from the beginning and part way through. The AI did not use the same attack pattern and seemed to strike, at least in part, where I had gaps in my defenses. This forced me to engage in multiple task force attacks followed by a swift reorientation of my forces to guard another portion of the map.
Players winning the earlier French raid scenarios will be introduced to the mixed blessing of large Italian military reinforcements. Most of the early Italian battles in Sicily are fighting withdrawals. Your German forces must attack and hold enough objectives long enough for your Italian forces to successfully retreat off the map at specific locations. These are tricky operations to manage. You need the bulk of the Italian forces at least initially to support your German attack and hold your flanks. But if you don’t get your Italian units off the map by the end of the scenario they do not accompany your core German forces to the next battle. This represents a lot of tension. The longer you hold your Italian units in battle the easier it is to advance and hold victory hexes. But if you wait too long you cannot successfully retreat your Italian forces to fight another day.
There is a second big change when you get to the Sicily operations. While fighting as a fire brigade in France you will pick up some (generally) relatively weak German units. As the campaign progresses you go from a very small core force to a substantial army of German and Italian units. The number of Italian units will dwarf your German forces. Unit quality will vary sharply. Your surviving imported core German units will be very powerful. Some of the Italian units are almost useless, while other units (especially the artillery and a few infantry units) are quite useful. A few of the German units you picked up in France are valuable, while others are fragile with little combat power.
Eventually, your entire Italian force will desert you. But you do get to choose a campaign path that allows you to destroy the Italian turncoats. I chose that option and got a lot of pleasure in seeing my former Italian allies get destroyed. I especially enjoyed crushing the weakest Italian armor units which I had nursed and guarded through multiple retreats.
From a technical standpoint the ’42-’43 West Grand Campaign performed admirably. I had a very fast download. My core units imported smoothly. The game functioned without a hiccup. I’ve had similar experiences with the other Panzer Corps downloads and was gratified that this iteration performed equally well.
I found this campaign to be much more challenging than earlier Grand Campaign releases. The designers managed to capture the spirit of operating a small fire brigade strike force in France. They also managed a successful transition to the Italian campaign. They have managed to model defense, fighting withdrawals, and attacks within the same campaign structure. Those playing this campaign will be in for a challenge.
There are a couple of things that I did not like about this release. First, the British raiders in France have way too much armor. It is not historic (and frankly silly) to have more British armor land in France than held by the German defenders in 1942. It also seemed like the Allies got armor technology in advance of their historical appearance. The air defense capabilities of allied units being transported by truck in 1942 and 1943 also seems absurdly high. A deuce and a half truck carrying an infantry unit did not have much ability to inflict damage on an attacking fighter or tactical air unit in the early years of the Western Front.
But if the player can withstand the shock of losing most of their core force when starting ’42-’43 West they will find an enjoyable and challenging campaign. The designer’s ability to make an interesting fighting withdrawal is to be commended. Despite my early frustrations with this release, I ultimately found it to be the most interesting Grand Campaign release in the series. The major drawback I’ve found is the limited replay value of the Grand Campaign. But for the price of a Big Mac and Fries the gamer can get quite a bit of gaming goodness if they enjoy the Panzer Corps experience.
About the Author
Avery Abernethy is Professor of Marketing at Auburn University. He has played wargames for more than forty years.