Review: Order of Battle: Blitzkrieg

By James Cobb 10 Nov 2016 0

Review: Order of Battle: Blitzkrieg

Released 10 Nov 2016

Developer: Matrix Games
Available from:
Direct
Steam
Reviewed on: PC

The 1994 release of Panzer General showed how operational and tactical gameplay could be combined. Extremely popular, the original game was followed by five sequels. In 2011, Slitherine updated the Panzer Corps engine with better graphics and some tweaks. Soon, this game added new periods and theaters of war with fourteen campaigns covering the European theater in a different scale and time periods.

Want to read more in-depth about Blitzkrieg's Specialization system and import tools? Read our pre-release special here.

In 2015, The Artistocrats and Slitherine developed and published Order of Battle: Pacific, another in the now long line of Panzer General’s progeny. This series of four campaigns took a more detailed look at conflicts in the Pacific and China. This game morphed into Order of Battle: World War II when the scene went to Finland with the Winter War DLC. Now the series hits the well-trodden trail of the war in Europe with the Blitzkrieg DLC. Are there enough new features here to make purchasing another European campaign game worthwhile?

Following the Panzers

As with the other games in the series, the graphics are luminous, colorful and useful. Woods, streams, mountains and other terrain features glow when in the line of sight of a player’s unit, darkening to a light fog when beyond sight. Man-made structures such as roads, bridges – washed-out or blown up – minefields, barbed wire and bunkers stand out nicely. Villages and cities can cover several hexes but have an unfortunate sameness about them; not even Paris stands out with any unique landmarks. Wrecks and bodies remain for some turns marking somebody’s last fight. A blue expanding line marks the difference between enemy and friendly territory. Pressing a button reveals how much supply a location can yield. The 3D map and mini-map show everything in color but players who want to use military-type topographical maps can use the 2D tactical and strategic maps.

oobbstratmap

The less-than-great strategic maps show units and objectives vaguely.

Units are very well depicted. Vehicles such as tanks and artillery pieces seem modeled down to the last rivet. Aircraft have the correct silhouette and markings. Infantry is shown by dark shadow-like figures. Naval vessels are shown top-down on the map but are displayed in profile on the purchase screen. A panel at the bottom of the screen has all eight of each unit’s characteristics: attack, defense, range, ability to affect enemy efficiency, etc. Each unit has a number reflecting either strength or supply needs if supply mode is toggled. As efficiency wanes due to combat or logistical problems, the numbers change from white to yellow to orange and finally to red.

Animation makes the graphics stand out. Artillery pieces recoil and flames spout from flamethrowers. Troops can be seen kneeling to shoot and tossing grenades. Eliminated infantry fall dramatically while tanks “brew up” in a blaze of flame and smoke. Damaged planes spiral in, trailing large plumes of black smoke. Artillery fire and its effects on ground installations is always exciting and all explosions are impressive. Sound effects complement the animations. Aircraft engines sputter on takeoff and wheels screech during landings while bombs whistle down. The usual tramps and motor sounds of ground units are heard as are the booms and rattles of combat. Polish mounted infantry are carried by trotting horses. Thunder and splatter of rain are some of the sounds that reflect weather.

oobbsup

The supply values of cities are clear while the needs of the units have smaller digits.

Prudent Buyers Win

Mechanics are familiar: clicking on a unit highlights reachable hexes and mousing over an adjacent enemy shows a red reticule with possible losses to both sides. Some units have special abilities such as engineers’ ability to clear mines and build or destroy certain structures; recon units’ double move and heavy weapons units’ mortars. Of special interest is the artillery’s bombard function allowing them to hit any hex within range - recon by fire! The game has core units with command points as limitations of how many units allowed on the map.

Resource points (RP) are extremely important in this game. They repair units and allow players to buy new weapon types. The right mix of units can change within a single mission so players must husband points to buy that killer weapon at the right time. Bringing on a Stuka too early can make it a meal for enemy fighters but waiting until the sky is clear turns it into a battle winner. RP are gained in a trickle each turn or at scripted moments. Capturing or completing some objective sometimes causes an increase.

If the mechanics are user-friendly, campaigns and missions are brutal. Losing a mission in a campaign doesn’t lead to a less-important theater but stops linear progress in it tracks. Winning ugly can also halt progress as players’ core units will be decimated and not enough RP will carry over to compensate for the weakness. Also, players won’t receive leaders or specialization points as described in Jeff’s article. Players must complete the campaign missions before playing them as standalone scenarios.

oobbwarsaw

All the red circles show where a German tank can hit around Warsaw with the blue cross indicating support.

Order of Battle: World War II –Blitzkrieg has twelve missions from Poland to Moscow. Each mission has from one to four primary objectives that must be met to achieve victory by the end of the mission, the lengths of which varies from thirty to forty turns. Each mission also has secondary objectives dealing with capturing lesser targets or destroying a certain number of enemy units within a time limit. The secondary objectives can yield more units or RP if completed. Players can have three types of German units: core units, units that are scenario specific and AI-controlled units. The last type can achieve secondary objectives on their own. The German naval combat units in the Norway scenario are completely AI-controlled.

To call the missions challenging is like calling Lady Gaga shy. The usual perceptions aside, the Allied forces gave the Germans all they could handle tactically; their fatal mistakes were at the strategic level. Thus, all missions see an AI well dug in with a penchant for well-timed and targeted counter-attacks. Attaining the primary objectives is difficult while completing some of the secondary ones seems impossible. Players must use the right weapon types in the right sequence. First, soften up targets with artillery and air power to reduce enemy efficiency if not strength. Deciding which ground units to commit is a matter of terrain. Cities should be assaulted by infantry and engineers, not tanks. Armor is best used against infantry in the open and regular artillery pieces. Aircraft, especially Stukas, should be protected against fierce anti-aircraft positions if possible. The key to success not only in missions but in campaigns is the care and feeding of players’ core units. Only they should receive elite replacements and, when RP run low, only they should receive regular replacements. Non-core will die but battle is composed of ugly choices.

oobbnor

The German invasion fleet assembles near Norway.

Perhaps for replay effect when players must restart a mission after a defeat, missions have tangential changes – some historical and others not. Minefields will appear where they did not the last go-round and the AI will attack differently. The units involved are very historical with different models of the PZKW III clearly shown and the PZKW 38t getting its accolades. Almost all missions introduce new units. All the funky Allied vehicles are present, accounted for and mean. However, for exciting balanced play, the missions sometimes seem ahistorical. The Polish air force was virtually wiped out on the ground the first day and the Luftwaffe controlled the skies. Yet, in the first mission, the Polish air force comes in strength while the German has a lone BF 109 and must spend valuable RP to get another and even that may not give the Germans air superiority.

Order of Battle: World War II –Blitzkrieg does have the simplicity and excitement of Panzer General and Panzer Corps although it lacks the depth of the latter’s Grand Campaigns. With the addition of specializations along with the editing and multi-play functions, this game is a good addition to the genre.

This review covers a game developed and/or published by members of the Slitherine Group, please see our 'Reviews Policy' for more information.

Review: Order of Battle: Blitzkrieg

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