In Praise of Easy - A Panzer Corps Story17 Oct 2017 1
When I review a game, I play on the midlevel or “normal” difficulty setting because the developers assumes the majority of their customers would start there and so the guts of the game are apparent. When I play for fun, machismo (Ain’t ‘fraid of no AI) sets in and I fight on the normal level at least. I wasn’t feeling well a couple of weeks ago and didn’t have the energy to learn new games so I turned to an old favorite, Panzer Corps. There’s the rub; I had never won a decisive victory in Norway at Colonel level so I never ran that campaign tree. Feeling weak, I started the Early Blitzkrieg campaign as Sergeant, the easiest level. In doing so, I learned new aspects on game play such as better movement modes while getting to use units I had never used before and understanding new maps. The positive gaming and healing aspects of playing on easy became evident.
No Need to Batter your Head against that Wall
The Sergeant level is for the butchers among us. The enemy is at half strength and has fewer prestige points. The difference is immediately obvious in Poland where all enemy units are at “5” strength and the Polish cavalry aren’t as aggressive as usual. Buying an extra Stuka and Howitzer, I rip through the lines using shuttle bombing – a bomber starts a turn over a target, bombs, and flies away so another can bomb the same turn – as well as the “undo recon” tactic when a unit moves adjacent to a town that is unoccupied and used the undo button to repeat the move into the town. Slaughter with minimal loss relieved tension in my back.
Norway falls to the tactic I tried over and over before on Colonel; draw the Royal Navy into the range of the two ship-killing Ju 86s I bought and clear the coast. British Hurricanes were only a slight bother but, freed from fixating on the RN, I was able to discover the use of the Oslo-Namos railroad by clearing the central choke points and moved troops north quickly. Victory was so sweet; I felt better already.
The Low Countries – AKA France 1 – was a pushover with the only new things being the British cruiser tank that was dead meat to my new tank- busting Stukas and the map. Even though it wasn’t an objective, I took Dunkirk anyway (Take that, Kenneth Branagh!). France 2 was much more eye-opening. The Char B tank resisted two attacks and was able to incur damage on the final third. Cities and airfields started surrendering at my approach after the Panzers ripped through the second-line troops at Sedan. The real discovery was how the game intertwines space and supply. The map covers the areas from the Belgian border to Orleans, southwest of Paris. This distance ate up my fuel and my planes’ range. I had to spend turns and prestige points to refuel and take airfields. At a higher level, this scenario could equal Norway in difficulty but, on easy, winning negated headache-causing frustration.
With Operation Sealion, the game turns from historical reality to alternate history. The developers used the General Staff’s cross-channel concept of a large river crossing. Five U-boats sealed the Channel from Dover to Southampton while the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe chewed up the Royal Navy forces in between. The landing craft came over in two straight waves just as the Germans planned. The RAF damaged two craft and a paratroop-carrying Ju-52 but I had bought more experienced Bf-109s and quickly gained air superiority. The coast line was studded with radar stations that didn’t do anything except give me prestige points when destroyed. By this time, I had two thousand prestige points, allowing me to breathe easier and physically relax. Two nasty surprises awaited me: an armored train and a Matilda I tank. Both of these withstood repeated attacks but my bombers from captured airfields did for them. The complexity of urban street fighting was shown by the numerous objective hexes in London. Fighting got nasty there before I triumphed. The triumph resulted in comforting prestige pints so Russia wouldn’t be so foreboding.
The Giant's Fall
I knew Operation Barbarossa would include a good amount of armor battles so I stocked up on anti-tank units and improved my tanks. What I forgot was that the Red Air Force was the world’s largest in 1941. I was horrified to see swarms of Mig-3s and Petlyakov bombers attacking my road columns and bombers. My three fighters couldn’t brush them off as in earlier scenarios, forcing me to pull units back. The sheer size of the path to Smolensk made me understand the agoraphobia suffered by German soldiers. The few roads were blocked by fortified villages manned by aggressive infantry supported by T-34s, T-24s, T60s, Katyushas and all types of BT tank models. I ran roughshod over them but had to take time to resupply and replace strength point losses. Winning such a trial taught me more about armor, making me feel better.
After taking Smolensk, I had to decide whether to clean up the pocket in Kiev and earn more prestige points or take Moscow. I had enough prestige by now and didn’t want to make the error Hitler did so I opted for Moscow. Playing as Sergeant assured a healthy amount of prestige and confidence. I ran into an armored train, very staunch and large infantry and armor units covered overhead by Yak fighters. The going was slow but sure with street fighting raging in Moscow for two turns. Succeeding where the Wehrmacht failed lifted my spirits greatly.
Time lapsed after the USSR fell and I found myself at war with the US in 1945. That four year interim gave me production models of all those German prototypes: the entire zoo of tanks and mechanized vehicles (Tigers, Panthers, Wespes, etc.), huge artillery pieces and jet aircraft including the Me262, AR 264 and the “New York Bomber” I also had over five thousand prestige and forty core slots but I had to conquer the US before the atomic bomb was completed. My invasion fleet was escorted by the Kriegsmarine including the carrier Graf Zeppelin. I landed with the usual beachhead confusion but soon took Washington and sunk the persistent US Navy. I had to trek all the way to the Appalachians and cover the length of the seaboard. Along the way I encountered improved P-51s, P-47s and A-26s as well as up-gunned Shermans, Hellcats and Wolverines. The last obstacle was Fort Knox supported by the fearsome “Long Tom” 155 mm howitzer. The next map, the Midwest, was more of a challenge as a whole armor corps was waiting behind the Mississippi with large tank units comprised largely of the rugged Pershing tank working in close coordination of the Air Force’s P-38s and B-29s. This map is bigger than either Russian maps, spreading my forces from Nashville to Denver, from Minneapolis to Amarillo. For the first time, I lost units but my prestige cushion allowed easy replacement. I also learned that some of those “Wonder weapons” weren’t all they had been cracked up to be.
The last step to stopping the A-bomb and making the world safe for sauerkraut was the West Coast. Beginning in the Rockies and continuing to California and Seattle, I found this map to be the most difficult. Mountain trails were loaded with hidden bunkers and the desert was populated with armor including the Jackson tank and the Greyhound tank killer. Los Angeles was protected by three bands of overlapping defenses making southern California a deathtrap. The remnants of the Navy showed up to provide bombardments in defense of Los Angeles and San Francisco. My railroad gun, Gustav, and air power neutralized them but taking the south was difficult with Rangers resisting all the way. My trip north was made difficult by snow (!) in LA. I finally took the Bay Area and stumbled through traps near Sacramento to and Fresno to take Seattle. The war was finally over and I felt fine again.
Playing on easy level may violate the Grognard Code; only neophytes and girly-men take the easy way because manly-men like frustration. Such hardheadedness gets in the way of fully enjoying and knowing a game while also being a health hazard. A game with linked campaign has many “Easter Eggs” such as new friendly and enemy units that only appear in later scenarios. Sure, playing the campaign on hard pumps the ego up but the time spent doing it smacks of monomania. In the campaign described above, increased prestige points and unit experience allowed me a cushion for mistakes and an ability to beat new enemies while providing supply and replacements, making play less physically and mentally demanding and more informative. Most players will feel like moving on after the first forty hours of frustration and miss some neat features down-campaign while neglecting other games. Also, the pressure of beating a strong foe could cause harmful tension and aggravate health problems. The easy levels allow players to learn about the game while actually enjoying themselves and feeling relaxed in the process. Go on and try it; you can always play on suicidal levels later!
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