Panzer Corps 2 – long live the king

Hail to the king: the leading Panzer General successor gets an even more successful sequel

My verdict on Panzer Corps 2 remains the same as when I previewed it in the run up to release, but perhaps even more so. If you liked Panzer General and the original Panzer Corps, then PC2 is a must buy. The ‘more so’ comes into play as regards gamers who may have bypassed these games in the past, considering them more beer and pretzels or generic mainstream strategy fare.

Panzer Corps 2 (or PC2 as we’ll call it in this article) has added just enough modifications to push the realism level into the wargaming proper category, giving a distinct WWII feel without sacrificing the elegant simplicity that made its ancestors famous. Some may feel that the upgraded graphics and gameplay changes make it a bit too mainstream, but this isn’t true.

First it’s important to recap the new gameplay features in Panzer Corps 2. As of now they all function and seem to work without error, or at least as far as the Afrika Korps is concerned, because the North African campaign was my choice for a review case study.

The key differences are:

  • The ability to break down units into smaller detachments to cover more ground for economy of force and similar missions.
  • The ability to encircle enemy forces and thus lock out reinforcements and ammunition supply. Remember that ability to break down units into smaller detachments? Combo with this.
  • The ability to overrun enemy units under certain conditions allowing mechanized forces to conduct a fairly good replication of Blitzkrieg.
  • The ability to use captured equipment against their former masters.
  • The ability to assign heroes to friendly units to increase combat power, and to assign both positive and negative (not gonna happen) military attributes to the player’s own command position.
  • Aircraft automatically return home after a mission, at the beginning of the next turn. Attacking targets outside aircraft range requires finding a new airbase closer and spending a turn moving your prop spinners to the new location. There is a similar new process involving navy units, but as of this writing, I have yet to use it.
  • An undo function which you can turn off. IIRC, this was not an option in the preview code. It was turned off, but you can bet that won’t happen in my games. Surprising as it may be, Erwin Rommel I am not.

Otherwise, all setup and game options now function. The player has complete access to things like video and sound controls and a number of combat related options such as adjusting the fog of war level, turning weather on or off and more. The scenario editor is fully operational as is the game’s tutorial. And the tutorial, along with one other visual option, really deserve a special shout out.

deployment phase

On the visual side is the ability to change the look of your combat vehicles and aircraft by modifying their camouflage and national insignia. Despite what old TV shows like Combat! or movies like Battle of the Bulge suggest, German field equipment lost their ‘Panzer Grey’ colour scheme shortly after the start of Barbarossa. Instead their tanks and such came from the factory painted a tan colour, then buckets of solid paint in forest green and rusty brown could be thinned (with fuel no less) and applied as necessary in a variety of patterns. Whitewash could be used for winter conditions.

The tutorial is a joy: a good, solid, six scenario, 90 minute way to learn the game

PC2 lets you do that for every piece of equipment in every army, and these colour schemes are historically based, such as the Skoda saturated pattern. The same thing goes for national insignia, where the late war subdued German cross is a possibility. Here my only quibble is that the appearance must be changed on a unit by unit basis, as I could not find a way to do it in bulk. The tutorial is a joy, and not only because it’s a good, solid, six-scenario, 90-minute way to learn the game.

Here PC2 has some additional chrome that other software would do well to copy. First, there are three extra browser-based video tutorials covering overrun, external transportation and organic transportation, all awaiting the pleasure of your company. There are also ten tactical puzzles – plus one larger tactical challenge – that complete your advanced individual training.

you can choose lots of different camos

Each puzzle is a single turn game with both the AI and randomness turned off. For example, one is called ‘Cat Trap’ and requires you destroy all six encircled enemy units in a single turn. These puzzles come in German, Soviet, British and American varieties, and the overall concept is one of the best I’ve seen for learning a game.

The big change, of course, is the bulked-up battles and campaigns you can play. As regards individual scenarios, there are now eight, and this is only where you will be able to run the non-German side.

The Red Army weighs in with the Battle of Rzhev and the Prague Offensive, the Americans with Lorraine, the Anglo-American attack the Gothic Line and for the Germans, Crete and Fall Weis. There are also two fictional scenarios the German player can tackle, these being Defender of the Reich and Fjord War.

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A word to the wise might be good here. The Fall Weis scenario covers the German invasion of Poland in 1939. All of it. This is a huge game, damn near its own campaign, and it not only has a lot of units to control, but a lot of real estate to conquer.

It’s one of those scenarios where a lot of what’s going on is off the map, and despite one of the best strategic map displays I’ve seen, this can make you somewhat oblivious to things invisibly impacting your tiny military corner of the universe. I’d advise against tackling this thing until you play something smaller. Like the campaign for North Africa?

the list of campaigns in the vanilla game

OK, the way PC2 works, like its predecessors, is that the base game is only concerned about the German side of the war, at least for full blown campaigns. The participation of the Soviets, British Commonwealth, the US and so on, will come later with each country having its own DLC.

Play the campaign to the end, and you’ll either be defending besieged Berlin, or dropping in for tea at the White House

Likewise, the game is set up to play each so-called campaign as the entire war in the west, but with different starting points in time. If you play the game to conclusion, you will either be one of the last Panzerfaust-toting Volkssturm defending Berlin, or you’ll be watching your Fallschirmjaegerdivisionen dropping in for high tea at the White House. Getting there means following a branching campaign that starts in 1939 with the invasion of Poland or 1941 with the invasion of the Soviet Union or 1943 at Kursk or 1943 in Italy. This also means that if you are looking to storm through the Maginot Line, you have to go through Poland first as there is no separate scenario.

Here the 1941 North African campaign is sort of an exception, but it still goes through 1945 and has 14 to 17 scenarios. Its beauty is that it has a smaller geographic footprint, a smaller number of units to manage and wide-open terrain that allows for sweeping manoeuvre without pesky trees and water works mucking everything up. Yes, the lack of air conditioning could be a problem for the lads in the trenches, and logistics might be a challenge, but no one said this was gonna be easy.

Otherwise the game works as advertised, with all the new features clicking along with nary a problem. I do need to mention, however, that compared to those games that came before, PC2 may require a hardware upgrade.

That upgrade concerns the video card tip of the spear and when they say NVIDIA or RADEON with two gigabytes of video memory, they mean it. Right now, I’m using an AMD card with a single gig on my wife’s workstation, and the sluggishness shows. Fortunately, I was able to overclock the AMD to force a bit more FPS and doing so did allow the game to run OK.

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I’ve always been one of those guys that saw the Panzer General family as more of a simple strategy game as opposed to a legitimate wargame. I think part of the reason is that the graphics have always seemed a bit unsophisticated to me.

The new map palette is exceptional but using a single 3D tank model to represent a Panzer regiment just doesn’t look right, particularly as it towers over the map images of major metropolitan skyscrapers. Matrix-Slitherine’s Order of Battle product line uses a similar presentation, but the unit models are smaller so the size difference between tank and village is not so glaring. Thus, the visuals don’t seem as… juvenile?

In other words, did Panzer General seem more mainstream strategy simply because that’s the way it looked? I think that might be the case, for me at least. However, this latest chapter in the Panzer Corps story has more than enough gameplay improvements – not to mention that awesome camouflage editor – to firmly establish PC2 as a full-fledged wargame.

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The old advice of not judging a book by its cover did not become old advice without justification, and here PC2 emerges as an excellent example. So, colour me impressed, and in fact impressed enough to wish for a World War I version. Even if you’re a Grog, give Panzer Corps 2 a try. I’m betting you’ll be impressed as well.