Review: Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm

By Bill Macon 07 Sep 2006 0

I recently read the Eastern Front memoir of General Erhard Raus, Panzer Operations. As commander of 6th Panzer Division, in one chapter of the book he vividly described his unit's role in the unsuccessful effort to relieve the German 6th Army surrounded at Stalingrad. Combat operations literally started the moment his panzers offloaded at the railhead in Kotelnikovo on 27 November 1942 and continued for the next four weeks. Crossings of the Aksay River and Myshkovo River, revolving tank battles at Verkhne-Kumsky, and always the desperate cry to "Liberate Stalingrad!" despite the enemy and the elements ? Raus provided his personal reflections on all this. Given an opportunity to review Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm, I eagerly accepted.

Matrix Games and Koios Works previously developed the Tin Soldiers series for ancient Greek and Roman warfare, and now Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm applies the 3D tactical combat system to World War II. Operation Winter Storm (Unternehmen Wintergewitter) provided a historical setting with opportunity for offense and defense for both sides at a strategic turning point for the Eastern Front. Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm provides both a German and a Soviet Campaign and all the Campaign battles can also be played as Set Battles. For anyone interested in recreating the desperate German offensive to liberate Stalingrad or the overwhelming Soviet counter-offensive to throw back the German advance that ultimately got within 30 miles of Stalingrad, this game delivers.

Overview

Mention 3D tactical combat in a World War II game and Battlefront's Combat Mission series immediately comes to mind. I have Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord and Combat Mission: Afrika Korps, but ironically I never got Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin. Perhaps I was just holding out for Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm this whole time? A compare and contrast essay might be warranted, but I really want to avoid that. Some similarities and differences are unavoidable and I will occasionally mention them where applicable, but Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm deserves to be evaluated on its own merits.

Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm is a turn-based game with simultaneous movement, where each turn consists of two 40-second phases. Players can issue orders during the first phase (Orders Phase) but can only halt movement and/or target enemy units during the second phase (Reaction Phase). Actions during these phases are calculated down to the millisecond and the terrain down to each meter. The game features realistic 3D graphics, including normal maps, lighting, particles and shadows. An impressive AI is included for solitaire play and multiplayer is available via PBEM. A full Campaign system is included, allowing core units to gain experience, win medals, be repaired and get reinforced.

Three things stand out in the game that deserve to be highlighted. First, the dual-phase turn can best be thought of as being a single 80-second turn. Why this particular period was selected was not made clear, and players who think that a turn must be some nice round number like 1 minute or 10 minutes might get perplexed. It is what it is, and I found myself getting used to it quickly enough. 80 seconds, about a minute and a half, is the time step and that's it. The reaction phase halfway though the turn simply allows for small adjustments to halt movement or change targets. If no adjustments are necessary then players continue their turn. Since Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm is a "WEGO" or simultaneous resolution system, both sides complete their planning for the next phase, then all orders are executed together and the results played back for each side.

Second, Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm is based on the Panzer War World War II tank miniatures game data and rules that have nearly 20 years of playtesting behind them. Accordingly, this is more of a tactical-level game where the basic group of units is the platoon, rather than a combat simulator down to the single vehicle or squad level. It is very important to realize that orders are issued only to the command unit for each platoon. This is a subtle difference from the Combat Mission series. Both game systems will allow unit orders at the platoon level and sub-unit orders to individual elements, but the focus in Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm is more on the higher perspective of the company or battalion commander as opposed to that of the squad or platoon leader.

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