Panzer Corps 2: Axis Operations - 1939 Review03 Sep 2020 0
Panzer Corps 2: Axis Operations - 1939 Review
Released 27 Aug 2020
During my tenure here at The Wargamer, I’ve become known for penning positive reviews, based on the belief that a lot of reviewer negatives are more personal preference than anything else. Yet, after playing the new Panzer Corps 2 DLC Axis Operations 1939 (or AO39), in the interest of honesty I’ll have to say my expectations simply were not met for the most part.
What I envisioned when I heard the DLC would include a Czech scenario was something like the Czechoslovakia 1938 wargame in Command Magazine 24 back in 1993. That issue looked at a Wehrmacht attack (Fall Grun) prior to the ceding of the Sudetenland. Sure, it's not 1939, but given this also includes the 1940 invasion of Denmark I figured what’s a few months between friends?
What I got was... well, you decide whether it's something that just didn’t float the author’s (that would be me) Bruckenpanzer, or perhaps a solid, respected PC wargame franchise might have stumbled for once.
AO39 is a narrative continuation of Axis Operations Spanish Civil War, the first DLC for the new Panzer Corps 2 franchise. As such it allows the player to continue his game personality of a German panzer corps commanding general after his successful deployment in the brutal, knock down, drag out war in Spain, thru a series of second tier expeditions, all leading up to facing off against the big guys for real in the 1940 battle for France.
To that end AO39 includes a single scenario on the invasion of Czechoslovakia after acceptance of the Munich Accords, five scenarios covering a French invasion of the Saarland assuming Paris had pushed the issue, six on the invasion of Poland, two on the Russo-Finnish Winter War and a single final scenario covering the 9th April 1940 four-hour invasion of Denmark. Yes, Poland was included as a “Wehrmacht” campaign in the base game, but these are different battles and admittedly better, one in particular. On the other hand, the two Finnish scenarios are optional depending on whether the player would like to enhance his career by leading a full corps of German volunteers (replete with FLAK 88’s and He-111 bombers) to help the plucky Finns.
Wait, German volunteers in Finland?
Well that’s kinda the point. The Panzer Corps franchise has always been looked at – to use a Hollywood term – as historically inspired gaming much more than historical gaming, and AO39 really pushes that envelope IMHO. Because the player represents a German general serving throughout the entirety of his military career, there is a need to have him present and in charge during every scenario in the game. Thus Germans replace the Finns in the two Winter War scenarios, one based on a Soviet attack on the Mannerheim Line (relieving the Finns so they can rest - really?) and the other on the massacre of the Russian 163d and 44th Rifle Divisions at Suomussalmi.
Otherwise the rest of the scenarios seemed to me to be almost a leisurely walk across a bridge from the Spanish Civil War on one side of the river, to the Maginot Line on the other. Sort of like, “let's make sure the player doesn’t have too much trouble making it thru, so he’ll be ready to tackle Fall Gelb in 1940.” It's not that the games were not competitive, because they were, and I’ll admit to having my head handed to me more than once with a couple of scenarios. However, I didn’t seem to experience the same nail-biting intensity I did with Spanish Civil War.
One reason seems to be the way the scenarios were designed, with time constraints and geographic objectives substituting for destroying your adversary. Indeed, conflict avoidance was evident in at least two scenarios, with the Czech scenario affording the player a Bonus Objective of not destroying any Czech units. Let that sink in. I have to invade the place, but I can’t shoot anybody? Similar non-aggressive ops include the Saarland scenario where the objective is to lay mines using three, poppy red truck units, if nothing else confirming the service of the Berlin Fire Department in the der Sitzkrieg.
Otherwise in most scenarios German force structure seems to be elevated while those of their adversaries are not, and in some cases degraded. Thus, while the German’s have more military power in the Saarland than was the historical case (there were only 100 guns and no tanks present), the French response is limited to the actual 2d Army Group that participated. Likewise, in the Czech scenario the Germans get a hotshot unit of Spanish Azul (Blue) Infantry, evidently a nod to the Wehrmacht’s 250th Spanish Azul Volunteer Infantry Division that didn’t even begin recruiting until June 1941. But more curious is the near total lack of the Czech’s fortification system (see below).
Yes, there were no heavy casemates available because those had all been built to the far north and east of Prague. They would not have appeared in the scenario under any circumstances. Yes, the occupation of the Sudetenland robbed the Czechs of its first line of fortifications facing Prague. But the Czechs had planned for defense in depth. There was still a strong fortification line stretching from Lenesice to Vedomice, and another larger fortification line beyond, ringing Prague and running from Dolni Berkovice in the north to Lasenice in the south. Combined with the rugged terrain and Russian intervention had Hungary and Romania allowed passage... well, Hitler did note to Goebbels privately that, “we would have shed a lot of blood.”
Yet, and full disclosure here, there is one particularly big exception, and that is the Battle for Warsaw. This was not included in the base game and as of this typing, I have yet to beat that (expletive deleted). One of the reasons is that often the game will demand the player use less than his total force structure for a particular battle, and the other is that long range force structure planning is now a big deal. As one would expect, you do have a core set of units, either provided for you or transplanted from the Spanish Civil War DLC. However, the terrain in Spain is mainly the same, rugged and overall, pretty pathetic.
But in AO39 terrain comes in several varieties to include flat, hilly, forested, urban and frosty, so one size will not fit all. You will really need to be clever on what to purchase, what to keep in Reserve and make sure you have enough of the right type for each mission. And in a total reversal from what I said before, this time it’s the enemy that gets the fantasy force structure. The Polish air force was not destroyed on the ground as has often been said and did indeed perform commendably against the Luftwaffe – for two weeks. After that the Polish air arm ceased to exist, so there should not have been anything flying in the defense of Warsaw. Yet the first German incursion into the city brought all the PZL P-11c’s and PZL 43s on the planet my direction and it was ugly. Perhaps the software designer included this to get and keep the player’s attention? If so, it worked.
Game Play and Other Sundries
Game play has changed little from before and remains rock solid and easy to learn. Graphics and animation remain stunning, particularly the autumn forest layout for many of the Saar Offensive scenarios. The unit icons, when viewed close up, are sharp, historically accurate and in my mind could grace a game of anything from Sudden Strike to Company of Heroes. Explosions not only look right but sound right as well, and all of this remain great reasons to move from the old to this new reissued edition of the classic base game.
Plus, in this iteration, the AO39 DLC does provide bits and pieces of shiny chrome to entice the player to go just one scenario further before breaking for coffee. You can find yourself in possession of an armored train for vacationing along many of Europe’s railways if you want (oh Hell yes I did), and in the final scenarios purchase captured enemy equipment, both Polish and Russian (they had a sale in Helsinki), to include a bunker buster that bears a remarkable resemblance to the Soviet KV-2 152 mm assault gun. You can also recon the forces of your Soviet allies, just in case they might not be so friendly in the future.
Yet I found the game’s AI just a little underwhelming. Again, it was competitive and again, I lost on occasion, but overall, it seemed a little easier to fool than before, while attacks made seemed uncoordinated. In the Czech scenario, for example, it seemed that if I wanted to lure enemy forces away from geographic objectives, all I had to do was to have German Pioneers drop a floating bridge on a river, anywhere. Then Czech forces would fall over themselves and race to the scene.
In the Mannerheim Line scenario, Soviet attacks were piecemeal and given the amount of tanks, cannon and infantry I assume they had, never rumbled across all available avenues of approach. Had this happened, my German 'volunteers' would have likely had a more difficult time of it. I also noticed that the first Soviet bomber group that I blew out of the sky with my FLAK 88 resulted in Bolshevik aircraft not coming near the place for the rest of the game. I saw similar performance for the French in the Saar Offensive, tho perhaps this was intentional to reflect actual performance.
Again, the exception was Warsaw, and here I found the AI almost hyper aggressive. I don’t know what they teach at the University of Warsaw and the Warsaw Institute of Technology (aka 36th Infantry Regiment, Academic Legion), but their exams must be the stuff of nightmares.
In the final analysis, I would still recommend the game. After all it's only around $10.00 US. Also, it does cover parts of World War II that rarely see the wargaming time of day, tabletop or computer, and the game is semi-necessary if you're a Panzer Corps 2 fan who wants to link the various Axis Operations together into one continuous competition.
Yet I do come away unfulfilled, AO39 as my least favorite in the franchise so far. It's not because 1939 is a substandard product. It’s a really good wargame, but I see the potential – IMHO of course – that could have produced something even better. It feels like an opportunity lost and I will always wonder what could have been.
Note: For an interactive, zoomable Website on Czech fortifications in 1938, down to the individual bunker level complete with schematics, field of fire diagrams and current status, please click here. Highly recommended.