Panzer Corps 2: Axis Operations - Spanish Civil War Review16 Jul 2020 0
Panzer Corps 2: Axis Operations - Spanish Civil War Review
Released 16 Jul 2020
The release of Slitherine/Matrix's Panzer Corps 2 Spanish Civil War DLC comes to us in a delayed form. For Field Marshal Edition owners, 8th July 2020 is the date everyone got a restricted access download to upgrade the original game. Everyone else had to wait until today, 16th July, for general release... or if you’re me, you got access to the Beta code and have been playing it for a while, ready to give you some hot-of-the-press thoughts.
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) – Spanish Civil War (or SCW for this review) may not quite live up to all the hype that surrounds it, but it is a solid game and IMHO far better than the original base product as regards game play and historical environment. Here are my thoughts as to why.
Honestly, not a whole Hell of a lot if you are talking about how the game operates or the procedures the gamer must manipulate to play. Everything works the same, and this is not a bad thing because it means you can jump right in as the German Condor Legion commander and start shooting stuff. For more detail on this not so revolutionary aspect, see my previous article on Panzer Corps 2 for further information.
What changes there are come from 'under the hood' as it were, so are reasonably transparent to the player. First is the addition of, like, a gazillion new units, and in a twist, not all of them concern the war in Spain. The Condor Legion alone counts 24 new units, odd little things like the He-70 Rayo or the Ju-52 bomber. And no, that’s not an error, as the Germans converted the venerable transport plan to drop bombs.
There are also new units for the Spanish Republicans, a lot of Russian stuff and the International Brigades for sure, the Spanish Nationalists and the Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie, or CTV. Also included are Czech and Danish forces for those who want to make their own custom scenarios for Northern Europe. In fact, all of these will be available to any owner of any edition of the game for that purpose. For me, this was a big selling point, because I have an affinity for these cute little machines, rarely seen, and exceptionally challenging to use.
The second thing is AI tactics. Once again, the player has no choice as to which side he plays. The AI always plays the Spanish Republicans, and the Spanish Republicans always use what seems to be an endless supply of armored cars in 'hit and run' operations. From hexes whose contents are hidden due to lack of recon, an armored car will dart out, shoot something and, if there is movement remaining, will dart back to hide. Otherwise it disappears into the void next turn, only to have one of its armored car compadres from hidden hexes on the other side of the map do likewise. These guys tend to go after relatively soft targets such as artillery, and while not decisive, are a constant source of frustration. I used to ignore using my precious combat aircraft for recon in games like this, but in SCW my perspective changed very quickly.
The final change is that there are now three factions in the game of which the player owns one. And a half. Sort of. As noted before, the player is the German Condor Legion commander and thus has aircraft, artillery, armored and mechanized units at his disposal to support his Spanish ally. He also controls the Italian CTV, which gives him his only infantry as well as some additional artillery and mobile formations. The AI controls the Spanish Republicans and also the Spanish Nationalists, at least partially. Yes, the bulk of the player’s infantry is not totally controlled by him. The idea is that since the Italo-German intervention was an assistance mission, the player should not actually command the Spanish units he is supporting. Historically, Franco and the lads might be at odds with their German comrades, and there was always infighting between Nationalist factions, not to mention a command structure driven by personality rather than doctrine.
Thus, SCW gives the player three tactical choices for using his Spanish Nationalist troops on the table. They are Attack (the default), Defend and Hold Current Position. Whatever choice the player makes applies to all Nationalist units on the board until the order is changed. The twist is that the AI executes the order for these formations, the player doesn’t touch them. The AI moves the unit in whatever path it sees fit, attacks whoever it wants to and so on. For example, under the Attack order, the AI pushes the Nationalist troops to assault the nearest enemy formation regardless of circumstances, or at least that’s what I have seen so far.
How it Plays
There are between 16 and 18 scenarios in the SCW campaign, and each seems to be about 18 – 24 turns long. For this review I played the first scenario three times – no shame, it took me three games to win it – and the second scenario once. The first scenario, which involves moving the Spanish Nationalist Army of Africa across the straits into southern Spain near Cadiz and Seville, does not use the AI control option above. That starts with the second, Antequera scenario and you have to triumph in the first scenario to move to the second. Thus far, there are no separate battles in the game outside the formal campaign.
Part of the problem was me forgetting SCW is a game inspired by history, not an actual simulation of it. Thus, the drop dead gorgeous aerial photo type map does not seem to be to scale and certain historical events are only occasionally true. This tripped me up in the first “Seville” scenario where the objective is to land the Condor Legion by sea and capture two airfields to allow the Spanish Army of Africa to land via German airlift. Two things complicating this was Seville being very heavily defended by artillery and mechanized units, and the presence of the Spanish dreadnought battleship Jaime I.
In reality Seville fell almost immediately as nearly all military units rebelled and joined General Queipo de Llano’s carefully planned uprising. The opposition, mainly workers militia supported by Urban and Assault Police with nothing but a few machine guns, was crushed by Llano’s 4000 troops. Similarly, the Jaime I, like the rest of the Spanish Navy, suffered from poor discipline as most officers had been killed by sailors loyal to the Republic, and those remaining were not trusted. Also, Germany had deployed the heavy cruisers Deutschland and Admiral Scheer to protect the transports, but they were nowhere to be seen in this scenario. Instead the Jaime I and her escorts sunk at least two transport units each game and continually bombarded Nationalist and German units from extremely long range. It certainly made quick movement to and away from the coast a priority.
Except of course, nobody moves that fast to begin with. Spain is a land with rough, constricted terrain and a lousy road network. The armies fighting over this piece of real estate are infantry based with little transport, boasting horse drawn artillery and very light mech forces in support. Aerial support is also of the light variety, consisting mostly of biplane fighter-bombers. Worse, I generally found artillery to be ineffective, while the armored and aviation forces are few in number and very brittle. Indeed, it seemed the deadliest Republican units were their anti-tank guns and anti-aircraft artillery. We’re talking Panzer I’s, not King Tigers here, and they consistently got shot up. Even in the last Seville game I played where I won (and got bonus points for taking the entire city, thank you very much), I still had only one mobile unit left at the end, an armored car formation.
Fortunately for the player, his Army of Africa infantry is of much higher quality than the ill trained-equipped-disciplined militias they face, and though the Condor Legion isn’t flying the top line World War II aircraft of later years, they are superior to anything the Republicans have, and there are a lot more of these units than on the other side as well. All in all, it produces a contest much different than what the base product conveys. This is not a game of sweeping maneuvers and breakthroughs, but more attrition based where the principle of mass to punch a hole somewhere is the gold standard. And given the lack of long-term cohesion many of these units have, this makes SCW especially challenging.
The second scenario concerns the securing of a Republican supply center so that Ju-52 transports can be converted to bombers, then using those bombers to take out that completely unhistorical, uncalled for, cheating, pain in the ass Spanish battleship I mentioned, and no, I’m not bitter. It is also the first battle where the AI running friendly infantry trick appears, and though it works as advertised and does provide a little bit of historical chrome to the festivities, I have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed. This was due the AI not doing anything stupid and, in reality, performing its Attack orders quite well. I would actually like to see the same system modified to be a little less predictable in that regard, as I think that might better represent the enhanced chaos of the Spanish conflict.
SCW continues to define Panzer Corps 2 as a legitimate wargame, vice a mainstream strategy title. The overall realism factor is faithful to the conflict represented. This means a game much different in terms of battlefield environment, tactics, hardware, military forces, and the leadership needed to manage it all as opposed to, say, Normandy or on the Eastern Front. This is why, along with the war in Finland, the Spanish Revolt of 1936 remains one of my very favorite World War II campaigns. It's different, I like different and suffice it to say, SCW is the very type of different I’m looking for.
And oh yes, sink it I did, along with a destroyer, on Turn 18.
This review has been kindly donated to Wargamer.com by the author.