Review(ish): Panzer Battles Demo19 Apr 2017 3
Review(ish): Panzer Battles Demo
Released 24 Mar 2017
The year was 1997, the place an HMGS miniature convention dealer hall, and the talk of the show wasn’t miniatures at all. Instead it was a new PC wargame called East Front launched by Jim Rose and John Davidson. The turn and hex based game covered platoon and company level warfare on World War II’s Eastern Front, using an elevated, side looking view featuring 2D/3D combat units and terrain. It was notable for the painted look the terrain texture displayed.
Matrix Games picked up the series in 2005 and republished it under the name John Tiller’s Campaign Series, after the principal designer. Likewise Tiller style games continued to be published, not only by the designer’s own software firm John Tiller Software (or JTS), but also by other companies such as HPS Simulations. Especially popular were the Squad Battles series which covered low level tactical warfare, and the Panzer Campaign series, which looked at operational conflict.
Company and platoon level, like the original East Front? Not so much.
Introducing Panzer Battles
A couple of weeks ago I got an Email from JTS advertising a new free demo for their Panzer Battle series. The operative word for me was “free,” so I headed to the Website and got my download. I can truthfully say I am glad I did. What I found was not only a successful resurrection of the old Talonsoft series updated with new visuals and ops, but by a demo that, as a demo, was equally fascinating. More on this later.
As of this article there are now two games in this franchise, Panzer Battles – Normandy and Panzer Battles – Kursk, Southern Flank. Per the company Website, the games occupy a position between the Squad Battles and Panzer Campaign games. The former has a scale of 40 m hexes and 10 minute turns, the latter 1 km hexes and 2 hour turns. The new product concentrates on ranged fire from platoons and companies using 250 m hexes and 30 minute turns, thus showing its old East Front heritage.
The old Talonsoft software has always been one of my favorites, to the point of my almost going on prescription meds when newer PCs would not run it. Fortunately Matrix came to the rescue, and with JTS now jumping into the fray, I’m thinking life is good.
Camouflage, Cover and Concealment
In fact, Talonsoft players will find much familiar with the graphics presentation and layout. It’s quite similar to East Front but updated and based on a template common to most Tiller designed games. In general there is a large left sidebar where unit and terrain statistics appear. The top margin contains a normal menu bar and also two rows of 70 (yes, 70) small color coded buttons. While this might suggest the game is super complex, this is not actually the case as the majority of buttons simply provide status or information. They do not execute a specific action. For example, click on a hex with an antitank battery of 4 guns, hit the appropriate button and hexes light up to show Line of Sight for the unit when targeting the enemy. The buttons are grouped by color, category and have white icons. There is a LOT of green status buttons.
Outside a small bottom strip, the rest of the screen is taken up by the colored hex map and the units thereupon, which can be zoomed in or out. Here you will find perhaps the most significant difference between the new franchise and the old. The map uses a more convention, directly overhead, boardgame like presentation where generic textures are distributed as appropriate. In other words, farm fields have a specific icon that is simply dropped on the map where ever needed. The units actually look like cardboard counters and come in three varieties. The first is a picture of the main equipment of the unit in question or a portrait of a leader, on a counter of a specific color, light blue for French as an example. In what I think is a really spiffy idea, in the corner is a small NATO symbol conveying exactly what the unit type is. Another choice is a direct overhead shot of the primary vehicle in the unit, but still on a colored counter with no way to turn this background off that I can see. Finally, there is a NATO icon only presentation. I personally prefer the older Talonsoft style, but this alternative works fine and does not detract from the game in any way.
Call for Fire
As before, game play is simple and the hardware to support it light (unlike Halo Wars 2 which my rig described in my last article won’t run; curse you Microsoft). The games will run on anything Windows XP forward, require only a 1 gig processor, 1 gig of system memory, 1 gig of hard drive space and 512MB of video memory. Folks, seriously, this is important. I go on cruises with the spousal unit on occasion, and I always take my Surface as a sanity saver when she’s at the spa or shopping. I do have games on this thing, but you can bet one of them is NOT Dawn of War III. (ED: It's not even out yet Bill. Stop trying to be topical. GOD.) Tiller games, however . . .
Otherwise playing is quick and smooth, based primarily on movement points which are not only expended to move, but also to perform other actions. Click on a hex, the units occupying pop up in the left sidebar with details galore. Click on the unit (s) you want to move. Then click on the first adjacent hex to begin, then the next until you run out, or you can also drag and drop. Or you can hit the fire button at the top of the screen and a targeting circle appears. Select your target and the unit fires. Want to call in an air strike? Hit the air support button, a popup appears giving you the names of the available air units in support of which you pick one. Then pick the target hex and it gets hit next turn. Want to limber up your PAK 37 guns and move? Well the trucks are co-located, so click the hex, click on both units in the left sidebar and click the Carry/Uncarry button up top. You expend a certain amount of movement points for all these actions, so you are pretty much allowed to do anything if you have them available.
Yes there are some special situations to deal with, and yes there are a few nuances and new procedures to absorb, but otherwise that’s just about it. Short, simple and very familiar – that’s the best description and a very solid strength of the game. Veterans will have little trouble diving right in, while newcomers should pick up the game quick.
Nevertheless, I have to say that the best part of this entire experience – and I had a blast – was actually the nature of the demo itself. Maybe I’m just getting old or simply haven’t been in touch with this branch of the hobby as much as I should, but the demo, as a demo, struck me as unique in two different ways.
First was the scope of the package. I’ve played demos before and most of the time you get a one or a couple of missions from the core game to test drive. This Panzer Battles demo gives you not less than 13 playable scenarios. They include:
- May 1940, Belgium - Battle of Hannut - 2 scenarios
- March 1941, North Africa – Mersa el Brega - 4 scenarios
- August 1942, Guadalcanal – Tenaru River - 2 scenarios
- July 1943, Russia – Klyuchi (tutorial) - 1 scenario
- August 1943, Russia - Bogodukhov - 4 scenarios
The other thing that struck me was that the majority of these scenarios are for games that have not been published yet. Note there is no scenario from the battle for Normandy, though that subject is covered by one of the two games in the series already published. Yet there are scenarios for France ’40, the battle for North Africa and even the war in the Pacific. OK, Panzers at Guadalcanal sounds a bit weird, but I can dig it because it lets customers try out future games that are still awaiting publication. What an absolutely marvelous way to do business. Perhaps not new, mind you, but if so by all means please continue.
The publication of the Panzer Battles franchise will be for many of us like going home to a comfortable chair and a good glass of our favorite libation. We know what to expect and we are glad to be back. To everyone else, did I mention this demo is FREE? Avail yourself of the opportunity to experience an updated classic that has withstood the test of time and remains one of the best military simulations you can run on your PC. And with 13 scenarios, that’s a lot of playing time.
We’re talking risk free, folks, so why are you still here?