Developer: Petroglyph Games
Release date: Available now
Like tanks? Big explosions? Strafing aircraft? Unpredictability? Then you might do well to invest some time into Panzer General: Allied Assault. It wouldn’t surprise me if you haven’t heard of it. This turn-based wargame has sneaked under the marketing radar. This is rather a shame, as it offers more value and entertainment than some of the bigger hitters. There have been a plethora of World War II games (most have been first-person shooters), so it’s refreshing to see a different type of wargame. Don’t get me wrong, I love bumping up other players’ kill ratios in Call of Duty, but it tests my reflexes without giving me much of a neuron workout. So it’s nice to find a game like Panzer General that keeps the cobwebs at bay.
The Panzer General games have been around a while, with the first one coming out in the mid-1990s. They are virtual card games that were traditionally played on a hex game board, but Panzer General uses the simpler-looking set up of squares. The game takes place during the last phase of World War II, from 1944 to ’45. Gameplay takes in the bloody and dramatic events of D-Day, the Allied attempts to punch on to Germany, and the last main German counter-offensive, so Utah Beach, Operation Market Garden and the infamous Battle of the Bulge are all included here. Playing through the single-player campaign lets you control American forces, while Skirmish mode and online Versus modes let you choose to be either the Allied or German commander.
Considering Panzer General is an arcade game, there’s a great richness of information to take in. Learning the rules and the order of play comes with practice. Initially it seems complicated, but by the second or third mission everything seems to fall into place. You start off with 10 cards, a mix of unit cards (which can be placed on the game board) and some attribute and ability cards. Unit cards are used to deploy your forces on the grid-based battlefield. The unit on the card is what you get to deploy on the map. The units available will be familiar to any avid WWII gamer, with each unit having certain statistics for movement and fighting/defence ability. For example, artillery units are good for adding extra supporting punch to your attacks/defence but are vulnerable to attack from infantry units. Getting the game started is a matter of putting units into position; most maps won’t have combat until at least the second turn. Once units are deployed, the attribute cards can be used. These are divided up into attribute and ability cards. Some can be played when you attack (to improve your units’ abilities or weaken the enemy), while others can be played at any time to reinforce units, sabotage the enemy (by removing random cards), or to order an air attack.
The main currency that drives Panzer General is Prestige points. These are gained depending on the number of tiles that are controlled on the board (with extra points being awarded for special tiles) and success of your combat against enemy units (you can choose to gain Prestige points or remove them from the enemy). Prestige points are used to buy new cards and use them, so you have to be clever in how you utilise your points. Use too many to attack and you become vulnerable in defence. Use too many to break up the enemy’s attack and you could have too few points left to buy new cards for the next phase; a simple yet devastatingly efficient system. Combat is based upon a number of factors. Firstly, your units’ attack strengths and the enemy units’ defence strengths are considered. Then terrain bonuses (hills, prepared defences) or deductions (being in swamps, armour in built up areas) are made. Players can then decide to add suitable cards (if they have them) to influence the combat outcome (extra firepower, flanking attacks, etc). Then you’re given a sort of last-ditch chance to save or gain some points by sacrificing any of your cards, with the Prestige value of the cards added to the relevant attributes (defence or attack). This phase can sometimes play a crucial part in the combat outcome. Lastly, a single die is rolled and the result is added to the mix. This last part is where all your frenetic planning can go up in smoke. Victory is usually achieved by fulfilling one of four requirements stated at the beginning of the round. These conditions include rushing and taking the enemy’s home tile, occupying three or four key objective tiles at once, or simply destroying all of the enemy troop units on the board. You’ll soon get to hate the German King Tigers and the 88mm AA guns, much like the allies did in reality. My advice: play plenty of single-player missions to get your experience up. It’s somewhat less ego-damaging to crash and burn against the computer than against another human opponent, who might just hear you sob pathetically as your last Sherman goes up in flames.
Graphics in Panzer General are not too bad for a downloadable game. The board-game look comes off well and the mini battlefield is attractive. The detail is good enough to serve its purpose of showing aspects of the terrain, where your units are and where the enemy might be hiding. Considering Panzer General is based on a board game, the graphics do a decent enough job. Explosions, small-arms fire and the whine of attacking aircraft add to the atmosphere, combined with a very quiet, subtle soundtrack. There are almost 20 campaign missions to complete, with new cards unlocked along the way based on your achievements. Missions vary in complexity, so it’s hard to say exactly how long one mission might take, as turning points are common and replays are frequent. Also, the cards are dealt at random, so no one mission plays exactly the same each time. For example, in one game of Utah Beach my poor allied troops were cut to pieces on the sand, while in a later try I managed to rout the enemy. The skirmish mode and Xbox Live mode allow you to take on other people and let you play as the Germans. The game offers plenty of variety to engage your brain.
For me, Panzer General: Allied Assault is an impressive little game. It’s challenging, but rewarding enough to become addictive. It’s a game that changes your emotions; at times you question the computer’s abilities when the dice go against you, but then you whoop for joy when the dice annihilate an elite panzer unit. A real sense of tension is achieved in deciding whether or not to sacrifice a high-value unit, predicting if it’s worthwhile in the long run. The fact that it’s a card-based game shouldn’t put you off. I play a lot of FPS games, and I found that Panzer General gave me more intense moments of anxiety than many shooters.