Alex Shargin's goal for Panzer Corps was “to preserve the game mechanics and characteristic look-and-feel of the classic Panzer General, and improve all the other areas of the game.” So most of the design work for this game was in fact completed over 17 years ago by computer wargaming pioneers Strategic Simulations Inc. It was they who crafted Panzer General (PCG 15, 85%), the absurdly elegant, dangerously distracting WWII TBS that Panzer Corps apes so skillfully.
This homage is an evening-eating delight for most of the same reasons its inspiration was. After romping through a handful of crystal-clear tutorials, you find yourself on the Germany-Poland border, the eager overseer of a force full of Panzers, Stukas, and stormtroopers. When you next look up, the room will probably be dark, your brow crinkled, and the survivors of that initial op cherished veterans slogging their way across the Balkans, the USSR, or the Garden of England.
The basics of battle are as easy to understand as the internal workings of a Molotov cocktail. Move a unit next to an enemy (artillery and naval units have longer reaches), check the combat odds tooltip, then commit to an attack, or think again. What gives the scraps their amazing texture is the vast range of units (400) and the telling influence of terrain, experience, and luck.
Yes, I could probably take Bastogne by battering it with green Panzers for a few turns, but it would be cheaper to soften up the defences with nebelwerfers first, then go in with those grizzled flamethrowertoting pioneers I recruited on the way to Moscow. Without swamping you with stats or suffocating you with theory, the game nudges you towards historical tactics.
Before Alex worked on Panzer Corps, he fashioned free prototype Panzer General Forever. The lengthy apprenticeship shows in the quality of the AI. Though a little flummoxed when asked to play as the Axis in the Operation Sealion scenario (the 26 campaign missions can be played separately as either side) most of the time the CPU handles itself with deadly aplomb. Leave bombers unescorted, arty unprotected, and badly damaged units exposed and the enemy is drawn to them like wasps to a jammy-faced toddler.
Apart from the AI, overhauled visuals, and some minor Panzer General 2-style rule changes, the most significant improvement has to be the sleek inbuilt PBEM. Last seen in Battlefield Academy (76%) it makes finding opponents and exchanging files a breeze. I'd like to have seen a few more than ten bespoke MP scenarios, but with the bundled editor this store should swell rapidly.
Scratching around for reasons not to buy this, the best I can come up with is the price. For a game that draws so heavily on an old design, £30 feels a tad steep, especially when there are free fan-made versions of Panzer General 2 available.