An expansion too far…
When Panzer General came out decades ago, I played it (and its many variants) to death. Even an awesome game gets old sooner or later. Panzer Corps, Slitherine’s amazing homage to the aging turn-based strategy war game, I likewise played to death, playing through every scenario repeatedly, scraping out those last few victory points, or deliberately losing, just to open up a few otherwise unreachable scenarios.
The latest expansion also doubles as a new game, Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps. You don’t need to have played the original to play this, although you probably should. Afrika Korps offers more of the same, focused on military adventures in Africa during World War II. Having done everything in the original game (and all the expansions), I just had to download Afrika Korps to see if there was any fun left to squeeze out of the system.
“Unfortunately … the changes don’t breathe new life into the experience.”
I suspect the programmers are also tiring of the basic gameplay of Panzer Corps and have added a few things to keep the game fresh. Unfortunately the original gameplay was very close to perfect, and the changes don’t breathe new life into the experience.
The biggest change is the ability for scenario objectives to switch mid-battle. A mission that starts out with a goal of, say, “conquer Tobruk” can switch without warning into “go to the other side of the map and blow up supply stations.” A couple of such missions are tolerable, but this new “feature” is overused, forcing the player to rush his units to and fro across the map trying to figure what his army is supposed to do. There’s not much for it but to reload the scenario once the player finds out what the real mission is and set up his forces appropriately.
There are a number of new units, including a variety of Italian forces. Unfortunately, the Italian army was no great shakes during World War II, with questionable infantry and tanks more accurately described as “iron coffins on treads.” Italians are now forcibly part of the player’s core army, and there are even Italian heroes that pop up during battle; no amount of heroics can offset the deficiencies of the units, however.
The Germans get some new toys, although I really disagree that the “motorcycle with sidecar” unit really was the battlefield-king that it seems to be in this game (okay, it’s not that amazing, but it is better than infantry and not casually destroyed by armor). A few other German units are likewise fun to play around with, but probably shouldn’t be part of a main army, being a little too specialized to be credibly useful outside of their specialization (like the flamethrower tank).
The new scenarios are generally pretty brutal. Granted, the African campaigns were not easy on the German army, but nearly every scenario will find the player outnumbered, with units coming in from nowhere to break up any plan the player might have. This is a big difference from the original Panzer Corps, where the player was tossed a few easy missions and had time to put together and familiarize himself with a serious army before facing Allied invasions or massed Soviet armor. Instead, the player immediately finds himself struggling just to get by, made all the worse with Italian units that are barely capable of holding their own (and if the player gets them destroyed, he might not have the points to buy a decent replacement, making it that much harder to hold off the screaming hordes of allied units).
Maybe I’m just tired of the system, but I found playing and replaying the missions a chore. The new rules and units don’t change the game enough, and the new scenarios tend to be frustrating slogs more than invasions. I loaded up Panzer Corps just to see, and found the old game more fun. The gameplay of Panzer Corps was originally designed as a system that modeled blitzkrieg warfare well, and just doesn’t adapt to the kind of warfare that was more common to the African campaigns.
A veteran player that hasn’t had enough of Panzer Corps might eke out some fun in Afrika Korps, but newcomers to the genre would be much better served picking up the original, fantastic Panzer Corps first.