If Panzer General had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent it. It's challenging enough to not only give you a good time but turn you on to the idea of war games generally, yet it isn't too much all at once; there's no byzantine arrangement of tabs with air interdiction data and experience differentials, you don't have to check the fuel levels of your trucks, and if you overextend one part of your front the consequences will be painful but not fatal. It's the perfect war gaming gateway drug, and, considering that its no longer in “print,” the time was ripe for an update. Panzer Corps is that update.
The single-player campaigns are broken up into phases: you can play all the way from the invasion of Poland to (spoiler alert!) the conquest of the United States in one epic slog, or you can pick up more manageable slices of the action, starting later in the war at various points such as the invasion of the Soviet Union or the last-ditch defense of the Reich. Every campaign has a number of possible permutations thanks to the victory-rating system. Beating Poland way quicker than expected will free up your troops for participation in the invasion of Norway, and smashing the French extra quickly will give you the opportunity to invade England in 1940. Winning victories that are not as spectacular will merely earn you progress to the next scenario, and sometimes even an outright loss won't end your game. Still, enough losses and narrow scrapes, and you'll end up in Berlin with the Allies bearing down on you, and if you win a more or less unbroken chain of decisive victories, you will defeat all of the Allies and win the game on the west coast of the United States.
The average Panzer Corps scenario begins with an exciting voiceover and a typewritten copy of your orders, and proceeds quickly to purchasing and positioning your units on the scenario's map. Maps typically depict large swathes of European terrain, but their scale doesn't seem to be exact. The entire country of Norway fits into a smaller map than the north of France and the Low Countries, for example. In general, though, there's a lot of space to conquer (particularly in the scenarios in Russia), and your forces, at the start, occupy tiny parts of it on the extreme fringes. You begin by scattering them around the map in pre-defined staging areas, alongside preexisting units you've been allocated for the operation.
Your force is made up of individual units. Panzer Corps has a wide variety of units: infantry, engineers, scout cars, tanks, three types of aircraft, artillery, train artillery, paratroopers, etc. These units can gain experience and become more potent, and they can be upgraded: basic infantry can become paratroopers, for instance. They can also benefit from advancing technology – updating your measly Panzer II to more advanced models is practically a requirement after the first couple of scenarios. Buying, upgrading, and reinforcing these units after they take losses requires the expenditure of “prestige’ which is gained by capturing enemy cities and making progress in the campaign.
The ebb and flow of a particular scenario are determined by several simple systems. Units can move a certain number of hexes per turn and move quicker over roads or open terrain in good weather and slower through mountains or through mud and snow. Certain rivers can be crossed by any unit, but some (in particular the Volga) can't be forded either via bridges or special river-crossing engineer units. Units can be resupplied/reinforced each turn if they haven't moved and aren't surrounded by enemies, and after being resupplied are unable to move for the rest of the turn. Also, units cannot stack.
"These are the kinds of calculations a good war game forces you to work through."
Combat is resolved quickly, and its results can be predicted accurately by mousing over an opposing unit while your unit is selected. In general Nazi units are superior on an individual basis to most units you'll run into, but that changes as the game wears on, and as the quality (and especially quantity) of opposing troops increases. Terrain, relative experience, armament, entrenchment, and a host of other (relatively simple, easily understood) factors contribute to success or failure. Attacking a city with an entrenched infantry unit is generally a riskier thing than attacking the same unit in the open, unless you've bombarded the unit with artillery already and disrupted them. Your assault may still be difficult unless the assaulting unit is a fortification-chewing pioneer or a heavy-hitting grenadier, and it may be complicated further by nearby enemy artillery which will provide defensive fire to its comrade. These kinds of calculations, dozens of times, simultaneously, added to larger concerns about the pace of your invasion, the amount of prestige remaining in your bank account, and the need to secure key objectives in record time, make up the average scenario. These are the kinds of calculations a good war game forces you to work through.
There are some problems. One of the victory conditions in the Stalingrad scenario never fires, there aren't any North African scenarios, and the treatment of the Nazi military is sanitized (as it is in all of these games). Nevertheless they don't even come close to compromising the game. When it comes to being Panzer General, Panzer Corps beats the pants off the competition.