Panzer Corps 2: Correctly Improving a Classic

One of the ultimate wargames just got better, which I didn't think was possible.

Ah, to be back in the (tank) driver’s seat. This time it’s with Slitherine’s recently-released Panzer Corps 2. I won’t bore you with the most likely well-known timeline of Panzer General to Panzer Corps to Order of Battle to, now, Panzer Corps 2. However, I will give you a tiny bit of my history with the original Panzer Corps

Way before it was on Steam, I bought it the original the day it came out (in 2011) — and it’s almost like I never put it down. Until Order of Battle was released, Panzer Corps was the only game in which I would buy the DLCs the day they came out. Yeah, I was ‘that guy’. I played the hell-juice out of the original and all of its expansions. Then… I would play it some more. Since it was not on Steam (and still isn’t, on my PC), there is no way to tell how many hundreds of thousands of hours I put into it.

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Note: As much as I like talking (typing) to you guys, for the rest of this review, I’m going to refer to the original Panzer Corps as “PC 1” and Order of Battle as “OoB”. (Clearly, I can’t call the original Panzer Corps “PC” — as that’s something else entirely… actually, two completely different entities.)

They don’t ever just blindly throw you into the deep end. You have specific orders and targets, well-explained as to what the hierarchy wants from you.

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Now, on to the fun. Obviously, if you have played PC 1, you’ll be able to jump right into Panzer Corps 2. However, if you have never played this type of wargame, Panzer Corps 2 is extremely easy to get (steam) rolling into. That’s an Overrun joke. Which brings me to one of the multitudes of new, cool features.

Overruns

Overrun attacks. While using tanks (of course), overrun attacks happen when that armor destroys its target without taking any damage itself. This lets that tank move again (if it did not use up all of its movement points beforehand), then, the best part, the overrun attack does not count as an attack action! So, theoretically, if you have enough movement points and ammo supplies, you can mow down multiple weak enemies, one by one, in a single turn. I’ve used it a lot and it’s bad-ass, man. But, if an AT gun or artillery provides support fire, it cannot complete the overrun. Likewise, if the opponent surrenders or retreats or is located in close terrain, again, no overrun. This is pure, flat-out (pun intended), squishing dudes. 

Panzer Corps 2
After the arty fire from the northeast, and then with Recon help, the guys in the town are going to be pancakes.
Aircraft

Before I get too deep into this, I have to mention right now what really caught me off guard: the way aircraft works. It’s very different than both PC 1 and OoB. Since I came into this from last playing OoB, when I flew over a target and bombed it I was waiting for that ‘final move’ — where the plane moves one more hex. I should’ve known better since this is Panzer Corps 2, not OoB 2. However, that was only a minor surprise. They’ve completely reworked aircraft behavior since PC 1… really throwing a wrench into my props… err, plans.

First up: they’re all assigned to airbases (Pro Tip: they can also be rebased later on… whew!). Next, and this is the one that really freaked me out — after hitting the end of the turn button, all the planes return to their bases for fuel and ammo. No more leaving a plane over an important unit to protect it from being bombed by the enemy next turn. Why? Again, because they return to their base(s) at the beginning of the next (which is the enemy’s) turn. Imagine my horror the first few times watching my planes ‘disappear’ at the end of the turn. As usual, they can’t fly in bad weather. During clear or cloudy, if their base is captured, they’ll automatically rebase (praying, of course, you have more than one). However, if their base is captured during bad weather, they’re destroyed. (Hmm… maybe bad weather would be a good time to capture an enemy airfield? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) As always, carriers can be used as mobile airfields — but they can handle seven planes now, except carriers don’t allow jets or strat bombers.

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Encirclement

Back on the ground, if you can get your units (along with their automatic/natural zones of control) on opposite sides of the enemy — the more surrounding the better (plus, you can use impassable terrain to your advantage) — there are now encirclement penalties for this. If you can get them encircled, they suffer accuracy losses, initiative deficits and compounding suppression every turn they’re stuck in there. Additionally, they can’t get fuel, ammo or replacements. Finally, they suffer from suppression until they move out of the encirclement. Note: I tried to put a positive spin on this, using my Encirclement Summarization™ as your units over theirs. Obviously, it works both ways. I mean, if they can mire you in the trap, all the same bad crap occurs, only to your units instead. You’ve been warned. 

Panzer Corps 2
The enemies inside the red, visible or hidden, are in trouble.
Supply

Another major change is supply hexes. If a location is marked with a half-filled circle, it’s a supply hex. This does a couple of things for you. First, your troops will be automatically resupplied with ammo and fuel every turn they can trace a clear path to one of these hexes… with the provision of a strict meaning of “clear path”: the trail/route back can’t pass through any enemies or their zones of control; nor can the line pass through impassable terrain.

More importantly, supply hexes are now the only places where your units can be deployed, disbanded, purchased or upgraded (other than the deployment phase, of course)! This drastically changes your logistics while in the field. Now, you can still replenish your guys in the field, but not to full strength and at a significant increase in cost to doing it during the next deployment phase. For example, *I* got used to refilling my units right before the end of the scenario, before the next one up in the campaign. I definitely don’t do that anymore. I merely (try to) keep them alive until the next deployment phase, when all the aforementioned special/supply hex happenings are cheaper. So, in reality, I end a lot of scenarios with units at greatly reduced strength — plus, a lot of them moved back away from the Front… lest they get accidentally completely wiped out by some unforeseen armored car or infantry that had been hidden in the FoW. 

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Accuracy

Having already mentioned “accuracy” before, that has changed as well from PC 1. Without getting too neety grrreety (roll your “r”s, kids), it basically boils down to this: instead of every shot hitting before then applying modifiers, as it did previously, now it’s fundamentally set up at 50%… before all of the amendments kick in. As before, terrain, weather, experience, entrenchment, etc. all play a part in hit calculations. The major new additions are 1) adjacent units that haven’t fired yet and 2) nearby recon units.

Mass Attack

Now, with the aforementioned encirclement rules, it’s sometimes wiser to move a lot of units near an enemy before firing with any of them. This gives you the “Mass Attack 2X” bonus. If you’re firing with one unit and have another one next to the enemy, then you get that bonus, which inflicts even more damage than normal. Why “sometimes” only? Because once you move your unit(s), they cannot move again, with the exception of recon pieces. For example, you move three or four units next to a bad guy. Your first one that fires forces their unit to move/flee. There you go — now you’ve potentially wasted the movement of the rest of them. It’s a double-edged sword: you need the encirclement for the extra firepower, but you use up the movement points of some of your units… which you realize you could have used elsewhere. Ah, command decisions.

Panzer Corps 2
Since my two tanks surrounding their INF haven’t fired, once my INF moves and attacks, it’ll receive the Mass Attack.
Recon

So far, I’ve mentioned recon units a couple of times. They’re quite different in Panzer Corps 2. Sure, they still get the multiple-movement ability. However, if they’re adjacent to another of your pieces then you get a Recon (=accuracy) bonus while you attack. More double-edged swordiness: sure you get the multiple movement, better sight and unveiling of the FoW, however, if you put them in harm’s way, you get that bonus. Hence the downside — Recon units aren’t the toughest units around, so when you move them next to an enemy… again, command decisions (a.k.a. pay your money, take your chances). Fortunately, you can do this with air recon planes as well. However, you’d have to buy them as I haven’t started a scenario with them already supplied. Then, of course, you have to start worrying about their ack ack as well.

Panzer Corps 2
Yes, it’s a Recon unit sitting in a town. Mostly, I just thought it was a cool image. Very detailed.
Combat Randomness

Now, having gone through some of the new accuracy rules, there’s one slider, used during the initial setup of the game, that I’ve played with — a ton (additionally, a lot of times, it’s dependent solely based on my mood): the Combat Randomness Slider. Whether you’ve played any of the other fantastic games I’ve mentioned or not, when you’re getting ready to attack an enemy, a little pop-up occurs showing you the ‘odds’ — basically how many units you’ll lose compared to how many they’ll lose. There are times it can be extremely frustrating when you’re expecting to lose two while they’re going to lose seven. Then, you do the attack, something goes awry, you lose eight, they lose one. Sure, this is war and war is unpredictable. However, it can be rage-inducing.

The Combat Randomness Slider gives you (some) control over how accurate the prediction of the outcome of the pop-up becomes. Default is at 50. If you set it to zero, then the result of combat prediction is always completely accurate. In the above example, I’d lose two, they’d lose seven — without any surprises or variation. If you set it to 100, then everything that’s calculated for the game goes into effect. It’s only a guesstimate of how the attack will really turn out. In other words, it’s a crap shoot. If I’m feeling more ‘war-like’, I’ll set it higher. If I want a pure, no-surprise strategy, only my pea-brain against the AI, I’ll set it to zero (which is actually quite rare).

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As I’ve already taken 37 years to do this review, I need to appease the Big Boss by wrapping this up. There is a multitude of things I’ve left out — most of which were quite intentional. I can’t spoil all of your astonishment or startling revelations. A few teasers are about submarines, captured equipment and commander traits. Others? You’ll just have to experience them.

Game Modes

Finally, there are three main options/approaches to choose from. In reverse order (for me), they are Scenarios, Random Scenarios and, of course, Campaigns. If you have ever read anything I’ve written, you know that I’m a big ole campaign-head. The Scenarios are well-balanced, tough but fair. The Random Scenarios obviously give you, literally endless, capabilities for setting up different games. I had a blast with the few (*cough* high double-digit… [shhh, the Boss may be watching]) ones I played. Then, currently, there are five Campaigns. Unlike PC 1, they are very lengthy. Yeah, as a guy that loves campaigns, that’s really a heart-breaker… not. I ‘might have accidentally’ started three of them [shhh again].  I can only speculate that there are more to come. But as I basically own the Slitherine library, I’m at least believing, thinking 99% positive, in more DLC to arrive… hopefully campaigns, but it doesn’t really matter what form they take if made… because, again, I’m ‘that guy’.

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Options

There are also many other variables you can set to modify the game and how you want to play it. You can use the supplied troops or create your own army from scratch. You can adjust the type of environment, map size, mission type, weather, etc.  You can alter your commanders. (No way I can cover them all here.) There are also “Special Challenges” you can add to make your command even harder and more brutal. Luckily, I don’t have that much hair left to pull out.

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Needless to say (“needless to say” is actually a ridiculous, but common, phrase), I had more enjoyment playing Panzer Corps 2 than I could ever put into words. If given another 37 years, I still wouldn’t be able to articulate how much fun I had playing this sequel to an already great game. And, sure, I could pull out a litany of gaming clichés like “easy to learn, hard to master” or the really hard-truth fact about PC 2: “… just one more turn.” — any and all of which would be quite correct in their usage. I really didn’t think they could improve upon the original… but they did. Immensely so. It’s just so… intense? mind-blowing? astonishing? Plus, yes, at times it can be aggravating — when you set the slider I mentioned to 100. But, even that’s a great exasperation: you have all of these ‘plans’… only to have the outcome of a single battle (implied supply) truck up your world. Well, I guess I’m not as think as I smart I am. This is easily one of the best games I’ve reviewed and I’m glad I’m done with this writing… so I can get back to playing Panzer Corps 2!

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Panzer Corps 2 is available now for PC.

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