April 10, 2010
I jumped for joy when I read that Petroglyph and Ubisoft were putting out a new edition of SSI’s old computerized teeth-gnasher, Panzer General. That and Steel Panthers were my introduction to graphical computer wargaming, and I learned the course of the German advance and eventual defeat in North Africa almost entirely from those games. So when the news came through the wire that there would be a new version of PG for the Xbox Live Arcade, I flexed my thumbs and got ready to blitzkrieg some hexes as soon as it was available for download. I’d tell you about all of the details of the console game if this weren’t a review about a board game, as Petroglyph and Chuck Kroegel, the designer of the original Panzer General, have simultaneously released a physical port of the revised edition in all of its glorious cardboard and paper. And that’s where true love lies.
Upon first playing the Xbox version of the new Panzer General, two things are clear. One, it’s quite different from the original SSI game; and two, it’s perfectly designed and optimized for a board game version. PG: Allied Assault is a turn-based game of resource management with cards, where units are represented on a modular playing field that changes according to the chosen scenario. These units, which are also cards, can stretch their boots and tracks to capture enemy territory or engage opposing units in multiple types of terrain. To prevail, quite simply, you must fulfill one or more of the winning conditions of the scenario to best your opponent using a variety of tactics: movement, might, or materiel.
Each player has a scenario-based deck that contains two types of cards: Unit and Action. Unit cards are placed on the board to fight and grab valuable territories, and Action cards can be used in a multitude of ways on either player’s turn to alter game play depending on their abilities. Both types of cards are played using a system of Prestige points, which are essentially victory or resource points, and managing them carefully is the hallmark of this game. When a player uses too many Prestige points to play units and actions, including combat actions, he may not have enough left to initiate effective combat later in the round or even defend himself during an opponent’s attack turn. Prestige points can later be regained through the capture of strategic territory and by destroying enemy units. Some Action card mechanics also allow for Prestige gain. For certain, you need Prestige points to wage war potently, but you can also use them as a winning condition.
The combat system is a sixteen-point bloater, but engagements go incredibly fast once committed to memory, and the basic mathematical mechanics make the individual steps intuitive and logical. Arguably the best part of the combat system is that any card in your hand can be used in a number of ways, regardless of card type. If you’re plowing into an enemy tank unit with engineers, you can make the attack more effective by spending Prestige to add an Action (Combat) card to the fight. Likewise, your opponent could then spend some of his Prestige to do the same on defense, which might make his tanks more resistant to damage, or perhaps would sabotage the attack by removing its terrain modifier. Mimicking the turn-based nature of the game, a single combat flips back-and-forth between players until both sides pass. There’s even a chance to sacrifice certain cards for extra combat effectiveness, and an ability to play a bluff that can draw resources out of your opponent’s hand. Finally, a random card is flipped to determine “natural” combat variables, and you simply determine casualties from a comparison of numbers built up throughout the phase.
While the game mechanics are structured and streamlined for fast, cinematic play (à la the Panzer General of old), more serious wargamers will find familiar details that make PG: Allied Assault a candidate for Chit-fest of the Year. Units are blind to their opponents until scouted or engaged, and they can become more or less combat-effective through reinforcement and depletion. Moves and attacks can be manipulated through the careful use of special Command squads. And terrain absolutely affects the way units perform on the battlefield. Add to this airstrikes, minefields, breakthroughs, and multiple winning conditions in each game, and you’ve got something that is deep enough for hardcore gamers and still totally accessible for beginning strategists.
In short, you can think of PG as kind of a miniatures game played with cards in a board game environment. Not as incongruous or confusing as you’d think; these three things add up to a splendid wargaming experience. The new Panzer General is a winner, and Petroglyph have already announced a follow-up that takes place on the Eastern Front as well as a fantasy version of the current rules. Can’t wait to dig in!
If you like: Combat Commander, Tide of Iron, Memoir ’44
You’d definitely enjoy: Panzer General: Allied Assault
Designer: Chuck Kroegel
Produced by: Petroglyph