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Panzer General Online

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By JcDent06-12-2013
MrJenssen (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Panzer General Online

The Defence

Developer:
Blue Byte
Publisher:
Ubisoft
Genre:
Casual, Strategy
Release Date:
TBA

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Pentium 4 2.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 8400
AMD equivalent
RAM:
1 GB
HDD:
DirectX:
9.0c

Panzer General saw the light of large, yet terribly low resolution monitors back in 1994. Some of you blighters weren't born back then. Horrible days those were – the game industry was still small and full of hope and wonder, yet everything else (from haircuts to Dial-Up connections) was the stuff of nightmares. The series didn't transition well into the new millennium, seeing only an Xbox release. Well, now we’re being treated to an online version. Here's Panzer General Online and things are very different.

Nobody wants to make a real free online strategy game. Because, first of all, nobody wants to make strategy games anymore. EA tried and failed due to their own short-sightedness. And then you come up against the matter of monetization. What I'm trying to say is that Panzer General Online, a free-to-play title, is a lot different from the old Panzer General games, the game you don't remember. It has been simplified a lot. The battlefield is three hexes wide and units start at the opposite ends where they move towards a barbed wire line in the middle. Units in the first rank can go „pew pew pew“ and, after the damage is inflicted on both sides, die. Units in the second line support attack and defense, but don't attack themselves. Units in the third rank are there because the dastardly AI pulled them back so that you couldn't attack them the next turn. Players can use an order card each turn, which costs supply points. The game ends when one side runs out of units through good old fashioned fighting or supply points through a combination of bad luck, bad management and enemy units running down the unprotected line to attack your command bunker and steal the commander's newspapers.

By our powers combined, I'm a slightly less shitty unit!

By our powers combined, I'm a slightly less shitty unit!

Of course, it's more complex than that. You don't build units in the field. You construct your army as a deck of cards and six of them are randomly placed on the field at start, with the rest arriving later as „reserves“. Each unit card can have up to three command cards attached and these make up your command deck. There are also special HQ power cards that you activate by having command stats, gained either through order cards or fielding rare elite units. Neither of those are easy to obtain, but both are really powerful – the units are miles better than your common ones and the cards deal direct damage to enemy troops or even heal your own.

But, there are more things you have to take into account before charging the battlefield! For example: most new unit cards come with only one command to them. Luckily, you can combine them to get the best combos, but the booster packs are quite random in what units they give AND cards can only combine with others of the same rarity. And ultra rare Supertanks don't drop that often no matter how many real-money points you spend on card packs. So it can be a trade-off between having more commands (and not having to waste a turn shuffling cards) and a better unit.

On the other hand, some units are awesome enough to be worth the trade. Usually, each unit has a defense type (soft or hard) attack and defensive fire values against those types and health points. Some rare units have „shields“ - additional health points that regenerate, making them trickier to kill. The thing is, not all units can attack both types (or at all) or, conversely, have defense scores. This leads to certain interesting combinations: tanks usually have a lot less hit points than infantry who have 5, but units who can hurt a „hard“ type are less common. Machine gun nests have a whopping 4 defense, but no attack and only two HP. And hit points are important because in a bunker attack, you destroy as many supply points as you have health. This actually makes sense – tanks are good for attacking things, but infantry are the squishy, yet irreplaceable part of the military that take and hold land.

Thought we'd drop by, see how your missus is doing.

Thought we'd drop by, see how your missus is doing.

And boy do they hold land. You see, the battlefields aren't all the same and some hexes can provide up to two levels of protection. This means that infantry gain those precious defense points, even against units they can't hurt, and the precious regenerating „shields“. Tanks don't gain anything, but historically, tanks are very afraid of urban areas (Battle of Vukovar, anyone?) and other places where infantry can hide. In scenario battles, those defensive positions are rarely if ever doled out fairly, and they give the otherwise impersonal missions a sense of flavor. And, in the end, the challenge can be overcome by careful planning and deck arrangements.

And while the game has all the hallmarks of a „Facebook“ game – the two monetary systems, the repayable missions, the limited „fuel“ points, the option to pay for everything – it's really not as shallow as one would think. And unlike, say, CnC: Tiberium Alliances, it doesn't play tricks with having you sit there and harvest resources. Attack until you're dry (and it might be a bigger problem for higher level players, as each card has its own fuel cost) and wait for the next day. Or pay.

The game doesn't look half bad either. The units’ aesthetic will remind you of a miniature board game, but have animated attacks and, in case of tanks, when taking damage. This isn't much, but it's a browser game, which has to be resource light, and the style fits the game well enough. There's little in the way of sounds (no unit voices, for one), but the battle sounds are not too annoying and the musical score is OK.

And this is how Special Forces stop the endless ‘Retreat unit out of attack range’ dickery.

And this is how Special Forces stop the endless ‘Retreat unit out of attack range’ dickery.

In the end, Panzer General Online might not be a game of rapid attacks and encircling enemies anymore, but it's a lot better than a lot of tie-in games for famous franchises. If nothing else, you can at least sit down with a friend and have him learn the ropes of unit counters and support, and then ship him off to a bigger game. Or just sit down yourself and try to take down that damned early Tiger.

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