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Review of Panzer Corps AfrikaKorps

Developed by Lordz Game Studio and Published by Slitherine

Review by Avery Abernethy, 9 September, 2012

The Battle for North Africa was characterized by dramatic swings of fortune. GrogHead’s Avery Abernethy examines how the spiritual successor to the great Panzer General games takes on the subject.

The North African campaign in World War 2 represents one of the great “what if” moments of the war. Italy attempted a quick assault into Egypt from their territory in Libya in and were repulsed. The British seemed poised to conquer all of Italy’s African territories in early 1941 when Hitler sent Rommel and a small force of armor, infantry and air units ordering a holding action with very limited offensive actions. What followed was several years of see-saw warfare with large swings in momentum. Rommel’s Afrika Corps generally suffered from very poor logistics, was usually heavily outnumbered, and had little in the way of air support. Yet Rommel almost managed to cut the British supply lines by capturing the Suez Canal.

Many historians think that if Hitler had sent even a small part of his 1941 air power and logistical support to North Africa instead of Russia that Rommel could have captured Egypt which would have greatly worsened the already horrible British logistical situation. But Hitler attacked the USSR and stupidly declared war on the USA after Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 which from a strategic perspective cost Germany the hope of success.

Computer wargames have had a difficult time accurately simulating the strategic warfare situation in North Africa in 1941 – 1942. There are few terrain features between Eastern Libya and Alexandria in Egypt to impede offensive operations. The Southern Flank of both armies was usually open to the desert. When one side got the upper hand they could usually advance hundreds of miles until exhaustion, logistical problems, or enemy reinforcements stopped progress.

pkak

 

Panzer Corps AfrikaCorps is a stand-alone game using the same basic game system successfully employed in PanzerCorps Wehrmacht. Like its spiritual predecessor Panzer General, Panzer Corps AfrikaCorps is a beer and pretzels wargame. The player is a German General who takes a combined force army of German and Italian troops and tries to lead them to eventual success through a series of linked battles.

Core units accompany the general from one linked scenario to the next. Failure to gain at least a minimal victory in a scenario can cause a player to lose the game. Decisive victories gain more prestige points which can be used to purchase more units, technological upgrades (when they become available), and build experienced units to over-strength status.

Like PanzerCorps Wehmacht, this game employs hero attachments to core units which make experienced units even more powerful by increasing their attack, defense, movement, initiative or spotting. If the player is successful in gaining decisive victories their forces become ever stronger because they can be built to over-strength status or gain heroes. Lose battles (or fail to gain enough prestige from decisive wins) and the player’s forces gradually become weaker compared to the enemy until eventual defeat arrives.

pkak

 

A player successful over a large series of linked scenarios will eventually capture Palestine, followed by several battles in Iraq. Win those and the Panzer Corps General will march into India. Win those battles and the player can win the war and will be hailed by your Command HQ as the second coming of Alexander the Great.

AfrikaCorps adds one truly significant game element – mines. Massive minefields were an important part of the North African Campaign, especially when the forces had months to dig in and construct huge mine emplacements. Some of the battles around Alexandria had some of the largest mine emplacements of the war. The game effectively models this by having mine units in several later scenarios. Blunder forward without proper spotting and your tanks will take damage and be stopped cold by webs of mine units.

The rest of the game mechanics are essentially identical to Panzer Corps Wehmacht. There are fewer forts, far more mines, and in most scenarios far fewer defensive terrain options. Anyone who has played Wehmacht will slip right into AfrikaCorps.

Like earlier releases the game was 100% stable on my one year old Falcon Northwest Talon. I did not have a single crash, game freeze, or hiccup. The graphics and sound are adequate for a wargame. Controls are logical and well thought out.

Panzer Corps Wehmacht received outstanding reviews from many (including me) for being a well-balanced, extremely fun, beer-and-pretzels wargame which closely followed the Panzer General tradition. In some limited aspects AfrikaCorps exceeds its predecessor. Yet in most regards this game is far less fun and fumbled several critical design elements which will frustrate many players.

pkak

 

The first couple of scenarios of AfrikaCorps do an excellent job of capturing the back-and-forth nature of the North African Campaign. In the first scenario your objectives change in the early turns. Instead of very limited objectives you have much more ambitious targets. This fits with what happened in 1941 although the lack of historical background in the documentation may confuse gamers unfamiliar with the history of the conflict.

In another early scenario the player has to run a fighting retreat. Again, in North Africa commanders often had to keep a core army group together which retreats over a large distance. Yet you receive major reinforcements and the rejuvenated German-Italian force goes on a massive counter-attack. All of this in in one single scenario! The designers handled this in a frankly brilliant fashion. The player gets a real feel for the huge momentum swings that Rommel had in the war.

Despite these major plusses, this game was a let-down. There is a major marketing flaw coupled with a preventable design flaw. The marketing flaw was almost unbelievable. The game was released without an updated manual. Only the original game manual from Wehrmacht was included in pdf format (regardless if a boxed copy or a download was purchased). A grossly inadequate readme file is the only update.

There is no background on the war in North Africa so the context is lost for those unfamiliar with history. Worse, the major game innovation of mines is not explained at all. The readme says that mines are now included but fails to describe how they work or even more importantly how they can be overcome. It gets even worse. Mines can only be successfully removed with Pioniere units – but this reviewer only eventually discovered this through trial and error. No Pionier units start in your core force, so if the player fails to independently purchase these units the mine fields cannot be breached. The failure to explain this major game enhancement in an updated manual (or at minimum a detailed readme file) can kill the fun of the game due to this design oversight.

pkak

 

I found the lack of an updated manual or a detailed readme file to be so disturbing that I thought that my download or the disk version I purchased was flawed. I had a give-and-take with one of the game designers who confirmed that my purchase was exactly what was released. Although this serious game flaw could be corrected if a detailed readme file (or better yet an expanded manual) was released, it is still something that could have been corrected with only a couple of days of additional work.

But there is another problem with AfrikaKorps that is even more serious. The game balance is poor. On the easiest setting the game is very easy to defeat. On even the next highest difficulty setting the game is probably impossible to win without employing cheat codes. This is in marked contrast to the first release (PanzerCorps Wehmacht) which had excellent play balance. It was very easy on the “easy setting.” A good challenge on “medium setting.” And an absolute terror on the most difficult settings. AfrikaCorps is simply too hard for even an experienced gamer to win a long campaign on the medium setting, much less the hard settings.

I played AfrikaCorps for more than thirty hours to complete this review. I played the game through on “easy.” I started several “medium” games until I finally quit with frustration. On the setting between “very easy” to “medium” I think that it is next to impossible for even experienced players to win the long campaign. Perhaps if the player was extremely careful, only built a few units up to over-strength, and only upgraded the most essential core units they could win the campaign on medium – but again perhaps not.

This is a great disappointment to me. There is so much to like about this game. So much was done right. A few things were done in a truly outstanding fashion. But the lack of documentation and poor play balance were a grave disappointment. Perhaps I’m missing something, but looking at the comments on online forums confirms many of my misgivings.

Unlike some reviewers, I spent many weeks playing this game before submitting my review. I purchased my copies of the game (both download and boxed versions). I have played this game for many hours on multiple difficulty settings. I really liked earlier releases. Unfortunately, AfrikaCorps could have greatly benefitted from an additional week’s worth of attention from someone who could write game documentation and several weeks’ worth of additional play testing for better game balance. I rate this game a 72 on a 100 point scale.

Grumpy Grog Says: Wargaming in the deserts of North Africa can be a lot of fun, but not when you don’t have any documentation about new units in the game. This is a serious oversight that stops the gamer cold like Rommel at El Alamein.

About the Author: Avery Abernethy is a Professor of Marketing at Auburn University. He has played wargames going back more than forty years. He still has his boxed copy of Avalon Hill’s Afrika Corps from the 1960s. He hunts, fishes, shoots and attends AU tailgates.

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