Hands-on preview: Panzer Corps for iPad

And lots of it.

There will be blood.

We’ve done two most-anticpated games lists over the last year and a half, and only one game features on both: Panzer Corps. The PC version of Panzer Corps is the summer blockbuster movie of wargames: a crowd-pleasing spectacle that satisfies the hardcore but provides for new fans, too. And after a year of delays, it’s sitting on my iPad right now — and Slitherine are hoping to get it into your hands in November.

Shenandoah Studio’s Battle of the Bulge gave wargaming a new face last year. Developed for the iPad from the ground up, it embodied characteristics that computer wargames had never attempted in twenty years: accessibility, elegance. Why then, are we still on tenterhooks for the iOS release of Panzer Corps, a PC WWII wargame from the pre-Bulge era that was itself a reincarnation of the 1990s-vintage Panzer General games?

In Bulge, the camera is mounted low over the Ardennes. It’s an intimate knife-fight of a game, a shovelful of units fighting over one map that you eventually know better than your best friend. Panzer Corps has an epic sweep, with the camera pulled, way, way back. The maps are vast and populated with enough units to make a convincing North Korean May Day parade. This is a Cecil B. DeMille wargame.

I would walk 500 miles.

Panzer Corps’ UI isn’t purpose-made for iOS but it’s perfectly functional.

Panzer Corps is about big spaces and manoeuvring big armies around in them. It features dozens of scenarios bolted onto branching campaigns that respond to how well you do: winning a decisive victory in France as the Germans in 1940 gives you a license to try your hand at Operation Seelöwe, the planned-but-never-executed Axis invasion of Great Britain, for example.

The catalog of units in the game is so large you’ll never deploy a force that includes them all: Panzer Is, IIs, IIIs and IVs (with a dozen different incremental variations on them), artillery both towed and self-propelled, JU-88s and Focke-Wulf 190s. It’s an enormous sandbox filled with toys. Want to deploy horse cavalry in 1944? Go right ahead. Want to roll Panther Ds into San Francisco? If you’re good enough to fight your way there, you can. All of this content, plus the Afrika Corps and Allied Corps expansions are meant to be available when the game launches in a couple of months. Not one iota of content has been cut from the PC version — not even the mission briefing voiceovers.

Tonka War.

Panzer Corps’ divisions are all made up of just one kind of vehicle — not realistic, but the Tonka War is a lot fun.

Mechanically speaking, this is the gold standard to which I’ve been comparing every single wargame we’ve ever talked about on Pocket Tactics. Every unit in the game has a large but manageable number of ratings for performance in different situations like attacking armor or fighting in cities. Units that hold a position for more than one turn start to entrench and receive a defensive bonus. Heavy bombers cause direct damage but also lower the morale of units they target. Panzer Corps’ systems are intuitive and easy to absorb.

So how fares the port? On the iPad, Panzer Corps plays exactly the way you wished it would. The touch controls make moving units and ordering attacks simple: touch an artillery unit, for example, and the map highlights all of the places it can move to, and all of the distant targets it can strike. When you select a target, the game pops up the combat odds, showing you a likely result — a second touch confirms the attack. It’s smooth and sensible, and there’s an undo button there just in case.

Baby it's cold outside.

Maps can freeze over or get muddy from rain, altering the way units interact with them.

The interface isn’t without some faults. Slitherine have decided not to do a full-on redesign of it for touchscreens, and what we’re getting is a touch-ified PC game. Some of the buttons on the UI were easier to hit with a mouse pointer than with a finger. There’s no pinch-to-zoom, though that may still be in the works. Some minor features that were associated with keyboard esoterica like ctrl-clicking (such as  renaming units) are absent at the moment, as well.

As an iPad game, Panzer Corps promises to be nothing short of stellar. A fully-native touchscreen UI would have been lovely, of course, but what is there is perfectly functional. Slitherine are also working in the same cross-platform multiplayer functionality that Battle Academy enjoyed, meaning that multiplayer games against PC players will be possible. And now you can play the game where you were always meant to play it: on your couch, with a glass of something fermented to hand.