Review: Panzer Corps for iPad

The line is held.

The line is held.

In the summer of 2011, Slitherine published Panzer Corps on the PC. By computer wargame standards, the title was an immediate and enduring hit. The game was a reverent clone of SSI’s Panzer General games of the early 1990s and hit a sweet spot that few remakes do: it captured what made the original fun while thoroughly modernising it. Slitherine, being devout capitalists, immediately set out to give us more of what we clearly wanted and starting cranking out expansion packs for the game. The most recent, Allied Corps, just came out this spring.

Right now, Slitherine’s long-in-the-making Panzer Corps for iPad is out all over the world. If you already know the game from the PC and are just here to find out if the port is any good, then head to the App Store with my regards: the port is near-perfect, and all of the myriad expansions are available right this very second.

But if you don’t know Panzer Corps, then stick around. I want to tell you about one of my favourite wargames — a big historical playset that I still fire up every couple of months on the PC that now embodies its definitive incarnation on the iPad.

As a campaign goes on, your units will pick up commendations and heroes that change their effectiveness.

As a campaign goes on, your units will pick up commendations and heroes that change their effectiveness.

And here’s where you put down your pipe and thoughtfully clean your monocle. “Owen,” you say, “I’ve already got Shenandoah’s wargames and they’re just peachy. What do I want with Panzer Corps?” A fine question.

Shenandoah’s games Battle of the Bulge and Drive on Moscow are magical, and part of their magic is their narrow scope. Shenandoah’s M.O. is to laser-focus in on one moment in WWII and build a game into it — Battle of the Bulge takes place over the span of a few days, Moscow a few weeks. They’re operational-level games where you’re pushing around thousands of men, but they’re really quite intimate.

Panzer Corps is less interested in freeze-framing individual moments. It’s a whirlwind tour of World War II, spanning the whole length of the conflict from Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 to the Allied race to Berlin in ’44. Panzer Corps is big: dozens of scenarios, hundreds of different units, and a branching campaign structure that gives you a license to alter history if you conduct your battles well enough. This is WWII as told by Michael Bay.

At higher difficulties, Panzer Corps' AI is to be feared. Slitherine have been polishing it for years.

At higher difficulties, Panzer Corps’ AI is to be feared. Slitherine have been polishing it for years.

In Panzer Corps, you are given a core group of units consisting of infantry divisions, tanks, artillery, and aircraft of every conceivable role. You move your forces in turn-based combat on a hex map in scenarios that re-enact historical battles from WWII. When you take objectives, you’re awarded with prestige that you can use to improve your units (give those infantrymen some half-tracks to ride in, or upgrade your Panzer IVDs to the harder-hitting Panzer IVG) or replace casualties. Take your objectives fast enough and you’ll have a chance to take a crack at scenarios that never happened, like an Axis invasion of Britain or even the United States.

Panzer Corps’ tactical engine strikes a beautiful balance of accessibility and complexity. Every unit has a dozen or more stats that influences its chance of success in combat, plus there’s many different types of terrain and a morale system and an entrenchment system to take into account, along with a canny AI to challenge experienced grognards. But for the casual wargamer, you can dial back the game’s difficulty all the way and just enjoy pushing tanks around and calling in Typhoon strikes.

Controlling the game is simple and hugely enjoyable on a touchscreen. Touch a unit to bring up its movement or attack options, then touch a target to see a pop-up estimating the results of the combat, then touch again to confirm. It’s simple, and Slitherine have chosen wisely not to over-complicate matters. The screen occasionally gets a little squirrelly about scrolling, but it’s generally very well behaved indeed.

The iPad edition's minimal UI makes a great use of space but isn't recommended for newbies.

The iPad edition’s minimal UI makes a great use of space but isn’t recommended for newbies.

I was disappointed at first when I saw that Slitherine had opted not to redesign the game’s interface from scratch for the iPad, but the early screenshots of the game didn’t show an optional minimal interface that compresses the UI into narrow strip on the right-hand side of the screen. This reserves a lot of the iPad’s screen real estate for the fighting, but it does excise a lot of handy labels, so minimal UI mode is probably best left to old Panzer Corps hands.

In terms of content, Panzer Corps is an embarrassment of riches, but Slitherine expects that you’re happy to pay the same price as you would on PC. The base game that you’re buying for $20 gets you the 26-scenario German campaign that wends its way from 1939 to 1944. The similarly-sized Allied Corps and Afrika Korps expansions (which let you play as the Americans & Brits and as Rommel’s desert forces, respectively) run about $15 apiece, and there are also 10 “Grand Campaign” expansions, which let you take your core German force through every year of the war on both fronts — an endeavour that would takes weeks of continuous play. The Grand Campaign packs are available for about $5 each. You can also buy the whole shebang for $60, but there’s really no need to at first. The base Panzer Corps set will keep you occupied for weeks and weeks. And that’s not even getting into the cross-platform asynchronous multiplayer.

Slitherine are to be commended for what they’ve done here. They’ve frequently espoused an uncompromising approach to mobile games where no feature from a PC game will be left behind, and with Panzer Corps they’ve held to that. There is nothing absent from the PC version that I can detect and the iPad is now my preferred platform for playing one of my favourite games.

Pocket Tactics Rating

5 Star Rating

5/5 Stars