Panzer General for PC
Before there was Blitzkrieg, Call of Duty, or IL2 Sturmovik, there was Panzer General. Published by SSI, a leader in turn based strategy titles in the ‘90’s, Panzer General for PC ran in DOS and offered gamers the chance to re-fight most of the major campaigns of the Second World War from the perspective of a German Panzer General. PC titles to this point often focused on one aspect of the many campaigns, or took the grand strategy approach, allowing the player to run entire countries in the simulation.
Panzer General keeps the focus operational: there is no vast reordering of the German economy, no choice of whether to invade Poland or attack France through Switzerland. The campaigns take a (mostly) historical path, with certain bonus missions becoming available if the player performs well enough. All in all, Panzer General is a unique title with immense replay value.
The Structure of Panzer General
Panzer General for PC maintains an operational focus, and so the units controlled correspond roughly to brigade or regimental sized formations, perhaps even divisions for some units. Units are classified by type - Tanks, Infantry, Anti-Tank, Air Defense, Artillery, and so forth. There are Aircraft available as well, in three primary types: Level Bombers, Tactical Bombers, and Fighters. Naval units are present as well, although they are assigned only in certain missions and cannot be purchased.
One highly unique aspect of Panzer General that was not common to PC strategy titles of the time is the concept of “Core” units. Core units are those that given to the player in the first campaign scenario, plus those purchased thereafter that fall within the Core unit cap - a limit that progressively increases throughout the game. All Panzer General units gain experience as they fight, but Core units are carried over from one scenario to the next. This allows the player to build an army suited to taste, and offers a quality versus quantity dynamic that becomes very important in a number of scenarios.
Panzer General for PC: Prestige and the Successful Panzer General
Prestige is the currency of Panzer General, and it is awarded based on success in combat; seizing objectives, taking cities, villages, and airfields, destroying enemy units, and beating out a particular scenario with time to spare all add a prestige bonus.
Prestige allows the player to purchase new Core units as well as additional Auxiliary units when the Core cap is reached for that scenario. It is used for sending replacements to damaged units, upgrading a unit’s equipment, and most devastatingly of all: over-strengthening elite units. In addition, several points in the campaign allow for the player to act as a deciding vote in real or hypothetical decisions facing the German High Command in the Second World War. Panzer General for PC allows the player, if sufficient prestige points are available, choose to convince the powers that be to, say, avoid diverting resources to defeat a pocket of Soviet forces centered around Kiev in order to attack Moscow.
This possibility is historical - Panzer Generals of the time such as Guderian advocated that Soviet troop concentrations around Kiev be ignored as irrelevant while the panzer divisions advanced on their true objective: Moscow. His recommendation was not taken and valuable time was lost securing Kiev, which delayed the attack on Moscow to the point that autumn rains turned the Russian roads to mud. As a result, the German advance stalled before Moscow, and the rest is history.
Panzer General Combat
Combat in Panzer General is turn based and dependent on unit values. Each unit has hard attack, soft attack, defense, and initiative values that determine which unit fires first in combat and how much damage it does to its opponent. A key part of playing Panzer General for PC is determining which units are best used in what circumstances. For example, tanks can run wild in open terrain against infantry and artillery. But send those tanks into a city defended by infantry - or worse: anti-tank guns - and your shiny Panzers will be turned to scrap in a heartbeat.
Panzer General: Windows Troubleshooting
Many gamers grew up waging battle across Europe and North America in classic games of Panzer General. Windows however, soon stepped in to wreak havoc. As long as Windows ran in conjunction with DOS the game would run, but by the advent of XP, Vista, and Windows 7 it has become extremely difficult to run Panzer General. Windows does have DOS shells, but they do not function the same as DOS and generally do not run Panzer General.
To play the game on Windows based PCs an open source DOS emulation package such as DOSBox will probably need to be downloaded and installed. I have adopted DOSBox with much success on my 64 bit Windows system.
Panzer General: Windows to Realism on the WWII Battlefield
Once you’ve got DOSBox running Panzer General, Windows pretty much gets out of the picture unless you’re running DOSBox in windowed mode. If running a DOS based program makes you feel a bit nostalgic, you might just want to make Panzer General gameplay a bit more realistic.
The game has options to increase or decrease the prestige available to the AI, the prestige available to the player, and to choose whether the AI is “smart” or not. Also the player can decide whether to play with supply and weather options on or not. Clearly how to play is up to you - but be advised that neutering the realism too much while bolstering the player prestige ratio can make the game a complete pushover.
Supply is integral to realism because many of the strengths and weaknesses of particular units are heightened or mitigated depending on how much ammunition and fuel they carry. For example, a self propelled artillery unit may seem ideal - but it may carry only enough ammo for three engagements. Likewise a heavy tank is great until it runs out of gas - and if a unit is adjacent to too many foes it will be unable to resupply at all.
Weather is often overlooked, but historically it played a vital role in the outcome of the war. With the weather options off, the ground will always be solid and dry, which makes getting to Moscow in December a bit easier. But if you really want to test your mettle as a Panzer General, play with weather options on and try to best history.
Panzer General: Windows - Historical Unit Compositions
One way to make the most of Panzer General is to try and emulate the actual unit structure and organization of real Panzer formations of the time. This can provide for multiple, unique play throughs of Panzer General; windows to what commanders really had to work with in the Second World War.
If you assume that the basic units represented by the icons are brigade/regiment and air wing level formations, historic tables of actual Panzer Divisions, Panzer Korps, and Panzer Armies can be referenced to inform your unit choices. For example, early Panzer divisions were ideally equipped with two brigades of tanks, a brigade of mobile infantry, plus artillery, anti aircraft, and reconnaissance units. Several divisions constituted a Korps, and two-three Korps an army. Because aircraft can be so powerful in Panzer General, some strategies emphasize simply outfitting half of your Core units as aircraft and wiping out the AI units. But for realism it is wise to remember that every panzer division was not accompanied by a wing of Stuka bombers. Support was present, but far more sporadic than that.
Because you’ll end up with 40+ Core units in the game, simulating the organization of a Panzer Army with 6-8 tank brigades, 8-12 infantry brigades, and 3-4 each of the other units and aircraft, is feasible and somewhat historically accurate. Clearly complete realism is not possible in a game based on stat charts, but it can be fun to simulate it.
Panzer General: Windows Gamers - Consider It!
Panzer General for PC is simply one of the best turn based strategy titles ever published. You can spend hours immersed in Panzer General. Windows takes some getting around, but DOSBox is there to help, and once you’ve mastered the basics, the game offers deep gameplay more than 15 years after its release.