Added 1 August 2000


SSI's 5-star General series proved to be so popular, especially Panzer General, that the company decided to bring out an upgraded version of the latter game in 1997, Panzer General II. While the 5-star series has all resembled one another despite additions and improvements to the game engine, PG II introduced several new innovation, some good and some, in my opinion at least, something less than the original format.

PG II contains thirty-six scenarios which can be played independently or linked as part of one of the five campaigns on offer: Blitzkrieg, Defending the Reich, Onward to Berlin, and Crusade in Europe (which can be played as either US or British). The designers seem to have taken more of a microcosmic view of the war with these scenarios: thus many of the scenarios involve conflict around a section of the front rather than the front as a whole. For example, whereas PG had two Polish scenarios, Poland and Warsaw, PG II just offers Ciechanow, apparently a stage of the campaign where the Polish Army offered severe resistance. Likewise there is no general D-Day scenario for the Western Allies, just one scenario for Italy (Salerno), three for France (Advance on St Lo, Arracourt and Metz) and one for Germany (Dessau). While the research that went into these scenarios is quite impressive, one gets the feeling that the player is just getting a sample of the campaign rather than playing the campaign as a whole, as in PG or Allied General.

A more serious complaint is that at least two of the campaigns contain one completely unbalanced scenario which throw a spanner into the works. With the German Blitzkrieg campaign it is Novgorod, which I can honestly say seems to be ridiculously tilted towards a Soviet victory. No matter how good your Germans, you are guaranteed to lose most of your units here, if not your campaign. With the Soviets the problem scenario is Prokhorovka, which comes as their second scenario after a fairly painless introductory one against the Rumanians outside Stalingrad. The fledgling Soviet forces have to compete with a sudden influx of German Tigers and Panthers, plus experienced Panzer IVs, and take several objectives. This raises in turn another problem: the ahistorical "no air force" order of battle. Whereas in PG and AG you could not win without at least some air support, it now seems a serious philosophy that, for the Germans at least, buying aircraft is a waste of points, so the player should concentrate on building tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft units. Infantry too do not seem as important as in PG, since I have noticed most tank units in PG II seem able to attack units with a high entrenchment level which in PG would have led to heavy losses.

At the battlefield level there are several innovations. The maps themselves are all hand-painted and look more like tableaux than battlefield maps, complete with fields, hedgerows, individual trees and the like. While attractive, to me at least it is rather distracting, especially as the individual trees make it hard to tell whether the hex is supposed to be a woods hex or not. The "Living Battlefield" concept whereby damage caused by shellfire remains in the hex is quite clever but rather pointless, since it has no effect on the game in the same way that, say, shellholes, rubble or fires do in Advanced Squad Leader. Visually the units themselves are represented by icons that switch shape and direction according to which hex they are fighting against, giving more of a "miniatures" effect. This does have the (perhaps more realistic) effect of making it harder to see which unit is which. A few new and interesting units have been added, notably the German Maus and British Centurion, plus some British and American jet fighters.

The most interesting changes are at the combat level. The best innovation in my opinion is the "Overrun", whereby if a tank unit eliminates an enemy unit with no loss to itself, it can proceed to another hex and attack again. A very fundamental change has also been made to the rules of fire and movement. Now units can move, wait while other units fire and move, and then attack. Likewise Recon units now have phased recon, where a reconnaissance unit can move a few hexes, stop, move again, and so on until it has used up all its movement allowance. The transport rules have also changed slightly for mounted units: now an infantry unit can move in its trucks or half-tracks but when attacked is considered dismounted (the transport icon suddenly changes back to the three soldier figures). However, artillery or AA units still seem to get clobbered if caught mounted. I am less certain about the desirability of the changes in the artillery and anti-aircraft rules. Now a unit simply has to be in range (usually two or three hexes) of an artillery or AA unit to be supported. This means that attacking becomes more difficult, especially against the heavy Soviet guns. It does also mean that aircraft are more likely to find themselves running into AA fire and heavy loss.

I have played PG II a few times now, both at scenario and campaign level, and find that while it is an interesting and clever game, it does not quite do the same for me as Panzer General and Allied General do. From what I have read, Panzer General 3D takes the "miniatures" approach even further, so if you prefer the more generic/strategic approach of the older games then I would advise you to find some of the Internet sites that offer further campaigns and scenarios for PG and AG.

A number of people have added home pages for Panzer General II and even written patch and add-ons. As I find these sites I will insert links for them here.

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