Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Board Game Review - Panzer General Allied Assault

I like video games, and I like board games, so it seems obvious to me that I should enjoy a board game based on a video game. Unfortunately, board games based on video games tend to be in roughly the same category as video games based on movies. I like to call that category 'sucky,' though there may be a better term for it (though that term probably involves the use of profanity).

This isn't always true, of course. Starcraft, Doom, World of Warcraft Minis, and a lot of others spring to mind. But those are based on huge franchises, so it's possible that someone with a little clout said, 'we've decided not to suck.' But not every video game has that anti-suck factor in charge, and so I generally have a fairly low opinion of board games that start life as video games.

Which brings us to Panzer General: Allied Assault. I first discovered this game when I downloaded it to my Xbox. Then it was just a video game based on a war, and those tend to be pretty solid. I thought it was great fun, and played it quite a bit, and kept thinking to myself, 'with some tweaks, this could be a board game.' Since I have very powerful brain waves, the people at Petroglyph were able to read my mind and make Panzer General into a board game. It would be creepier if it didn't happen all the time.

Sadly, my brainwaves were not strong enough. Because while they definitely made it into a board game, they skipped the part of my thought pattern where I told them it needed tweaks. The board game is almost a direct port of the video game, only now instead of having a handy computer, you get to do the math. You like math, right?

Panzer General is a tactical wargame where your units are represented by cards, and your air strikes are cards, and your sneaky surprise moves are on cards, and even the dice are on the cards. Really, they are. You build a map out of terrain tiles, put your troops out, and then you maraud across the board and blow up each other's tanks. Well, maraud might be the wrong word. It might be more accurate to say you plod across the map at a pace intended to make you stay up until two in the morning because you believed the box when it said you could finish in 45 minutes, and so you started the game at ten. Seriously, there's no law that says you have to finish a game if it takes four times longer than you thought it would. Go to bed already.

See, it seems like this should be pretty straight-forward, but most of the time, your guys will move one space, claim it, then take a siesta. Or sometimes they won’t move at all, they’ll just stay right where they are and dig ditches. That can slow down the pace a little. Then, when you do finally get into a fight, there are 16 steps to follow to determine the outcome, and step 15 says, ‘now do 2-14 again’. And then, if you fight another guy, you get to do all 16 steps again.

The thing is, there’s a ton of promise here, and if you’re the right kind of gamer, there’s a kick-ass game. But if you’re the kind of gamer that likes quick turns and easy rules, you’re hosed, because Panzer General takes a long time to play. Maybe if you play it a lot, you’ll scream through the combat steps and actually finish before your wife starts asking why your company is still in the house, and could you please turn off the light if you’re not coming to bed. Or maybe you’ll just play it on your Xbox and let the computer handle those 16 steps.

And now for the big twist – I adore this game. It’s really fun. You have to plan your whole turn ahead of time, gambling on which fights you’ll win and which fights will just let you wound some opponents. You have to choose your attacks based on which units are providing support fire, which terrain makes the best defensive bunker, and what cards you can afford to play from your hand. Sometimes you want to blitz and just rush your opponent, and sometimes you want to hunker down and get ready to defend yourself. The cards are very nice, with art taken from WWII photographs, and the variety of maps you can build with the double-sided tiles is staggering.

There is a fantastic amount of tactical maneuvering and strategic planning that goes into Panzer General. It’s a very smart game… on the Xbox. The problem is that I don’t know many gamers who want to take the amount of time required to work through all the calculations that go into determining combat results. It just really throws a wrench into the whole thing, especially if you’re not usually a number-crunching grognard (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, a grognard is a very hairy man who spends a lot of time in his basement).

Deciding whether or not to keep Panzer General was, at first, a tough decision. On the one hand, I enjoy the hell out of it. It’s not fast, but you really have to think to win. On the other hand, I can’t think of any gamers I know who will want to spend half an hour setting it up followed by two hours of grinding arithmetic. I will, because it’s worth it, but I’m afraid I don’t know enough wargamers who want to spend an afternoon on something like this.

But then I hit the deciding factor – I don’t need to know other wargamers. I only need myself. Because Panzer General includes a fairly robust solo game, with several different scenarios, and a sort of built-in ‘AI’ that means some of the scenarios can actually be fairly challenging. So the game stays, because the way I see it, I’ll be able to play all these solo missions, and by the time I finish them, someone on the Internet will have written another fifty or so, and I’ll wear out the components before I can play them all.

If you have the patience to enjoy a game this over-involved, and if you love the challenge of wrapping your head around a complex tactical position, there’s every chance you’ll really like Panzer General. On the other hand, if you only like games with streamlined rules and clever mechanics, you’re going to wish you never even saw the box.


Very nice components
Tons of strategic and tactical depth
Neat photography
Nearly endless replay value

Way too involved

Ah, happy day - Dogstar Games is carrying Panzer General. And buying from Dogstar Games supports Drake's Flames, so if you've read this review and think it sounds like your cup of tea, run over and pick it up here:


Anonymous said...

Have you played
The Battle for Hill 218

Just a wonderful little card game that is fast and really fun - so much strategy once you really get into it. Oh yea and no set up time!

So um, are you ever giving away games again? It has been a while and I bet you got some crappy stuff you really need to get rid of?

Great review as always!

So you are admitting to playing with yourself? It is never easy being a geeky gamer :)


Matt Drake said...

I demoed Hill 218 at GenCon once, but never actually got a copy. I should ask for it again. Maybe he'll remember to send it this time.

I probably should give away some games, but the last time I did that, shipping cost me almost $150, and I don't have that kind of scratch right now. Plus I'm low on boxes.

Unknown said...

I played this for awhile on my xBox and loved it. Then, it hit me. This is boring. So I do not play it anymore.

So, therefore it follows---I will not buy the boardgame.

In fact I think I will throw out my 60 or so boardgames and just play Dominion with Intrigue & Seaside and maybe Race For the Galaxy.

Download said...

Heavy game,, btw thanks..