The HPS Panzer Campaign and Modern Campaign series.
Since 1988 I am hooked on computer wargaming. Having previously played a few Avalon Hill board wargames, I stopped playing these as I couldn’t find many of my friends interested in such games. The advent of the PC brought wargaming back in my life. That year I bought my first PC (a 286 machine) and a game called “Arnhem, the airborne landings”. I enjoyed that game very much, finally an opponent who was always available, never tired of playing, no set up of counters and a true “fog of war” as the computer could hide his units when appropriate.
Since then I have been playing computer wargames, always searching for the holy grail of wargaming, the wargame that would leave all others behind…. That game never came, although I thought I had it with the Operational Art of War game, as I could simulate battles and campaigns from 1910 up to the near future of the 21st century. The problem with OpArt was that all scenarios had a very generic feel about them, all scenarios feeling alike, whether they be situated in 1916 or 1988. Most other titles disappointed me because they covered tactical warfare, the kind of combat where individual tanks, soldiers or at the most squads of men fight it out against each other. For me the point is that I don’t get a real sense of achievement from these engagements, even at the end of WWII the German army could win tactical battles from the Allies, while the campaign and the war was lost on a grander scale.
Therefore I have always been searching for operational or strategic wargames, operational where whole armies fight each other and where the fate of a country can be decided in battle (the invasion of Normandy in 1944 is such an example, had the Allies failed in the invasion, the war would probably have ended completely different). In operational combat (and thus operational wargames) out-manoeuvring your opponent, out-smarting him, out-thinking him, is the name of the game. What helps in that respect (out-thinking your opponent) is the fact that wargames are mostly played turn based (I move and fight my units while the computer defends, then the other player moves and fights). As there is no real time pressure on the player, as opposed to the so called “real time strategy” games where you must click your way through stacks of units while your computer opponent kills units, you can study the map, plan your moves and then fight the battle.
A fine series of games in that sense was the “V for Victory” series and later (on a somewhat larger scale) the “world at War” series by Atomic. True operational wargaming in a “WEGO” system (both players plan their moves, the computer executes those plans simultaneously) with a lot of innovative aspects like logistics, air support, several sorts of artillery support etc. Unfortunately the series ended after four V4V and three W@W games.
It took till 1998 (?) before a new series of the same V4V and W@W quality hit the screen, the Panzer Campaign Series by John Tiller and published by HPS. Like the Atomic games, the series concentrates on operational warfare and picks significant campaigns where mobile warfare has decided (or should have!) the outcome. The mapscale (big) in combination with well researched order of battles (what units fought in the opposing armies) and TO&E (tables of organisation and equipment = how many soldiers did a unit have and what weapons did they use) make each of the games (the series has six titles so far: Smolensk ’41, Normandy ’44, Tobruk ’41, Kharkov ’42, Bulge ’44 and Korsun ’44) have its own “feel” that is not generic. The combination with fairly attractive graphics (for a wargame that is!) and a fairly easy to learn interface, make them easy to learn wargames. Specially if you start with the smaller scenario’s.
The fact that all games use the same interface and rules, make it possible to get into new games of the series easily. Also a thriving community of Panzer Campaign wargamers on the Internet gives a newcomer much support and advice (I play with the Blitz wargaming club now for a couple of years and they really helped me get on my wargaming feet! www.theblitz.org) .
With the addition of (now) two Modern Campaign games (Middle East ‘67 and Fulda Gap ’85 (war in Germany, Warsaw Pact vs NATO)) the game even gains in appeal as complete wars (Israel vs the Arab world 1967, 1973) on a much larger scale have become possible. The Modern Campaign series play identical to the Panzer Campaign games (same game syatem), but their maps are much bigger, there are less turns in a day and the addition of modern elements like combat helicopters, airlanding forces, SAM’s and some form of intelligence, give the whole game a much bigger scope. Finally, the support of HPS and the game designers and researchers are a very real bonus. Several upgrades have been published, not to fix bugs of patch bad programming, but to implement new gaming issues. And the designers listen to the players whenever possible. For instance, the Panzer Campaign community asked for a more sophisticated logistics system (in the first game the HQ’s provided logistic support, your units had to stay within a certain range of their HQ). They came up with two alternative supply systems, virtual supply trucks and full realistic supply where you have to move convoys of supply trucks to your hungry troops! (and thus where these convoys can be intercepted by the enemy).
Not that the games don’t have any flaws, there are many and I certainly wouldn’t call them the holy grail of wargaming. But they come close…. A few of the flaws (in my opinion) are the fact that the turn played by the computer can take ages to be done with. It can be speeded up, but then you cannot se what is happening because all combat flashes by in second. The W@W system was much better in that respect, as it gave an overview of all combat that occurred and you could click on a combat situation to see what had happened there.
Another is the poor graphic system to view all units belonging to a certain command. You can highlight them, but then have to search for those units all over the map, sometimes sitting at the bottom of a stack of units. A system where coloured lines would connect all units with their HQ and/or where only the units belonging to an indicated HQ are visible, would be much better.
Finally (and this becomes even more appropriate with the Modern Campaign series) a system to trigger political events or other matters influencing the battle, campaign or war, would make the two series (Panzer Campaign and Modern Campaign) into true grand operational wargames.
Bas Kreuger 3 september 2002