Panzer Corps 2: Axis operations 1941 Review

Panzer Corps 2, I wish I knew how to quit you. The base game of Panzer Corps 2 delivered one of the best turn-based strategy experiences in a WW2 setting in the last several years, up there with Unity of Command 2 in terms of quality. The campaign followed a German army along several historical and non-historical paths in the well-known romps across Europe. The several DLCs that have released since then have focused on the lesser-known areas of the war, and 1941 is no exception.

For starters, when most people hear 1941, they think of Stalingrad, Barbarossa, and that’s pretty much it. But the Germans were very active in the Balkans in early 1941, before the push up into the USSR proper, and the campaign reflects this. You start off on what I like to call “the beach episode” of the German campaign, as you must lead a small force to link up with Prince Paul of Yugoslavia as the rest of your army relaxes by a lake (seriously).

The following scenarios are more serious, but I admit that the levity of the start was a nice change of pace from the usual serious tone of these missions. To that point, Panzer Corps 2 has never been a game that focuses on the “dirtier” aspects of the war, and while Joe and I both have thoughts on that (listen to episode 3 of the podcast for more thoughts on that), but even so, a different story beat is nice to break up the monotony of “oh great, World War 2 again.”

The Balkans themselves are a nice detour that gives some nice diversity to the current pantheon of World War 2 wargames, which seem to keep treading the same stomping grounds of North Africa, Normandy, Stalingrad, Normandy, Market Garden, Normandy, and Normandy. The conflict in the Balkans is certainly largely overlooked, and it’s nice to see the perspective on it from Panzer Corps.

So, let’s talk strategy. Your army starts out pretty well-seasoned, if you are just jumping into the DLC series now. If you played the previous DLCs, you can actually import your army between the campaigns, which is a super cool feature that I unfortunately did not get to use, having not finished the previous campaign. Several heroes will also be assigned out, if you’re starting from scratch like I did, ensuring your army are a bunch of hardened bastards by the start of the campaign.

And you’ll need hardened bastards! Your men will very typically be outnumbered by the opposing forces, and while the enemy does not typically have equipment that can match yours, they make up for it with massively overstrength units, I’ve seen some units with 20 points of strength, which is terrifying. The AI hasn’t lost its edge either, and I foudn that it excelled at picking off isolated units of mine. The hardiness and experience of my troops helped, but not always. Be warned: do not start with this campaign if you’re new, it will mess you up and hurt your feelings. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have any inherited units to feel bad about losing, but it can still be a rough slog.

The Balkans are a very hilly area, and the scenario maps you’ll see will be indeed very hilly, which spell trouble for the typically armor-heavy German armies. The enemy forces love to lurk in forests and on top of mountains, as well as on the few highways that snake around the maps. Punching through single units is typically not difficult, as your units win most man-to-man fights, but you can easily get bogged down. While the devs promised to make time limits more forgiving in the recent DLCs, you can find yourself being pressed for time frequently, and there is a pressure to overextend your forces regularly.

That being said, the combat still plays very well and provides a tight combat experience. The variety in maps and objectives is great, and any veteran of the series should welcome the deeper dive into the campaigns, as it gives you more of a chance to play Panzer Corps 2. If you take nothing else away from this review, understand this: this DLC is more good Panzer Corps 2 scenarios. If you like Panzer Corps 2, this DLC is for you. If you don’t like Panzer Corps 2, there’s not anything here to change your mind. All in all, what we have here is a solid addition to the growing collection of Panzer Corps 2 campaigns, and is one I’m glad to have played.

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • Jack Trumbull

Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 Review

How many ships are you willing to send to the bottom to secure Henderson Field? I hope it’s a lot, because Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 opens the floodgates of naval combat in the south pacific with the question, ‘what if neither side cared about tonnage losses?’ The answer, of course, is that Ironbottom Sound is certainly going to earn it’s name in this tense cat and mouse battle.

Pacific Fury is a 2 player naval wargame from Yasushi Nakagura and published in English by Revolution Games. Players represent the Japanese and US naval forces fighting over Guadalcanal and control of the all-important airfield. Players do this by creating naval task forces and committing them in a strict order to the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, hoping to take or keep control of the sea around the island, destroy enemy ships, and ferry their own troops onto the island to regain control and the initiative.

How Does Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 Play?

Each turn progresses through the same steps. First initiative is established based on which side has control of Henderson Field. The game begins with US control, giving them initiative. The event phase follows, where the non-initiating player (except on turn one) rolls for some sort of bonus. Both sides then secretly construct task forces using their available ships (they are stacked face down) and place them in sequential operations boxes. When both sides are finished, they will take turns issuing orders to their task forces, either sortieing from their home base onto the main board, or else issuing an order to an already deployed task force. Forces are not revealed until they attack or are attacked, so finding out what the enemy has requires committing some forces. The operations phase is the meat of the game, with both sides trying to outwit the other with the placement and movement of their task forces. The non-initiative player is the only one with access to transports, and getting transports unmolested to Guadalcanal is the only way to shift the Henderson Field track towards their side’s control. When all seven operations are finished, ships return to base and the process is repeated.

When surface ships enter the same space, or when Carrier Task Forces attempt to bomb an enemy task force, combat occurs. The system here is straight forward as well, with each counter prominently displaying a combat value, defense (represented by anchors) and airpower (represented by airplanes). A die is rolled per ship, and hits are scored based on the number rolled as long as it is equal or lower than the printed combat value. So a battleship with 3 combat value might score 0,1,2, or 3 hits, while a cruiser with a combat value of 1 may only ever score 0 or 1 hit. Hits are assigned to enemies, and damaged ships roll to see if they are sunk, with the value compared to their overall defensive value. I like how simply the system handles larger ships’ greater potential for damage. Air combat has some minor additional rules to represent CAP and air superiority, and they do a good job of reinforcing proper task for construction.

The rules are not complicated, there are few counters, and the turn mechanisms become clear after a round or two. A player aid expressly stating Task Force composition rules, what each type of Task Force can do, and how they are allowed to move on the map would have been a handy inclusion, but it won’t take long to figure out the Task Force composition rules and therefore speed up the game.

Mice, Cats…Who is doing the chasing?

The core gameplay of Pacific Fury is trying the mind game of task force composition and placement. Since there are specific rules for placement and actions, deducing what your opponent is doing, and trying to throw them off your own actions quickly becomes the major play. Suspecting a feint only to send your carriers to attack a different task force, uncovering the core of the enemy’s own carrier force can leave you sweating and your opponent cackling.

Actually managing to outmaneuver the enemy and get forces to Ironbottom Sound is rewarding enough, but then having the opportunity to bombard the airfield and land troops to help shift the score in your favour is more than worth whatever had to be sacrificed to get them there. Oh, and there will be sacrifices.

This leads to my only criticism of Pacific Fury, though in practice it just had my wife and I giggling at the absurdity of it. The only victory condition is who controls Henderson Field. That’s it. Neither the Imperial Japanese Navy nor the US Navy cares what it might take to seize the island. Since there are no points attached to ships, both sides are free to absolutely squander carriers, Battleships, and Cruisers to their hearts content in order to achieve victory. One of our games was so ridiculously bloody we couldn’t believe it. The US Navy had lost all but one carrier and 6 cruisers, the Japanese only marginally better off with a damaged Yamato leading the convoy of damaged cruisers back to Truk in defeat. A victory for my wife, but at what cost!?

It’s a minor quibble in what is a great game of bluffing your friends with some light period chrome. The simple mechanics and small counter density might concern some in regards to replayability, but because so much of the game relies on the mind games you’ll engage in with your opponent, the replayability is high. The only thing I really want is a proper player’s aid.

Solitaire Suitability

As with every board wargame going forward on Let’s Talk About Wargames, I’m going to include a small section about solitaire suitability. From the rest of the review, I bet you can deduce that Pacific Fury isn’t really going to cut it as a solitaire wargame. So much relies on composing task forces correctly that even randomizing enemy task forces would pretty much automatically break the rules. As for playing both sides. Unless you have the godlike mental capacity, it just isn’t going to work.

Does It Earn a Spot on the Shelf?

Another new/permanent feature for boardgame reviews. Will each game earn it’s place on my wargaming shelf or be sent along to someone else who might get a kick out of it? Pacific Fury has certainly earned a spot. It’s a nice light game that my wife and I can pick up and play as part of a gaming night. Getting into each other’s heads is always a lot of fun, and Pacific Fury really lets us get into trying to outsmart each other. It’s good fun, and as a ziplock game, takes up very little shelf space anyways. Definitely a keeper, and I’m sure it’ll get brought out from time to time.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

-Joe Fonseca

As requested, here’s a link to purchase the game: Pacific Fury (Let’s Talk About Wargames gets nothing from this, a kind commenter simply asked for links in reviews) Also, I purchased Pacific Fury myself, no review copy sent.

Until the Last Plane Review

I want to start off by saying that I really want to like Until The Last Plane (UTLP moving forward), it has a lot of spirit and I really like what it wants to be. I have a big fondness for the subject, covering airfield management during World War 2 campaigns, and the concept, but unfortunately, the execution just isn’t quite there. It’s a tragedy! And I feel bad for not liking it! Fortunately, I feel like it can be tuned up into a winner, but for now… well, let me explain.

The gist of UTLP is that you are the commander of an airfield during WW2 during various notable campaigns. The three factions represented are the US, the USSR, and Germany. My first chief complaint is that inexplicably, we don’t have Great Britain as an option, which strikes me as bizarre. The game is about managing your resources and pilots, deciding if the cost of performing a task is worth the reward, which seems to really speak to the spirit of the Battle of Britain, but that was omitted from the game.

Anyway, the three factions have differences largely in their planes, which all have different stats, their “bonus”, which is a passive buff to the player, and in currency. The currency is the main way the “meta” of the game will change between the three factions. The Americans, capitalist pigs that we are, get cash for clearing missions, and can use that cash to buy new planes/pilots, and resources to equip those planes with. The Soviets have a system of “political influence”, in that all resources, that being fuel, ammo, spare parts, AND planes, are sent to you depending on how many “points” you have of political influence. Get enough SovietBux and you’ll be living large on your airbase (but as well all know, living large is counterrevolutionary). Lastly, the Germans have a hybrid of the American and Soviet systems. They have “command points” which, depending on the amount in the player’s bank, will trickle in resources at certain speeds. The player can also spend these points to purchase new planes with. Ther German system feels the most well-thought out, with the player needing to balance the need to purchase new planes with the influx of resources. 

I haven’t unlocked every scenario yet, but I can say that the Easy scenarios (the only ones unlocked for each faction when you boot up the game) are pretty dang easy to breeze by with the resources present. Most of the time, your planes will relatively easily avoid being shot down or not need many repairs, and the resources are plentiful so when you do need new stuff, you can afford it with relative ease. I did find that it was a bit more difficult to manage on the harder difficulties, but at the end of the day, resource management generally boils down to this: are your planes getting shot down?

Combat in UTLP is … interesting. The way any air encounter plays out is that you’ll get a notification at base that some kind of aerial encounter is occurring. There’s also a timer that you need to to click within X amount of time, or else your plane will take damage and return to base, which is in my opinion, pretty lame that you can’t opt-out of some encounters. Regardless, you click the card, and you will be taken to the encounter, which will either be air combat (defending), air combat (attacking), or a few different flavors of bombing runs. The air combat is decided by cards. You, as either the attacker or defender (you can tell who is who because the attacker will always start behind, the defender in front) alternate moves with your opponent, playing one of 3 cards that have various effects. These vary based on planes, for example, a BF109 gets a once-per engagement card that lets it move very far forward, whereas a P-47D has simpler “move slightly forward and to the right” or “move slightly backward and to the left” cards. The planes similarly get a set of 3 cards to use for defense; the goal for the attacker is to get close behind the defender by the end of the set amount of moves, while the defender has to put distance between them and the attacker. At the end of the “move” phase, a firing cone appears for the attacker at the front of the aircraft. If the defender is in it, they get shot down. If they don’t, they get away scot-free. 

The issue here is that it’s a bit simplistic. There aren’t many options for you to take, and neither for your opponent. While this does model certain planes being more agile/ having better firepower interestingly, I feel that it could be expanded upon. It can frequently feel very deterministic, whether your plane will win the combat or survive. There are some planes that only have 1 card that can be used repeatedly, so they’re basically SOL if the enemy positions themselves well, because they are forced to use cards that can put them in a worse position.

As for bombing runs, there’s a mix of different bombing missions you can carry out. For static buildings like factories or airfields, you have some crosshairs on your screen that you must click to stop as they align over the target. It’s okay enough, but what’s frustrating about these is that you can choose a height to attack from. The higher you are, the less likely you are to be interrupted by a fighter, but they can just appear and damage your plane with pretty decent consistency even at the highest altitude. It’d be nice if this started a defensive air combat encounter instead of just having RNG say “your plane is broken now.” Other bombing run missions are more fun, but very similar. There is an artillery emplacement mission that you have to line up your plane to hit as many targets as possible, and a simplified version of the factory attack mission but for moving vehicles, which I found more engaging overall.

If I could sum up what would make this game better in one thought, it’s that the player should be allowed to “pass.” This too when it comes to the missions you carry out. After you begin a mission from your airbase during a combat day, a progress bar steadily fills, and you must meet a quota of “kill x amount of planes” or “bomb y amount of factories.” And the quota is generally not too tough to meet, but once you meet it, you can’t stop. Sure, there’s an incentive to complete more combat sorties after your quota is complete and before time runs out on the mission, but you may not want to, due to the risk of your planes being intercepted during bombing runs, using up more fuel and ammo, or occasionally just crashing due to pilot fatigue. But the game forces you to still play these sorties, lest you let the timer on the encounter card run out and your planes get damaged. My solution to this is a bit cheesy, but when my aircraft return mid-mission with damaged parts or empty ammo reserves, I just let them sit and don’t maintain them until the mission is over to avoid more damage. I shouldn’t feel like I have to do that in order to keep my squadron together.

I have a fondness for UTLP, I really do. There are several bits of it I like, such as the maintaining of aircraft on the base, and I think some of the combat missions are at least fairly decent. But the game forces you to engage with parts of it that have a heavy risk-to-reward ratio, and the lack of player choice in that bothers me. I feel that a lot of these issues can be fixed through patches, but for now, I unfortunately can’t endorse UTLP. I will be happy to revisit it when patches come around though, because I want this game to be better. I’m rooting for it.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
  • Jack Trumbull