Panzer Battles (PzB) is a refreshing and mostly updated take on the classic JTS titles. If you looked at any JTS title years ago and thought they looked stodgy, pixelly, and generally out of date, well, you’d be correct. But the folks at JTS and Wargame Design Studios are making leaps and bounds. Normandy looks to be one of the best yet.
Graphically the game is so much easier on the eyes compared to the older titles. The unit icons are clear, concise, and in most cases provide you with so much more information than even the Panzer Campaigns or Squad Battles titles. JTS games can have a great deal of information to parse and in PzB Normandy we see some tools to make it much easier.
You can turn on Highlight Org, quick key Q. But what if you have a stack of units, which one is the one you want? Keeping command cohesiveness is huge. Now you get that same yellow highlight in the unit stack when you click the hex.
I’m currently playing a France '14 scenario that is huge and I would love to see an update like this.
The wall of icons can be a bit intimidating but you just hover over and see the key-strokes necessary.
This is from France '14, no hover over on the key strokes. Not to mention you can’t resize as per the Panzer Battles icons.
You get a hybrid of the two in Panzer Campaigns but still no hover over keys.
This same ease of use extends to the menus as well.
So why does it matter? JTS games have some very large scenarios. Miracle on the Marne? More like Miracle that my mouse button survived. Anything that can be done to make it easier to play will make it more likely you can enjoy those monster scenarios.
After seeing how nice Panzer Battles is I really wish JTS and the Wargame Design dudes would take a pass and update all of the titles like this. Monitors are only getting larger. Pixel densities increasing. The icon size on France '14 on a 1920X1080 monitor is something around 3/16". (~5mm) It’s nearly double that size just for the Medium icons in Panzer Battles.
Gone is the wacky 3d view. Thank god.
Combat is basically the same as the other titles. The ranges feel a bit more fluid with things like AT guns and tanks. The OOB’s are lovingly recreated, more so than I probably can appreciate.
There is a special simplicity to the game. Instead of focusing on minutea and detail per a Grigsby game you get to focus on the bigger picture. Yes, that’s an AT gun, and there are three. Or an infantry platoon with 26 individuals who have terrible morale. You’re not overwhelmed with detail that may not make one damned bit of difference.
It plays like a tabletop game without digging through a rulebook every time you meet a trench or have to worry about Pasta Water.
It’s not perfect. Combat, while fluid, can be oddly slow. Which is doubly weird as the “Fast AI Processing” option makes it go by in a flash. But the fast AI option can be so quick that you don’t get a chance to see what happened. There is no combat log.
This is easy enough on a small scenario but add a few hundred units and it becomes very tedious to find out who actually is in shape to attack. Yes, I can trigger a hot key to scan the map, but sometimes sorting a list is much easier. Something like the log reporter from War in the Pacific would really be great.
The hot keys can be different too. In France '14 you press T to enter travel mode. Here it is CTRL-T. These hotkeys are habit based and man, they should shift them all to a single standard.
Audio is an interesting bit and JTS is one of the few wargames that I don’t instantly shut it off. It’s atmospheric. A lull between barrages is interspersed with the crack of rifle fire. The haunting roar of artillery in the distance sounds almost exactly like the real thing. I wish there was more fire variety for units attacking but that’s fairly minor. Thankfully no cheesy stock music.
The AI seems passable. I’ve played half a dozen scenarios, small to middle sized, and it acts rather like I would expect. It hasn’t surprised me like Command Ops 2 likes to do, but it seems slightly less dumb than I’ve seen in PzC Stalingrad. There looks to be a very robust PBEM community so finding a clever opponent shouldn’t be hard.
The game has a campaign mode, full editors, and a bunch of supporting documentation. I haven’t used the editors at all and probably won’t. I feel you need to really know your source material to get this right.
Speaking of getting it right, the units feel good. What do I mean? A US unit may have high morale but the quality is lower than a German unit. But that German unit might have half or a quarter of the men. One thing that always bugs me in games is when they try to make both sides have parity. D-Day was not an equal battle. The US will totally win the scenario, it’s just a question of how much the German player can delay the invasion.
A single machine gun unit here will create absolute havoc on an advance. I can use my superior firepower and overrun it. This works until you finally run into that pack of Panthers. Ahh, now it feels tense. But luckily there’s only 3 of them and my 15 Shermans eventually knock them out while working in tandem with infantry.
Here’s some shots to compare how it looks between the titles. First is Stalingrad 42.
Here is France '14.
Here is the French & Indian War (Older Title)
Lastly, PzB Normandy.
Each has it’s own style and flare.
The game is, as of April 2020, $40. There is a demo that is quite large and you can know exactly what you’ll be getting. You’ll have 25 scenarios, big, small, in between, to really test out the system.
After seeing how much the Tiller Engine can be upgraded it really makes me want to see these improvements in the Panzer Campaigns, WW1 Campaigns, and really all of the Tiller Titles.
The Tiller titles have really grown on me and as they polish them up it makes is that much easier to get into them. I’d encourage you to check out the demo. For ease of play and size/variety of scenarios there’s not much else that compares.