This year, Order of Battle has traveled to two rarely-if-ever seen theaters of World War II combat: Kriegsmarine focused on German naval engagements and several alternative history scenarios, while Burma Road took us to the Malaysian jungles of the Pacific war. Now, with Panzerkrieg, the series is heading back to more familiar territory: the ill-fated German invasion of the Soviet Union.
Panzerkrieg takes place following the events of Blitzkrieg, and will be the middle chapter in what The Artistocrats have said is a German “grand campaign.” As such, your core forces from Blitzkrieg, including the specializations and commanders you’ve unlocked, can be imported into Panzerkrieg.
It’s not strictly necessary to do this, and it’s possible to pick up and play with a default unit loadout, but Panzerkrieg is a highly challenging set of scenarios and you’ll want all the help you can get.
For those new to Order of Battle, developers The Artistocrats reworked the game after release, creating a free “shell” that includes the tutorial missions, and that players can slot expansion packs into as they see fit. These have typically been standalone affairs, but the units you recruit and promote to veterancy, as well as your chosen tech specializations, carry over in certain campaigns. JR Renaud has put together a series of articles here at The Wargamer with some tips on how to do that most effectively in the previous campaigns, which are well worth reading and provide a good breakdown of how the systems work.
Appropriately, the scenarios that crisscross the Eastern Front are slogs, and Panzerkrieg reinforces this by leaning heavily into Order of Battle’s supply mechanics. Often, you’ll be reconnecting with surrounded troops, who can’t replenish their numbers until you’ve managed to crack the Soviet forces that have them pinned down. The introduction of wet terrain means your tanks and men will lose time trudging through the mud and muck of the Russian winter, and the Luftwaffe will periodically be grounded thanks to blizzards.
The first mission begins in January of 1942, as the German advance to the east had ground to a halt outside Moscow. In Rhzev, your first order of business is to establish a foothold outside the Russian capital, and what immediately struck me was the increased sense of scale over Burma Road. Maps feel markedly larger, and just getting a sense of the geography of an area can be challenging in itself. The campaigns also feature high unit counts, and another aspect of Panzerkrieg that I noticed quickly is the need to set priorities and stick to them. It’s all too easy to diffuse your forces by splitting them up among various objectives, whether it’s defending a far-flung town or rescuing a group of isolated soldiers. Keeping your forces together and working as a unit is crucial, and failing to do so will doom your campaign.
Panzerkrieg adds 40 units to the game, and the new German hardware is fun to take to the field. I’ve found the Sturmgeschütz III (StuG) invaluable in combating Soviet tanks, but the much rarer Sturmpanzer IV, which Allied soldiers nicknamed the “Brummbär” (German for “grouch”) to be a highly effective mounted field gun for the kind of close-in urban fighting featured in the scenarios set in Sevastopol and Stalingrad. All in all, there’s a nice focus on tank-destroyers and rocket artillery, which feel much more useful than their counterparts in Burma Road did.
This being an Order of Battle title, there are a couple small quality of life additions I would have liked to see. The large maps and big unit counts mean that it’s easy to lose track of who’s supposed to be doing what, and the ability to give movement orders that play out over multiple turns would be welcome. I’ve found myself yearning for an “undo” button, but due to the nature of fog of war and intelligence I can understand why it’s absent.
As I mentioned earlier, missions can turn into long slogs. I don’t think there were any scenarios I completed in less than an hour, and most took a good deal longer than that to complete. This might put off some players, but I think it’s appropriate for the setting and subject matter—the long, drawn out slug-fests between German and Soviet forces evoke the protracted battles of attrition that both armies faced in 1942, and my victories felt all the sweeter after pushing and hanging on for turn after turn. Order of Battle is pleasantly simple to play, and it took no time at all to settle back into the rhythms of the mouse-driven interface, the detailed little models of tanks and men, and the Ken Burns-y soundtrack.
But I was certainly glad to be bringing that experience with me. Panzerkrieg is meant to be a continuation of the Blitzkrieg campaign, and it wastes no time ramping back up to the level of difficulty represented in that first chapter. And while you can jump right in with a default core, this probably shouldn’t be the first Order of Battle expansion you buy. But for players who have already spent some time with this spiritual successor to the Panzer Corps series, Panzerkrieg is a welcome addition and a stiff tactical challenge worthy of your time.