In 1994, the internet was still in its infancy. Thus, Panzer General launched with a play-by-email mode rather than a truly online one. Fast forward nearly twenty years, however, and you’ll find Blue Byte’s Panzer General Online: a browser based entry in the series, unfortunately lacking play-by-email.
Panzer General Online is a very simple game: Players are given three lanes in which they must order their units around, using cards that dictate their movements whilst vying for control of the small map. The goal is – as ever – to outplay the opponent and eventually claim victory. This can be done in one of two ways: Either wipe out all the enemy units or force them to deplete their command points, which act as both health and the resource spent to use cards.
You’re given a choice of four cards at the beginning of each battle, chosen randomly from the ones available to your selected unit types. There’s not much variety; you can either move one unit, two, prevent enemy movement, or gain more command points. These choices are very limited, and it’s a shame they’re not given the extra depth that a larger map would bring, at least in the beta.
There are a number of additional mechanics that pop up in each match, including different unit types and the usual modifiers for certain types of terrain, though these are again kept very simplistic.
The campaign features a series of levels, unconnected by anything other than the need to play one to unlock the next. These levels usually come down to outlasting the enemy rather than outplaying it or using any kind of strategy.
The AI during these levels seemed to be inconsistent and occasionally detrimental to itself, sometimes squandering an advantageous – potentially game-winning – position by simply moving a unit back or a variety of similarly useless actions. This can go on for a very long time; so much so that it’s easy to wonder if perhaps it’s intended that way.
The game uses luck far more than strategy, as the cards you draw have a more profound effect on the battle than any tactical decisions you make. This carries over into other elements of the game such as your unit’s initial placement on the map, which randomly changes from game to game. Were the player given the ability to arrange their units beforehand it would save many turns, currently wasted on getting everything into a position that’s actually useful.
You have to spend “supply” to access missions. These work in the same way as similar resources in many Facebook and mobile games; they are there to get you to spend money on refilling them and don’t really serve any valuable function to the player.
The game is a bit like a highly limited Civilization, featuring only the skirmishes – on an excruciatingly small map – and none of the other components. It certainly has potential, though it would have to remove a lot of the more luck-based elements in favour of mechanics that actually reward strategy.