Panzer Corps 2: Axis Operations – 1940 DLC Review

The latest DLC entry in the Panzer Corps 2 product line is all about the scenarios. There is nary anything new as regards game mechanics and the like, so if you need a refresher on how the game is actually played, please refer to my previous Panzer Corps 2 review from March this year.

This DLC is titled Axis Operations 1940, and as you might have guessed, presents 19 (semi) historical scenarios from that specific year of the war, all from the German perspective. Bottom line – after two games each of the Grebbeberg, Lille, Abbeville and Neufchateau scenarios from the France 40 campaign, the Epsom scenario from Sea Lion and the Pindus scenario from the Italian invasion of Greece, I’m ready to talk leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

So, pass the stuffing and let’s eat. (No, I don’t understand what he’s talking about either-ED)

Scenario Design Overview

Axis Operations 1940, or AO40, gives you an excellent intro to the military principals of war with accurate movement and casualty rates, and competitive contests conveying a solid World War II ambiance overall. However, the details are not quite so… did I mention how good the ambience was?

I kinda liken it to Hollywood war movies. Some are damn near documentaries (Tora, Tora, Tora!), some are historically based on actual events (John Wayne’s Alamo) and some are historically inspired (Epix/Sky’s Britannia). AO40, falls into the ‘inspired’ category IMHO. This is due to what is likely the game’s biggest selling point – putting the player into the shoes of a division commander through his entire military career participating in historical battles from the beginning of the war to the end. But with a twist.

In AO40 this means, for example, that our intrepid Wehrmacht Generalleutnant will be running the Italian invasion of Greece as leader of a heavily armed observation corps. It means he will have under his control units such as He-111 bombers and German Fallschirmjaeger (parachute) infantry, something that would not have happened in reality. It also means that the player will be at the siege of Lille with his division, supported only by the 7th Panzer Division led by loose cannon Erwin Rommel (cue Ghost Division by Sabaton), and investing the town in AO40 isn’t difficult.

But the reality is it took three Panzer divisions and four Infanterie divisions, 160,000 men, to take the town which held for four days until ammunition ran out. House to house fighting and counterattacks, one bagging 253d Infanterie Division commander Fritz Khune as a POW, so impressed German Generalleutnant Alfred Wagner that he allowed French General Molinie’s 40,000 soldiers the honors of war at surrender (the French parading under arms, flags flying with German bands and soldiers saluting got Wagner reprimanded when Hitler threw a hissy fit). Churchill swore this action saved at least 100,000 of the British rescued at Dunkirk**.

The reason for such historical shenanigans is because the military career path story arc is set in stone and can not be deviated from. The French will always lose in the end and Sea Lion will always fail. They have to. Because the player participates in actual historical engagements during World War II, the player has to gain the (victorious) historical outcome in every scenario he plays, or he cannot advance to the next historically ‘inspired’ scenario. Lille has to fall or there will be no Dunkirk, and if there is no Dunkirk there will be no Abbeville and so on. Even in the Sea Lion scenarios, the player gains victory by executing a feint against London thus allowing the German army to evacuate when the invasion fails. There is simply no provision for, say, the French to win in AO40 or the Germans conquering the UK to send the player into an entirely different military career path that never happened historically.

It makes AO40 more of a warGAME than a WARgame and is why the series is so fun and so popular, this DLC being no exception. But if this is not your glass of Schnapps, be advised.

Scenario Specifics

Of the 19 scenarios in AO40, two are training exercises that allows preseason play with specialty units before going to war for real. For example, one of these two allows you to practice destroying the French Maginot Line by training on the massive Czech fortifications that somehow didn’t exist in the AO39 DLC. Also, while there are four scenarios devoted to Operation Sea Lion, these are optional as they are not necessary for the military career story arc previously mentioned. I cannot imagine anyone ignoring these, particularly since you get to use such exotic weaponry in the Channel such as the just launched pocket battleship KMS Bismarck and the never completed KMS Graf Zeppelin aircraft carrier.

But it’s the overall selection of scenarios provided that really make AO40 shine. Yes, all the big names from the France 1940 campaign have taken residence. These include the capture of the Eben-Emael fortress complex, the German breakout from Sedan, Arras and of course, the evacuation at Dunkirk. However, AO40 concentrates a lot on lesser-known engagements that really deserve far more attention than they receive. The first, for example, has the Germans fighting up in Norway, just after the lads from Oskarsborg Fortress, Oslo turned the heavy cruiser KMS Blucher into a burning hulk (cue the marvelous movie The King’s Choice to watch this happen; it isn’t pretty).

The last two scenarios concern the failed Italian invasion of Greece, another campaign rarely seen or heard from in wargaming. The Germans aren’t directly involved this time around, but ominously note that they will be back in the spring to take care of business. Thus, we may very well see this piece of real estate again in a future DLC.

During the French campaign, and in addition to Sea Lion, we also have such goodies as the battle of Grebbeberg, where the Dutch army slugged it out with the German 207th Infanterie Division and der Fuhrer SS Brigade. Hannut, a Belgian town which saw two French armored divisions battled two Panzer divisions, follows, while in metropolitan France we likewise have the battle of Abbeville where the French and British launched an initially successful counterattack hoping to relieve Dunkirk. Neufchateau seems to represent the many actions in eastern France, but has a surprise appearance by… well, I won’t spoil the fun but suffice it to say it involves a solid, pure white French Char B-1 bis heavy tank unit.

My only wish here was that the designers might have included the German assault on the newly formed Weygand line. The Wehrmacht caught unvarnished Hell from the French for four days plus until the Luftwaffe finally gained completely mastery of the air. Uncharitable myths about French soldiery in 1940 aren’t supported by fights like this, and thus deserve a look.

And to top it off, there is an intriguing back story developing as well. Seems that your trusty and uber efficient aide de camp Hauptmann (and Baroness’ son) Stefan Wagner will miss out on Unternehmen Seelöwe due to some emergency leave (because Mom has strings) concerning Nationalist Capitana Anna Sofia Vega from the Spanish Civil War DLC. Seems Mom isn’t happy with the relationship, so he visited Anna to arrange a trip to Germany to meet her. Agreed, but in a letter she warns Stefan a few weeks after he left, she began getting sick every morning, no pain or fever, so likely nothing serious. Ahem.

Would I buy this DLC?

Yes, I think I would. This period of World War II has always been one of my favourites and the fact that so many rarely seen on tabletop or computer battles comprise the majority of scenarios really floats my on the way to Dunkirk boat. Yes, I wish I could play the Allied side. Yes, sometimes the game IMHO cuts a few too many detail and accuracy corners for playability (seriously, Rommel’s vehicles have the tan-rust-forest green paint job that wasn’t used until 1943 to tell them apart, players really need that?). But still it has been a very enjoyable several days with AO40. It was refreshing to play something other than typical Fall of France wargame fare, and overall, AO40 does its job pretty well. And for the price? Sure, why not.

**NB. For a very informative, but short five-minute video on the siege of Lille vis a vis the recent Dunkirk movie, check out this offering from geopolitical analyst Brandon J Weichert. Then play the Lille scenario at max difficulty for a more realistic contest, and don’t skimp on the Jaegermeister.