Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 30, 2014
Panzer General Online

Would you rather play a game made by indie developer legend Mojang, or a Free2Play game by a big game company which slapped a well-known oldie game name on a game that plays very different from the original? Well, your knee-jerk reaction might be wrong in this case. I have been playing Panzer General Online by Ubisoft for several days now, and found it an excellent game. It is a kind of trading card game where you attack on lanes, which is far from the original Panzer General. But that gameplay makes it comparable to Mojang's Scrolls, and Panzer General Online is by far the better game.

While I was surprised how well Panzer General Online plays if you don't pay anything, I bought a $10 starter pack, which is less than what I paid for Scrolls. That allowed me to buy a bunch of boosters with guaranteed rares, speeding up my progress. Useful, but not strictly necessary. Even without paying you get quickly to the level where you earn 50 coins per battle, and a normal 4-card booster is only 100 coins. And unlike many modern trading card games which removed trading, in Panzer General Online you can always sell your extra cards for coins to other players.

But enough of the business model and into the game. What makes Panzer General Online interesting is it's combat. Units are either soft (e.g. infantry) or hard (e.g. tanks), and each unit has both attack values and revenge values against soft and hard targets. The battle takes place on three lanes, which are shown with a hex grid, but that is more a homage to the original than actually different from squares in this case. So you are trying to get your hard and soft units on those three lanes facing enemy units in a way that you do the biggest damage while being the least vulnerable to his attacks. There are three factions, Americans, German, and Russians, with different units (40+ per faction) and different tactics. For example the Russians have great defensive units and cards that lead the enemy into a trap.

Besides your units, you have cards in hand, usually 4, but sometimes 5. Cards cost command points to play, and your command points are at the same time your life counter. So every card you play (and you need to do something each turn) brings you closer to defeat, which prevents the game from stalling. Deviously, every time you play a card, the command point cost of each card in your deck with the same name goes up by one point. So if you have a lot of the same cards, the cost quickly become higher than the benefit of playing those cards. A variety of cards works better, and makes the game more interesting. In deckbuilding the interesting feature is that the cards you can play are attached to your units. You can sacrifice units to attach their cards to another unit of the same rarity.

There are various campaigns to play through, each with several battles. Most are American against German, but later you also open up the eastern front. The campaigns are sorted into chapters of several battles. You can play through each battle repeatedly if you want, but getting to the end of the chapter gives some extra rewards beyond coins and experience. But of course the opponents also get harder. Each campaign can be played on both sides, which makes for quite a large number of battles. Having said that, unless there are bridges, terrain doesn't make a huge difference, so battles mostly differ in what enemy units you are facing. You also get some hints before you start the battle, in case you want to modify your deck for a specific situation.

Each cards has a cost of supply points, and your army has a supply point maximum, which increases if you put points into leadership when leveling. But you also have an overall pool of supply, whose size goes up with level. That supply goes down by the number of supply points in your army whenever you do a single-player battle, and goes up slowly with time. Typical Free2Play feature, you won't be able to play for hours and hours without the supply running out. But in Panzer General Online that limit isn't as low as in other games, and besides buying supply refills, you can also win them in battle. Or you play multi-player. Or you optimize your single-player games by not using as expensive cards.

Overall I found Panzer General Online a quite interesting game, and very fair for a Free2Play game. It is currently in open beta, which is dev-speak for release version, because the item shop is already online. If the idea of a World War II based trading card game interests you, I can only recommend giving this a try.

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