One of the big surprises of 1995 was the success of an obscure World War II strategy simulation called Panzer General. It's even rumoured to be the top-selling game of the year in Germany, of all places, though it'll be interesting to see if they fall over themselves to buy the followup, Allied General.
I know it sounds more like a bank than a wargame but let's face it, all of the really good names have already been used (including anything with the word 'Panzer' in it for a start). Of course this is one problem we're going to have to come to terms with pretty soon. By my calculations, by the year 2000, nobody will be able to think of a new name for their wargame/shoot 'em up/flight sim without several fruitless hours spent rooting round in a thesaurus...
Not that it's my problem. It's enough working out what's new in Allied General. Has it changed? (Apart from imagining yourself in uniform and a peaked cap barking out "Jawohl, Untersturmbahn-fuhrerl") So are you on the side of the angels? Or at least the Allies.
I'm tempted to say that not a lot's changed, apart from the interface, which has been enhanced, improved, tarted up and all those other rather long words people use to describe doing very little. And very little is the nub of it really - aside from it now being a Windows program with an improved look and feel, as far as wargames go there isn't enough new stuff to make it that exciting.
Okay, because it now runs under Windows, you can open several of them at once. This means that you can have the main scrolling map, the overview map that used to replace the main map when you wanted to get an overview, and help and unit information windows. As well as that you can run the program in any resolution you like; admittedly it does look pretty slinky at higher screen resolutions. All this goes without saying really, but bear in mind that using either Windows 95 or Windows 3.1 with the special Win32s extensions (which are automatically installed by the set-up program) also means that you're going to need a fair amount of memory, at least 8mb, and probably more.
No more Mr Nazi
Unlike the first game in the series, you only get the chance to play the Allied side, and instead of starting a campaign in a given year in the east or west, you have a choice of three main theatres: Africa, Europe or the Eastern front. As well as that there's the option to play either the British, Americans or Russians. This offers you a good selection though, as the tactics in each of the three theatres are very different and the game is weighted to give the German units their historical 'edge' - you'll find that even in the late war scenarios they still take some beating. Note that the Poles and the French don't get a look in - the European campaign starts in mid-1943 in Italy before moving on to Normandy and then Germany.
So what else is new? Well, instead of 38 pre-planned scenarios to play, you get 39. Yes, really. On the other hand, although some of them have the same names, they're quite different, so there's plenty of new stuff for Panzer General veterans to try out, including a hypothetical invasion of Norway. You can also keep your very own 'dossier' on your performance, or a personalised record of your achievements if you like which might be a boost to those out there with above average egos, but isn't really much use otherwise. One thing that really is worthwhile, however, is that moved units are now displayed in a different shade, making it that much easier to see what's what.
Allied General's other big new feature is a complete range of play by e-mail facilities. These vary from standard fare such as password protection to more imaginative ones, such as the ability to add comments to your moves: when you replay your opponent's moves using the VCR-Style controls, his comments are displayed at the same time. It certainly opens up some possibilities, although it's easy to imagine "My artillery has done jolly well, hasn't it?" degenerating into more abusive phraseology as things get a little desperate.
The strange thing about Allied General -and its predecessor - is that to many wargame purists (well all right, anoraks), it's a joke. The units don't represent anything in particular, although the research into vehicle types and guns is accurate enough - it's just that you wouldn't get an entire formation made up of any one particular type of tank, gun or armoured car, especially the Germans because they took combined arms to the nth degree.
The ground scale is all wrong too, even varying from scenario to scenario; in some you've got one hex representing nearly 20 kilometres of front, in others less than three. And with only one unit allowed per hex, it's bloody ludicrous to imagine 2okms pf contested front line being taken up by nothing but light armoured cars, for example, or a handful of two pounders.
Realism versus gameplay
The idea of anti-tank guns attacking infantry is equally daft - British guns didn't even have an effective he round. Being allowed to disband doomed units is absurd, too. I'm trying to imagine the scene at Arnhem bridge: "Er, Johnny old boy, we've decided to disband your paras so that Jerry won't gain any prestige from wiping you out." "Very good, sir. Where shall we leave the equipment...?"
I'd go on and on about the level of realism (He certainly would - Ed.) but for one thing - Allied General is one of the best games I've played for a while. It's got that indefinable air of something about it, that star quality that makes games tick along until the hands on the clock get so far round it's almost time for breakfast. In case you hadn't noticed, I'm struggling to avoid using the hackneyed term 'gameplay' but in the end, that's what Allied General has got. Tankfuls of the stuff.
Panzer General deservedly became a firm favourite not only with wargamers but with casual gamers too. Okay, Allied General may well be Panzer General in new clothes but it's a brilliant game with just the right number of rules and buttons to push. Simplistic, yes, but there's far more to it than most.
Download Allied General
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode