The amount of games that focus on the World War II era is actually getting rather ridiculous now, so the prospect of another one being released probably isn't what gamers want to be seeing. Fortunately, Panzer General Allied Assault is very different from the standard fare, as it's a turn-based strategy game that utilises a card-based combat system. Definitely a unique take on the genre, and definitely worth investigating.
Focusing on key battles that took place during the war, players are given a small text-based introduction to each battle, which in the single player campaign is always fought from the Allied perspective. The majority of missions involve the Allied forces trying to encroach on German positions, so it's generally a game about attacking, as opposed to defending. They never really advance very far, generally only advancing to increase their defensive line, so missions can only really be lost once the turn limit is reached. It works, for the purpose of the game, but even though the scenarios are quite different, it does give each battle a sense of deja vu.
Battles take place on a board that's 6x6, so there are 36 playable squares. There are different objectives that need to be fulfilled in order to win a battle, and sometimes there are multiple objectives which can be fulfilled to win. However, they generally revolve around obtaining a certain amount of opposition squares, or defeating their forces. When a battle starts, each side will be given a certain number of squares to control, and advancing on opposition squares reverts control. This is crucial to gaining prestige, which is used to play the various cards a player has in their hand. There are five different types of cards: artillery, infantry, armour, combat and action. The majority of them can be used when it's the players turn, but combat cards can only be used when combat is actually taking place.
A deck can consist of a maximum of 60 cards, with 20 assigned to units, and 40 for abilities. Once a unit card is played, the unit then gets placed on the board and it can then move and perform attacks on enemies that are in adjacent squares. Each has advantages and disadvantages though and it can actually become very strategic. Artillery can be used to support offensive movements, but anti-air artillery can also be used to stop offensive bombing raids. Getting the correct balance is crucial to victory, as wasting prestige can have dire consequences. There are a decent amount of cards available, and more become unlocked upon completing levels. However, the menu for altering decks is quite clunky and it's actually quite misleading. Quite a lot of cards are actually mandatory for levels. Players might have 45 mandatory cards out of a 60 card deck, so there isn't really much customisation that's allowed.
The actual combat takes place through many different phases and it's completely turn-based, much like the overall gameplay model. Prior to engaging in combat, the game displays a prospective outcome of the combat, which is useful for avoiding unnecessary casualties, but quite a lot of the time this can be significantly altered. Depending on the current state of play, actually initiating combat might not even mean the attacker gets to attack first. If the opponent is 'dug-in', then they will attack first, even if they are on the defensive. During combat, the side attacking gets to play through first. The first thing that happens is calculating the attacking force behind the movement. This is collated by tallying up the attacking power of the actual aggressor, while also looking at all the backing they have from surrounding units, and artillery. The same then applies to the defensive side, as they can gain defensive bonuses depending on where they are situated. The environment actually has a big part to play. Once calculated, players can then use action cards. These can seriously turn the tide in combat, as stats can be changed, free damage can be dealt, and progression can even be stopped upon defeat. This exchange continues happening until there are no cards to play, or both sides pass. The random element of combat then shows its face, as players can chose to sacrifice cards to better than chances. The twist is that there's no clue what the opposition is doing, so a card might be completely wasted for nothing. No battle would be complete without luck, and the final phase involves a dice throw. If the opposition isn't defeated, they then get a chance to exact revenge, so there's a nice balance.
Overall, the combat is actually pretty good. It promotes a nice ethos of risk and reward and even a player who's really confident about going into a battle can come out tasting defeat. The only real problem is that combat can actually take quite a while. It's quite possible for a single battle to last a good few minutes, and when a single turn is comprised of multiple conflicts, it can get a bit tiresome; 3-4 turns can easily take 15-20 minutes. At the end of the day, it is a card-based game, and not a real-time strategy simulator, so it depends on the player's expectations.
Graphically, the game isn't going to win any awards. It's pleasant looking, but that's about as good as it gets. There isn't really any animation, as units only perform set moves when they are attacking or being attacked, and it can make everything feel a bit lifeless. The sound can be summed up in a similar fashion too as effects are seldom heard throughout, but the music does provide a good accompaniment.
There are actually quite a lot of missions to play through, and different victory types depending on the speed of completion. There are also a few bonus missions, which see similar scenarios being played through, but with much tougher odds. Aside from this, there is a harder difficulty option, skirmish mode and it's also possible to go head-to-head with a friend over Xbox Live.
Overall, Panzer General Allied Assault is a solid turn-based strategy game. It offers a new take on the action, by using a card system and it's actually quite refreshing. It isn't exactly an action-packed game though, and the presentation is fairly standard. There's plenty to keep enthusiasts occupied though, with lots of missions and other modes to play upon completion.