July 14, 2024

First Impressions: Spring Awakening ‘45

Marc M, 30 May 2024

Just before their eventual surrender, Germany launched one final major offensive in Western Hungary. The goal for Germany was to carry on the fight by controlling vital resources and to defending industrial regions against the Soviet advance. It’s the beginning of March in 1945 as Germany’s Operation Spring Awakening begins. Wargame Design Studios gives you the chance to play through the campaign yourself in Spring Awakening ‘45, the latest volume in the WDS Panzer Campaigns series and the first full Panzer Campaigns game from designer César ‘Indragnir’ Moreno.

The launch screen of the Panzer Campaigns game Spring Awakening ‘45.
Spring Awakening ‘45 from Wargame Design Studios is the 30th game in the Panzer Campaigns series.

click images to enlarge

 

First Impression

My impression upon loading the copy of Spring Awakening ‘45 that WDS provided to me was, “Wow. Ok, now what?” The first scenario in the list is the full 98-turn campaign, spanning March 6 to March 15, 1945. Once I loaded it, the map and number of units (even just the Axis units with fog of war turned on) was a bit overwhelming. But I scrolled around the map and looked at the units. From the look and scale of the map to the differing terrain types and from the variety of units in play to the artillery barrages and air missions, there is a lot to do and a lot to like.

The Spring Awakening ‘45 map with the opening positions of the axis forces.
A small portion of the Axis forces in the campaign game as engineers prepare to clear Soviet minefields.

 

Panzer Campaigns

If you’re not familiar with Panzer Campaigns, the series is a game design legacy of the late John Tiller. Today the series includes 30 operational-level games, with titles such as Bulge ‘44, Market Garden ‘44, Kursk ‘44, Normandy ‘44, Stalingrad ‘42, and Philippines ‘44. You can also play out battles that never happened; attempting the invasion of Great Britain in Sea Lion ‘40 or trying to take Tokyo in Japan ‘46. Hexes cover 1 kilometer, each turn is 2 hours and units represent companies, battalions, and platoons. The rules cover a lot of detail. Troop quality, fatigue, rail travel, mine clearing, supply and ammo levels, isolation, and so on. Panzer Campaign games are complex, but the game engine handles a lot of the detail, letting you enjoy the gameplay.

Back to Spring Awakening ‘45, though much of the information below applies to the whole series.

 

Scenarios

The scenario briefing for the campaign game, with historical details of the battle.
There are several versions of the campaign scenario, including single-player and two-player versions.

 

As I mentioned, the main Spring Awakening campaign scenario is 98 turns, spanning March 6 to March 15, 1945. There are seven other 98-turn battles supporting the operation during that time period, each with two to four variations.

If you don’t want to start with something large there are numerous smaller scenarios to let you get up to speed.

The game map of a small scenario with a handful of Axis and Soviet units.
Smaller scenarios give you a chance to learn the game without committing yourself to dozens of turns.

 

Some of the 85 scenarios in Spring Awakening ‘45 are alternate versions of specific battles, designed for two opponents or balanced for you to play as the Axis or Soviets against the computer. Some battles have one or two additional variants. I counted a generous 35 or more distinct scenarios available in a range of sizes. You’ll find games of 8, 10, 20, 38, and 78 turns to name a few — all the way up to the 98-turn selections. A scenario editor and a submap editor let you create custom scenarios as well.

A brief Getting Started scenario walks you through the basics of the game. It’s just the basics but with the Getting Started documentation in the Help menu, it’s enough to give you an idea of what to do. With what you learn here, you can start to play the actual scenarios and have a lot of enjoyment doing it as you learn the nuances of the game.

 

Documentation

Two pages from the Panzer Campaigns game manual describing game units.
The manual is quite large, but if you don’t read it, at least skim it and keep it handy as you play.

 

In addition to this and the Getting Started manual, there’s:

  • The main User Manual with a ton of detailed rules that apply to the Panzer Campaign series in general. At the very least, scan the manual and keep it open so you can flip to it as needed to know how to cross a pontoon bridge and what happens when your units are out of ammo or fuel.
  • A General Help manual with summaries of key rules on movement and command, as well as a terrain effects chart.

 

Game Map

A portion of the Spring Awakenings ‘45 map with lakes, streams, roads, railways and more.
This is just a portion of the map, centered on western Hungary.

 

At 106,554 hexes, the Spring Awakening ‘45 map isn’t the largest in the Panzer Campaigns library, but it’s big. The 2D map isn’t flashy but calls to mind a physical game map and it’s just interesting to look at. You can choose a 3D option to get a different perspective of elevations and terrain. Again, this isn’t a high-resolution 3D rendering, but it does the job. And there are many settings to fine tune the map to suit your play style.

Clicking on a hex pops details into the information panel — terrain type, combat modifiers, elevation, visibility, and supply level. It also shows known mine and obstacle levels. Right clicking on that information shows you where features like roads and bridges cross hex sides or streams and rivers run along them. This information is helpful when counters hide the terrain.

The Parameter Data window showing terrain movement costs for halftrack and tracked vehicles.
The Parameter Data window shows movement costs by unit subtype and terrain, among many other things.

 

The map centers on western Hungary, extending in the east to just beyond the Danube River. The wide terrain variation means you need to start understanding movement point costs for different types of units or you’re going to be wondering why your stack of infantry only moved one hex. The Parameter Data window in the Help menu is a quick way to figure this out along with information like rail capacity, terrain elevations, weather modifiers, and much more.

 

Controls

The menu bar and control buttons for unit, combat, engineer functions and more.
A series of buttons organized by function gives you lots of control over the units, map and information.

 

There are lots of commands and menus, but you can handle key functions with buttons. Roll over them to see what they are, click on them to see what they do (you might want to save your game first). Some buttons are critical to gameplay and some make it easier. Save movement points for combat, switch units into travel mode, dig in, highlight reachable hexes, check command ranges, find your engineers, build pontoon bridges, clear mines, show arrived reinforcements, etc.

 

Units

Since Spring Awakening ‘45 takes place late in the war, expect some of the most modern weaponry in the series, including the IS-2 and Tiger II heavy tanks and the SU 100 and Jagdpanther tank destroyers. And of course, there are many variations of other tanks and tank destroyers as well as infantry, engineers, cavalry, light armor, artillery, and more. While you don’t see actual aircraft units, the aircraft are there as air missions in many of the scenarios. The Order of Battle is another facet of the game you could spend a lot of time exploring.

The two-dimensional map display and the three-dimensional display.
You can choose between a traditional 2D map and a 3D map.

 

In the game, units can look like traditional counters with NATO symbols on the board-game-style map, or, on the 3D map, counters that show formation size, movement points, morale, and fatigue when zoomed in. You can also indicate divisions with colors and replace NATO symbols with images.

Status, size, strength, and movement details for an engineering unit in the Axis forces.
The information area offers a wealth of critical details about your unit status, strength and capabilities.

 

Clicking on a hex containing friendly units gives you facts about the units in the information display: the number of men, vehicles or guns, as well as morale, movement points, and fatigue. Right clicking on that information gives you more critical details — unit organizational structure, attack strength against hard and soft targets, defense factor, speed, and any special capabilities.

 

Overall Impressions

The victory dialogue for a small scenario showing enough points for a minor Axis victory.
I was just a few points shy of a major Axis victory in one of the smaller scenarios.

 

Spring Awakening ‘45 is a big, challenging game. I’ve started the campaign game and played a couple of the smaller scenarios, all against the computer, and the game has been fun. The complexity can be daunting if you’re not familiar with the Panzer Campaign series but rewarding once you start to figure it out. I’ve appreciated ramping up my understanding of the game and how to make the interface work for me.

The command menu showing options for digging in, damaging rail, recon and more.
The interface relies a lot on Windows-style menus, but the menus are powerful and effective.

 

It’s worth noting that the interface for Spring Awakening ‘45 might be a stumbling block to some expecting a modern look. While you can do some things with clicks and drags, for some functions this is a Windows-type menu interface. And on my 1900 x 1080 display, some fonts are a little challenging to read.

But the interface is powerful and flexible. There is SO much you can do with the buttons, menus and keyboard shortcuts. The game board and information display likewise aren’t modern, but they work really well — there is a lot of information here and a lot you can do. Personally, I wouldn’t want to give up any of the functionality that’s available here just to make the game look nicer. If the game plays well, I’m good.

All in all, I found Spring Awakening ‘45 to be really enjoyable with a complexity that gives it a heavy dose of realism and room for me to learn. The historical information behind it is amazing. The complexity and historical depth can be intimidating, but worth the effort of digging into. The interface does take a bit to sort out, but once you do, you’ll see it gives you a lot of control and flexibility in how you play. This is the second Panzer Campaign title (fifth WDS title) I’ve played, and it won’t be the last. I’ve already started thinking about the next one I want to buy —early-war France? Stalingrad? North Africa?

 


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