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Steel Panthers is a series of Turn Based Tactics games designed by Gary Grigsby and Keith Brors and developed by Strategic Simulations, Inc., the same people responsible for Panzer General. The first game focused exclusively on World War II (hence the name of the game), but the later games expanded its focus all the way to the Modern Era and beyond.
The games take place on the tactical level on a classic hex-based grid, with players directing individual vehicles and squads. Unit choices are broken down into four broad types (Infantry, Armor, Artillery, and Miscellaneous), with a wide range of diversity within these categories (for instance, Armor includes tanks, armored cars, and mechanized cavalry scouts; Infantry includes riflemen, engineers, snipers, etc.). In battle, in addition to killing the enemy, all weapons can also Suppress enemy units, which reduces accuracy and at high enough levels can pin units in place or even cause them to break and run. The principles of combined arms (using a properly balanced force) and overwatch (one unit moves while another covers them) are very important to remember, as is paying attention to terrain; those who don't tend to watch in horror as the enemy demolishes their forces in detail.
To date, four "official" games have been made:
- Steel Panthers (1995)
- Steel Panthers II: Modern Battles (1996)
- Steel Panthers III Brigade Command: 1939-1999 (1997): Increased the scope and scale of battles, with individual units representing platoons / squadrons rather than squads / individual vehicles.
- Steel Panthers: World At War! (2000): A further refinement of the III code made by Matrix Games after they acquired the rights and the source code. It once again limits combat to the World War II era. Available as freeware from the game's official site.
Additionally, The Camo Workshop has released two Fan Remakes of Steel Panthers II for Windows:
- WinSPWW2: Covers the era of 1931-1946, allowing for some hypothetical battles (Allies vs. Soviets in Germany, U.S. invasion of the Japanese Home Islands).
- WinSPMBT: Covers 1946-2020, with the option to use some currently in-development technologies Twenty Minutes Into the Future.
Both games are also freeware, available from Shrapnel Games's publishing site.
All games come with premade scenarios and campaigns, both historical and hypothetical, allowing players to test their skills by trying to do better than what really happened. There are also both battle and campaign generators, which allow for more balanced battles (points-wise, at least) and map and scenario editors so that players can design and distribute their own content.
Some of the more prominent conflicts featured in scenarios include:
- World War One: Pops up enough to be notable.
- World War Two: Of course.
- Cold War
- Arab-Israeli Conflict: Probably the second biggest contributor for straight-up tank battles after World War II.
- Iran-Iraq War
- Gulf War
- The War on Terror: In the more up-to-date games.
- World War Three: Pretty common for hypothetical scenarios.
Steel Panthers contains examples of the following tropes:
- All There in the Manual: Most manuals for these games include some details about what goes on "under the hood," mainly so that players can tweak the preferences to suit their idea of how the game should play.
- America Wins the War: Averted. While the majority of scenarios and campaigns do feature the "major players" of most conflicts, there are some for the other contributing combatants of World War II (China, Poland, Australia, etc.) as well as some for small African and Asian "brush wars" (Chinese invasion of Vietnam, Rhodesian Civil War, etc.).
- Arbitrary Headcount Limit
- Artificial Stupidity: Until recent updates, players had to put tight fire control on units that have low ammo counts. Otherwise, ATGM crews (usually carrying only 4-6 missiles) will waste their ammo on jeeps during opportunity fire and have nothing left for tanks and other heavy armor.
- Crippling Overspecialization: Not as extreme as most video game cases, but still present. Most specialized units have a task they're designed for (antitank, anti-air, scouting, etc.) and usually don't fare too well when they try to do something else. ATGM teams can kill tanks all day as long as they have the missiles but don't last that long going head-to-head against an infantry squad.
- Delaying Action: One potential mission type.
- Do Not Run with a Gun: If a unit is moving, its accuracy drops. The faster it moves, the worse its accuracy gets.
- Easy Logistics: The game ignores the effects of strategic bombing, supply interdiction, industrial capacity, etc. at the strategic level, meaning that, for instance, you can buy more Tiger tanks than Germany ever actually built as long as you have the points. Within battles your troops do have limited amounts of ammo, but they can be resupplied almost infinitely from ammo trucks and supply depots (and there's an "Unlimited Ammo" option in the game preferences if you find even this to be too pesky).
- Every Bullet Is a Tracer: Whenever a unit fires a weapon, its path is always visible. This (and the range report) can help you return fire even when the firing enemy unit still isn't visible to your soldiers.
- Fog of War: Simulated fairly realistically. Simply because a unit can see a hex doesn't mean that it automatically spots any units in its field of vision. Units can lower their chances of being spotted by either staying still or "sneaking" (moving slowly, about one hex at a time). On the other hand, stationary observers and / or specialized recon units have better chances of spotting enemies within their field of vision.
- Forces With Firepower: Pretty much the point of the game(s). Nearly all forces listed on the trope page are present and accounted for.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Chew through some of the longer campaigns and see what kind of core you get by the end.
- Start a randomly generated campaign in 3 with three companies of ATGM vehicles or light tanks, light self-propelled artillery, and a few forward observers. End it with a fully-tooled up elite tank battalion backed by heavy guns or multiple rocket launchers.
- Gameplay Grading: Uses a variation of this. The exact measure of victory or defeat in a given scenario is measured by the ratio of victory points between the two players.
- Garrisonable Structures: Buildings do provide some cover to infantry (as does rubble). Also, some player-placed structures such as bunkers can be actively garrisoned by "loading" infantry into them.
- Geo Effects: Terrain is a major factor of every battle, especially in terms of cover and visibility.
- Hero Must Survive: No matter how well the rest of your units do during a campaign mission, your HQ (where you are) must survive.
- Hold the Line: Any mission where you're defending against another advancing force.
- House Rules: Some scenarios (particularly the fan-made ones) have "victory conditions" written into the description for objectives that the game engine itself isn't coded to handle, such as the survival of a particular unit.
- Also, players in head-to-head games will have agreed rules, such as purchasing points, number of air strikes, artillery purchase limits, etc.
- Kill It with Fire: Napalm bombs, flamethrowers, Molotov cocktails...
- In the modern iterations, RPO-A Shmels and M202 FLASH rockets are on the table. That's right, rocket flamethrowers.
- And let's not forget fighters dropping fuel-air explosives or delivered via MLRS>
- Macross Missile Massacre: The German Nebelwerfer and most Russian rocket artillery, starting with the BM-14 "Katyusha."
- Misguided Missile: Less due to clever maneuvering on your foe's part, and more to your aircraft acquiring the wrong target in the first place.
- NATO: In the post-WW 2 games, obviously.
- No Campaign for the Wicked: Averted. The random campaign generator lets you play a campaign as any faction, and there are a number of preset campaigns, both shipped with the games and made by fans, that let you play as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and others.
- No Koreans in Japan: Averted, particularly in WAW. In many scenarios that see you up against the Japanese in battles that do not involve military-only islands, you are probably going to run into some Korean laborers, all of whom you are going to have to kill as they almost always have been handed a weapon and are shooting in your direction at gunpoint.
- No Range Like Point-Blank Range: Tanks, Artillery and all the other stuff you have at your disposal is pretty awesome, but if you want to take an enemy position, your infantry will have to get up close and personal...
- No Swastikas: The German flags in World War II use the balkenkreuz instead.
- Subverted: Most games had the historical flag as backup and let you edit it back in instead (or vice versa).
- Possible War: Other than the aforementioned World War Three scenarios, there are also some for other potential conflicts-that-weren't (or that may be in the future).
- Separate but Identical: In the post-WW 2 settings, most factions essentially use either an American or a Soviet equipment roster, although some factions (NATO nations, China, and Israel among others) do have their own designs. Justified in that this is what happened in real history; both sides of the Cold War sold surplus weapons and vehicles to their allies and affiliated resistance groups.
- Some Dexterity Required: OH man, be careful when moving vehicles/troops around mines, terrain that'll immobilize them, or when trying to avoid being sighted. One finger slip could shorten your rosters.
- Rare Vehicles: Goes as far as to include some vehicles which never actually saw service, such as the Nazi German Maus and Sturmtiger. Even for those that weren't quite as rare, you can again have more of a particularly rare vehicle in your core force than would ever have been available throughout the course of all of World War II thanks to the points-based purchasing system.
- Support Power: Airstrikes and off-map artillery. Usually negotiated between players due to their effectiveness.
- Tank Goodness: The games feature hundreds of different armored fighting vehicles and their variations. For example, in MBT there are thirteen different models of the T-64 main battle tank.
- Timed Mission: Turn-based.
- Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: The random battle and campaign features allow you to pit any two nations against one another, even if they're members of the same alliance (the United States vs. Japan / any NATO nation), unable to interact in a meaningful way (Afghan mujahadeen vs. Cuba), or even haven't fought a war in the 20th century at all (the fact that Switzerland is playable, full stop).
- Units Not to Scale: At least in the first two games, each hex is 50 meters to a side. Two units that appear to be "right next to each other" on the map are about half a football field away from each other, hardly point-blank range.
- Veteran Unit: The incentive for not treating your troops as cannon fodder during campaigns is for them to achieve this status. Unit experience rankings are green, regular, experienced and elite. Also, higher experienced troops can be bought, such as airborne and special forces.
- Video Game Caring Potential: Every officer in your extremely extensive command has his (or even her) own stats, as do their units. If they survive, they evolve and become more effective. They don't, and you have to start back from scratch IF you are lucky. Let's just say that Save Scumming is very popular, particularly for campaigns.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: Asides from what you do to the enemy, friendly fire is VERY much in play, and you are free to treat your men as you wish, even using them as Cannon Fodder. There's also nothing preventing you from doing things like calling in an airstrike to drop napalm in an urban area, despite the fact that this would be generally inadvisable in real life.
- Steel Panthers 3 in the WW 3/Israeli future conflict scenarios. Turn on fast artillery. Turn up your number of allotted points to the max. Buy half of it in BM-22 Uragans and the other half in BM-21 Grads. Annihilate the entire enemy side of the map on the first turn.
- Video Game Cruelty Punishment: Just don't whine when you get wiped out one one of the late levels of a campaign because you needed elite troops that you used as expendible bullet sponges back when they were green.
- Warsaw Pact: A rare example each of the Warsaw Pact countries has its own, distinctive set of units (though a lot equipment is shared between the countries).
- Zerg Rush: A common (though not always viable) strategy for factions with cheaper units.
- Typically the setup in any scenario involving Tiger tanks. You can kill some of the T-34s, but not all...
- ↑ Antitank Guided Missile