In the game, you take control of the forces of Nazi Germany during World War II. Battles take place on a hexagonal map; the entire map is visible at the start, but there is a Fog of War which hides enemy units outside the player's vision. The objective of each map is to take and hold certain key cities within the time limit; whether and how quickly the player does this determines how well he does, which on certain maps can unlock ahistorical campaign options. The ultimate goal of the original game is to invade the United States and conquer Washington, D.C.
The game is a computer version of a classic Tabletop Wargame, of the sort not repeated much since.
This game contains examples of:
- Alternate History: Special scenarios allowing you to conquer Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. You have to do quite well to unlock these, though.
- Another Side, Another Story: The Spin-Off/Expansion Pack Allied General.
- Critical Existence Failure: Averted. Unit's performance is based on its manpower, so a decimated squad doesn't pose much of a treat.
- Easy Logistics: Downplayed. The fuel and ammunition are limited, but devote a turn to resupply (i.e. no moving or attacking) and they recharge, so long as there are no adjacent enemy units. Reinforcement (effectively "healing") works in a similar way.
- Framing Device: The second game (Allied General) opened and closed each Campaign with an installment of "Allies on the March", a Black and White Newsreel produced for the game using wartime Stock Footage.
- Fog of War: Unique in that, even when a unit is visible, you may not be able to see all of its stats, depending on how well you can see it / who's spotting it.
- Geo Effects: Terrain and weather greatly affect gameplay. Certain terrain types hinder movement and / or grant defensive bonuses, while bad weather can (again) hinder movement or even keep your aircraft grounded.
- Last Stand: In the final mission, an Axis attack on Washington DC, there is a tiny group of die-hard British veterans under US command.
- No Campaign for the Wicked: So averted the damn thing literally broke in half:
- Even dancing around the issue of the Soviets, the only vanilla campaigns for the original WERE for the Wicked, namely the Third Reich. While this was slightly toned down in the sequels, they remained the stars of the series, coupled with the addition of the Soviets. The only vanilla aversion came in two, with the "Crusade in Europe" campaign(s), which were identical but offered the choice of whether you wanted to fight using the Americans or the British. Fanmade campaigns rounded things out, but things still lean very heavily towards the Germans.
- Panzer General II opened up the options to play as the British, the Americans, or the Soviets as well (complete with the ability to slightly change how history turns out depending on how well you do), but the Germans are still in the spotlight here. You can choose to play as early as 1936 commanding the Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War to create the Alternate History scenarios mentioned above, or you can choose to play as the Germans from Stalingrad to try and prevent the total capitulation of Germany as per our timeline. Good luck.
- Played straight in Allied General, a sequel released before Panzer General, where only British, Soviet, and American campaigns are available.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The first game ends with some congratulatory text promising world peace, jolly oompah music and some WWII film reel of marching Wehrmacht. Then the whole picture suddenly slows and is tinted blood-red. That's right, the game reminds you, you've just conquered the world for Nazism...well done you.
- Non-Entity General: Played with. While you aren't actually represented on the battle maps, your Mission Control will actually offer you drinks and smokes during briefings and otherwise interact with you as though you are a living, breathing human being in the same room. In Panzer General II, you even receive your own dossier folder, complete with randomly generated name along with how many medals you've been awarded during your career. You know you've leveled up in badassery when the officer briefing you addresses you as "Field Marshall."
- No Swastikas: Big time.
- Orchestral Bombing: Panzer General II's German OST is, indeed, bombastic, and includes Flight of the Valkyries cleverly woven in.
- Story Branching: The result of each mission dictates where you will go next. As an example, get a Major in Warsaw and you lead Operation Weserübung. Get a Minor, and it's straight to Belgium. (Get a Loss and you're fired.)
- Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors: The game encourages the use of combined arms by making certain unit classes stronger or weaker against other classes. Pitting a tank against an AT gun is generally a bad idea.
- Tank Goodness
- You Have Failed Me: Fail a mission or two in the German campaign, and your dismissal briefing ends with a gunshot to your temple. The same is true when playing the Soviet campaign in Allied General or Panzer General II. The American and British campaigns have much kinder punishments for failure, as your general usually gets re-assigned to command of an ammunition dump.