Panzer General is a turn-based game, set on operational level hex maps. One plays lone scenarios from either Axis or Allied side and against a computer or human opponent. In Campaign Mode, the player assumes the role of a German Generalissimus against the Allied computer.
Panzer General is an operational-level game, and units approximate battalions, although the unit size and map scale from one scenario to the next are elastic. While the names and information for the units are reasonably accurate, the scenarios only approximate historical situations.
Its novel feature was to link individual scenarios into a campaign spanning World War II from 1939 to 1945. Units are able to gain experience and become stronger, where success in one battle would award the player prestige to upgrade units, acquire additional units, and select a better scenario for the next battle.
The game requires the player to use combined-arms tactics, where each unit is strong against some unit types but very vulnerable to others. Dug-in enemy positions must be softened by artillery, which is vulnerable and needs protection. Before attacking the infantry and anti-tank, one needs first to destroy the enemy artillery that protects them from behind. If no tanks can get within range, one does this mostly by bombers, but then it is advantageous to destroy the air defense units first. The fighter planes must negotiate dual roles: destroying the enemy air force and protecting their own bombers.
One must carefully observe the road system to speed the advance, or he/she can use Bridge engineers to cross the rivers. The game rewards a Blitzkrieg strategy – penetrating deep into the enemy positions while postponing the destruction of some of the encountered enemy units for later.
The performance of units is increased by their experience points, which are acquired through combat. In Campaign mode particularly, one then has to protect the experienced units as the most valuable assets.