Friday, 8 April 2016

Tank Games - an Unexplored Genre?

EDIT: (a) For those who simply read the title, then comment, this post is not saying tank games do not exist, but there is areas to explore within the genre (i.e. smaller skirmishes, non-Microarmour/ battalion scale). (b) Also, if you have linked here from TMP please tell Tango to bugger off and not link my blog again, ever

We have shedloads of WW2 rules, and quite a few modern sets.  But there isn't many that specifically focus on armoured warfare.  Yes, we have tanks in those WW2 games (Bolt Action, FoW etc) but they are part of a whole.  I'd like a game specifically focussed on tanks, with infantry merely playing a supporting role.  Think Warmachine; solos and casters are detailed, whilst "grunts" are generic groups.   Given that there are so many miniatures around, and everyone loves tanks (if you don't, your man-cave privileges are permanently revoked). So why don't we have more games that focus on them?  (No, weird/expensive boardgames or stuff from the 70s doesn't count)

Tanks (and crews) are the "heroes" or "aces"
Tanks should have detail, infantry do not. Tank weapons and capabilities are quite detailed, but infantry is streamlined, simplified and generic.  Specific tank crews can "level up" perhaps with a limited range of "special abilities."  Infantry are merely rookies, experienced or veteran which applies to all infantry on a side.  So some sort of (simplified) Mordheim-esque campaign system is required.

Squadron/platoon level
There are plenty of combined arms games (like FFTW3) at a large scale (brigades, battalions).  In order to keep our game focussed on specific crews, it will need to be a manageable size.  It will use between a troop (3-5 tanks) and a squadron (~12 tanks) with between a platoon (~3 squads) and a company (~9 squads) of infantryArtillery is unlikely to appear at this level.  So we're sort of looking at the FoW-Bolt Action scale from a tank-centric focus.  Whilst sweeping Cold War battles involving complete divisions (and usually abstract rules where a single tank = a platoon) are beloved of gamers, a lot of tank battles in WW2 involved a dozen or less per side, not hundreds. 

The Crusader is possibly my favourite tank.  Back when tanks were in a transitional period, and designs were innovative and weird, rather than the boring copy-paste MBTs we have today.

Realistic tactics = focus
In order to win, you need to use realistic tactics. I'm not a tank expert but I presume "bounding overwatch" where some tanks fire while allies move up/flank will be heavily used, as will setting up ambushes and taking hulldown positions.

For example, a troop activation might be "bounding overwatch" 2 tanks fire and 2 move.

I also want tanks to feel and move like tanks.  In some games they simply feel like infantry and kinda freely move anywhere and face and fire any direction.  Perhaps give them a turning radius if they move over 1-2" per turn.  Maybe limit the amount of degrees they pivot in a move?   I'll need to know exact stats - from memory a Panther could pivot 360 in 30-40 seconds; but how would Russian mud etc effect this?   this could simply translate into I.e. light tanks can spin 270, mediums 180, and heavies only 90, halved in bad going....

Gun traverse may also a thing; early Panther tanks took a full minute(!) to turn 360.  While I'm not going to track turret facing in-game, it might effect "reaction" times to targets off to the side, for example, or the ability to engage multiple targets.

I'm happy to have a somewhat fluid/flexible time/ground scale as long as it mimics the correct tactics and feel.  For example, I presume the "practical" RoF of many guns would be around 15 rpm no matter what the actual RoF is - they need time to aim. 

Activation & Reaction
Reactions seem sensible as tanks might peek out over a rise or round a building then compete to get a shot off first. I'm not sure the level of co-ordination between tanks - perhaps activate by troop if equipped with radio, with units having to pass some sort of test without.

No IGOUGO of course; I'd like the initiative to swing back and forth; perhaps as tanks take hits and fail morale/skill tests, the "active" player would then become the "reactive" player. 

Simple damage
I'm thinking a few levels, that could be denoted by a marker.  There's no hitpoints, just general effects.

Shaken = crew is freaking out, from non-pen hit. Perhaps it's being scoured by 20mm fire or a deflected shot or something.  Maybe temporary -1 to rolls, perhaps tank cannot advance in the direction of the fire.

Damaged = this is where the detail comes in, but keep it simple (maybe so can mark with micro d6)
1-2. Bail out! = crew jump out beside tank; may test to get back in later
3. Crew injuries = -1 to all rolls for rest of game as crew are impaired or have to multi-task/take over from wounded comrades
4-5. Mobility damage = perhaps a radiator is hit or tracks damaged; tank can must pass a test or remain stationary that turn; if is passes it may move at half speed for rest of game; if it fails a 2nd test it is permanently immobilized (and -1 to fire if hydraulic turret)
6. Weapon damage = turret ring jammed or similar; gun cannot be used until a crew test is passed

Killed = this takes a few forms.
1-2.  Brew up! = tank explodes in spectacular fashion; it's a total write-off
3-4. Crew kill = everyone inside is dead; tank quite salvagable
5. Mobility Kill = tank immobilized for rest of game
6. Weapon kill = gun knocked out or turret jammed; may not use primary weapon for rest of game

The Grant is similarly weird and awesome. The whole design just makes me smile. 

Infantry Damage and Rally Points
Infantry damage would be simple as possible; shaken, pinned, or destroyed.
In many games infantry squads once "destroyed" are gone for good, I'd like to see them have a chance to 'respawn' at a rally point (roll based on their morale) within a certain range; representing scattered survivors re-forming and re-organising.  Rally points (or "jump off") points could be set like in Chain of Command and thus could be valuable tactical targets - i..e once rally point is overrun, you cannot respawn there.   I'd also like to look at "cohesion" ranges - most games have squads 2" apart - which be 20-30 yards in 1:300?  I'll have to look it up but I presume real life squads would be able to operate more independently than that.

Whilst I don't want to head into 90s territory with super-detailed spotting charts, I do think this should play apart in the game as many tank fights started with an ambush.  Perhaps tanks (or tank troops moving together) could be a "blip" until spotted (quite a few WW2 accounts say tanks were heard long before they came into sight) 

They could be divided into generic small (light/turretless TD), medium (T-34) and large (Tiger, Sherman) and have a set range at which they are revealed (halved if they are behind cover, doubled if they fire).

I'm thinking anything before good gun stabilisation, ATGW and helos as I feel tank warfare changes significantly. While tanks are still the best anti-tank weapon, we don't want those infantry peasants ruining things with Saggers or Apaches/A-10s interdicting a tank column before the fight happens. 

So I'm thinking WW2-late 1960s for the technology.

As I don't want to get bogged down with official orders of battle, I'm probably going to have battles in an "ImagiNation" between mercenary tank units where I can freely mix what-if 1946 wonder tanks in with early stuff that simply looks cool (Crusader, Lee), or use an S-Tank in my 1960s battles alongside more usual T-55s and Centurions. 

There is room for a 1:1 tank game that is not big battalion micro armour/Cold War.  The tank genre tends to focus on big battles rather than engagements of half a dozen tanks per side; and if it is in a ruleset such as FoW, the tank rules themselves tend to be lacking or merely part of a whole; rather than the "tank crews as stars/aces" of a game like Battletech; where mecha crew are the focus.
(a) individual crew skills which can level up like Mordhiem or Battletech
(b) campaign/experience system
(c) dynamic reactions/interactions and initiative not just IGOUGO + overwatch.
(d) more realistic movement system than microarmour rulesets
(e) minimal infantry/confine to pre-ATGW era
(f) simpler spotting than older microarmour rulesets
(g) damage system which has some detail (crew, weapon, mobility damage or kill) but can still be denoted by tokens

Think tanks-meets-Mordhiem - or Heavy Gear/Battletech with WW2 tanks instead of mecha.  This could be done by adding depth to existing micro-armour sets like FFTW3.  Finally, I have excluded ancient (read 1970s, early 80s) games and obscure/expensive boardgames.


  1. With all your discussion, I was a bit surprised to note that you did not account for ammunition consumption. While you do consider the practical ROF, one thing you are omitting is the number of rounds that are available to be fired. This can be determined by reference to many sources but even more importantly needs to be randomized to take into account the rounds already fired prior to obtaining more rounds - if available. I just read where a STUG, for example, would definitely slow down its ROF to be able to support the infantry for a longer period. The other factor is fuel. How much is available to each vehicle prior to the start of a game? That would be far more important for the French in 1940 or the Heer from 1943 on.
    That said, the direction in which you are going is excellent. Well done.

    1. Ammo consumption (and fuel consumption) is something I never bother to track as I'm not a fan of record keeping, period.

      "Ready rack" ammo would impact RoF, but if it's important I'd simply boost RoF to the first round of fire then ignore it thereafter. I'm certainly not keen ticking off ammo boxes of 12-16 tanks.

      Presuming a game turn is around ~10 seconds, a "RoF" might be 3 - and I doubt many wargames would last 20+ turns to run out of ammo. Basically, it doesn't add meaningful decisions and tactics to the game to be a worthwhile trade for the extra hassle.

      Fuel consumption: Fuel might be managed in a campaign, in the sense that supply vehicles might be targeted, but again, one presumes they have enough for the tactical battle and I wouldn't be tracking it.

      I'm interested in the "feel" of tank combat, with a bit more accuracy/grit/realism than FoW/BA, but it's not a hardcore sim with 101 modifiers and taking into account wind direction, or if a Tiger's turret traverse is effected by how hard it's engine is revving....

      I'd like games to last 1.5hrs or so on average.

  2. Perhaps instead of tracking ammo you could use a Necromunda style Ammo Roll. Different tanks/crew/ammunituons might have different TN. In addition, certain criteria could trigger the need for an ammo roll.

    1. But is running out of ammo so common an occurance it must be part of the core rules? Wouldn't it be rarer, ie. scenario specific?

      It seems a lot of effort for something that adds little gameplay benefit. *shrugs*

      "Your gun has randomly run out of ammo on the second turn. Your tank is useless now." Yay? A bit arbitrary.

      Perhaps it could be a special rule/scenario condition, i.e. "Battle of the Bulge" /low resupply mode (I can't offhand think of a battle where tanks ran dry); after 5 turns (or whatever halfway of an average game); all tanks test?

    2. Well, it was you who stated, he wanted detail with the tanks.

      Back in those days where I commanded a platoon of M1A1...on my Commodore Amiga... Ammo was a crucial factor in all but the easiest games.

      Imagine even a top notch American MBT can only fire for a very limited amount of time.

      It made me think twice about firing a shot, when I was sure or very certain it would have no effect.

    3. -"It made me think twice about firing a shot, when I was sure or very certain it would have no effect."

      Fair enough. I just doubted the situation would come up often enough to be worth tracking ammo for 16 tanks, every turn. It seems a sensible thing to ignore or abstract. I've heard of tanks running low, but more in longer time scale i.e. Valley of Tears where fight goes on all morning or all afternoon...

      In contrast, there's LOTS of stories about tanks shedding tracks when going cross country. Losing tracks in high speed turns etc for me, seems like something that happens often enough to be worth detailing, rather than ammo. Heck even mechanical breakdowns or cooked radiators seem to happen more often than no ammo or fuel. Perhaps I'm reading the wrong books...

      Fuel seems to be more a strategic than a tactical issue. I haven't read any stories where Tigers were driving towards enemies then abruptly ran out of fuel. It was more they couldn't mount the operation in the first place.

    4. I think it's mostly a matter of the scale of conflict you want to create.

      In my example, the games were about the size of 1 Tank platoon + 1-2 support units + possibly some artillery or air strikes which could be called.

      I had thought, that such a force of 4-12 vehicles might still be managable with some kind of ressource (i.e. Ammo).

      Tracks are, however, also something you should think about.

    5. Yes, I did have 4-12 vehicles in mind. But would you track it for 4-12 soldiers in a skirmish game? For say 50+ hitboxes of ammo each?

      In Infinity, do you track ammo for each individual soldier?

      Toss in fuel as well, and that's a LOT of tedious book keeping for something that was not (IMO) a "core" aspect of tank vs tank warfare at a tactical level, over short fights (if our game turns are 10-15 second intervals, I find it unlikely tanks could even run out of ammo over the amount of "turns" in a normal game.)

      It seems a "scenario specific" special rule for particular scenarios of battles rather than a core mechanic. I.e. a strategic level problem.

      Tracking fuel or missiles expended for jet combat, on the other hand, might be merited, as a large percentage of fights had sides breaking off due to low fuel or ammo.

      But I am surprised that everyone seems to believe so feverently in ammo/fuel tracking is an essential inclusion. (....or that it would be the focal point of the comments section....)

    6. I was thinking the ammo roll would be for specialty ammo such as HE or APDS. Tanks carried limited supplies and instead of tracking it you could abstract it with an ammo roll instead. You could even base it on crew skill if you wanted. Since you were thinking these would be mercy, they might not always have the best logistical support.

      As for throwing tracks, certain maneuvers could require a roll based on crew skill. I do not know enough about tanks to know what those situations would be:

    7. I second Eric's proposition. That seems like a reasonable compromise.
      Also, for many of the support units, it would be less bookkeeping (M113s would not count their MG-ammo, but ITVs and M3s possibly their TOW-missiles).

      Im not so proficient with Infinity, but for many smaller skirmishes, I have played, you do count ammo or other ressources (Magicpoints etc.) for a limited number of units.

    8. "...but for many smaller skirmishes, I have played, you do count ammo or other ressources (Magicpoints etc.) for a limited number of units."

      Sure. As long as it is limited. LOTR, with 3-4 heroes tracking a few points of Might/Will/Fate, is limited. My concern is tracking ammo with up to 16 tanks per side might not be limited, especially as you have various damage and suppression tokens lying around already.

      As you can tell, I'm very resistant to record keeping in any form, and to be honest I'm not a fan of tokens crowding the tabletop either.

      Decisions vs resolution should always favour decisions and tactics. Book keeping slows the resolution down.

      That said, my rules are very early alpha and mostly consist of adding better activation/reaction to FFTW3 (under the idea it is easier to complicate simple rules rather than simplify complex ones)

  3. Nice Crusader- that is the one at the museum in Cairns I'm pretty sure.

    Tracking ammo. Some games do this well in an abstracted way. Battlegroup does this because it forces genuine decision making, including tactical resupply. I do this for the big cats by using expended ammunition shells - for Tigers I use .50cal brass :-)

    Patton's Best is an old AH game which does the boardgame aspect of what you are talking about. Would be a really great game to target for a refresh actually.

    And as much I I think Bolt Action has its flaws, the Tank War supplement which allows you to play a tank platoon and have campaigns with them like you describe is a LOT of fun :-)

    1. I've often thought Bolt Action would be more practical in 15mm, and FoW in 6mm..... (certainly a LOT cheaper!)

  4. In the late 70s and 80s, it was all about tank games! Infantry, in most of the rules I gamed with, were a nuisance that we grudgingly felt obligated to throw into battles. Most of the rules we used were big on the armor aspects of the game and very weak on the infantry side of things. Good example was Angriff!

    1. I'm not referring to the Cold War big battalion battles with micro armour, for example. There are a bazillion rules of those.

      I guess I'm interested more in the "company sized vs Mordhiem campaign" with individualised tank crew like Battletech.

  5. "While I'm not going to track turret facing in-game (...)" Isn't that a bit of a knee jerk reaction? While I agree it's overkill for pretty much any kind of game, I think it's kind of a must for the kind of tank on tank skirmish your describing (much more a must that ammo and fuel tracking)...

    And I don't really see the issue. Recording is a simple as actually rotating the turret of the miniature to point toward the right direction, no book keeping, no marker just a miniature actually depicting reality (ok you need to build your mini as to allow turret rotation but that's not such a big deal especially if you consider the small number of tanks needed for this game)...

    Rules about turret rotation can be quite simple too... What about a template you can place on top of the turret with a center mark lining up with the current position of the gun and left and right limits (for several classes of "traversing speed") indicating the furthest from that current position the gun can be moved in one turn/activation?

    Reaction fire: a tank that gets to react use the template (or maybe another with tighters limits) to figure out if he gets to react or not (target outside the "reaction arc", the turret can't traverse fast enough to take the shot)

    1. I prefer to avoid record keeping and even markers where possible.

      A book I read lately stated that the Panther's 1min rotation, which seems slow, was enough to "track" any enemy tank when already on target. It was simply an issue when the Panther was surprised.

      It simply would have an issue when "reacting" so it might have a -2 to reaction fire more than 90d off centre line...

      Or something similar. To show the EFFECT (i.e. poor when surprised) rather than going through lots of steps (minimize the PROCESS/complication) to show the end issue (poor to react to enemy approaching from an unexpected direction). And we can presume if a tank is "expected" the Panther would be facing it front on....

  6. Ammo...

    Much more interesting (to me) than the "is the tank out of ammo" question (and rules needed to answer it) is the "what do I have in the chamber right now" one.

    Not a specialist in WW2 tank warfare but I guess (and maybe I'm just plain wrong) that there were way more occurences of tanks taking snapshots with the wrong kind of ammo (AP on infantry, HE on tank) rather than taking the time to reload... What about a rule where at the end of the turn, each players puts a "type of ammo" loaded marker next to each tank (or on each tank card). The tank will fire with that kind of ammo for the duration of the next turn and incuring penalties if its not the optimal round for the target he actually fires at (I'm assuming the "bonuses" for using the optimal ammo are already factored in the weapon stats and that all ammo modifiers are maluses for using the "wrong" type on a targe)...

    1. That's a good point. I do hear of times when tanks are hit by HE shells instead of AP.

      I'm trying to think of a way to do it without any marker though. If we presume 10-15 seconds turns (i.e. ROF 3 /15rpm for fastest tank guns) - maybe a -1RoF penalty or something OR fires with wrong ammo - if last turns fire was vs infantry?

      I'm hoping the ONLY marker is a micro dice or similar showing damage. (mobility damage, mobility kill, etc)

      I'd like to avoid each tank to have a Battletech-esque level of book keeping. Accordingly, as much as possible will be abstracted, whilst trying to retain the "feel" of tank warfare.

      If it means omitting rules missing out on comparatively rare situations, in return for getting general better performance, then so be it.

      Another point to consider is if commanders are "buttoned up" which seems to be a major difference Soviet vs Germans.

      Bear in mind, when I say I'd like detail, that is compared to the infantry peasants. I don't want a tank to have any more complication/recording than a Mordhiem of Infinity character if possible.

  7. By the way, that's totally the kind of game I was looking for after watching "Girls und Panzer"...

  8. In re-reading this thread, have you considered keeping ALL hit results secret? Some WW1 games do this, only revealing results that are visibly obvious. In this way you would generate real fog of war and decisions for targeting that wouldn't otherwise happen - you read a lot about tanks shooting up enemy vehicles until they burned or crew bailed out, just to be sure

    1. Ww1 aerial games that is.

      Also keeps markers/clutter off the table

    2. Obviously this entails recording it on a sheet somewhere... does it add enough depth to be worth it?

      My rule of thumb is:
      (a) can I avoid record keeping altogether?
      (b) if not, can I do everything I want and keep it equal or simpler than a Warmachine card? (if using ~10 minis or less)

    3. The fog of war induced decisions are definitely worth the effort. Simple markers (including blank ones if you want more deception) kept inverted on top of your unit card provide everything you need.

    4. This project was harmed by my "purchasing freeze" due to an unpainted backlog.

      Though I'm not sure if I'm going to go 1:300 or 15mm. 15mm stuff is lovely but pricey; 1:300 may be simply too small to be cool (I rarely use my 6mm/1:300 sci fi and I know I regret my 1:1200 coastal forces as too small...)

    5. The PSC plastic kits are very economical and greatly detailed. Zvezda also offers cheap alternatives. My 15mm WW2 collection are all theories, with the exception of only 1 or 2 vehicles.

    6. For the scale game you seem to want (plt +) 15mm sounds very good. I'm going to go the Patton'a Best RPG lite style with my existing 28mm vehicles (of which I have only a few)

    7. I have some 15mm STuGs and Shermans, and I KNOW I like them.

      I don't like my 6mm sci fi, but possibly that's because I'm not a huge fan of the Brigade sculpts (I like their aeronef but everything else is a rather bland 'meh out of 10')

      Not sure about 6mm WW2, as I don't have any and at that scale you really need to see them "in the flesh."

      However at $1 per 6mm, versus $6 or so per 15mm....

      ....for $100 I can have 15 4-tank platoons in 6mm, or two 5-tank boxes of PSC 15mm and a few extras....

  9. There are some excellent WW2 selections in the 10mm range (approx 1/144 - 1/160).
    At this scale the tanks are easily recognised, and the infantry are small enough to stick 4 on a base and cal it a squad (or whatever).

    Let's move on to some practicalities - I've read enough WW2 to know that:

    There's tank country and anti-tank country, you probably don't need a mass of dense terrain if you're doing a tank battle.

    You can probably avoid infantry Vs infantry fights in tank country, as the tanks will be leading with infantry supporting.

    The biggest tank killer (and more numerous than tanks in the order of battle) was the towed anti-tank gun. Good tank commanders (Rommel) would mix their AT guns and tanks, especially when on the defensive.

    If you're having an attacker / defender game.
    Defenders will have infantry (presumably in cover, if not soon dead), tanks and ATGs (again dug in if they want to live.
    Attackers will have tanks, and either infantry left a bit behind, or mounted in vehicles (They may also have AT Guns in self-propelled gun form).

    Infantry aren't completely defenceless, though during the early war, any anti-tank rifle will only trouble the lightest tanks.
    By 1943, the Bazooka, Piat and Panzerfaust/shrek arrive.
    These should give the dug-in defending infantry some role at close range.

    Are you going to do minefields?