2019 was a good year for my hobby gaming. This is especially true for wargaming. Of the 20 wargame titles published in 2019 that I acquired this year I was actually very challenged to come up with one winner. Should I go with one of the best magazine wargames, Campaigns of 1777, in Strategy & Tactics from Decision Games? Or maybe a lite wargame such as Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele) or Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing) where my Middle Boy found his passion? Maybe one of the heavier wargames; the OODA-challenging Less than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games) or the Cold War naval campaign Blue Water Navy (Compass Games)? What about that very interesting “militarized Eurogame,” Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards Games)? Even expansions were competitive with the solo rules in Panzer: Expansion #4 – France 1940 (GMT Games) adding a whole new dimension to the base game. Let’s not forget the new editions of older games like the astounding Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 (Academy Games).
In the end there can be only one winner, and one game succeeded this year in rising above the rest of even that most august collection – Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs by designer Mike Bertucelli published by GMT Games.
As an old Grognard, at first glance Tank Duel should not be in my wheelhouse. After all, it has NO map, NO counters (only markers), NO Combat Results Table, and NO dice! Instead it has ‘tableaus’ and stacks of cards (oh, the heresy)! So what makes it so great?
Narrative. Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs consistently delivers a story with every play. In the RockyMountainNavy house, our first battle will forever be remembered.
Somewhere on the steppes of Mother Russia….
The battle didn’t look like much, just a pair of Soviet T-34/M43 versus a Panzer IV AUSf G and a Stug III AUSf G. The Boys took the Soviets with each commanding one tank. I faced them with my German Panzers. At first it looked like German technological superiority would dominate with the Stug getting a penetrating hit on one T-34 that caused an ammo fire. Luckily for RockyMountainNavy Jr, the tank didn’t brew up but he now had to hold his crew’s morale up and fight the fire.
Then the incredible started to happen.
RockyMountainNavy Jr. put the fire out and keep his crew together. As the steel behemoths stalked each other across the battlefield, it was that very same T-34 that got off the next good shot – and brewed up the Stug III with a Catastrophic Hit. RockyMountainNavy T was not to be left alone for he was stalking the Panzer IV. His first shot missed but his second hit true, and the Panzer IV exploded right in front of him. New Panzers entered the battlefield and soon RockyMountainNavy T found his T-34 mount shot out from beneath him. But the Soviet commanders were learning quickly and using Leadership and Tactics to their advantage. Forcing the enemy into Mud at the right moment immobilized the Stug, and getting too close to the Panzer IV forced him to ‘pop smoke’ and go totally defensive.
The German Stug got out of the mud and found a good place to shoot from at that pesky T-34 that had put out the fire and killed the first Stug. The German crew took its time and, coaxed by the Tank Commander, lined up a good shot (Fire card with To Hit +15 plus +20 from a Leadership card). The final To Hit number was 98. Looking at the Battle Card deck – about half depleted – I was pretty sure that cards 96-100 (Auto Miss) were already out. Smirking, I flipped over the top Battle Card and prepared to blow up the Red Devil.
The damn Battle Card was 100 – Auto Miss (and even without the Auto Miss it still would have missed). RockyMountainNavy Jr jumped up from the table hooting & hollering. He high-fived his brother, he ran to his mother and kissed her, he jumped about with uncontrollable joy.
I stared at the Battle Card. At that moment my morale wavered. I knew the battle was coming close to an end and I was going to lose.
And end it did. My Stug was flanked and brewed up – again – by Jr.’s T-34 (his second kill). The Panzer IV vainly tried to get a flanking shot on his pesky tank but it was able to Conceal itself in a building. Before I could dig it out higher command recalled the attack (Game End).
The after battle report was miserable for the Germans; 2x Stug III and one Panzer IV lost against a single T-34. Most importantly the Soviet Commanders morale was extremely high and they are absolutely itching for another battle.
Game as Story – Story as Game
A play of Tank Duel practically writes its own story. Components reinforce the feeling of commanding your own iron stead as you drive (manipulate chits) your tank (tableau). Game mechanics reinforce the story-making aspects, like drawing an extra card when at Close Range to simulate extra adrenaline or playing that Tactics card at just the right time to prevent a flanking maneuver. All delivered in 18 pages of (basic) rules. The RockyMountainNavy Boys have already decreed that I ‘will’ buy future expansions.
Tank Duel – Enemy in the Crosshairs. The RockyMountainNavy Game of the Year for 2019.