#Wargame Wednesday – Ukraine War thoughts on #MBT by James Day fm @gmtgames

The last few weeks the sinking of the guided missile cruiser RFN Moskva has taken up alot of my wargaming bandwidth. The event afforded me a deep look into Harpoon 5 by Larry Bond & Chris Carlson from the Admiralty Trilogy Group. This week I decided to go from sea to land and pulled out MBT by James Day from GMT Games (2016).

MBT: The Game of tank-to-tank combat on a tactical level in 1987 Germany is solidly part of the “Cold War goes hot” genre of wargames. Which means it comes close, but not quite all the way, to replicating ground combat in today’s Ukraine War. Although MBT may not be the most modern “fit” for today, it still is a great game at discovering lessons of armored combat.

Courtesy GMT Games

Wither the Tank?

One very common theme we hear from pundits and mainstream media is a constant harping that the Ukrainian use of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) has sealed the fate of armored vehicles on the battlefield. Sam Cranny-Evans and Dr Sidharth Kaushal from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI.org) looked at this thinking in a recent article titled, “Technical Reflections on Russia’s Armoured Fighting Vehicles” (April 27, 2022). In the article they tell us the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on lessons learned for armored combat in the Ukraine. Playing MBT helps to see these lessons on the gaming table in front of us.

The Good

Most of Russia’s tanks are well protected to the front. The frontal armour of the slope at the front of the hull, known as the glacis, typically combines high hardness steels with composites or materials like fibre glass that are known to be challenging for weapons like the RPG-7. The angle of the armour – 68 degrees – increases its line-of-sight thickness to 547 mm for some of the earliest T-72 designs – it may be more for others. The turret armour on Russian tanks is also relatively capable to the front of the tank. The ‘cheeks’ of the cast turret are hollow, allowing additional advanced armours to be inserted that significantly extend protection against some types of threat.

This is what MBT models best. Playing a game of MBT with its precise hit locations and penetration versus armor model is what the hardcore Grognard in me loves.

For the massed head-on engagements that they were designed for, and especially in defensive positions, Russian tanks are capable and effective vehicles – providing that they are properly operated.

RUSI.org

MBT is—by design—a wargame that recreates the (past potential) battlefields of Europe at the height of the Cold War. The game—again by design—is optimized to simulate those massed Soviet thrusts or defensive stands. In many ways MBT is built around the U.S. Air-Land Battle Doctrine and the competing Soviet Army of that day. Both focused on combined arms. From the past two months of fighting in the Ukraine, the reformed Russian Army, though equipped with more modern equipment, appears to have lost the ability to execute combined arms operations. While MBT has many of the rules that can be used to simulate the new war we see today, what it doesn’t simulate is the poor decisions in the Russian operational art of this war.

The Bad

While stabilisation of the main armament has been improved and its recoil mechanisms balanced to reduce impact upon the vehicle during firing, most Russian tanks appear to lack the quality of stabilisation that most Western tanks carry. 

A second element of this problem is the mission system fit of Russian tanks. The sights and fire control computers are generally less modern than their peers. 

Russian designs are also very cramped, and few Western tank operators would want to operate a main battle tank with a crew of three – which is standard for all Soviet designs from the T-64 onwards. 

The first two factors are generally reflected in MBT as stabilization and sights are taken into account in the combat model. The last point does not directly appear to be modeled, but may play a part in overall determination of Force Grade and Morale.

RMN Boys at the Tank Farm in 2019…T-72 height to top of cupola is 7’4″ (2.2m)

While MBT has a good detailed model of platform versus platform, what it doesn’t capture very well are all the human factors in battle. Some are here, like Grade or Morale or even Tank Fright, but at the end of the day the real human factor in MBT is the players. To recreate the war in the Ukraine would require MBT players to make decisions that they might not be inclined to make.

The Ugly

Soviet-era tank design, starting with the T-64 and continuing with the T-72, T-80 and T-90 families – albeit with some minor differences – introduced an automatic ammunition handling system which sits beneath the turret of the tank. 

This is a problem for Soviet designs because the ammunition carousel sits in the hull, which is very well protected to the front by the glacis, but less well protected to the sides. If the side or roof of the tank can be penetrated, the projectile stands a chance of hitting the tank’s ammunition, causing it to ‘cook off’. This is where the charges and explosive projectiles catch fire – a fire which quickly spreads because of a lack of firewalls between the munitions. If enough of the ammunition catches fire and detonates, it will often result in an explosion that throws the turret a considerable distance and the death of the entire crew.

Suffice it to say that the damage model in MBT is built upon what today might be seen as a “charitable” view of Russian armored survivability against modern ATGMs.

Further, in MBT ATGMs (found in Advanced Game Rule 5.1.3.1) are of the 1980’s. What is missing in MBT are rules for modern top- attack ATGMs like the FGM-148 Javelin.

Command & Control

The third and final point is the need to consider of Russian tactics and doctrine, which typically emphasise combined arms operations with a view to creating opportunities for artillery and close air support to deliver overwhelming force onto an opponent. Mission command – the delegation of authority and creativity to the lowest levels – rarely features in Russian training. This means that armoured formations operating independently from their supporting arms are probably doing something that they are not trained to do.

I strongly believe that if you want to play MBT and really understand modern combat, you MUST use the rules for Grade (5.8), Command Range (6.2.1.1.2), and Command Span (7.43). These rules, along with Morale (and especially Optional Rule 7.1 Morale) are essential to getting past the simple “force-on-force” wargame that so many gamers seem to relish in. Of course, MBT does not have Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) in it either, but by using these rules you can get a bit closer to understanding the challenges the BTG commander has in combat. The more I think about it, the more I realize that MBT might actually be too granular a model to use to explore the effectiveness of a BTG in combat. Instead of a very tactical game like MBT it might be more useful to use a platoon-scale system, like Frank Chadwick’s Assault series from GDW in the 1980′s but updated for today. Maybe even a version of Less Than 60 Miles from Thin Red Line Games could be used…but I note that this game might be best used to depict only a single axis of advance and not the whole campaign. In case you haven’t noticed, Ukraine is a HUGE place!

Back to the Future

The demise of the tank has been talked about for almost 50 years now, especially in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli Wars of the 1960’s and early 1970’s that were the first to feature mass use of ATGMs. So strong was the sentiment that it even crossed over into science fiction:

Tanks were born in the muck and wire of World War One. Less than sixty years later, there were many who believed that technology had made the behemoths as obsolete as horse cavalry. Individual infantrymen of 1970 carried missiles whose warheads burned through the armor of any tank. Slightly larger missiles ranged kilometers to blast with pinpoint accuracy vehicles costing a thousand times as much. Similar weaponry was mounted on helicopters which skimmed battlefields in the nape of the earth, protected by terrain irregularities. At the last instant the birds could pop up to rip tanks with their missiles. The future of armored vehicles looked bleak and brief.

“Supertanks,” Hammers’s Slammers, 1979

Of course, the answer in Hammer’s Slammers was the supertank. While I am saddened that similar combat vehicles are not on the near-horizon for us, I am confident that there will be a response. Probably not from Russia, but from someone. More importantly, along the path towards that new technology will very likely be a wargame. It might be similar to MBT, but depicting not the past but a bold new future.

That’s a wargame I can’t wait for.


Feature image courtesy dreamstime.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SundaySummary – Holiday organizing the @Mountain_Navy #wargame and #boardgame collection and resetting Foundation (@LeeBWood @gmtgames @Hobiecat18 @MultiManPub @BlueOrangeGames #Foundation #TravellerRPG)

Not much actual gaming this week but plenty of organization.

Wargame

I recently acquired designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 2nd Edition Upgrade Kit (GMT Games, 2021) and spent part of the week integrating the new components.

I also recently acquired Mike Bertucelli’s Tank Duel Expansion Nr. 1: North Africa and Tank Duel: Tank Pack #1 (both GMT Games, 2021) and spent some time integrating the new components and reviewing the rules. I played one solo game to help relearn the system. It’s still a great game!

Finally, I spent the week integrating the components of Jim Day’s Panzer: Game Expansion Set, Nr 1 – The Shape of Battle on the Eastern Front 1943-45 (GMT Games, Second Printing 2021) into my set. I now own all the published GMT Games Panzer series and am very eagerly awaiting Panzer: North Africa (currently on P500 and has “Made the Cut”).

After getting an older credit card straightened out my preorder for the Standard Combat Series game North Africa: Afrika Korps vs Desert Rats, 1940-42 from Multi-Man Publishing should be shipping this week. Merry Christmas to me!

Boardgame

Bruno Cathalla’s Kingdomino: Origins (Blue Orange Games, 2021) continues to be a great family hit. Several more plays and we all relish the simple new strategy challenges of the different game modes.

Role Playing Games

Unlike my wargames and boardgames, I’m kinda poor at tracking my RPG collection. So this week I worked on organizing what I took in this year.

Television

I finished watching the Apple TV series Foundation this week. Yes, I know Season 1 ended a few weeks ago but I needed to reset my approach to the show. I initially started watching the series expecting a story close to the books. When that wasn’t there I was a bit confused and, frankly, unaccepting. So I laid off watching for a few weeks and recalibrated my thinking. I decided I was going to watch Foundation “as-is” and try to set all my preconceived notions aside. It also helped that with all the episodes out now I could binge-watch the season. Much better this go around…am looking forward to Season 2. While I still think Foundation and the Traveller Role Playing Game are closely related, I am glad to see the Genetic Dynasty from Foundation which is very different from Traveller’s Third Imperium.

Sunday #Wargame #Boardgame Summary – Falling behind yet catching up with @gmtgames @LeeBWood @ADragoons @stuarttonge @compassgamesllc

Game of the Week / Wargames

SO…MY GAME OF THE WEEK plan totally fell apart this week. I was supposed to have Jim Krohn’s Space Empires 4X (GMT Games, 2017 Third Printing) on the table but was overcome by events like a busted hot water heater. So Space Empires will slide into the schedule later.

The Empire…will be back

Next up was “supposed” to be Wing Leader: Legends (Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, GMT Games, 2021) but that will be preempted for a new trade arrival. It might be hard to believe that, given I have been a wargamer since the late 1970’s, that I never owned TACTICS II by the great Charles S. Roberts himself from the first (and as far as I am concerned the only) The Avalon Hill Game Company. I got a very good condition 1973 edition and I am anxious to go through it and learn as much as possible from this iconic wargame. Look for an Unboxing Day entry over at Armchair Dragoons on July 15 and a forthcoming Wargame Wednesday entry.

It took 40 years for this to arrive….

Speaking about throwbacks to old wargames, GMT Games announced this week that Jim Day’s next entry in the Panzer (Second Edition) series, Panzer: North Africa, has “made the cut” in their P500 program. Longtime readers might recall that Panzer (Yaquinto Publishing, 1979) was my very first wargame. I eagerly bought up the entire original series; Panzer, ’88’ and Armor, and they still own a prominent spot on my gaming shelves. I am glad that after 40 years a “new” edition of ’88’ is coming.

Courtesy GMT Games

Boardgames

Congratulations to Stuart Tonge and the successful Kickstarter funding of 2 Minutes to Midnight. Full Disclosure – I am a backer and even wrote an article that was used in the campaign. Although this is the first title from Stuart’s Plague Island Games I feel he is getting good help/advice from industry and is on track for a successful fulfillment. That said, one hopes that the current shipping container shortage and record rates don’t trip Stuart, or any game publisher, up too much. Of course, the sooner Stuart is done with 2 Minutes to Midnight the sooner he gets back to Blue Water Navy: The Pacific for Compass Games and now on preorder….

Kickstarter funded

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Sunday Summary – Too busy to play but NEVER too busy to dream about new #wargame & #boardgame arrivals @FoundationDietz @msiggins @HABA_usa @compassgamesllc @gmtgames @Academy_Games @LeeBWood @Hobiecat18 @SchilMil @Bublublock

Like the title says, didn’t get much gaming in this week as I return to basically full-time in the office. After a year of semi-telework it’s a bit of a shock to the system but, honestly, I love to be back at the grind.

Wargaming

Ended up doing a deep-dive of Fifth Corps: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda (Jim Dunnigan, Strategy & Tactics Nr.. 82, Sept/Oct 1980). There is alot of “professional” in this “hobby” title! I also had a real fun trip down memory lane with the accompanying magazine.

Boardgaming

Supercharged (Mike Siggins, Dietz Foundation, 2021) raced to the table. Also gifted (and taught) Dragons Breath: The Hatching (HABA, 2019).

Incoming!

It’s been awhile since I looked at my preorders. I presently am tracking 27 titles in my preorder GeekList. Here are some highlights:

Kickstarter

After complaining a few weeks back about the sheer number of Kickstarter campaigns and their costs I have not been doing a very good job controlling myself since. So far this month I added:

A #wargame journey from hex & counter to waro through Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (@gmtgames, 2019)

BARRING ANY UNFORSEEN CIRCUMSTANCES, Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (GMT Games, 2019) is very likely to end up as my Game of the Year. As a dyed-in-the-wool hex & counter wargamer, I find myself equally surprised and ashamed when I make statements like that. Designer Mike Bertucelli (@Hobiecat on Twitter) has done what I thought was impossible – make an enjoyable tactical tank combat wargame without a hex board or dice.

pic1444385
Courtesy BGG

Tactical tank combat games have a special place in my wargaming heart. Indeed, the first wargame I ever played was Jim Day’s Panzer (Yaquinto Publishing, 1979). In many ways, that game set my expectations of a wargame for most of the rest of my life. I believed that a wargame needed must have a hex map, combat results tables (CRT), dice-rolling, and detailed rules. At the same time, I fell into a very detailed, simulationist portion of the wargame hobby that focused on tactical warfare. Panzer or MBT or Squad Leader for ground combat, the Admiralty Trilogy (Command at Sea or Harpoon) for naval combat, JD Websters Fighting Wings (Actung: Spitfire or Speed of Heat) for air combat. I even took it to the science-fiction realm going all-in on the original Star Fleet Battles-series of games.

Over the years, my fetish for detailed simulations weakened, and in the mid-2010s when I really discovered hobby boardgaming with the family my wargaming perspectives also changed. I needed to find wargames that I could play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys in an evening. I needed wargames that were more than manual modeling & simulation designs. I needed games that would engage them with the history; building a narrative of history through play. This led me to waros, or “wargame-Eurogames.”

Which brings me back to Tank Duel Enemy in the Crosshairs. The GMT Games pages describes the game as follows:

Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs is a card-based game for 1 to 8 players that depicts tank-to-tank warfare on the Eastern Front of World War II in the early to mid 1940s. It attempts to convey the claustrophobia and urgency that tank crews experienced in this bitter conflict, utilizing a simple Action system to keep the action moving at a rapid pace. Players will issue commands with the use of Battle Cards and attempt to score Victory Points by claiming Objectives and eliminating their opponent’s tanks and crew.

….

The tank board will be used to keep track of information regarding the status of a tank and its crew.  Types of condition could include, tank on fire, damage tracks, immobilized and damage to the gun.

….

Each player will be managing a hand of cards. With these cards the player will be able to take actions.

There is so much here that doesn’t meet my classic (stale?) wargame definition; 1-8 players? Simple Action system? A tank board? Hand of cards?

But it works. I mean, it really works!

tank_duel-main-1420
Courtesy Inside GMT Games

A typical Tank Duel game will see four tanks (or more!) in a fight. There is no mapboard but only an abstract range from battlefield center. Lateral movement is through flanking cards. Terrain is also depicted by cards. The battle lasts only long enough to cycle through the deck several times. Best of all, if a tank is destroyed a new one replaces it next turn.

There are still several echos of my tactical tank games here. Panzer players will feel comfortable with the combat tables. But all that detail gets hidden by a set of very innovative Battle Cards. Many will claim that this has been done before in Up Front (Avalon Hill, 1983) and several other games since. That may be true, but in today’s hyper-competitive publishing market it is actually rare to find wargames that totally dispense with the mapboard or dice.

However, it’s not the “non-traditional” mechanics that make Tank Duel a game I enjoy. Few wargames have ever generated a narrative during play like I get playing Tank Duel. As I look over my hand of cards, I try to put together a plan. I try to dash up the hill (Move) so I can get into an overwatch position to shoot (Fire) only to be mired by my opponent playing a Mud card (Terrain) which allows him to flank me (Flank card). As my crew tries to unbog the tank my turret is hammered, killing my Commander and breaking the morale of the crew. As my tank brews up I reset my Tank Board to bring my next tank into the battle, swearing at the loss of my fellow soldiers and looking to avenge their deaths. The more I played, the more I came to realize that what I enjoyed was not the details of the battle (Hey, my 8.8cm gun penetrated your turret from 400 yards!) but the visceral tension of the combat (I have to close the range…I am going to play two move cards to close the range and go hull down to be ready to shoot after that…unless my opponent plays a mud card and bogs me down in something I cannot see!). The real tension of Tank Duel is not the details of the combat, it’s in the making of a combat story.

A combat story without hex & counter or dice or complicated rules but abstracted using a tableau and innovative cards.


Feature image by self

#Boardgamer or #Wargamer? Let’s throw in a little Kickstarter rant too

I was listening to designer Tom Russell in his interview on 5 Games for Doomsday. Tom talks about how he didn’t play games with his family growing up. This got me thinking about how I got into hobby gaming and where I am today.

I got seriously into gaming in 1979 when I was in middle school and discovered Jim Day’s Panzer from Yaquinto Publishing. In the years prior to that my parents had a few games around but we barely played them. The titles I recall are Monopoly, Clue, Othello, and Waterworks in addition to Chinese Checkers. The only games I really remember playing are Chinese Checkers and Othello.

Gulo Gulo BoxFrom 1979 until the early 2000’s I was a pure wargamer. I also dabbled in roleplaying games but wargames were my real hobby. It was not until the RockyMountainNavy Kids grew up a bit that I tried some family games like Gulo Gulo (still a favorite).

In 2016 my hobby took on a new direction with the real discovery of hobby boardgames. At the recommendation of Uwe Eickert of Academy Games I picked up Scythe – and discovered a whole new world of gaming. In 2017 and 2018 I went overboard with rediscovered wargaming and boardgaming. Too far overboard – at the start of 2019 Mrs. RockyMountainNavy asked that I look hard at my gaming budget and think about some restraint.

So in 2019 I have tried to restrain myself. In doing so, I have thought about my game buying habits in 2017 and 2018. I continuously told myself that I was not a member of the Cult of the New or susceptible to the Fear of Missing Out.

Wrong. Not only was I a CotN member, but I was fully infected with FoMO.

In 2019 I initiated a series of gaming challenges (CSR, Origins, Golden Geek) that have forced me (willingly) to explore older games in my collection. I have found some bad ones, but many good ones. It has been a great reminder that I have good games in my collection and they deserve some love.

Dk_yqCEWsAki4_HIn 2019 I have tried to find my roots. As I look across the boardgaming world I find fewer and fewer titles that appeal to me. If there is one area that I am really interested in, it’s hybrid games like Root (wargame or strategy game?) or several Hollandspiele titles like the Supply Lines of the American Revolution series.

Another part of the hobby I am less-than-satisfied with is Kickstarter. I respect companies that use Kickstarter to bring games to print that would otherwise never see the light of day. But more and more I see companies using Kickstarter as a glorified pre-order system. I understand that many companies like the fact that the risk is moved from them to the consumer. They may like it but I am not as appreciative. What I see in many cases is that I am advancing the company a loan – without interest.

Now, I don’t necessarily define “interest” as money. A Kickstarter campaign that offers exclusives or stretch goals that area only available to backers is one form. But more and more I see companies not offering stretch goals or campaign exclusives – what you get in the campaign is what you can buy at retail.

I also dislike the risk that I am assuming in the enjoyment of the game. Kickstarter demands you pledge to support a game based upon only a few known, and many unknown, factors. Maybe that designer has a history of good games but I am sure there are a few turkeys in there. That company has its own history too. But what about the game? How does the game really play? This forces a dependency on hobby content providers at a time when “critical” reviews are fewer and fewer. Nobody watches a 30 minute video review of a 2 hour movie; why should we be forced to watch a lengthy video for a game? No.

So I have returned to being a wargamer first and a boardgamer second. I have several good titles in my collection. Scythe will remain. Terraforming Mars (minus several expansions) will stay in the rotation. Firefly: The Board Game will get played but Star Wars: Outer Rim is likely a pass. I’m going to finish up my challenges for the year.

And I’m going to enjoy every game played.