Review: Tanks – Panther vs Sherman Starter Set

Rating: 3 stars

 

Gale Force Nine, the company behind titles such as Firefly: The Game and Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery, have recently released a new game – Tanks: The World War II Tank Skirmish Game.

This new game has been launched with the Panther vs Sherman Starter Set, plus a set of two American expansions (Sherman & Pershing) and three German expansions (Panther, Stug G and Panzer IV). Further expansions of British & Russian Tanks are coming in July and August respectively.

What’s in the box

I was sent the Panther vs Sherman Starter Set to review. Lets have a look at what’s in the box:

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The box is packed full of components…

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  • 1 24-page Rulebook
  • 3 Double-Sided counter/terrain boards
  • 12 6-sided dice: 6 Green / 6 Grey
  • 1 set of Upgrade Cards
  • 1 set of Critical Hit cards
  • 22 Tank cards
  • 2 American Tank sprues
  • 1 German Tank sprue

The American Tank sprue provides you with the components to build either a Sherman (75mm) or a Sherman (76mm). Two of these are provided in the box.

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The German Tank sprue provides you with the components to build either a Panther or a Jagdpanther.

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The printed card counters provides some double-sided terrain tiles: 2 woods and 4 buildings, along with counters denoting damage, tank speed, objective markers, ID Tokens and 2 movement templates. These card components are of very high quality – I was wondering why the terrain was printed double-sided, until I realised that one side was terrain suitable for Western Europe, whilst the other was for Eastern Europe.

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You then get a number of cards: upgrade cards for your tanks plus a deck of critical hit cards:

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And then a number of Tank Cards, which show the stats for each vehicle for the game. I was expecting to only get the cards that are used in the starter set. However, you are actually provided with stat cards for all the Wave 1 tanks in the game.

There are six American Tanks:

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Four German Tanks (note, no Tiger!):

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Four British Tanks:

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And eight Russian Tanks:

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…which actually means that you can play the game not only with the tanks provided in the starter box, but also with any tank models that you happen to have in your current collection – something I found to be an unexpected bonus.

Actually, it’s worth noting that there are only a limited number of expansion models coming out in Wave 1. Looking at the tanks, it is reasonable to assume that most of the expansion packs will give you the option to build two different vehicles – such as the T34 or T34/85, or the Pershing or Super Pershing, for example.

The cards are excellent quality. They have all been treated with a hard plastic coating, which means that the Tank Cards can be used in conjunction with dry-wipe pens to mark damage, should you wish (rather than using damage counters).

All the components for the game are excellent quality. The rulebook provides instructions for assembling your models (it’s worth noting that there are no assembly instructions for the Jagdpanther, though the kit isn’t particularly complex).

Playing the Game

The rulebook comes with four mission scenarios. For our first game, we played the introductory scenario “Barkman’s Corner“.

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The game is designed to take place on a 3′ x 3′ board. Each side chooses a selection of tanks and upgrades up to an agreed value (the starter scenario uses 40 points, but the usual points limit for a game is 100 points). You deploy according to the scenario.

The game has been described as “X-Wing with Tanks”, and indeed uses a similar rules mechanism to the X-Wing Miniatures Game published by Fantasy Flight Games.

Each Tank has 4 stats: Initiative, Attack, Defence and Damage Capacity.

A Turn is split into three phases: Movement Phase, Shooting Phase and Command Phase.

In the Movement Phase, all Tanks move in Initiative order, with the tanks with the lowest Initiative moving first. Each tank can move up to twice in their turn (some Tanks , such as those that are rated as Fast, can move three times)

tanks movement

The measuring arrow is placed against any part of the tank, pointing in any direction. Movement then takes place as outlined above. (The measuring arrow is approx. 4.5″ long)

After every tank has moved, the Movement Phase ends, and the Shooting Phase begins. Each tank may fire in Initiative order, with the Tank with the highest Initiative firing first. A Tank can fire at any target as long as it is in Line of Sight and Firing Arc (Assault Guns have a different firing arc to turreted tanks – more of which shortly)

Tanks roll a number of D6 equal to their attack dice, and hit on a 4,5 or 6 – a 6 causes a critical hit.

The target then rolls a number of D6 equal to their defence. This is adjusted by the speed to both the firer and the target, plus potential bonuses for cover and range. Hits are cancelled on a 4,5 or 6. Once the number of hits and critical hits have been determined, and hits are applied to the target via damage counters, and a card is drawn for each critical hit and it’s effects applied.

After the Shooting Phase, the Command Phase occurs. During this phase tanks are marked as destroyed, victory conditions are checked for, tokens are removed from the game and battle damage can be repaired.

That is the game in a nutshell. It seems pretty easy doesn’t it? And indeed it is. However, having played the initial scenario, there were a number of issues that we highlighted as being ‘problematic’ with the game. These may not be particularly bothersome to some players, but I’m coming at this game being an historical wargamer with a particular interest in World War II.

I will try to address them in the same sequence as the game.

Tank Stats

Looking at the stats cards, I found myself scratching my head. Let’s look at the Shermans in the game as an example.

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During the war, British and American forces both used the M4 Sherman. Whilst they used different versions of the tank, the main differences were down to engine type and armament – the armour and chassis of the tank were effectively the same. So why do American tanks have more damage capacity than their British equivalents, especially when comparing the Sherman V to the Sherman (75mm)? – it’s effectively the same tank. (Actually, since the British version had a diesel engine, it was probably less likely to catch fire than the American version, which had a petrol engine – hence it’s acquired nickname of ‘Ronson’).

Also, if you look at the attack dice for these tanks, you will see that the Sherman (76mm) and the Firefly have the same number of dice. Whilst the 17 pounder mounted in the Firefly was of an equivalent calibre (it was a 3″ shell, or 76.2mm) the muzzle velocity of the weapon firing an armour-piercing shot was vastly superior. Whilst I admit that it’s open to argument, I would have thought that the 17 pdr would have the equivalent firepower to the 88mm or 90mm. This is a bit of a nit-picky point, I admit, but it did make me start to wonder how the stats were derived for each tank.

Movement

Movement in the game is pretty simplistic – indeed, tanks actually become incredibly maneuverable. Tanks appear to be able to move forward, reverse, or even move sideways without any penalty. Now I realise that there is a certain amount of abstraction going on here, but the upshot is that the vehicles end up flying around the battlefield performing all sorts of crazy movements. Whilst we didn’t actually do it in the game, its perfectly possible for a tank to actually move sideways whilst retaining it’s same facing…at the same speed as if it was moving forward (which, when you consider that in reality, it would be performing two 90-degree turns, at least to me, it’s a bit of an issue).

To illustrate what I mean, after reading the movement rules, I see absolutely no difference between this:

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this:

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this:

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or even this:

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Am I the only one who is thinking that every movement except the first should include some form of movement penalty?

The there is the woods issue. Some terrain, such as buildings or destroyed vehicles, are impassable terrain, so you cannot end your movement on them. According to the rules, woods only block line of sight and provide cover – they are no hinderance to movement. Really? Whilst there is evidence that woods are less of an obstacle than you might think, I would have thought that they might incur some form of movement penalty.

Oh, by the way, it doesn’t appear that you are allowed to ram your opponent – just thought I’d mention it.

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A ‘Tanks’ game in action

 Shooting

There a number of issues with shooting. The first is very simple. Since each attack and defence dice hits or saves 50% of the time, and you tend to be rolling a similar number of dice in attack and defence (or at least, we were when playing the introductory scenario) you seem to roll an awful lot of dice for very little net effect. For example, in the picture above, each tank has moved twice. The Panther fires at the Sherman in the woods. It rolls 5 attack dice. The Sherman rolls 6 defence dice: 1 for its armour, 2 because it moved twice, 2 because the Panther moved twice and 1 foe being ‘in cover’ in the woods. Result? No damage. As I said, we rolled a lot of dice during the game, which resulted in very little actual damage – or as Dave put it “this game appears to be an exercise in dice-rolling”. In short, unless you score an unsaved critical hit, it seems to be very hard indeed to cause any damage to your opponent – the vast majority of shots simply bounce off (or miss, depending upon your POV)

To be fair, the whole mechanic where a tank becomes harder to hit based on how fast both the firer and the target are moving is fairly well done – remember, this is the age before gyroscopic stabilisation so firing on the move was problematic. It also means that whilst stopping to fire makes your shots more accurate, it also has the potential to make you something of a sitting duck.

The next issue covers fire arcs and targeting. In the game, tanks can fire in any direction (as they can traverse their turrets, seemingly at high-speed) but assault guns can fire at any target that is in front of them. Here is the example from the rulebook:

fire arc

In reality, assault guns had very little lateral traverse, so if you wanted to fire at any target that wasn’t directly in front of you, you had to pivot the entire vehicle in order to aim the gun. I’m sorry, but this firing example is simply wrong.

Then there is an issue of where you hit the target. In the vast majority of games involving tanks and vehicles, the target tends to be split into four quarters, along the corners of the vehicle:

tank

You gain advantage by striking the vehicle in the side or rear due to thinner armour. Hitting a tank in the rear has the added advantage of usually hitting the engine compartment.

In Tanks, you only get to hit your opponent in the side if your tank is behind the front of your opponents tank.

side shot

Looking at the above example, imagine the building wasn’t there, and the Sherman was a couple of inches further back. Despite having a clear shot at the side of the Panzer IV, the Sherman would get no advantage since it had no part of the vehicle behind the front of the Panzer IV. What is more, whilst you could move directly behind your opponents tank, you would gain no further advantage than if you were hitting it in the side.

Whilst you could argue that this ‘Side Shot’ rule is designed to make things easier to adjudicate as to if you can target the side of a vehicle or not, it doesn’t seem to make much sense ‘in the real world’. Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult to use the type of targeting rule which most gamers who play WWII games are used to, and one that rewards players further for getting fully behind their enemy (there are several documented cases that the only way a 75mm Sherman could knock out a Tiger was to hit it in the rear). Conversely, once an opponent has gotten onto your flank, there is no incentive to stop him getting behind you.

Finally, when firing at your opponent, they lose a Defence dice if you are within a single measuring stick distance. Note that a measuring stick is 4.5″ long. We are playing with 15mm models here – ground scale is roughly 12″ = 40 yards. So, you get an advantage in armour penetration once you get within 4.5″, or about 15 yards (just over half the length of a cricket pitch!). I realise that the game mechanics want to give some advantage for closing the range, but that, to me, seems ridiculous.

As it was, in the game that we played my Panther was only destroyed when both Shermans engaged from within a single measuring stick range and caused two critical hits which between them exceeded the Damage Capacity of the Panther. At that point, the game had lasted over 45 minutes.

Admittedly, the observations I have made were done so having played a single game, and perhaps the use of more models and crew upgrades makes a big difference to the game, but first impressions of the actual gameplay were not particularly favourable. We actually stopped several time to check the rules – Dave kept asking “are you sure we are playing this correctly”? It seems to me that, perhaps in an effort to appeal to a wider audience, the rules have been ‘dumbed down’. I can appreciate the effort made to make the rules more simple, but these have been simplified to the extent that they no longer make sense in the ‘real world’ – remember, we are playing a tank battle after all.

Perhaps I’m being overly critical, but given that the game alludes to being connected to Flames of War, and that part of its appeal is probably aimed at playing ‘World of Tanks’ using miniatures, I would have expected something more from this game. As it stands, whilst we are going to play this game again using a standard scenario and a 100-point force (I’m thinking a troop of British Shermans against a rag-tag kampfgruppe of German armour, or maybe a few Panzer IVs) to see if we have fundamentally missed something, I can’t see us playing this game on a regular basis without making several changes to the rules.

I would anticipate that Gale Force Nine would hope that this game would be popular as a tournament game, much in the same way that X-Wing has been, so I can’t imagine them wanting to change the rules at this point.

I love playing tank vs tank battles – it’s how I started playing wargames, so I really wanted to like this game. As I said, the production values for the game are really top-notch and so the Starter Set is actually tremendous value for money, given the models, dice and scenery that is included in the box. It’s a great shame that the game isn’t better than it is.

Disclosure: The publisher provided a review copy of this game

21 Comments on Review: Tanks – Panther vs Sherman Starter Set

  1. Thanks for the review! So it seems that this is a game featuring tanks battling rather than being a game about tank battles…

  2. Dave Blood // June 13, 2016 at 04:02 // Reply

    I got a Pershing sprue and a rulebook in my swag bag at Adepticon in April. The Pershing was a Battlefront sprue ( “Battlefront” was on the sprue ) , and the pic you posted of the 2d terrain looks like the same 2d terrain that comes in the Flames of War Open Fire starter box.

    So the “alludes to being connected to Flames of War” is a definite thing.

    Not very interested in playing Tanks, but I plan to use that Pershing tank to play Iron Cross. 🙂

    • I must admit to being very excited when I realised that the Panther sprue also included a Jagdpanther, as this was probably the one German tank I was missing from my current collection,

  3. Dumbing down is fine, as long as it’s done well. Doesn’t look like this has been.

    We have a nice simple set of rules we use for multiplayer tank-on-tank at our club. Keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean chucking the baby out with the bathwater.

  4. Christopher Jones // June 13, 2016 at 20:57 // Reply

    I think the thing is it is meant to be a tank combat game, same as X-wing is a starfighter game… No one expects realism from X-wing, no one should expect realism from Tanks. Take it as it is, a fun, abstract game which can suck people into WWII. Sure I am sure some people will have more Pershings on the table than made it to the front line in WWII but why not 🙂
    Only downside for me is the lack of the old Tigger… Wittman without a Tiger, tut, tut.

    • Christopher Jones // June 16, 2016 at 21:50 // Reply

      Although to be fair to Neil I just almost made my mate rage quit by dodging around in a Panther while whittling his Shermans down – nearly almost felt bad about it 🙂

  5. I think one has to realize that this is a miniatures version of the Online and Console version of the Fidoe game World of Tanks from Wargames.net a Russian company. Any relation to history was thrown out the window in order to make a good Video game. Russian Tanks are extremely overpowered and many of the tanks that should be commonplace tanks are not were not available(Firefly) for a very long time while Concept tanks were the norm AT-5,7,8 for the British Tank Destroyers. This game is designed I think to grab the attention of the Millions of players of those two games and get them over to play Shames of War.

    It was never designed with Historical miniature gamers in mind as Neil has pointed out in his article any slightly read gamer will smell rotten fish from miles away.

    • TheShadowsmage // October 23, 2016 at 02:00 // Reply

      I have to agree that the game is closer to World of Tanks and its really just the flavor of the period than a historical tank vs tank battle. Something to toss down with people who are just getting into miniatures, or just a break from other games. Think Hollywood …

  6. Some of the shooting rules seem to relate to FOW so in that sense they “make sense” but from your first impressions they may have missed an opportunity. Still nice toys!

  7. Nigel Maddaford // June 17, 2016 at 06:34 // Reply

    Just a note regarding Shermans. The Sherman V did not have a diesel engine that was the III. The US version depicted is the latest M4A4 which had improved ammunition stowage which allegedly made it less likely to brew up. Not sure if this justifies the difference in the game though

  8. Nigel Maddaford // June 17, 2016 at 14:21 // Reply

    That should be late M4A3!

  9. My thought on the side shot example is, if you back up a few inches from the example for the shot, might the angle of deflection be enough to not get a solid benefit from the side shot anyway? This is the perspective of someone who’s played a lot of world of tanks anyway ^_^
    Nice review though!

  10. mick brookes // June 21, 2016 at 10:44 // Reply

    A great opportunity missed. IMHO

    I watched a couple of games last night.

    Its cheap to buy and simple to play with quality components, such a shame the rules dont do the rest of the contents justice.
    The movement rules are absurd, in 40+ years of gaming I have never seen anything so poorly conceived.
    Arcs of fire for tank destroyers and side armour issue again, a total sham, use of a 45 degree template could have fixed this so easily.

    Not sure what it says on the box but in its current form, target audience … ages 5-12

    The play testers should be truly ashamed.

  11. I’m a bit disappointed. I’m slated to play a game today. I attended a local con in DFW over the weekend. I must be getting to be an old fart. The most popular games with younger players this weekend were simple, more abstracted games. Agreed with a previous poster. Dumbing down is not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I see this daily as a 30+ year teacher. My students respond to very simplistic projects in my engineering classes and shy away from more difficult projects due to the research and documentation/reading involved.
    I’ll take a look at Tanks today and try to use some of my extensive (spousal opinion) collections. I’m thinking this game will follow a X-Wing format and offer specific box sets if one wants to upgrade with additional cards. I’ll follow up later today

  12. I’m not a flames of war or really any WWII player (WWWII is one of my things though). I love X-Wing and have played lots of WoT so I was keen to try this out. The game has flaws in buckets trying to recreate history and has movement that seem absurd until you dial up the abstraction level – but they can be all overlooked as the game was really fun in most cases. It is quick, it can scale up to lots of tank and still play really well. It can suit multiple players jumping in with their existing collections (that’s how we tried our third game). The game is like X-Wing with movement and shooting stripped down to the minimum. I say play with more than the starter tanks, especially as if you get to one-on-one is where the removal of complexity in movement comes in. At that point you can’t cleverly fly into your opponents blind spot, the movement always lets the higher initiative player get the better spot to fire from.

  13. Great review Neil. I’m looking for a tank game to play with my adult sons.

    From your review and a few others I’ve read, I’m getting the same impression as you: it seems lacking and needs some house rules.

    As you “love playing tank vs tank battles”, could you recommend some other games that provide good tank battles? Not necessarily miniature games, I just got Heroes of Normandie and we’re going to try out some mainly tank battles there and I looked at Conflict of Heroes Storms of Steel.

  14. Shermans were never referred to as ‘ronsons’ during the war, it frustrates me to hear that myth continue to be trotted out. The 75mm was also perfectly capable of penetrating the side of a Tiger at combat ranges. I’m not sure why these things keep popping up and repeated ad nauseum, but people really need to read something that isn’t Death Traps. How do you claim to be a historical wargamer when you repeat stuff that no one outside of the History Channel would consider legitimate?

  15. Enjoyed reading this review. As a on and off long time wargamer I think this is exactly what its meant to be, a ‘beer and pretzels’ game, as our American friends would call it. I would cross out any sherman defence points to leave 4 at the start. The firefly/76mm sherman has the same hit points as a Panther, fair enough. The Jagdpather has 6 since it had the heftier KwK 43 88mm of the Tiger II (the panther 75mm was a better gun than the Tiger 1 88mm), so if they bring out the Tiger 1 this should have the same stats as the Panther, basically. The movement thing wouldn’t bother me as, OK, you can do all these weird moves in a turn, but would you in the course of the game?
    Might buy the basic game, at least you get three models that can be used in my 15mm (Blitzkrieg Commander) games, and I have Stugs and Cromwells to use with the included cards.

  16. Brian Bunker // November 3, 2016 at 19:42 // Reply

    A very good review, with perhaps one major exception: most of the points you raise, implied as faults with the game, would be justified and sound, if GF9 had described the game as a ‘World War 2 tank combat simulation game’s, but they don’t! As like, say, chess, which is described as a ‘war game’s, it is not, it is merely a game, based loosely on two armies in conflict, complete, with it’s own distinct rules. Would you then argue that a knight piece in chess has a very silly movement indeed? I doubt it! I too, before playing this game with a very broad cross section of ages and gaming experience, was quite cynical of this ‘game’, but post playing has shown me that it has much to it’s merits, most players now wish to purchase the game for themselves, one was an 11 yo lad, another a mature teacher, who now wishes to use it in his classes, yet another, who is not a regular warmer, but who likes collecting and painting 7YW and Napoleonic figures, etc etc It IS a game, full stop, and as in chess, play to the rules, not one’s interpretation of the rules!

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