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:
The box is packed full of components…
- 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.
The German Tank sprue provides you with the components to build either a Panther or a Jagdpanther.
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.
You then get a number of cards: upgrade cards for your tanks plus a deck of critical hit cards:
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:
Four German Tanks (note, no Tiger!):
Four British Tanks:
And eight Russian Tanks:
…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“.
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)
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.
Looking at the stats cards, I found myself scratching my head. Let’s look at the Shermans in the game as an example.
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 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:
or even this:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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