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Posted on Sep 20, 2016 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

James Day’s MBT – MAIN BATTLE TANK Game Review

James Day’s MBT – MAIN BATTLE TANK Game Review

By Rick Martin

MBT Game Review. Publisher: GMT Games Designer: James M. Day Price $95.00

Rick Martin

Passed Inspection: Tons of content. Complete rules for armor infantry and airpower. Multiple levels of play from beginner to advanced player. Beautiful components. Complete table of contents and index.

Failed Basic: Some confusion as to air power attacking armor using armor piercing ammunition.

MBT is the newest release in the reconstituted series of armor games by legendary game designer James Day. While earlier releases from GMT have been updates of the classic Yaquinto Panzer and Armor World War 2 games (still waiting on an update to the North African themed “88” which is my favorite of the series – come on guys!), GMT’s MBT is an update of the Avalon Hill released MBT which focuses on Nato vs Eastern Block “what if” battles from 1987.


As I stated in my original review of Day’s updated Panzer:

“Back when I was in 8th grade (I’m 46 now – you do the math), I discovered military and role playing games. The first games, which I either saved up for or were given as gifts, include Dungeons and Dragons (the Basic Set), Orge, GEV, Starship Troopers, Star Fleet Battles and 88. If I remember right, 88 was available in the “Gaming Department” of a local department store at the now gone Salem Mall in Dayton, Ohio. The department included various versions of chess, including a 3 D chess clearly modeled on the game Mr. Spock played in “Star Trek”, some Avalon Hill titles and a selection of large boxed games from a company called “Yaquinto”. I distinctly remember seeing the huge flat yellow boxed 88 which featured German Africa Corp soldiers manning an 88 mm anti-tank gun on the cover. Having been raised on shows like “The Rat Patrol” and being an avid viewer of tv broadcasts of “The Desert Fox”, I had a great fondness for the North African Campaign and I remember saving up my allowance for over a month to purchase that cool looking war game. I was not disappointed. Each unit in 88 was a tank or truck or squad of infantry. I loved the tactical nature of the game and often substituted model tanks for the counters in the game. After playing 88, I had to find its brother games – Panzer and Armor. Panzer featured Russian Font battles while Armor featured the Allied campaigns to conquer Germany after D Day.

When Yaquinto Games disappeared, I gave up hope of ever seeing new expansions for these tactical war games. I purchased a reprint of Panzer by Excalibur Games but was highly disappointed . Main Battle Tank and Israeli Defense Force from Avalon Hill were modern upgrades to the system created by James M. Day in the Yaquinto games.”

MBT stands for Main Battle Tank and, as this game’s title indicates, MBT focuses on tactical armor on armor conflict in a “what if” Soviet vs Nato clash in Europe of 1987.

Each unit is one tank, truck, infantry fighting vehicle, airplane, helicopter or infantry unit. Infantry units represent squads, ½ squads or sections. Crew serviced infantry weapons include heavy machine guns, Dragon teams, AT4 teams, LAW teams, Stinger teams, Saxhorn teams, RPG teams, etc.

As always, James Day has performed an incredible amount of research to make sure that all aspects of the weapons and situations are covered with exquisite detail.
Upon opening the box, you’ll find a basic rule book, an advanced rule book, a play book, five player aid cards and two 11” x 17” summary sheets, six sheets of high quality, full color counters, 28 full color double sided unit data cards, dice and five full color double sided geomorphic maps. Also included are zip lock bags to put your counters and dice in.

The rules are well illustrated and efficiently organized and include a glossary and a table of contents as well as a complete index. The rules are organized in to a Basic Game, an Advanced Game and Optional Rules.

The Basic Game helps gets the players’ tracks wet and covers such concepts as basic line-of-site, vehicle commands, movement and attacking plus basic terrain. A basic scenario can be played in as little as 30 minutes depending on the number of tanks involved. Each tank is given a command marker which is initially placed face down. Basic commands include “Fire”, “Move”, “Over watch” and “Short Halt” (stop moving briefly and fire then move again). It is these command markers which make the game fast to play. While the versions of this game from the 70s and 80s used written commands which the players show to each other, all the new releases allow the players to place these command markers near their units and then flip them over to carry out the actions. These command markers, in fact, allow for a high degree of solitaire play-ability as all the player has to do is create a mix of command counters for the enemy based upon the scenario being played. Then the player can mix them up face down and put them next to the enemy units. Simply flip them over during the turn to see what the enemy “AI” does. It works pretty well.

In the Basic Game, a tank is rated for front and rear armor only. In the Advanced Game, each tank’s armor is broken in to ratings for 11 separate angles. To take out an enemy tank, the firing player must make a roll to hit the target with modifiers for range. All rolls are made with two 10-sided die. If a hit occurs, the shot still has to penetrate the target’s armor. Each unit has a data card which lists everything from its speed on different terrain to its gun types and penetration factor of its guns. If the shot penetrates the armor, then a 1d10 is rolled based upon the damage factor of the gun doing the shooting. Results run from a dud shell to damage to parts of the tank to leaving the target a burning wreck.

As technology has advanced so have the defensive measures used on tanks. In addition to the armor plating and sloping used in World War 2, most modern tanks use composite materials, explosive reactive armor and other systems which help protect the tank and crew from harm. These are factored in to the advanced rules and really add to the game.

Each armored unit is rated for its type of sensors and gun sights including laser range finders, thermal imagers and infra-red. Plus each unit is rated for the number and type of different weapon systems and ammunition. For example, the M1 Abrams is rated for its accuracy, armor piercing and high explosive/general purpose potential for machine guns, APFSDS rounds, Heat-MP rounds and anti-aircraft ability.

The fire power of these MBTs, AFVs, and even the firepower of the average infantry team is devastating especially when compared to the statistic of their World War 2 brethren.

Since the World War 2 “Panzer” series and the “modern” MBT use the same game system, it would be fun to take 1 M1 Abrams and send it up against 4 or 5 Tiger tanks and see what happens. I bet it wouldn’t be pretty for the Tigers especially with the modern laser sites and hard hitting APFSDS rounds on the Abrams.

Aircrafts and helicopters are covered and data is included for almost all air units which could have been used in the mid-1980s including Apaches, Cobras, A10s, Hinds, Su-25s and much more. Strangely enough, the aircrafts are only rated for their GP attack value. This seems a little counter-intuitive to me as the A10 is noted for its armor piercing cannon shells. None-the-less, air strikes can be very devastating for those stuck on the ground.

Infantry units also have access to devastating weapons such as Stinger missiles and Dragon teams. While infantry isn’t the prime focus of the game, combined arms theory is realistically treated.

Complete rules for terrain cover every conceivable cover, building, bridges, etc. you could ever hope to find in Europe. No stone has been unturned in the research and rules in this game.

Rules are included for environmental factors such as heat haze, inclement weather and night time combat.

Optional rules factor in moral plus armored doctrines of the various factions including Russian formation rules.

Both off map and on-map artillery rules are included as are rules for hidden (fog of war) units, sectional command and control, minefields, amphibious movement and the list goes on and on. This game has it all! In fact, there is so much that even an intermediate player can be a little overwhelmed, but that’s not a bad thing!

MBT is worth every penny for armor fans. Get this game! It is an instant classic!

For an interview with James Day:”

Armchair General Rating: 99 %

Solitaire Rating: 4

About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!