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Posted on Jan 16, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Tank Duel Puts You Right in to the Action! – GMT’s Tank Duel Board Game Review

Tank Duel Puts You Right in to the Action! – GMT’s Tank Duel Board Game Review

Rick Martin

Tank Duel Enemy in the Crosshairs Board Game Review.  Publisher: GMT  Designer:  Mike Bertucelli, Jason Carr and Joe Aguayo  Price $78

Passed Inspection:   Immersive, Exciting, Solid Rules, Beautiful Components

Failed Basic:    anti-tank guns and infantry can attack but there are no rules for attacking them, needs a campaign system (both of these will be addressed in an upcoming expansion), no King Tigers

The two Panzer IV crews and the Stug crew were briefed and ready to go.  This morning’s operation was to establish a bridgehead across a river.  The infantry had reported that the bridge was overwatched by at least three T34s in hull down positions and their scouting had reported that there were not tank traps or mines on the bridge.  The Soviet Engineers must not have arrived yet.  Now was the perfect time to take and hold the bridge.  Hauptsturmführer Gotz was the senior officer and had the most experience of any of the men.    He told  Unteroffizer Helmut that his Stug should take an overwatch position and provide support and suppression fire as the two panzers would approach the bridge and try to speed across and outflank the T34s.

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The Stug moves to the top of a small ravine and spots a hull down T34.  Helmut radios the Pz IVs which begin to take up positions to assault the bridge.  The Stug shoots and misses the T34 but Pz IV #2 ‘s commander spots the T34 and shoots – the T34 suffers a catastrophic hit and its turret is propelled in to the air by a massive explosion – the remaining ammo in the  T34 begins to cook off.  Suddenly a second T34 opens up with its 76mm gun and Gotz’s PzIV is hit in the turret starting a fire.  Gotz gives the orders for the crew to bail and he, his gunner and driver run for it but the loader and assistant driver don’t make it out in time.

Both sides exchange gun fire and a third T34 is spotted.  It suffers track damage from the Stug’s accurate shooting.  The T34 crew don’t bail out after their tank is hit and continue to bravely fire at the German tanks.  Pz IV #2 speeds across the bridge and is about to outflank the closest T34 when that T34 is hit by a solid shot from the Stug.  The T34 begins to burn and the commander is seen bailing out.  He runs to another T34 and climbs aboard as the last Soviet tank wisely lays down smoke and retreats.  The Germans have taken the bridge but at a cost.

So ran my recent game of the brilliant Tank Duel by GMT Games.  Tank Duel accommodates from 1 to 8 players and it plays very well with either humans or bots (called “Robata” in this game) controlling the tanks.  Each player controls one to three tanks or assault guns in this card driven war game.  I have played 1 tank v 1 tank, 2 v 2, 3 v 3 and 4 v 4 – all are exciting and fun.  A typical battle can be fought in an hour or two.

The game features beautiful artwork by Terry Leeds.

The components include:

● 129 Battle Cards (100 base Battle Cards, 1 Game End

   Card, 1 Shuffle Card, and 27 Alternate and City Battle

   Cards)

● 21 Damage Cards

● 6 On Fire Cards

● 6 Broken Cards

● 6 Anti-Tank Gun Cards

● 8 Anti-Tank Infantry Cards

● 30 Other Cards (15 Scenario Cards, 7 Road/Hill Cards,

   4 Solo Move Cards, 2 Infantry Advance Cards, and 2

   Deep Mud/Snow Storm Cards)

● 10 Robata Cards

● 4 Reference Cards

● 16 double-sided tank boards

● 3 sheets of counters

● 8 player aids

● 1 Solo player aid

● A Rulebook and Playbook

Now for a question – what didn’t you see listed in the components?  Can you say “no dice”?  I knew you could.  (Forgive me for channeling Mr. Rogers there.) The game is totally card driven.  I was somewhat skeptical at first but the design quickly won me over.

The rules state to read the tutorial with the units and cards laid out per the tutorial before reading the rule book.  I didn’t do this.  As a game designer, tech and legal writer and game reviewer, I wanted to judge the rules on their clarity, organization and completeness without any aid.  To make a long story short – the rules passed muster very well but the 18 page tutorial is a wonderful resource and an excellent learning aid for the game.  A tutorial is also included for the solo rules.

The rules themselves are organized in to an overview and then detailed look at each phase of the game.  The rule book is 20 pages long which includes a 3 page indexed glossary.  The rules are very player friendly and written with a good deal of wit.  It includes examples of play and design notes.

The playbook is 52 pages long and includes the previously described 18 page tutorial, optional/advanced rules, 8 scenarios, solo rules and a complete example of a solo game, an index to the cards in the game and designer’s notes.

Each tank has a “tank board” which is thick and durable cardstock with an attractive overhead picture of each tank.  The crew positions are delineated and there are charts showing weapon accuracy and penetration at different ranges, armor strength, types of equipment carried including radios, smoke dischargers, special ammunition, etc.  In addition each tank has a move level and a fire level marked on a chart.  This easily tells you both the maximum speed of the tank as expressed in what move cards it can use, whether the movement is degraded due to damage and what type of attack cards can be used.  There are also spaces which show the current range of the tank from the enemy as well as whether the tank is hull down, spotted or flanked.  There is also a space to put the Battle Card you are using (more on this later) which based upon the image on the Battle Card gives you a feel for what you see out of the view slots or scopes on your tank.  You can also put markers on the board showing that your tank is buttoned up.

The following tanks are included in the game and various types of each one are available:  Panzer III, Panzer IV, Tiger, Panther, Stug, Ferdinand, T34/76, T34/85, KV-85, the IS “Joseph Stalin” series of tanks and the Su-100.  I was a little surprised to find no King Tigers included in the game as the 501st and 503rd Heavy Tank Battalions used them extensively on the Eastern Front.

There are several different ways to play the game depending on whether you are playing it solo or with other players but the basic turn sequence stays the same.  The turn sequence is as follows:

1. Draw Phase  

Players refill their hands to their Hand Size. If the “Game End” card is revealed, the scenario ends.

2. Initiative Phase  

Players bid for Initiative.

3. Tank Phase   – In Initiative Order:

Administration Step  

a. Discard Active Tank’s Initiative Card.

b. Score scenario specific VPs.

c. If the Active Tank is in Smoke, perform a Smoke

Check.

d. If the Active Tank is On Fire, perform an On Fire

Check.

e. If the Active Tank’s crew is Broken, perform a Morale

Check.

f. [Optional] Button Up or Open Hatch  

Action Step   

The Active Player resolves one Tank Action and

any number of Field Actions in any order they

choose.

Discard Step

The Active Player may discard one Battle Card from

their hand or, if the Active Tank’s Range counter is in

a red box, they may discard two Battle Cards.

4. Reinforcement Phase

If any tanks have been Eliminated, their controlling

player prepares a replacement tank.

As stated above this sequence continues to repeat until either the players decide to end the game or until the “Game End” Battle Card comes up.

The Battle Cards are the heart of the game engine.  Battle Cards can include different levels of movement, different levels of attacks with the main gun, flanking options, hull down options, popping smoke, moving in to the woods or behind buildings, etc.  Each Battle Card shows you the view from inside your tank looking out at other tanks or terrain as well as numbers which are used for attempts to go hull down or for accuracy or penetration in an attack and are even used for initiative auctions.  Some Battle Cards are used for infantry actions if you are using the optional infantry rules.  Some Battle Cards trigger events or can be spent to give you special actions if they have Order Icons on their edges.  They also have “Effect Icons” on them which tell you various things such as have you spotted the enemy; is your tank on fire; has your tank exploded; have you succeeded in popping smoke or have you extinguished a fire in your tank.

Battle Cards can also be used to vex your opponent.  You can play mines or mud to put your enemy in jeopardy or you can play a flanking card to get behind the enemy’s tanks.

The Damage Cards are used if you hit an enemy tank and penetrated its armor.  Damage Cards give different levels of damage depending on whether you did minor damage to the enemy or heavy damage to the enemy and are separated in to sections depending on what part of the enemy tank you hit – either the turret, hull, tracks or if you have scored a critical hit.  In addition, should a tank crew need to make a moral check, the results are listed on the cards separated in to crew quality or if the tank is immobilized or on fire.

The Robata Cards are the cards which control the enemy tanks in a solo game.  Each Robata Card includes actions for the enemy when they are in the following states – either Fully Operational or In Peril. Further each state includes special rules for when the enemy tank is Alert or Evading.   When playing solo a new phase is included in the turn sequence in which you figure out the “Peril Level” of the enemy tanks.  This Peril Level effects how the enemy tank reacts – does it try and get in to a hull down or full cover position, does it try and shoot it out with you, does it pop smoke, etc.

The Robata Cards also define how the enemy attacks based upon whether your spotted tank is a high quality or low quality target plus Primary and Secondary Actions are layed out in order on each card.

For example, if you haven’t been spotted by the Robata tank, its main priorities for the turn may be move in to cover and then try and spot you.

Both as a solo game and as a multiplayer game, Tank Duel’s wonderful game system creates a perfect fog of war.  It really immerses you in the control of one or more tanks and gives you the feel of being enclosed in the metal beasts.  As a person who has been on the inside of tanks like the Sherman, the Lee and a Panzer III, I can say this is the first board game which captures not only the false feeling of invulnerability you get from being physically in the tank but also the feeling of claustrophobia of being closed hatched in the belly of the beasts.

Optional rules include anti-tank guns, infantry support or opposition, weather conditions and buttoning up restrictions and benefits.

I did find the anti-tank guns and infantry rules lacking in that the tanks can’t attack them!  They are just added as support units for each side.  I house ruled how to attack infantry and AT guns and presented my system to the designer who seemed to like them and promised rules for just this thing in a future expansion which will also add campaign rules.

Here are my house rules for attacking infantry and AT guns: 

When shooting at infantry or AT guns it is automatically assumed that High Explosive rounds are loaded for that turn.  If the soft target is hit, if it is light damage, you do a morale check to see if the crew abandons the gun or the infantry retreats and goes to ground.   If it is heavy damage, the gun or infantry squad is effectively destroyed for combat purposes. Also if the tank gets to range Zero to the AT gun, it machine guns the crew and runs over the gun. 

Note that if you do plan to use HE on a soft target such as infantry or AT guns for that turn and an enemy tank engages you, if you change targets and attack the enemy tank, you can only damage it if the enemy tank has open hatches.  If the hatches are closed, you shot would have no affect even if it hits.

This review only barely scratches the surface of the depth and playability of this wonderful game.  Tank Duel has been compared to the sadly out of print Up Front card game of infantry actions during World War II.  The fog of war in Tank Duel is amazing!  The designer has promised an expansion which also covers combat in North Africa and also adds the aforementioned rule expansions. I, for one, can’t wait.  If World War II armor is your cup of tea – get this game!

Armchair General Rating:  95% (1% is bad, 100% is perfect)

Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 is not suitable, 5 is excellent solo play)

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. He designed the games Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Expansion and Sherman Leader for DVG.  In addition, Rick can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

components
the box
some Russian tanks
some German tanks
scenario
Russian 85mm AT gun
fighting for the bridge
flanking the enemy
IS 2 moves towards a building
KV 85
Panther
Pz IV v T34
T34 read to roll
Tiger fires its 88mm gun
Tiger v IS 2
a minefield with an AT gun beyond it

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