Recently, my friend Armando and I played the Clash of Armor scenario from the Tobruk board game. The game is the first of the Advanced Tobruk Series of games published by Critical Hit. The game is an update of the original series published by Avalon Hill in the 1970's. I decided to replay the same scenario using several different game systems as a way to compare them.
The scenario pits a pits 11 MkIII G/H, two Mk III J, and two MkIV Es against six Grants. Each side gets victory points for tanks destroyed and for vehicles exited off of the map. The match up is pretty tough for the Germans, since they have very little chance of penetrating the Grant from the front. Armando got a bit unlucky and had all of his special ammunition (APCR and HEAT) shots were turret hits and could not penetrate. Once the MkIIIs got behind the Grants, they were able to get some kills. In the end, the Germans lost six tanks vs two British tanks. The Germans did manage to exit three vehicles from the board, so the final score was 6-5, a British victory.
I like the ATS armor system a lot. Direct fire results are not binary, so crews get suppressed, tanks take damage, etc. You can't really sit back and shoot, since the kill tables are not super deadly. It emphasizes maneuver over firepower, which produces a very fluid game. The "ergonomics" of the system is good, although I do have a few nits with the way some of the charts are organized. I also think that the designer could have avoided several ASL-isms that don't really add much to the game.
The next system I tried is the Mein Panzer miniatures system. Since I don't have enough miniatures for the scenario, I used the map board and counters from the ATS scenario. I reviewed Mein Panzer in my previous blog entry, so I won't provide a summary here. The game was a German Victory. The British lost all six Grants while the Germans lost two Mk IIIs, one Mk IV, and had one Mk III immobilized. The German numerical superiority was a big advantage. They were able to suppress the British tanks with two platoon and move the other two into better positions. They were helped by a serious of fortunate initiative rolls which allowed them to shoot before the Brits. Finally, everyone was in "effective range" from the beginning, so securing hits was quite easy. All of this worked against the outnumbered Grants, who were quickly dispatched.
The next system that I tried was the Panzer board game published by Yaquinto. This is an old system that is very hardware driven. It contains a lot of detail about the armor of the vehicles and their weapons systems, but is a bit complicated and very intimidating for a new player. In this system, the British scored a major victory. They had one Grant knocked out and two immobilized. The Germans lost seven Mk IIIs and a Mk IV with another Mk IV immobilized. The big difference was that the relative speed of the vehicles was less, so the Germans suffered through more shots to get to the Grants. The system doesn't have any form of suppression, so most shots simply bounced off of the Grant's think frontal armor. The Brits had better armor and better guns than the Germans, so they could simply sit back and pick off the attackers one by one. The Germans were never able to flank the position.
Next on the list was Panzer Miniature Battles (PMB) published by Lost Battalion Games. It is a revised version of the Panzer board game adapted for use with miniatures. The rules manage to keep most of the flavor of the original set but have been greatly streamlined. They provide a nice balance between playability and detail. Using this system, the Germans scored a victory, although it was fairly close. The British lost five Grants, and would have lost the last if I hadn't called the game. The Germans lost five Mk IIIs and a Mk IV with an additional immobilized Mk III. The Germans were able to close the distance fairly quickly, which minimized losses to defensive fire. The Mk IVs knocked out three tanks using HEAT. The loss of those vehicles really opened things up for the MK IIIs, which were able to flank the position and finish off the remaining Grants.
Last on the list is the game Battlefront WWII published by Fire and Fury Games. This game was a bit of a stretch for the comparison, since it is a slightly different scale and focus. It uses a "half-platoon" scale, where each vehicle represents 1-2 vehicles in real life. Also, it is really designed to emphasize combined arms combat as opposed to pure armored combat. It did an admirable job, although it felt quite different than the other systems. The biggest difference is that Battlefront uses a very "soft" combat results table. All of the long range shots simply suppressed their targets instead of killing them. To actually make kills, the Germans had to close to short range (less then 10") and focus fire on single vehicles. The first shot would disorganize which gave the later shots a better chance to destroy their targets. The Germans had a rather easy victory, destroying all six Grants while losing two Mk IIIs. One final note was that the Grants were both out gunned by and had inferior armor than the Panzers. That doesn't jive well with reality.
So, how would I rate the systems?
In the board game category, I think ATS is superior to Panzer. I think it is a much smoother system that provides enough meat to satisfy an armor enthusiast. Panzer certainly shows its age, and while the amount of detail is impressive, it really complicates things. When you play the games right after each other, you realize just how much more work is involved with each shot in Panzer. Like I mentioned before, my biggest complaint with ATS is the features that are "borrowed" from ASL. For example, gun calibers in ATS are rated as A, B, C, and D which directly correspond to ASL's LL, L, normal, and * ratings. The AFV cards already provide gun penetration vs range. The designer could have used the real gun caliber and provided the base to hit table on the AFV cards as well. That is a minor quibble I have with a really good game system.
In the miniatures game category, I have to give the nod to Panzer Miniature Battles. I like Mein Panzer a lot, and I do think that it is a better "club game" than PMB. I like the amount of detail provided by PMB, and I really like the hidden orders system. In armor only scenarios, Battlefront is a distant third. I think its CRT is too "soft" for scenarios without any infantry.
I would like to do another comparison that uses a scenario with a decent amount of infantry. That, however, will be a discussion for another day.