Landing with a thump and a clatter of tracks recently “What a Tanker” is a low-level game of tank duelling from Too Fat Lardies. It’s aimed squarely at the multiplayer tank smash-up market. This is a game that most WW2 players have probably already got enough toys to play, and at £16 for the PDF version of the rules it won’t drive a panzer division through your hobby budget.
So what’s the story?
Unusually for a Lardy game, this one has a points system! Players are free to set up their games however they like though, it’s a bit of guidance to achieving reasonably balanced forces rather than a hard and fast rule.
The game is intended mostly as a multiplayer game, and the authors do suggest that playing one tank per player is probably the best way to experience the game. That in itself is going to decide how many tanks are on the table, so you can match up roughly equal vehicles each side and possibly use points to help you do that.
The game contains rules for playing as a campaign, and your tank crew will gain experience that give them bonus abilities. Once they achieve ace status (five kills) they’ve got the option to either upgrade their tank (and lose all their bonuses) or stay in their current one and enjoy their ace status. So if you’re playing the game as a club league the choice of vehicles on the table will be largely set by who’s playing.
The career ladder is broken down by country and year. For each year the weakest tanks are earmarked as your starting vehicles. If you’re playing a campaign your crew must pick one of these and earn the upgrade to a higher level vehicle.
It’s worth noting that the only vehicles available in the rulebook are all proper tanks, tank destroyers or assault guns. In short: it’s got to have tracks. There are no armoured cars and no rules for wheeled vehicles included. AT guns, infantry and artillery are also not included, this really is just a tank game.
Nuts-and-bolts wise, each tank has two stats: the gun and armour. On top of that,some have special attributes, such as being “fast”, having a “slow turret”, or being a tank destroyer.
One strange omission is anything denoting tanks with two-man or one-man turrets. Given that a large part of the game is about how the crew within a tank operate together in action it seems strange that the single biggest lesson learned during combat in WW2 about crew co-ordination hasn’t made it into the game. The existing mechanics could easily model it with a few simple additional rules: all the parts are there to make it happen. It’s a little baffling that it’s not in there. It must have been considered during playtesting and I can’t see any good reason to leave it out. I for one would be very, very tempted to house rule it when playing early war scenarios where it’s going to be important and add a lot of fun flavour to the game. I really think they’ve missed an opportunity to model an important historical factor in a way that few other wargames have really been able to do. [/rant]
Command and Control
Each vehicle operates independently, using a now-familiar Lardy mechanic: command dice. Each vehicle starts with six command dice, and when rolled the results can be used to try and activate various crew positions:
- 1’s activate the driver to move the tank
- 2’s allow the commander to acquire targets
- 3’s are “aim dice”, where the commander directs the gunner onto the target
- 4’s activate the gunner to shoot
- 5’s activate the loader to stick a fresh one up the spout
6’s are wild dice that can be turned into any other dice, or used to improve rolls to hit and damage, or used to rally disorder off the crew.
Each tank plays all their command dice and then play passes to the next tank. Players can play their command dice in any order. You could shoot-move-shoot if your dice allow, for example.
Initiative order is diced for at the start of each fresh round. Players can try to improve their chances by holding onto one or more 6’s from their previous turn.
As detailed below in the “Combat” section, damage to the vehicle is represented by loss of command dice. So as your vehicle takes damage it becomes less responsive. If you lose all six dice, your crew bail out. This kind of progressive decay of command and control under fire is a bit of a Lardy trademark, and something I really like in wargames. I like rules where the chaos and confusion are baked into the core rules of the game, instead of being a sort of “take a morale roll” and pass/fail binary afterthought.
If you’ve got 1’s or 6’s in your command dice you can move, potentially quite fast. Some tanks have a “fast” attribute which allows them to convert any other dice into a drive dice. This means they’re guaranteed to be able to move, other vehicles aren’t. I can see some people getting upset about not being able to move when they want or as fast as they want. On top of this, move distances are random, although the standard move is 2d6″ so at least it’s on a bell curve and therefore somewhat predictable.
It’s not unusual to be able to move 4d6″ or even 6d6″ in a single activation. If you’ve already acquired a target it’s quite possible to do a massive charge and nail them in the flank as you drive by. Flank hits are very nasty. The “fast” tanks have a big advantage here, and positioning is crucial. Most of the game is about trying to drive your tank into an advantageous position, with the target acquired and the gun laid onto them and loaded.
Terrain does play a big part, linear obstacles will severely reduce movement while also making it harder to spot and hit targets. So you’ll need to be maneuvering to take advantage of that.
From our limited play so far we found that the high move rates allow tanks to often get quite close, and it looked a bit silly in 28mm. The game played fine, but with all the tearing around I think smaller scales like 15mm will look better.
One unusual rule that looks like a bit of fun is that bridges are pretty rickety. You have to dice to cross one, and if you try crossing a weak bridge in a big tank you might just collapse it. Wooden bridges will permit only the very lightest to pass, and even stone ones might crack if you take the heaviest of the heavies across. If it does collapse it’s an insta-kill for your big fat Elefant or KV.
Deployment and Scenarios
These are basic in the extreme. Three slight variations are provided in the rules, but this is basically a “start on your table edge and go for it” game. Forces are assumed to be matched and victory conditions are the same for everybody.
There’s nothing to stop you from coming up with your own scenarios, of course.
So you’ve managed to drive your tank into a good position and spot your target? What happens next? Well, assuming you’ve got the gun loaded and the right command dice to fire it you roll a 2d6 to hit, with a basic score of 6. This gets modified by cover, and if you succeed you’ve hit the other tank somewhere. Front, side and rear armour is modeled, but the front zone is fairly narrow (60 degrees to the front) giving much larger flanks than most other games.
There’s only one range band, over 48″ your to-hit score goes up but only by +1, and there’s no adjustment to gun power for range. The ground scale really only covers the closest part of the gun’s range so things like position and cover are judged to have more effect then the small amount of power the gun loses over that range.
Once you’ve hit the firer and target roll a handful of dice for their gun and armour, and compare the successes. The firer’s target score drops as they get flank or rear shots, and it makes a big difference. Flank shots from late war tanks can easily result in a one-shot kill, while head-on ones rarely will. Early war tanks tend to nibble away at each other a bit more, as you need three unsaved hits for an outright kill: difficult if you’re only rolling four dice to start.
Any unsaved hits result in a loss of command dice, and possibly some additional effects if you roll well enough. Early war tanks should be able to survive several good hits from their contemporaries, late war ones are probably dead or ineffective after a couple of hits.
Amusingly there are rules for ramming, but it requires some lucky rolling and doesn’t count as a “kill” for crew experience so it’s of fairly dubious benefit.
The game is all about getting kills in, as it’s these kills that you’ll use to climb the career ladder and get better tanks.
Morale and Psychology
There are no specific rules for psychology in the game, something that normally makes me suspicious of a ruleset. However, it turns out there are some subtleties at work.
First of all, the temporary damage that tanks can pick up works similarly to the “shock” that other Lardy rulesets tend to use. It’s an abstract way of showing any kind of temporary reduction in effectiveness, which is going to include fear and disorder among the crew. That’s why the commander can rally it back off, and bring the crew back to full effectiveness.
The player also provides some of the psychology, the desire to keep your crew alive and level them up will mean that players won’t want to expose them to unnecessary risks.
About the closest thing What a Tanker has to an actual morale rule is that when a tank is reduced to zero command dice the crew automatically bail out.
The game is played co-op. If you destroy all the tanks on the other team, you’ve won. However, since players may want to avoid risking the pointless death of an experienced crew there is also the option for one side to throw in the towel once the odds get to 2:1 or worse.
For example, in a 3-a-side game, if one side gets down to their last tank and they’re still facing two or three enemies they have the option to withdraw and concede the game. That’s a sensible rule IMO.
Yes, but is it fun?
If you’re looking for a super-serious simulation, you’re probably not going to be happy with What a Tanker. Likewise if you want to put a tank company on the table and watch them sweep majestically across the Russian steppes in formation, again, this is not the game for you.
On the flipside, if like me you tried Gale Force Nine’s recent game “Tanks!” and thought it was a ridiculously oversimplified and frankly a bit dull, you might want to give this a go.
What you get is a lightweight multiplayer game that has a lot of friction, some lightweight resource management and a lot of tactical decision making. It’s a hoot to play, and shines in a club or convention environment where you want to put a bunch of people around a table and have them smash up each others’ tanks. Think of a table version of the video game “World of Tanks”, but with most of the really ahistorical bits trimmed out.