When it comes to World War 2 combat, one of my favorite things has always been the tanks. From the American Sherman to the powerful German Panther, I always enjoyed games where I could control one of these steel clade behemoths.
While tabletop games have long been simulating WW2 tank battles, I have never really given them much of a chance. Many times the rules have felt overly complicated, appealing more to the WW2 grognards than the casual gamer.
Enter Tanks, a WW2 Skirmish game from publisher Gale Force 9. The starter set for this minis line, Tanks: Panther vs Sherman, seeks to lower the barrier to this great genre and make an accessible game that still can appeal to the history buffs. Did they succeed? Let’s find out.
In Tanks, 2 players will form their own squad of tanks and attempt to win the scenario. The basic missions in Tanks usually boil down to “destroy the other tanks”. However the game is setup for historical recreations and the starter manual even features one (Barkmann’s Corner).
To play the game, players must first build out a squad of tanks using a point allowance system. Each player will have an equal number of points that allow for tanks, hidden upgrades, crew cards, and possible heroes. The action in the game is simple, Move, Shoot, and possibly repair. Destroy your opponent’s tanks and you win!
So I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the components in Tanks when I first opened the box. The big shock came from the fact that the tanks required assembly. While that’s not completely out of the realm of possibility in miniature gaming, these were full on sheets of sprues. Straight out of hobby model building, each of the three tanks included require full assembly (including glue) before you can play. We’ll dive more into that later.
Other than the plastic tanks (which do look great once fully assembled), the game comes with a few pieces of 2D terrain to use and a variety of tokens. But what’s really interesting are the cards that come with the game.
Tanks comes with a whole mess of tank cards, many of which are for tanks not included in the starter set. However, if you have tanks from their Flames of War game, then I’m pretty sure the miniatures are 100% compatible with Tanks. The rest of the cards are the upgrade, crew, and damage cards.
How to Play:
Tanks is a very streamlined game and you should be deep into the action in no time at all. If it’s your first game of Tanks, the rule book suggests using the Barkmann’s Corner scenario, which pre-builds both armies. After you’ve gotten your feet wet, players can then build their army using a 100 point buy.
Each turn is played out in three phases:
- Movement Phase: From lowest initiative to highest, each tank may move up to two times. Movement is handled with the included range stick (arrow). Just put it at the base of your tank and move the vehicle to the end. A movement token is placed near the tank showing how many times it moved that round.
- Combat: Combat is handled from highest initiate to lowest. First the shooter gathers their pool of dice (based on the tanks attack value and any relevant crew/upgrade cards) and rolls them. Each 4-5 is a hit, while each 6 is a critical hit. Then the defender gets to roll defense dice, with extra dice added to their pool for each time the tanks moved (both shooter and defender) and also for cover (max 6). Each 4-6 will cancel a hit from the attacker. Any uncanceled hits require the defender to take a point of damage. Critical hits require the defender to draw a critical card and apply its effects.
- Command Phase: Any tanks that have taken enough damage to destroy them are marked as destroyed. Players can also attempt to repair certain critical hits during this phase.
If at the end of the command phase, all of your opponent’s tanks are destroyed (or you have achieved the scenarios specific goals), you win!
I feel like Gale Force 9 is trying to make the war genre more accessible with tanks. The rules are very simple to pick up and I think just about anyone can play this one. Tanks is sure to draw some similarities to the popular Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures game. While the mechanics definitely share some traits, I think that the genres are still different enough that these two lines can coexist happily.
For me, the real fun in Tanks came from the squad building. One mechanic that I really enjoyed was that any upgrade cards you have on your tank stay face down until they are used. This allowed for some neat surprises for my enemies as they would have to deal with unexpected curveballs I threw into battle. I also enjoyed testing out different squad builds using different upgrades and crew cards.
I think Tanks will really shine once players pick up a few expansions. Play 2 vs 1 was OK to get started, but I found myself yearning for a bigger squad of tanks. As powerful as the German tank was, I really wanted about 2 or 3 more to try and get some maneuvers going.
The game play in Tanks will involve a lot of dice chucking. Most rounds will be move, attack, defend. This has the potential to get pretty monotonous. In fact, since the beginner mission doesn’t use much in the way of upgrade cards, the scenario actually felt a bit dull. Too many times we threw dice, only to have all the hits canceled by the defender.
But thankfully there are two things that help keep the game play fresh. The first is the crew/upgrade cards. These let you mitigate dice rolls, adjust your tanks numbers, or provide other game breaking effects.
The second is via the critical hit cards. These can have a variety of effects such as breaking your tanks gun or even stopping it dead in its tracks. This also will probably stop someone from spending all of their points on one super tank, as an unlucky shot could cripple your chances at winning.
I think that one of the areas that may give people pause with Tanks is the fact that you have to assemble the models. This was a quite a surprise for me, especially since I haven’t built a model since I was a kid. I think it took me about 2 hours of cutting, filing, and gluing before I had all 3 of the starter tanks put together. You could probably do it faster, but I’m a little out of practice and a tad picky about my game components.
But to be 100% honest, I didn’t really enjoy having to put the tanks together. Especially after being spoiled by some of the FFG pre-painted minis. The thought of building out more tanks if I were to get expansions isn’t exactly appealing. That being said, I’m sure that there are people who would love this aspect, and the detail is pretty fantastic one assembled. So it’s up to you whether the fact that you have to build the minis is a plus or a minus.
However on the other side of that coin is the price point. Tanks is very affordable to get started with. The Panther vs Sherman starter set costs around $15-$20 depending on where you buy it from. That’s basically the price of a small card game, so it’s hard not to love that.
Finally, one thing that I think will greatly help Tank’s staying power would be the addition of more scenarios. Right now, only one starter scenario comes with the game, and it’s basically just a deathmatch. I don’t know if Gale Force 9 is planning on adding more scenarios in the expansion boxes (or even free online), but that could be a great asset for Tanks. I like the idea of being able to recreate battles from history and possibly having asymmetrical objectives. A match where you have to win by taking an objective could be a welcome relief over the constant slugfests.
Gale Force 9 did a good job with Tanks: Panther vs Sherman, making it both very accessible and quick playing. Rounds will go by very fast with down time being incredibly minimal. Even with the complexity being dialed back, I think that Tanks has a lot of potential. However, should you enjoy the starter set, you are probably going to want to get some expansion packs for added variety and replay value. And should you decide this type of genre is for you, there is always the Flames of War line you can move to if you require more complexity.
While I didn’t partially enjoy the model building aspect of the game, I could see other love it. Especially if you are the type of person that spends a lot of time painting minis. Not only do you get all the parts to build the standard tank, but the sprues had a lot of extra bits in case you wanted to do some customization.
With its low price point, Tanks is an easy choice for anyone looking to dip their toes into the WW2 tank genre.
If you’d like to get a copy of Tanks Panther vs Sherman, you can pick it up for about $20.
Final Score: 3 Stars – A fun entry level WW2 skirmish game. While the model building wasn’t for me, the game itself is very easy to learn and plays quickly.
• Lots of assembly required.
• Some scenarios would help give variety