|Taken from the box art of Storms of Steel - by Steve Paschal|
There are similar posts on this blog for other tactical game systems, so to maintain some continuity between the articles, we will choose the 1943 model of the T-34/76 to work with (from the Storms of Steel game).
To see the rest of this post please click on the 'Read More' tag.
This post has three main parts. A general discussion, some statistical data (might be a bit dry for some tastes) and then a fun replay that piggy backs onto a demo video that already exists on Boardgamegeek (link at the foot of the post).
The anti-tank system is beautifully simple to manage and has an elegance in its execution, though 'understanding' how the values on the counters are fully arrived at is not straight-forward. This is because the value is representing other 'influences' as well as raw penetration / armour data, plus the bell curve on the 2 x D6 anti-tank resolution process produces a distortion and a limitation in value range that the designer will have had to both mitigate and embrace.
The design notes say that in addition to gun / armour tables being consulted, the game values were modified to reflect "targeting equipment, crew training, tank maintenance, rate of fire, armour slope, relative armour thickness, round 'stick' factors, steel quality, radio access, movement speed and more". All of that taken together should therefore produces more subjective ratings (though harder for us to to analyse here), but which should feel all the more realistic for that.
An actual attack value in combat is based upon the counter strength plus 2 x D6 plus a maximum of +2 modifier if additional Command Action Points (CAPs) are spent on the unit. This is then compared to the defensive strength of the tank as given on the counter, which may be modified by terrain. If the modified attack strength equals or is greater than the defence strength, then the target vehicle is both hit and harmed, though not necessarily knocked out. Note, it might be usual for a side to have perhaps an allowance of say 6 CAPs in a typical round and so they are too valuable for indiscriminate use.
On the counter below, the blue figure on the bottom left represents the anti-armour attack value (the red figure is anti-infantry), while the blue 'unboxed' figure on the right shows the vehicles front facing armour value. The boxed blue figure is the defence value for the flank / rear aspect of the vehicle. The small number in the bottom centre of the counter is the weapon range. The range is reflective of 'typical' engagement distances, though as usual in tactical games, units can fire out to twice their range, but with penalties.
One thing worth mentioning is that the rules are set out in a programmed fashion for easier consumption (remember basic Squad Leader). Here you learn about infantry first and then as you move on, become pleasantly surprised that many of the vehicle mechanics use the systems already learned in the earlier infantry section.
There are some bits of kit that I always check out straight away to see how a designer has interpreted their values. In relation to the subject matter here, I am always interested by the Soviet 85mm gun and also the German Panther / Tiger relationship (see later).
The situation with the 85mm is quite fascinating. If you Google it, there is plenty of debate on its real penetration capability, with arguments that include that Soviet penetration figures were generally lower than other nations because their testing required a higher percentage of strikes to fully penetrate a given thickness of armour (75% as opposed to 50% used by the west) i.e. that their penetration figures were actually better than stated. I'm not sure about that, but it is interesting never-the-less.
Anyway, in this system the German 75/48 is rated at '11' and the German 88/56 at '12' - so there is nowhere for the 85mm to go if one believes that it sits somewhere between those two German pieces. CoH rates the 85mm as '11', so it has equal status to the 75/48. This is a good example of how the designer is using 'other factors' to value guns and armour. It seems the right call and in any case the 85mm is certainly not up to being an equal of the 88/56.
Out of interest, the Band of Brothers series from Worthington Games has the 85mm and 75/48 as equals and they do have a gap between the 75/48 and 88/56 that the 85mm could be pushed if they had felt that justified. Regardless of the performance of the 85mm, training of crew in this period (or rather lack of it) was a relevant factor to overall performance.
My recent reading of 'T-34 in Action' by Artem Drabkin and Oleg Sheremet (on the Kindle) highlights the effects of sending poorly trained crews straight to the front lines. By the end of their first day of fighting - their lack of field craft often meant that they stood every chance of being amongst the dead! reminding us that tank performance is not just about kit. In his design notes, Uwe Eickert mentions that all the things that influence tank fighting (i.e. not just armour and gun values) came together to give the Germans a tank kill advantage of 7:1.
|Gun values, note the tightness of the range between 9 and 12|
which holds the 50/60 on the Pz III to the 88/56 on the Tiger I.
The two vehicles that always grab my initial interest when looking at a design are the German Panther and Tiger I tanks, as on paper, despite being quite different vehicles, their gun / armour data is relatively close and it is always interesting to see how designers differentiate between them (with some notably favouring the Tiger over the Panther and some the other way around).
The Panther's anti-armour gun performance should be better than the Tiger's and the armour probably similar or better to the front but notably weaker to the flank. Here those known differences can be seen in the values given to the two vehicles. The differences in the numbers seem to relate to what is suggested on available gun penetration / armour charts. That doesn't seem to leave a lot of room (for the period in question) for other factors such as the effect of the elite status of the Tiger crews or the breakdown rate of the new Panther tanks. We do however see that the Tigers have a better anti-infantry value and a (much) stronger flank armour, which is typically seen in other systems as well.
We do know that the designer has poured a lot of time and thought into this system (and been brave enough to make changes to second generation rules that resulted in new counters) so we can be sure that the resulting values on the counters come from considered analysis and fit properly within the range of values that will ultimately be seen in this series.
There is no getting away from the fact that the bell curve produced by the 2 D6 process will also have laid a restraining hand on what range of possible outcomes the designer could manage. So for example the strength range between a Pz III's 50/60 (being 9) and the Tigers 88/56 (being 12) is just 4 positions. So once penetration is taken into account, there is not a lot of room to adjust for all the other external factors mentioned. I am guessing that those factors are considered together and if sufficiently significant will simply move a gun or armour up or down by perhaps 1 position. This is fully understandable and reminiscent of the way that Basic Squad Leader (1977) worked - a design that really hit the right spot for me (there is much in CoH in 'feel' and design intent that reminds me of SL and in that regard I really like it). I remember making a Panther counter for SL and having a problem trying to shoe-horn it in to fit with the other values in the game.
So what does all this mean in a typical firefight? Well having a combat value one or two points higher than another unit might not seem significant but based on the bell curve of rolling 2 x D6, in which the spread of results will radiate out from '7' and becoming disproportionately harder to achieve for each 1 point of difference in factors, then each 1 point difference is important.
|Still a dangerous paring for the Germans to encounter, even in 1943.|
There is just a 1 in 36 chance of rolling a 2 on two dice or a 12 on two dice, but a 6 in 36 chance of rolling a 7 on two dice.
If the player needs to roll 8 or higher to get a hit result, there is a 42% chance of doing that on 2 x D6, but to get 9 or higher this chance reduces to 28%. So here a 1 point difference in factors can equate to a 14% swing in fortune.
But change the gun or vehicle and the difference between needing to score higher than say a 5 or higher than 6 has a chance of 83% and 72% respectively, so the swing of fortune in that case is slightly lower at 11%. So the relationships between target and firer can have subtle changes on probability.
These in-built (on 2 x D6) variables make it harder for us to attempt to correlate hard gun /armour charts with what is presented on the counter. I initially wondered why the armour value on a Panzer IVh is 18 while the armour of the significantly superior Panther is just 3 points higher at 21, but it all works out fine and feels right.
A few examples will help (sorry if this part gets dry! the chart below helps give a visual interpretation). If a T34/85 with a firepower value of 11 fires on a Pz IVh (armour value 18), the firer will need to roll at least a 7 (7 dice score +11 attack value = 18 which is at least equal to the enemy armour value) to hit and there is a 59% chance of doing that, but to hit the Tiger I (or Panther) with just those extra 3 points worth of armour (value 21), they will need to roll at least a 10 (10 + 11 = 21) and the chance of doing that drops to just 17%, so the three point difference is actually quite a significant probability swing (42%) and note, the term 'hit' here is more than simply a 'to hit' process, it is inclusive of the fact that some actual harm is also done.
If we change vehicles, those same three points of armour difference can become less problematic. Let's take the Russian JS III with it's big 122mm gun. It has a firepower of 13. Against the Pz IVh, it only needs to roll a 5 (83% chance) or better and against a Tiger, a roll of 8 or better (42%) will succeed. So the three point difference in armour still causes a roughly a 40% difference in kill probability, but both targets are now much more vulnerable as the probabilities themselves for success from the 122mm gun are higher.
By contrast the T34/76c with a gun value of 9 will need to roll 9 or higher to hit a PzIVh (28% chance of a hit) and to harm the Tiger I would need to roll a 12 (3% chance of that) and at the Tiger's thick flank, would still need to get a 10 (17% chance of that) to cause harm. In return fire a PzIVh (gun 11) could harm the T34 (armour 19) on score of 8 or higher (42%) and the Tiger (gun 12) would need a score of 7 or higher (59%). My initial sense was to think that the two medium tanks (T-34 and PzIVh) would typically have had a better chance of causing each other harm and that the Tiger would have had an even better chance again.
note - I am just checking on the Band of Brothers game (WG) and there, without modifiers in a typical attacker situation, a PzIVh has an 80% chance of being able to fire on the T34 and then a 50% chance of an outright kill. A Tiger I has a 90% chance of being able to fire on the T34 and then a 70% chance of destroying it. So the two systems are not too dissimilar, though CoH generally has a softer result than giving an out-right kill (explained below).
|Up-gunned T34 with an 85mm gun, better able to stand|
up to the next generation of German tanks, though
still a limit on that range figure.
However, there are some other mechanics going on that can change things. External influencing factors are that terrain may help boost the defenders armour value, being adjacent to an enemy gives the firer +3 to its strength (so getting those T34/76's next to the Tigers - sounds about right) and in close combat (sharing the same hex) a +4 can be claimed. Also a firer can add up to +2 to their firepower by spending additional Command Action Points (CAPS's).
Highly significant is the fact that it costs units a number of Action Points to fire (or move or rally etc). The Russian T34/76c has to pay 5 Action Points (the top left number on the counter) out of an average allowance of 7 points to fire, so typically it only gets to fire once per round. The German Tiger, Panther and PzIVh on the other hand cost 3 AP's to fire, so typically they will get to fire twice per round, substantially increasing their chances of doing harm.
My earlier comment on the 'softer result' is that if a gun scores more than 4 higher than the enemy defence, then the target is simply destroyed, but those shots that are equal to or greater than the defensive value but not more than 4 higher, result in a casualty marker being added to the vehicle instead. It is the latter situation that is more common in the game.
|Just two of the several types of casualty markers that |
might be drawn following a hit.
The chits add a nice layer of narrative to the system, though some may feel that a first time kill should be easier to get. Regardless - it works and all the mechanics in this system seem to integrate well to get the right result.
On the above counters, note the light damage does not actually degrade the tank, but the tank cannot rally from it, so it will stay with the tank, meaning the next hit will see it off - that is a big liability to be carrying around. The suppressed counter can be removed by a rally action (roll 8 or more), but while it is on the unit, those modifiers on the counter affect the corresponding factors on the tank factor, so the +1 top left will cause the tank to pay an extra Action Point to fire, this would see the cost of a Tiger firing from 3 to 4 action points (so perhaps now firing only once per round) - but here suppression is having the biggest impact on firepower values, especially that -5 on the anti-armour gun value.
Overall, the values in the game feel right and vehicles tend to sit in their correct place in the 'pecking order'. In real world action, a T34/76 should generally not be able to take a Tiger I out frontally and should need to close down to within 100 metres to start being a threat. The T34/85 should only be able to frontally engage a Tiger I from around 500 metres or less. The game is generally reflecting that, though sometimes a player will spend two CAP to improve their attack value by +2 for important shots and that does make a difference here.
However, it is all softened by the fact that it is harder to get a critical hit (outright kill) and that units instead will often just pick up a hit. If hit, the vehicle collects a casualty marker, which may cause some kind of incapacitation, two of which will see them off (this can result in a gamey tactic that once an enemy vehicle is casualty marked, everything else is tempted to fire at it to try and see it off before it recovers ...... unless they have more pressing targets!). It is this grey area of destruction that keeps the armour system from being too predictable and too transparent. I like that. It brings less certainty, better narrative and I prefer systems that break away from technical penetration charts and embrace all the other factors that affect penetration such as strike angle, armour quality, crew quality, ammunition quality, hit location and chance. Abstraction seems the best way to do that sort of thing.
I feel that sometimes we forget that the dice are part of the story. They are not just about scores, fails and passes - they represent everything that can happen on a battlefield without adding a raft of other rules. When I roll a 12 in this game, I imagine that the firer is wide awake and has seen the threat before the threat saw him or perhaps the shell has struck armour at a point already weakened and cracked by yesterdays action. When I roll a 2, the firer is nursing a broken wrist, the turret hydraulics have a fault, the gun has jammed, the wrong ammo was slammed into the gun breach, a stray mortar shell has landed nearby and caused a momentary distraction etc.
So where did we get up to with our T34/76c V Tiger I analysis?
Well in an unmodified situation we will show the T34 in open ground at 19 hexes away from the Tiger. This is just beyond the Tiger's normal range (18 hexes) and so its attack value will be reduced by -2 accordingly. Needing a 9 or more to hit, there is no chance of a straight knock out and there is a 28% chance of gaining a casualty marker. We are just talking about around 1000 metres here and purists might frown, expecting to see a knockout possible for the Tiger and even a higher chance of just a 'plain old hit' - but most tactical games need this sort of brake on reality so that we can still enjoy the differences between vehicles in our relatively small gaming area.
Once the T34 gets inside that 18 hex range band, the chances of a hit go up to 59% with a 9% chance of an outright kill. The Tiger could pay an additional 2 CAP if available and that would take those chances of to 83% and 28% respectively - but remember, there is only so much CAP available ...... or perhaps none!
|The development of the T-34 series from models a to c. There are interesting subtle differences. An important feature of the tank being a speed boost (indicated by the two blue symbols).|
From here, all the way to being within 10 hexes (around 450 metres) of the Tiger nothing changes. But at 10 hexes, the Tiger is now within normal gun range of the T34, which could fire back, needing a 12 to hit (3% chance) or an increased chance of 17% if two CAP are spent. A straight knockout will not happen but a casualty marker would be drawn as a result of a hit (and 1 in 20 of those markers is a 'destroyed' result, so perhaps we should have regard that this subsequent chance (5%) of a straight kill does exist - it is very slight though and the T34 is more likely to want to move than trade shots with a Tiger!).
Note - if the T34 was the 85mm model, in this same position, the chance of a hit is 17% enhanced to 42% if CAP are spent, though even with CAP spent, there is only a 3% chance of an outright kill (needing double sixes to get 12).
|Left side is the attacker, on the right the target. The numbers|
show the base chance of a hit. I have added the T34/85 to the bottom row just to compare with the T34/76c above it.
If the T34/76 was instead approaching the Tiger's flank, it would have a basic 17% chance of hitting, better, but Tiger flank armour is particularly tough. Against the thinner Panther flank armour this chance would increase to 59% and against the more comparable Panzer IVh, a flank shot would have a basic 72% chance of a hit (and a 17% chance of an outright knockout).
Anyway, the T34 will continue to move closer to the front of the Tiger. Our next change comes when the T34 gets adjacent to the target because they get the +3 modifier. Here the T34 has a base chance of 28% of hitting the Tiger (enhanced to 59% if assisted by CAP or if attacking the flank /rear of Tiger while adjacent).
Finally if the T34 gets into the same hex has the enemy, they get a big +4 bonus plus the flank armour value of the defender is used regardless of the direction of attack. This gives 72% chance of success with a 17% chance of an instant knock-out and that would obviously become more certain if CAP were added.
The above chart shows that for much of the approach range, the Tiger I has a 59% chance of a hit. I think this works for the enjoyment of the game and enhanced drama. It is also noted that this is only the base figure and it could change with other factors added in such as terrain, CAP expenditure or card play etc.
When I looked at the Lock 'n Load system, at mid range, a Tiger was hitting a T34 58% of the time at this range and then when going on to test penetration, getting a knockout 66% of the time - so the L'nL example on the face of it looks a little deadlier on the base roll for a single fire event, though CoH does get the chance to increase the effect of a shot and more importantly, the Tiger has every chance of firing two and perhaps three (if CAP are spent) times before going spent and in that regard, suddenly the Tiger can look a little more dangerous than the other systems I mention.
All this of course is based upon the later T34/76c going up against the Tiger (our bench test for all other similar articles on this blog), against the more likely opponents on the battlefield, the T34 would have a much more equal fight and moreso as the T34/85 model started to come on line.
|Development of the KV1 from early to late. The latter is |
up gunned and up-armoured, great in defence, but still a
struggle against the 'big cats' when firing.
The T-34 also has a movement advantage as it can move further per activation in the open or on a road, so it can close faster with the enemy positions. This is clearly illustrated below. The system does reinforce the stereo-type view that the Tigers need to destroy their foe at a distance, to keep them at arms length, while the T-34 need to get up close and personal to the big cats. That holds true in an open expanse, but becomes much more interesting once the Soviet player can start to use terrain in their line of approach.
Replay - A chap called David (known as Snowman) has put a video up at BoardGameGeek called "You wouldn't send a Churchill Mk III up against a Tiger .... would you?". There is a link to that video at the foot of this page. It is very useful to illustrate the interaction of play and the gun / armour system. I have copied his set-up but swapped out the Churchill Mk III's for T34/76c's - the end result was dramatically different to that shown in the video, mostly due to the ability of the T34 to advance so rapidly and overwhelm the Tiger. The following notes outline my mini game, but I would urge the reader to go to the video link to compare the two events, it is interesting.
As per David's game, I am not using CAPs or cards and each unit's Action Point level is fixed at 7, this will be very basic without external influences.
Above - the lone Tiger is protecting one end of the village, looking out over open fields.
Above - This is the battlefield, two T-34's will enter on the lower left hand edge and a single T34 will enter on the upper left hand edge. In the video, the Russians proceed to cross the fields and close with the Tiger, so I will follow that plan in the same fashion that David did.
Above - Each time a T34 makes a decision to move it spends 1 Action Point (from its allocation of 7 points) and moves 1 hex, the same way that the Churchills do in the video. However, the fast T34's have two bonus symbols which mean they move an additional two open hexes per AP spent. Compared to the Churchills these will race up the board.
Play alternates back and forth between players after every action (i.e. after each time a counter does something). The Tiger passes, safe in the knowledge that if the other player also passes the round will end and that is not what the Russian player will want. So the active T-34 spends another AP and again moves three hexes. Play reverts to the German player who now decides to activate the Tiger, getting 7 AP's to use on it. Three AP's are spent for them to fire. It scores a hit on the T-34.
A casualty chit is blindly drawn, which is a suppression marker. This penalises the T34 when firing but not when moving, so it Moves again, advancing another 3 hexes, hoping to outflank the Tiger. This puts it in a blind spot as the Tiger cannot see beyond the building to its left. So for the Tigers action, it spends 1 AP and advances forward and turns to face the T34 (the Tiger now has 3 AP's left). The active T34 moves towards the side of the village behind the Tigers position in an effort to outflank it. The Tiger spends its last 3 AP's to fire and gets another hit on the T34 destroying it. The problem is that the Tiger has now spent all of its AP's and so is flipped to its used side.
The other two T34's that have not entered the map yet will be able to use their AP's to get right up to the Tiger without the Tiger (no AP's left and no CAP or cards in play that otherwise may have helped) being able to respond. In David's video, the slower Churchills were only have been able to crawl up the map, giving the Tiger plenty of chance to engage them.
One T34 enters the village from the right flank and moves into the rear hex of the Tiger. The other T34 sees a better move, it just goes directly ahead and enters the same hex as the Tiger, but runs out of AP's, so cannot attack until the next round, both sides are eager to win the initiative in the next round.
The Germans get it. But, despite their big gun, the +4 bonus for an 'in hex' attack and being able to fire at the T34 flank armour rating when in Close Combat, they only roll a 3 on the attack dice and so the total is enough to only hit but not destroy the T-34 outright - that was unexpected!
The Russian player draws a 'Damaged Gun' chit and sighs, but then realises that the chit has a red (not blue) gun symbol so only affects the anti-infantry fire from the vehicle not the anti-armour shots - so it activates next, gets 7 AP's and uses 5 of them to fire. They get 9 (firepower) +4 (in hex bonus) +9 (the dice score) = 22 against the Tiger's flank value of 19, so a hit resulting in a casualty chit draw.
The German player pulls a 'panicked' chit out of the cup. This will stop the Tiger from firing, but the Tiger can at least attempt to rally this chit away by rolling 9 or better. They don't have enough AP's remaining to do it this round. Instead the Tiger spends 2 AP's and reverses out of the hex. The T34 spends 1 AP and stays with the Tiger. The Germans then spend their last 2 AP's to again reverse out of its hex, but again the T34 stays with it. Now both the Tiger and T34 have expended their AP allowance for the round and are flipped to their spent side.
The remaining T34 activates, spends 1 AP and changes face. It then spends another AP to advance 1 hex and another AP to enter close combat. It would like to attack the Tiger, but does not have enough AP's left to do that (needs 5 AP's to attack) this round and so we go to the next round - everything flips back to its fresh side.
Again the Germans win the initiative, they attempt to rally to lose that yellow hit marker. They pay 5 AP's and need to roll 9 or more on 2 x D6 ..... they roll 2! This is the second seriously unlucky German roll today. Play goes over to the Russian, who attacks the Tiger, causing a hit and with this being the second hit, the Tiger is removed from play as being destroyed.
Compared to David's video, the reader can see the clear advantages that the T-34 has in terms of speed and here it has allowed them to overrun and overwhelm the Tiger. In a 'real' game, there would have been other units to interfere with the T34's (Tiger formations initially had a Pz III company attached to work as a team to help prevent this sort of thing) and the German player may have access to useful cards or CAP's. They may have done better had they fallen back a bit, just to extend their fire capability into the next round .... but mostly they failed due to two unlucky dice rolls and the speed of the attack. In this system and in open terrain, the T34 is fast - Tigers beware!
Conclusion - The counters are easy to read, large for good handling and the system is very streamlined with a minimum of modifiers being needed. It is to the credit of the designer that this simplicity manages to bring the right feel to the table and vehicles seem to give an account of themselves that feels instinctively right, while delivering the sort of drama that is engaging for both players.
Designing a gun /armour system that considers both hit and harm aspects of fire from a single roll on 2 x D6 is a challenge due to the tight range of results. The fact that here the designer manages through a variety of processes to meld everything together to bring a working model that does so well is something to admire. The game looks good and has an instinctive feel rather than a mechanical feel.
So well done Uwe Eickert and his team.
Resources - Some great Gun / Armour tables
There is a chap at BGG who runs through a rather nice short video example of Churchill mkIII's advancing on a Tiger I. It illustrates some of the above points and shows how the 'impulse' type activation works.