Jason Carr is a member of the Tank Duel design team and will be writing a series of articles describing the concepts, gameplay, strategies, and history behind Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs. Each article will focus on a different part of the game through an extended example of play. The focus of this first article is the level of detail in the Tank Duel system, and the overlapping constraints that the design team has taken into account when designing the game. Enjoy!
“Tank Tales” is an article series appearing on InsideGMT periodically. It features articles from the Tank Duel development team regarding the game’s design, development and upcoming release.
Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs is a fast paced tank-to-tank battle card game set during the battles in the Eastern Front of World War II. Two to eight players take on the role of a tank commander, using their hand of Battle Cards to move, target, fire, and conceal their tank, while attempting to score Victory Points by completing scenario objectives and destroying enemy tanks. A great tank commander will inspire his crew and pay careful attention to morale, while shrewdly maneuvering and attacking his enemy.
One of the challenges with designing any game system is carefully balancing historical accuracy with playability. As any game designer will tell you, these details are easy enough to discuss but quite difficult to turn into a game. While designing the Tank Duel system, designer Mike Bertucelli has focused on finding ways to evoke the strategy and feel of tank warfare within a streamlined, quick, and easy-to-understand ruleset. The result encapsulates the history and tactics of tank-to-tank warfare while maintaining fidelity to the historical battles of World War II.
One example of this tradeoff is in the hit and damage resolution system used in Tank Duel. In tank-to-tank combat, one of the determining factors in whether a shell would penetrate a tank’s armor was the effective thickness of the armor. Simply, the steeper the angle of attack, the more armor the shell had to penetrate in order to perforate the armor of the tank and deal effective damage. Early versions of the game determined whether a shot penetrated the armor of the tank by comparing the penetration ability of the gun against the effective thickness of the armor given the angle of attack.
During and after the war, all the major powers collected data about the guns used by friendly and enemy powers. This data is inconsistent, but even the most straightforward data shows a normal distribution of outcomes. This normal distribution means that sometimes expected results did not materialize, and that distribution doesn’t account for the reality of field combat. Even small changes in the angle or location of a shot change those outcomes, compounded by varying armor thicknesses, moving targets across uneven ground, and idiosyncrasies in the designs of the tanks themselves. All of these factors meant that the original system ended up being a huge oversimplification.
More recent versions of the system rely instead on probabilities to determine whether a shot penetrates the armor of the target. The model of tank, range from the target, angle of attack (shooting up or down hill), type of round, and location of the hit all influence the probability that a round will penetrate the armor and damage the target. Additionally, a Battle Card adds or subtracts its penetration modifier to the shot, simulating the unpredictability of the field of battle. This makes for an exciting and tense resolution to battle, as cards are drawn to check for penetration modifier, critical hit, damage and morale.
While the hit and damage resolution abstracts the physics of combat into probabilities, the movement is also highly abstracted. Tank Duel has no board; instead players track their distance from the center of the battlefield. The relationship between the tanks is represented in the game by sighting, acquiring targets, flanking/rotating the turret on the tank, and the variety of terrain in the game. These provide for a great opportunity to visualize the battlefield and weave a narrative into each game.
The main benefit to this tradeoff comes in the play time; some scenarios are playable in as little as 30-60 minutes. Other scenarios, especially with more players, will take proportionally longer. These abstractions also mean that despite taking turns sequentially, players will experience very little downtime compared to other games in this genre.