Saturday, May 5, 2018

What A Tanker! is an enjoyable light tank battle wargame

I've been listening to a British podcast, Meeples and Miniatures, for years, and have always noticed the respect in their voices those guys have for the small wargaming company Too Fat Lardies. Over the years, they have waxed on the WW2 and Napoleonic wargame rules the Lardies have put out.

The Lardies have always given me the impression they were die hard grognards and historical purists.. On the other hand, their company motto I believe is "Play the period, not the rules", so they don't sound like rules martinets either.

I have never bought anything from them before however, but for some reason, I recently dipped my toe when the podcast had the Lardies on to discuss their new light WW2 tank battle game called What A Tanker! (the Brits and their humour :-)).  I pre-ordered it and it came in the mail recently.

Pre-ordering historical wargames however, is not my usual cup of tea. I'm a big history buff, especially World War II, but I strangely have never had the urge to play history. My gaming tastes run to sci-fi or fantasy, and I love Weird War, but not pure historical stuff.

I still have two starter sets I bought years ago for the weird war two game Konflikt '47 to paint, but have still not had an overriding desire to play WW2, even the weird stuff, but it's on my to-do list.

So I took a chance here based on Too Fat Lardies' reputation. 

I was reading the rules for it when I heard it was positively received at the recent giant wargame convention Salute 2018.  This made me want to try it out in the near future.

It's a pure tank game, with no infantry, artillery or air support to complicate things. The tanks don't even bother with any secondary weapons in this game. It's pure vehicular skirmish. 

The Lardies sent me the rules, and some tokens that come with it. This is the first time I have ever seen actual buttons used as meeples. I at first couldn't tell if they sent me cheap junk but I realized it makes it very easy to remember if your tank is "buttoned up" or not, which affects your firing arc.

I also took the initiative after reading the rules to take six sided miniature bases and put an arrow on each as there are rules in the game for rotating tank turrets.

The rules per se are very easy to learn and game play, as my friend Jim and I were to discover, had an "enjoyable frustration" to it, if I can coin a phrase.

As my friend Jim was scheduled to play it today, I faced the problem that I didn't have any tanks of any scale to play with. I am not generally a 15mm player, and was not prepared to pay $50-100 for 6 15mm tanks and then paint them up just for a one-shot game.  A 15mm Flames of War unpainted tank for instance, is about $10-15 bucks.. Even if I did buy them and painted them up, what could I do with them afterward since I'm heavily invested in 28mm scale. Plus they are historical to boot, which I don't really play.

The rules state that you could play at any scale, but there is no way I would be able to paint 4-6 28mm tanks in time to play today.

So, I bought cheap 15mm plastic generic tanks to try out the game instead and numbered them in their rear.  Purists will be aghast, but I simply could not justify painting historically accurate tanks in 15mm scale at this point for rules I never tried.

Our scenario was 3 tanks each, totaling 35 points for both sides

Panzer IV F2-G    12 pts                    Sherman 75mm  12 pts
Panzer III N          10 pts                    Stuart                  10 pts
Stug III F              13 pts                    Wolverine           13 pts
                             --------                                              --------
                             35 pts                                                35 pts

There is a campaign section where your tank crew progresses to the end of the war if they survive. With a certain number of "kill rings", they progress to better and better tanks.  I've been reading that people are of course, growing attached to their tank crews after only a month of the rules coming out and become increasingly reluctant to risk them, but that of course, prevents you racking up kill rings if you don't take chances.

People are even playing the campaign solitaire, trying to be honest and rational for the enemy side when playing. 

Rules are pretty straightforward and complete in a nice softcover book on glossy paper.. I just had one minor quibble.... the campaign section lists all the tank stats from the US, UK, USSR, France, Germany, Italy and even Japan.. Even obscure stuff I barely remembered. They had all the pertinent information like lend lease Shermans sent to the Russians but I had to confirm by email to a friend if the Stug I was going to play had no turret. Perhaps the Lardies assume that grognards will play this game and that everyone knows that a Stug tank destroyer had no turret. Luckily, I remembered the Stug had no turret, but there is always the off chance a 13 year old kid playing in his mom's basement would not know this.. However, this is the only quibble I had with the rules.  

Each tank has a dashboard, with 6 command dice each.

These command dice are the heart of the game.. I colour-coded them for each tank as you also need dice for movement and firing, and you didn't want to mix them up. I used white die for the latter.

You need to roll a certain number on your command dice to take an action for each tank.. A roll of :

1  - You can move 2d6 forward, 1d6 backwards, over obstacles, etc
2-   You can acquire the target
3-   You can aim on the target
4-   You can fire on the target
5-   You can reload
6-   Wild die

You can't fire on a target if it's not both acquired and aimed at..

Jim and I discovered several times when we had the other guy in our sights but could not acquire the target, or aim, or couldn't reload, and every other possible "enjoyable frustration" that made the game fun.  To make matters more uncertain, one never knows if the other guy will go before you will next turn as initiative is rolled for all tanks at the beginning of a turn. Your tank may have gone first this turn, but next turn, could be dead last at the worst possible moment, as, say, you're caught out in the open.

Jim and I started at opposite ends and let loose the dogs of war at each other at a crossroads.

We rushed at each other headlong at first... Most shooting will be around 4 feet away as there is no benefit to getting in closer as it doesn't improve your To-Hit..

However, we moved in closer regardless.. 

I got behind the ruined building and fired to little effect..

Jim got bogged down in the woods and behind the large hill as he often could not roll enough "1"s to drive or maneuver around..

I had an abundance of 1s at one point and went over the difficult terrain and rotated my turret at his tank hiding behind the hill in a risky move..

 I went first and just needed a 6 to hit on a 2D6 roll as he was in the open, in my firing arc, and under 4 feet..

I fired and rolled less than a six.. I couldn't believe it..

Jim's tank then went but he was not able to acquisition.

The next turn, I fired again and missed! If I had rolled another 5, I would have been able to reload that turn and fire again, as I had a spare 4, but alas I didn't roll another 5 reload..

Again, Jim could not roll to get an acquisition again as he failed to roll a 2 or roll a wild die.. You get an automatic acquisition if you're unbuttoned, but need to roll a 2 if you're buttoned up.. However, he was buttoned up..  If either tank moves, you lose acquisition..

All these missed opportunities on both sides I imagine simulate the tank crew not being able to coordinate properly in the chaotic nature of battle..

I finally managed to hit on my third attempt and rolled a spectacular 3 point excess hit, blowing him up.  When you hit someone, they get to roll on their armour save, but Jim badly missed his armor roll and his tank blew up..

Now, we were down 3 tanks to 2.. I wanted to press my attack, but Jim surprised me by speedily hustling on my left flank by getting in front of me point blank. He then fired his deadly tank destroyer Wolverine on my front armour of one of my tanks, the Panzer III.

I sensed I was a goner..

However, I then had an amazing Dice Hall of Fame moment that saved me..

My stug which was lagging behind then had a clear shot on Jim's Wolverine, and again, I rolled critical hits, blowing up his Wolverine..

The game has two types of damage, permanent and temporary, with the latter meaning you set aside command dice until "repaired" by using up a wild die.. However, I kept rolling permanent damage on Jim's tanks, with him not even scratching me.

We were now down to 3 to 1 and I wanted to finish off Jim's Sherman in the woods.. We both did some back and forth trying to navigate the terrain and for me to get behind him or to his side..

Jim then cleverly maneuvered to block LOS to two of my tanks and fired on my Stug, causing 2 temporary damage hits..

I finally got to fire with my Panzer IV and missed..

My Panzer III however, was not able to roll a 3 "aim" even though I had him dead ahead in front of me..

Jim then realized my Stug had no turret, so he went beside it cleverly to give him some time to reload.. Perhaps he surmised that I was not about to pivot my Stug and collide, risking damage as well..

However, my Panzer IV had a clear shot to his rear.. the best position for a tanker I imagine, and rolled some crits, blowing him up..

I won the scenario..

All in all, I found the game play very easy but a bit of a nail biter at some times.. you can get exasperated at lost opportunities but also as well, some relieved gladness the other guy couldn't  X (load, aim, move etc) at the right time.

Thumbs up on this game.. Light but very enjoyable!

My friend Craig, who is the original grognard, will probably like this game. If he comes to town, like he has done on previous Labour Day weekends, then I would suggest Jim and I play this game with him and even paint up 15mm easily distinguished and correctly coloured tanks over the summer as a special treat, and not use these toy tanks.

Jim and I then spent the rest of the evening playing two sessions of this worker placement game he bought used for $15 called Age of Empire III.

I found the first game a bit frustrating but the second game, once I learned the game mechanics, was a lot better. AoE III is ten years old, but is not bad at all. I imagine with 3, 4, 5 players, it gets even better.

An enjoyable gaming day.


  1. A couple of points, TFL isn't all that small a company in their recent podcast Rich noted that they had sold 24,000 copies of their skirmish game Chan of Command alone.

    The button tokens aren't actually buttons they just are made to look like them.

    1. Good to know. I stand corrected.


  2. Looks like you had a great time! I just played WaT this morning actually, in France 1940. When you've got an armour value of two, things are indeed scary once the enemy begins shooting at you!

    Indeed a simple set of rules, but simple doesn't necessarily mean simplistic. As you say, lots of nail-biting and decision points. Highly recommended from my group.

    Although, if I mention a point of order - you don't lose acquisition if either tank moves. You lose aim if either tank moves. You lose acquisition only if either tank moves out of LoS.

    1. France, 1940.. uh.. I can imagine the low quality of tanks in that period. Will have to try it out that period one day.

      Glad you liked WaT as well. Good game system.

  3. Looks like an interesting game but no arty or infantry ? Seems like an expansion set needs to be done.