MBT

If Avalon Hill ever get around to issuing IDF, this should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. MBT is a "1 vehicle per counter" simulation of modern warfare, IDF is the promised Gulf and Israeli Wars expansion. MBT is a set of minatures rules in a box but with counters and maps so as not to frighten the casual TAHGC buyer. Quite why they did not release it in a similar form to Napoleon's Battles is a mystery, still instead of handy terrain cards we are stuck with the old 4 geomorphic mapboards. Needless to say these do not match up with any in previous TAHGC games, you can swop them around as much as you like but the basic layout of hills and towns will quickly become familiar. It is strange that TAHGC have never redrawn their many geomorphic mapboards into compatible families, ASL, MBT/Panzerblitz scale and ultra-tactical Firepower could be 3 streams. We already have a wide choice of ASL maps, alas the houses on these are the wrong scale for MBT but the more rural boards can be pressed into service at a pinch.

If TAHGC were to redraw mapboards from older games, keeping the terrain features in the same places, they could sell the "new" boards to owners of the old games and to new buyers wanting to expand MBT or Firepower. All this seems far too sensible and likely to make money ever to find favour with TAHGC, who trashed Arab-Israeli Wars, then commissioned IDF to replace it, which they never released. To get back to the point, the boards of MBT are fairly open with a couple of small towns, even calling a patch of green, clear 1 game and woods the next, will not offer the sort of variety our figure gaming chums can get. An appendix to the rules suggests using figures and a table, the boards we get would certainly not do for Bosnia or a built up area (how about the Cortes map? No, then its back to Cityfight and good luck gentlemen.)

In short if you have the figures and the space, consider using MBT. If not, you have to put up with the maps and cardboard, vehicle counters represent an MBT, MICV or a few specialist types for each of 3 armies, infantry are squads. Thus if you want to field a force with more than 1 type of, say, MBT, then you had better note which counter is which because they will all look the same. The 3 armies are USA, Rooskies and FRG, yup no Brits (or French or South Africans and so on), MBT is firmly set in the Cold War although you can invade Poland. The equipment presented is up to date, M2A3's, T80B's but does lack the Hummer range of scout vehicles, probably too light for Germany but used in the Gulf, the US Marine APC is also lacking (seen in Somalia). If you want to fight 2 Soviet type armies, Russia vs. Moravia, the FRG will have to be pushed in without looking too hard at the piccies, figure gamers will not have to worry about this.

Each vehicle and infantry type in the game is detailed on an A5ish card, some similar models share the same card (BMP 1 and BMP 1R) but you will need a card in play for most unit types. Unless you are a dab hand at card tricks, best stick to 4 or 5 per side, MBT, MICV, infantry (1 card for all types in a nation) and a missile carrier is a fair selection and what you might expect in a combined arms situation. Many more types will lead to a lot of shuffling and looking for the card that has fallen under the table. Each card details all the offensive capabilities of a unit plus its ability to take damage. Instead of having to look up that the missile armament of a M2A2 is a TOW, then read the TOW effects chart, every unit having a TOW has the effects of that weapon on its card, together with all other weapons available. Great idea, but to actually work out hits, the atacker's card is checked for chance of hitting, this value is adjusted by player aid card and % dice rolled. If hit the defender's card is checked for position of hit and penetration based on the penetration value on the attackers card, lastly the effect of the hit is checked on the attacker's card. This process is for firing at vehicles with Kinetic or Chemical rounds and missiles, the process for shelling light vehicles and the PBI is easier but still requires 3 cards. Often a stage can be cut, many missiles cut through MICVs like butter so there is no need to check for where you hit, other shots are bound to fail so check the penetration before rolling. The level of detail in the to hit system is higher than many a gamer or tankie would want to know. It may be crucial on the test range to know why we miss or hit but out on the cardboard the bottom line is, miss, hit but bounce off, hit or blow up with clouds of smoke messing up the nice tidy battlefield. Even this can be cut to hit or miss if speed is essential, there is not a lot of speed in MBT, with practice individual attacks are pretty swift but if there are a few of these, the time mounts up.

To keep games to 2 or 3 hours, I have been using 10 to 20 counters a side, I can live with games simulating long campaigns hanging around the house for days but simulations of 1/2 hour battles I prefer to get over with quickly. Keeping the games small also avoids the use of Helicopters and supporting artillery both less likely to be called in for this size of battle and keeping the play simpler. On paper the old Soviet equipment is quite impressive, not quite up to the best USA stuff but not bad, in practice it has been shot up badly in Palestine and the Gulf. TAHGC has decided that this equipment is indeed good (rather than Ladas with armour bolted on) but that Soviet training is basically flawed. In MBT all but the best Russian units are subject to doctrine, tactical groups of 3 or 4 are represented by 1 counter and a strength marker. This makes a Russian force consist of fewer units than any other, although the lower points values of Soviet equipment (because much of it is rubbish) means that the Russian force will have more fighting vehicles and squads. All the members of the group move as 1, fire at the same target and have the same orders, if any are damaged they are left behind (removed from game). In contrast the Western armies all operate with 1 counter per combat unit, far more flexible in movement and allowing groups to split fire as they choose. The system has some basis in fact, Red Army tank crews were chosen for their small size (to fit in the tank) rather than any innate skill, MICVs are taught to stick close to the dismounted infantry to provide fire support. The problem with this system in the game is that a group of MICVs and infantry may take losses, leaving too few vehicles to carry the surviving PBI, are the remaining infantry allowed to mount up and kiss their erstwhile colleagues goodbye? I allow this, it splits up the unit but represents the Red Army disregard for the individual.

The actual game system of MBT owes a little (but not a lot) to Firepower, there is no need to write orders for units (although artillery fire must be plotted) but each unit is given a fire or a move counter at the beginning of every turn, the exact facing of which will be the unit's orders. The fire counter may be turned to order, guns fired, ATGW fired or overwatch, units with any of these orders do not have to fire but may not move. The option of firing and moving is available as a move order, the unit counts as moving for firing and moving (harder to fire, harder to hit) even if it does not move later in the turn. The game sequence is rigid, all units get orders, all fire guns (simultaneous), all fire missiles (simultaneous, unless knocked out in the gun phase) all move (sequential), infantry may come to blows by close assault but will often be shot up by this stage. During the turn units will accumulate marker counters for being spotted moving or firing (if a target cannot be seen, it cannot be fired at), laying smoke, suppression and turret position. Add this lot to the order counter and you may have difficulty finding the fighting unit, vehicles are 3/4" so are not as swamped as infantry (1/2") by the 1/2" markers. Try to cut down by allowing groups of units to follow the same order and doing away with the turret marker. The game allows vehicles to be open (see further) or buttoned (safer) and to rotate a gun turret, all covered by the way up and facing of turret markers. It is usually wise to turn the entire vehicle to fire a gun so as not to expose weak side or rear armour to the target, do this and you won't need the turret markers except when it is unclear if a vehicle is buttoned. As the enemy is found and missiles start to fly just about everyone will button up, only in the early moves will units stay open to spot for targets.

It is clear that the level of detail presented in MBT will be more than is acceptable by many boardgamers, it will be of no surprise to figure gamers who are well acquainted with this sort of thing. The commonly used Challenger 2000 rules are just as detailed as this but very poorly laid out compared to this product, even so at 5ish (including the essential equipment list) they are considerably cheaper and widely used. A definite drawback of MBT is the limited number of vehicle types available, the back up General article(26/3) missed out by only providing 2 new cards. If IDF ever comes out we could see new Israeli equipment plus a little British made stuff and perhaps the odd AMX, even so there will still be gaps in the world arms market represented. It is precisely this lack of support by TAHGC that will condemn MBT and IDF to be fringe games, good for a swift bash but doomed to be superseded by some future system, the nature of the cards makes home grown expansions tricky. Use of tipex and a photocopyer yielded the blank cards that TAHGC thought not to provide but the sheer amount of (worthless) detail on the cards means it will be hard to match the original cards exactly. Consider the Challenger, boasting a gun not represented in the game (but with much the same effect as the M1A1 gun), similar armour to the M1A1 but a different shape, necessitating some extensive rejigging on the hit and armour profiles. If TAHGC had taken the risk to produce modules of mapboards and vehicle sets for MBT the system would continue to grow and be current, new developments are always upsetting the arsenals of cardboard and real modern armies. The sheer shelf space taken up by ASL is a message to the buyer, "if it's that big it must be being bought, hence it must be OK". With that sort of support MBT/IDF could rival the even more complex Challenger system for modern gaming, as the system stands the game remains isolated and out of supply.