- Fernando Sola Ramos(Gustav6)Spain
Pilar de la Horadada
MBT, the new brainchild of Jim Day, has finally arrived, and it looks awesome. It is both a descendant of the classic MBT from Avalon Hill, which was released in 1989, and a sister game of Panzer, 2nd. Ed, with which it shares the game engine.
Initially the physical components are awesome, and the game engine is a proven one so, will this game be an improvement over the old one? Let's see it.
The new MBT comes in a box reminiscent of the old MBT, but with updated art. The cover is a very modern design and at the same time a tribute to the classic Avalon Hill’s MBT cover. Maybe, just maybe, there will be some (very purist) people that will complain about the use of M1A2s on the cover (an error?). First, because the type was not operative in 1987, and second, because it is not included in the game. I personally don’t care about this nimble detail and I think that the box, as it is, cries to be purchased.
When we open the box we find five double-sided geomorphic maps made of heavy cardstock (although not as heavy as ASL SK style maps). Hexes are big, 1’’ from side to side, and the terrain represents generic Central European terrain. They use a similar palette as Panzer, which is both a good and a bad thing. The good part is that the maps are very clear and readable and they’re fully compatible with Panzer, so you can combine maps from both games to create your own scenarios. The bad one is that graphics are a bit flat, especially if compared to other modern tactical games, but they are really functional and leave no doubts about hex terrain or LOS tracing.
Maps use code-names (for example, Alpha-1, Bravo-2, etc.) for towns and villages instead of actual names, which helps using them in more situations, as it would be strange to use maps with German village names in a France set scenario. Although some players claim this decreases immersion, other players, however, see this as more military immersive, as they name objectives this way. In the end it is a question of personal preferences.
With regards to terrain features, MBT uses the same terrain types as in Panzer, adding two more types: crops and brush. In future expansions, like FRG and BAOR, more terrain types will be introduced: airfields, wide rivers, elevated villages… but we’ll have to wait until the release of these expansions to see this.
All in all, the maps are correct and varied, although they represent, from my point of view, the weakest part of this game.
The game comes with six counter sheets. Each vehicle, gun and aircraft is represented by a big 7/8’’ counter; and each squad, half-squad, section and each system marker is represented by a 5/8’’ counter. Vehicles, guns and aircraft are represented by top down drawings and leg units by side drawings.
Counters, both of units and markers, are colourful and easy to read. Markers use typical GMT graphics, which are OK; and units use nice and high quality drawings. The vehicle counters are fantastic, and the leg unit counters are also wonderful. Maybe figures are a bit static, but that’s all.
There are three books in MBT: Basic and Advanced & Optional rules books and the Playbook. The books are printed in full colour, at two columns and with a correct font size, which eases reading.
The structure of the rules is logical and the books are full of examples and colour graphics. They contain tables of content, index and glossary. The scenarios, which are contained in the playbook, come also in full colour and use actual game graphics at full size. The playbook also contains the US and Soviet Orders of Battle, TO&Es for both nationalities, an alternate history which introduces you to the game (this is a nice touch), a unit summary chart, the formation summary and the combat effects summary (which in Panzer was contained in Game Card C).
The books are printed in semi-gloss paper and they are easily readable, very clear and of good quality.
MBT is a complex game, but thanks to the numerous play aids things are easier than the sheer volume of rules would suggest.
The four full colour Data Card Keys explain all the elements of the Data Cards.
There are two Game Cards, one for each player, that contains Game Cards A and B. These two cards contain all the charts and tables needed to play the game. They are colour coded for ease of play and they are both attractive and functional. As a side note, in MBT the Game Cards have been reduced from the Panzer’s four to two, not losing any bit of information in the process (although it must be said that the combat effects summary has been included in the Playbook).
Finally, the stars of the play aids: the 28 full colour unit Data Cards. They contain all the information of the different units (weapons, movement, armour, etc.) and are made of very thick cardboard. They are durable and sturdy: a dream come true. The only problem they offer is that you may don’t know how to store them, as they take up a lot of space, but having seen so many times other low quality components in similar games, I wish this was a problem I could find more often. They’re a perfect ten.
MBT comes with four ten-sided dice and a handful of ziplock bags to store your counters, as in other GMT games.
MBT shares the game engine with Panzer, 2nd. Ed., although with some steroids. If you want a more detailed review of the game mechanics, you can read the review of Panzer at: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1611143/panzer-review-p...
Nevertheless, I’ll make a summary of the game mechanics following the sequence of play:
A very important phase where you determine which units are spotted and which aren’t. Terrain, spotting conditions, sights, unit status, etc., affect the spotting ability.
The true heart of the game. Units are given commands in order to perform different actions during the game (firing, moving, ambushing, calling artillery strikes, close assaulting, etc.) There are five basic commands: fire, move, short-halt, overwatch and no-command.
As in real life, you will never have enough commands for all your units. The number of commands available will depend on each formation’s grade, which limits the total number of commands available for that said formation, and the command span of each HQ unit, which limit the number of move and short-halt commands that can be given if units are beyond that command span.
Once commands are placed, players roll for initiative, which depends on the force grade. The better the grade, the higher the probability of getting the initiative, and thus, to fire first (because in MBT, actions are sequential, not simultaneous, as they were in the old Avalon Hill version.)
Initiative depends on a single die roll, but there is provision to break initiative into a formation by formation basis for those that are not comfortable with the standard Initiative rule.
Spotting, Initiative and command placing make up the command and control layer of MBT and, believe me, you won’t find anything like this in any other tactical game (well, you will: in Panzer). A real gem.
4-First Air Phase.
In this phase players fly their toys trying to destroy unaware units that stay in the open. In addition to fixed wing aircraft, as in Panzer, MBT offers players the possibility of using helicopters, which are true monsters of the battlefield, as they can perform devastating attacks in both air phases.
If you’ve read my Panzer review you surely will have an idea of the combat system in MBT. AP combat, with range, armour facing, shell types, cover… And GP combat, with its ability to either suppress or destroy enemy units, including tanks.
But the combat system in MBT, as it couldn’t be any other way, is expanded with the addition of new weapon systems and technology like ATGMs, composite armour, ERA, vision devices… The system is still streamlined, but with a bit of added complexity when all those devices are present. This slows the pace of the game in comparison with Panzer, but the experience is still fun, deep and rewarding. The combat system works and you feel all is in place to give the right feeling of being in a modern battlefield. In addition, the scale, which seemed a bit off sometimes in Panzer, now is perfect for modern weapon ranges.
As with Panzer, experiencing the combat system is worth the effort and it is so impressive that you could purchase this game only to use it. It may be demanding, but addictive.
During the movement phase units perform Close Assault combat, Hand to Hand combat, and normal movement. Everything is the same as Panzer, but the technology jump is obvious and now the scale of the game, as it happens with combat, really fits in. Modern units are much more mobile than their WW2 counterparts and you get the feeling you play more the manoeuvre game than in Panzer.
7-Second Air Phase.
If your aircraft didn’t enter the battlefield during the first air phase, they can do it now. In the case of helicopters, they perform another attack during the Second Air Phase (monsters, remember?)
In this phase players move turrets, go to or out of full cover, try to recover from suppression, adjust morale and adjust counters.
After all this is done, the turn finishes and another one begins.
MBT is at the same difficulty level as Panzer, but with some added detail due to the addition of modern weapons. But as it happened with Panzer, you can adapt complexity to your taste or level.
MBT is presented in three complexity levels: basic, advanced and optional. The basic game only deals with vehicles and introduces the very basics of spotting, command and control, and AP combat. The advanced rules expand command and control and AP combat and introduces rules for indirect fire, aircraft, limited ammo, GP combat… Finally, the optional rules introduce new rules and concepts (morale between them) and add more realism to some existing rules, but at the cost of adding complexity and an increased play time.
The strategy factor was present in Panzer and it is present in MBT, but I would say that the manoeuvre game becomes more important than in Panzer, as MBT weapons are more devastating, so you have to search for safe routes, cover terrain or hull down positions more thoroughly. This means that move and short-halt commands will be given more often than in Panzer, as well as OW commands to counter them.
Taking the above in mind, I would say that the strategy factor of MBT is greater than Panzer’s (which was great indeed). Placing commands knowing how initiative works and your chances of winning it, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your equipment and your opponent’s, seeking the distance where you can improve your chances of hitting and damaging your enemy while keeping his odds low, and restraining own casualties to keep your combat ability, are factors you have to keep in mind all the time.
The luck factor has to do with the probability of losing (or winning) games due mostly to luck issues. In MBT, luck is present, as in almost every game, but you can keep it under control most of the time. You always know the probabilities of succeeding on what you want to do, so luck will intervene if you keep on playing against the odds.
The major issue comes when we talk about Initiative. Although Force Grade has its impact on winning (or not) the Initiative, luck has also a lot to do with it. This is a major complain of some players, who claim they lost games by losing the initiative in critical moments. From my point of view, this is something positive: this is war. You can’t never be sure how the enemy will react, so you have to plan carefully which orders to give to your units. Nevertheless, the aforementioned staggered initiative rule minimises this effect.
MBT is a sequential game, so there are times when both players have a lot to do, while there are others when one player has to wait until the other finishes with all his units.
There are other modern games that use impulses to maintain both players busy during turns. Others use variable unit activations. In MBT, in order to attain its deep simulation value, player interaction has been somewhat sacrificed, although there always are actions to be performed by the non-phasing player (OW fire, close combats, etc.) But this is not MBT’s major point.
MBT comes with 10 scenarios. It may sound as not too much, but trying them using the different complexity levels can take some time (more than you'd expect). Nevertheless, MBT provides rules for creating your own scenarios and expansions (FRG and BAOR by now) will be added shortly, so the number of scenarios will increase.
As of this writing, and to be fair to the truth, with only ten scenarios available the replay value of MBT doesn’t reach the level of Panzer, but time will remedy this. Nevertheless, don’t forget to check The Panzer Pusher site from time to time, as new scenarios will be posted there for sure.
Only to experiment the combat system of MBT is worth the time spent on learning it. But when all things MBT offers are put together, the game experience is really outstanding. It offers both an accurate combat simulation and a fun experience.
I talked about narrative in the Panzer review, defining it as the soft factor of a game. It is something untouchable, even affective, that is what most players tend to remember or to talk about after finishing a game.
MBT is more a hard game than a soft game, but narrative is present. Initiative change, unexpected hits or ricochets or sudden appearance of hidden units help conform the narrative of MBT. But there is one more thing that will boost the narrative part of the game when the expansions are released: the new Leader rules. They will add a new dimension to the game, as they will be able to be added to scenarios as an optional rule and they can be the backbone of some user created campaign-like games, where leaders can promote along a series of scenarios. But that is something that has not happened. It will add to narrative for sure, but these rules are not present yet.
Although there are many elements in MBT that are better suited for two players (the secret nature of command placement, the hidden unit rules, etc.), it is undeniable that MBT is actually very well suited for solitaire play.
You have to sacrifice some aspects of the game, but the sequential nature of it makes it very solitaire friendly. This is always a plus when one purchases a game.
OTHER GAME ELEMENTS
MBT shares theme and scale with the following games:
World at War series
MechWar 2: Red Star / White Star
MBT, designed by Jim Day (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/1922/james-m...), offers a game with a classic touch but updated to nowadays standards and tastes. It is detailed, but straightforward at the same time. It explores a potential conflict, which can be something interesting to both expansions and to player custom creations, as this gives designers much more freedom when designing materials for the game. MBT also feels like a computer game in many cases, not in the sense of playing like an arcade game (this is not the case), but in the sense of dealing with a lot of actual real-world data, like in a simulator (bear in mind that Jim Day was responsible of some of the most interesting PC game simulators of the early 90s, like F-15 Strike Eagle III, Gunship 2000 or Across the Rhine). And, as you have noted in the Similar to section, the theme of MBT, WW3, is something not very explored in modern wargames, so its uniqueness factor is high.
Designer/Publisher support: Living rules, play aids, articles…
MBT, like Panzer, receives a lot of support from GMT: you can have access to the rulebooks, playbooks, map samples, play examples, etc.
There are also designer articles in InsideGMT.
Add-ons: scenarios, maps, campaigns, units, magazines…
MBT will add two expansions in a near future: FRG and BAOR, and newer expansions should not be discarded: IDF, earlier WW3, etc.
But by now, MBT has not received any expansions yet. They will come.
There are active forums in BGG and CSW (http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX/.ee6e112/2733) and MBT is also supported by The Panzer Pusher site: https://sites.google.com/site/thepanzerpusher/
Online play: VASSAL/Cyberboard/ZunTzu…
MBT has a very well done VASSAL module made by Rob Doane. It is graphically astonishing and it enables players to play MBT via online.
MBT offers a high quality product in an awesome package. The graphical aspect of the game is outstanding. The game engine is detailed but streamlined at the same time, offering a very deep and fun simulation. Complexity, although high, can be adapted to fit player's tastes. It is replayable on its own, but two expansions are planned to join the fiesta. It is solitaire friendly and it offers some pluses: dedicated fan site, a very good vassal module, a very good support from the designer/publisher, etc.
Is this MBT an improvement over the old one? The answer is, definitely, yes.
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- Silver BowenUnited States
Texas44, that's me!
- There is also an 11th scenario (free) at the GMT website.
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- Nadir Elfarra(Nadir_E)United States
CaliforniaI'm here to kick ass and chew bubblegum...
- Great (and thorough!) review, Fernando!
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- Cracky McCracken(Cracky)United States
Thanks for the review and the Panzer Pusher site, well done!
Everything has teeth in MBT. Even lighter vehicles such as the Bradley are equipped with racks of Anti-Tank Guided Missiles. Leg units are equipped with some serious weapon systems as well. I haven't even made it to the point where I can mix in aircraft yet, still making my way through the rules, but the battlefields of 1987 are lethal! Mistakes will lead to fiery wrecks scattered around all over the place.
The hypothetical nature of the conflict and the outstanding Playbooks make MBT a sandbox system that reminds me of a tabletop miniatures campaign. First you're taught how to use the system to generate plausible scenarios, and than ten scenarios are pre-made for you using the system. Brilliant! I'm toying with a campaign wherein the Soviets catch NATO so flat-footed the they begin to encircle large amounts civilians with the military defenders in order to force a quick capitulation (Operation Dark Valley).
MBT is complicated however... I don't recommend it to gamers who haven't experienced wargames this detailed unless they are truly interested (or have a teacher). The game has been in development for decades and it shows. The good thing about MBT is that it is somewhat modular, you can add what you learn as you go along. My helicopters are coming soon, but the game works fine without them.
But, it's my first day off from work in about two weeks and MBT is already on the table. Might have to crank up an 80's mix and try to save Europe here in a bit
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- Nolan Hudgens(Nhudge)
Too bad you won't be able to face T14s. (what's the drm for the projectile- intercepting armor???)
This really is quite a system. Thanks, Fernando, for your excellent review.
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- RyanUnited StatesLone Warrior
- Great review, thanks for going into so many details.
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