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Subject: MBT: A classic with imperfections, but still a classic rss

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Morten Lund
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Introduction
Born in the waning days of the cold war (1989), MBT looked to show tactical-level combined arms warfare in central Germany in the late 80'ies to early 90'ies, or "The great international exercise", as I have heard it described by cadets at the Danish Army’s Officers academy.

Had it happened it would have been at bloody, messy affair, and MBT is no different. Life is cheap on the modern battlefield, as you will find. I originally bought this game, as my third wargame ever (all AH titles) after reading Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy. His descriptions or mechanized warfare had me hooked, so naturally I wanted to try it out.

Rules
The rules are typical Avalon Hill-style, with a well-numbered rulebook. The rules are divided into the usual 3 sections: Basic, Advanced and Optional rules, for layered complexity, starting out with basic movement and shooting, adding in the advanced section elements as: terrain effects, infantry, soviet doctrine, missile weapons and advanced movement rules.

The optional rules add effects of weapons hits, minefields and entrenchments, artillery and air units (Helicopters and air strikes) and finally Command and control (the order markers mentioned below). The rules are short and to the point, explaining all, illustrating with written examples where necessary, and a very few illustrations.

Components
The unit counters are very nicely detailed (for its age, mind) with detailed linedrawings of the unit type, Identifying text and an ID#. Turreted units (Tanks, IFVs etc.) need an extra, smaller counter on top signifying the orientation of the turret (and whether the turret is buttoned or not). This makes stacking several units in the same hex somewhat difficult, but cautious commanders wouldn't want their troops bunching up like that anyway, what whit the threat of artillery and air strikes.

Markers are easy to read for most part, and several of them uses counter facing to grade the effects or present different option on the marker. As an example, the order markers come in two different varieties, one for stationary units, one for moving, each giving 4 options, from its alignment with the counter top (This needs a bit of honesty on the part of the players, but is a quite workable solution).

By modern standards the counters are a bit drab, and the choice of colours not the best, but the different nations are clearly distinguishable, and only the soviet counters are in any real danger of fading into the terrain.

The 4 mounted map boards have very nice artwork in the typical Avalon Hill style, and are geomorphic, giving a good number of different possible layouts. To get even more diversity from the map boards, the different colours on the board can be assigned as different types of terrain, making the map boards represent anything from open plains, to rolling farmland to dense woods.

The layout of the boards are reasonably balanced, so no matter how you set the boards up, the access to objective hexes should be fairly evenly distributed.

Unit stats are printed on data cards, in some detail: Mobility ratings, weapons accuracy, penetration and damage values are indexed for range, giving a quite detailed weapons model. Protection is presented in the same detail: Armour values are given for single facings, and divided into protection from hard penetrators (KE) and explosives (CE), from different angles and from rising, level or falling shots.

Hit locations are also determined on a table, from angle of impact and type of vehicle. This keeps all the necessary information present in a compact format for the players (and you simply couldn't cram that amount of information on the counters).

Gameplay
The game turn is divided into 7 phases:
Initiative: Roll a die to see who goes first
Command: resolve all sighting of units, and place order markers (Optional rules)
1st Air phase: Aircraft and helicopters move and attack
Fire: All units with fire orders, or close assault resolve their fire. Overwatch from fire is resolved
Movement: All units move, Overwatch from movement (and fire) is resolved, Overrun is resolved
2nd Air phase: Aircraft (that didn't appear in the 1st air phase, and helicopters move and attack
Adjustment: all the final bookkeeping and adjustments of turret facings

Units are given orders that determine what actions they can perform, but they aren't required to reveal the order marker, which leaves a degree of uncertainty: Is that M1A1 in overwatch, ready to shoot the [Deleted] out of me if I move of fire my T-80, or is it waiting to move itself later in the game turn?

Players fire their units one side at a time (all units on one side fire, then the other side's. Firing is simultaneous, with a provision for counter fire against missile shooters), then move all their units one side at a time, thus moving 1st or 2nd can become really important, depending the present situation.

Use of ammunition isn't tracked in the basic or advanced game (optional rule) but missile ammo should be tracked, unless you want to make Apaches with hellfires the only viable weapon on the US side.

The command rules allows you to change a certain number of your order markers between moving and non-moving markers in the command phase, determined be the size of units you have brought to the battlefield and the number and seniority of your leaders.

NATO units have quite good C&C and can change a large portion of their markers, giving them a quite flexible response, while the Soviets are more rigid. The rules for soviet doctrine offsets this by making platoon-sized units act as a single unit on the board, all with the same order, all firing at the same target, etc, but allowing you to buy units at a big discount.

The dreaded hordes of armour from the east is a reality in this game, and if the soviet player knows what he is about, swamping NATO defences is quite workable.

Overall assesment
MBT is detailed - very detailed - in what it attempts to do, and it does it quite well, in fact. There is a good degree of suspense to resolve that shot from your Leopard 2 into the front/side aspect of an advancing T-72, looking up AP-factors and modifiers, determining if and where the round hits and the effects of it. This is the meat of the game and it works well. Almost too well...

After a while you get a feeling for the penetration vs. armour ratings of typical scenarios (say: T-80 firing at the front aspect of M1A2's: penetration isn't possible at more than 4 hexes), and that takes a bit of the fun out of it - Penetration values do not vary, taking some uncertainty out of the equation. Likewise, damage effects don't scale with the degree of penetration: One point of excess penetration is as good as 35 points or even more.

It might be fairly realistic, but for me, it seems... wrong?... that a shot that cannot possibly inflict damage at 5 hexes, will destroy its target almost every time from 4 hexes. This gives MBT a bit of a chess-like feel. AH and the General had a tendency to analyze their games to death, I fear that they went a bit too far with MBT. It is bordering on being a game that can be "solved".

From a play balance viewpoint there are other problems: The M1A2 is simply too powerful for its point cost. Trying to go toe-to-toe with it with anything other than M1A2s is close to impossible. Your only hope is buying tons and tons of T-80s with doctrine and overwhelm the Yankees with waves and waves of armoured onslaught, in the hope that some can break into the American rear, and get some rear-aspect shots in.
(The sister game, IDF has a similar problem with the gun-armed Panhards, they are much too powerful for their point cost, at a bit of a problem for game balance, at least they burn as well as the rest of the bunch)

There are other idiosyncrasies as well: With a turn length of 1-5 minutes it seems a bit strange that tanks can only fire at a single target (with typical real-life engagement times of 10-15 seconds), and that no one can fire more than once in overwatch; Or the fact that turrets can only traverse in the adjustment phase, and then has to keep that heading for the entire turn (working around this would in part invalidate the detailed armour model, but still doesn't sit right with me).

It's part of the game model; I know, but it still seems wrong somehow, or at least not how I would have written it

In its favour the command and control rules introduces some command friction in the picture, and the engagements are fun and involved to play out. The point-purchase system more than makes up for fact that the game "only" ships with 4 scenarios (Meeting engagement, Delaying action, Defensive engagement and Counterattack), so there is more than enough replay value.

The included Tables of Organization and Equipment gives a broad range of standard formations to try out, but I miss more nations, such as the French and British in the counter mix (my own national army, the Danish, can be clubbed together from German and US equipment).

Bottom line
MBT is bordering on Ameritrash, with its strong story: You really feel part of the engagement, but at the same time it doesn't quite deliver what it wants: Tactical combined-arms warfare in the 80'ies. The map is simply too small and crowded to portray the momentum of manoeuvre warfare and force levels (battalion sized).

However, if you are into experimenting you can experiment with some fairly exotic ideas: How about using heli-borne Speznaz troops with flamethrowers to close assault the M1A2 on the other side? Or basing your entire defence on 2 apaches, 2 artillery batteries, and 6 forward observer units? - The first one very nearly worked, while the second one flopped badly!

I played the [Deleted] out of my copy of MBT, and still like it. But for a truer simulation of the command issues and dynamics of modern armoured warfare, I would pick Force Eagles War in the TCS series.

If you want to see MBT in action, there is a very informative series replay in the General, and be sure to check the variant maps and scenarios in the files section for this game!
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Adam Knight
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Thanks for writing this review. I had this game in 1990 and remember playing it a lot. I was looking at it on Troll and Toad last week, wondering if I should get it again. After reading your review, I think I might! You describe the frustration I had with the M1A2 exactly, when I worked out that pretty much nothing in the game could harm it in the frontal arc from any distance. I thought it strange that damage didn't accumulate either. Mind you, I've seen an M1A1(HC) that was hit in the turret by an RPG in Iraq, and it quite literally did no visible damage!
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Morten Lund
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adamknight wrote:
Thanks for writing this review. I had this game in 1990 and remember playing it a lot. I was looking at it on Troll and Toad last week, wondering if I should get it again. After reading your review, I think I might!

You're welcome :-)

Quote:
You describe the frustration I had with the M1A2 exactly, when I worked out that pretty much nothing in the game could harm it in the frontal arc from any distance. I thought it strange that damage didn't accumulate either. Mind you, I've seen an M1A1(HC) that was hit in the turret by an RPG in Iraq, and it quite literally did no visible damage!


That makes sense, and MBT would have been broken if it let that happen. Its the fact that an AP shot from an M256 cannon *always* has an PY of exactly 100 (AFAIK) at a range of 1-4 hexes, not say, from 90-110, that has me slightly annoyed. our only chance in that case is gunning for the tracks or gun - which is less than a 5% probability. -but its a minor thing, all in all
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Billy Compton
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I suppose you could just add in a random penetration roll, say a percentage dice roll... that is multiplied by the penetration factor to get your variable penetration rolls. Of course that should probably be narrowed down to a + or - 25% penetration or something?

Maybe a d10:

1: -25%
2: -20%
3: -15%
4: -10%
5: Normal
6: +10%
7: +15%
etc...

Or something similar... maybe something that has a higher chance of coming out the normal penetration result instead of the higher chance for variable penetration.
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Morten Lund
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Good Idea! :-)

I had been thinking along those lines, possibly rewriting all PY values in the game to a value+dice format, scaling the dice to be around 10% of the original PY - bit of a chore, though

 
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Darrell Pavitt
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How about adding xd10 to the PY, then subtracting xd10.
"x" =1 per 50 py, or part thereof. If the final py is less than 1, the round misses.

Example:
Basic py=90, x=2

Add 2d10, then subtract 2d10. If the rolls were 1,6; 4,8 the final py would be 90+(1+6)-(4+8)=85.
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Morten Lund
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It looks good on paper, but I fear it will slow down gameplay quite a bit in practical use.

However feel free to try it out, and do a session report
 
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Darrell Pavitt
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It's a lot faster than working out 90% percentiles for every hit location of every vehicle!
Seriously, how long does it take to roll a couple of dice and add/ subtract them?
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Morten Lund
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Yes, it would need a remake of all the data cards, but that's a one-off, and then you should be good to go.

Being semi math-blind (or at least adverse to too much math in my head), your approach adds more die rolls to a game that's already dice-intensive(ish), which complicates (to my mind) gameplay for little gain compared to the other approach

But, as I say, that's my take on the idea
 
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Darrell Pavitt
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Don't forget to post a sample here, so we can try it.
 
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Morten Lund
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Not to worry I will
 
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Karl Johnson
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Sorry for joining the conversation late, but there's a lot going on with this game these days...

First, check out the Consimworld forums. In the MBT/IDF folder, you can find new stat cards for UK and USMC units (sorry, no direct links, but the files were posted between 9/06 and 12/07 IIRC), as well as a couple of updated Soviet (T55M and T64 IIRC) cards.

Second, there are some printable PDF actual terrain maps for the game at http://www.freewebs.com/heavymetaldrake/groundwarfare.htm , plus rules and a couple of scenarios for air assaults (includes printable counter artwork).

Last, and by no means least, the original author of MBT/IDF (Jim Day) regained the rights to these games and is working on republishing them in a 2nd edition format (similar to his revamp of Panzer/Armor/88). If the changes mirror those of the Panzer Miniatures game, you'll see a simplification of the datacards and a reduction to two die rolls to resolve direct fire combat (a percentile roll to hit, plus a subsequent 2d10 roll, with one die determining hit location and the other the damage to target), non-simultaneous combat resolution, and optional rules for variable armor penetration. Orders are distributed differently as well - you receive a number of orders for each company based on the number of combat units and the troop quality; orders can be shared between vehicles of the same formation that are within command range of each other. Gives a better representation of command & control issues than giving each individual vehicle (or doctrinal platoon) its own order.

A couple of friends and I have been playing MBT in miniature, using the Panzer turn sequence and terrain rules along with the original MBT datacards and charts (with a few other minor modifications - compartment hits become "damaged" results that halve movement and give a -10 modifier for AP combat being the most significant). Makes for a better game than the original, and I am definitely stoked about getting the new edition when available. Check out the simple tutorials from Panzer at http://www.strikenet-games.com/Home_Page.html to get a kind of "sneak peek" at what changes may be in store for MBT.
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Morten Lund
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oooh! Shiny!

Seriously, this sounds great! Add in some maps with more maneuvering room, and I think we have a winner!

p.s.: Could you dig out the link; I wasn't able to find it
 
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Karl Johnson
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Yup. We played last Sunday - way too much fun hitting an advancing column of M1A1's with a napalm strike from my Mig-27...devil
 
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Mark Christopher
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LeZerp wrote:
MBT is bordering on Ameritrash, with its strong story: You really feel part of the engagement


Interesting. I feel just the opposite; that Ameritrash games just don't deliver the strong narrative that most wargames do.

Great review! Makes me want to pull my copy off the shelf and get it on the table again.
 
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Karl Johnson
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RE: new datacards

The new material begins in post #381; you'll have to scroll through quite a few different, subsequent, posts to find all of them (BTW, there are also BMP-3, revised T-55M, revised T-62M, and U.S. Ranger RSOV cards posted in the thread). Start here:

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@938.UtcNeYCfgDF.37325883...

P.S. Additional British units pick up again at post #518:

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@938.UtcNeYCfgDF.37325967...

USMC at #547:
http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@938.UtcNeYCfgDF.37325983...

And Warsaw Pact stuff at post #393:

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@938.UtcNeYCfgDF.37326071...
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B. Marsh
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Tee34 wrote:
RE: new datacards

The new material begins in post #381; you'll have to scroll through quite a few different, subsequent, posts to find all of them (BTW, there are also BMP-3, revised T-55M, revised T-62M, and U.S. Ranger RSOV cards posted in the thread). Start here:

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@938.UtcNeYCfgDF.37325883...

P.S. Additional British units pick up again at post #518:

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@938.UtcNeYCfgDF.37325967...

USMC at #547:
http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@938.UtcNeYCfgDF.37325983...

And Warsaw Pact stuff at post #393:

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@938.UtcNeYCfgDF.37326071...



Any info on the RSOVs can neither be confirmed or denied... ninja

RLTW


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