Steve Jackson left Metagaming at some point to form Steve Jackson Games. Without doing a lot of homework, I seem to recall from that era that shortly after he left (he took the games Ogre and G.E.V. with him, to republish at the new company) my group of gaming friends surmised that Helltank and Helltank Destroyer were Metagaming's effort to fill the sci-fi supertank niche that Ogre and G.E.V. filled previously.
Helltank is a fun little game, with an interesting near-future sci-fi history. It (in the writeup of units) hints at some interesting international developments and future conflicts where the units of the game can be set up in scenarios to duke it out.
The game comes with five scenarios:
1. Delaying Action
2. Recon Mission
4. Suicide Run
5. Depot Evacuation
The map is attractive enough, for the era. It is a depiction of a city and the area around it. It has some interesting terrain features on it, such as (in the city) The Mall (sort of a greenspace area), and (outside the city) a Campus, Soya Hut, Manor, Plant, and Ag. Station. Other than the built up areas representing these features, there are also areas of woods, slope, cliffs, highway, generic town, and canal. All on a hex map.
The units in the game represent individual vehicles, and squads of infantry. The game has 12 different units - 8 covered by the basic rules (tank, raider, IFV, gun, msl ln, air defense platform, attack helicopter, hover), 3 more introduced in the intermediate rules (multi-turreted tank, hawk teams of infantry, and air cruisers) and finally the advanced rules add the Helltank unit itself.
Each unit is represented by a counter, which has basically four pieces of information on it, other than the unit emblem and allegience - designated by color. The other pieces of information are this - Mobility Class (tracked, hovercraft, jetpack-infantry, air); range (in hexes) of the units weapon; a letter code for the type of unit, and the movement capability - in two numbers, basic move and "evade" move, which is a faster movement rate but does not allow for combat to be initiated.
Some of the units in the game can have multiple weapons. Some of these are pre-determined (for instance, the multi-turreted tank has three tank wepons). In other cases it can be selected. For instance, the Helltank can select six different weapons.
Movement is done by consulting a chart that shows the different movement classes vs. terrain types - and a resulting cost per hex for movement.
Combat is accomplished with a dice toss, the target number coming from a table this matrices all of the available weapons vs. all of the possible targets.
Chrome includes evade moves (higher rate, but you cannot shoot), opportunity fire, and a nice discussion about line of fire. The game has a future timeline, with different tech levels affecting which units are available and how much they cost. For instance, period C, which represents 2015-2020, has tanks costing $4 million, which is down $1 million from the previous era. In this era (period C), Multi-turreted tanks become available.
The descriptions of the 12 unit types are where the flavor text of the pseudo history is presented. For instance, here is the description of the Multi-Turreted Tank:
MTT: The Paulista 3 Triturret tank was invented in Brazil in 2017; the idea was to increas a tank's ability to engage several targets. Each turret had 180 degrees or greater traverse; its success revived the World War I dream of a land battleship.
The game is built around scenarios (the five that came with the rules) or building your own, by deciding on a budget and a time period. Each new time period past the first (2005-2010) has new units or new weapons becoming available.
So? Is it a winner or a loser?
I think that Helltank is a winner. It is a nice little compact game, with only a 25 page rulebook (much of which are combat charts, unit descriptions, and scenario depiction - the actual "rules" are only 8.5 pages, and these are small pages). Scenario design is one of the strong points. Some more modern ideas that were lacking in Panzerblitz and Ogre/G.E.V. are here. But it is still slim and easy to teach. A good game, even after all these years.