What a Tanker! is the latest (and much anticipated) rules set by Too Fat Lardies. Players take the role of tank commanders in WW2 in fast and furious vehicle combat.
Tank combat is a tricky thing. Especially over recent years there have been several approaches to low-level tank combat rules sets. When a Lardies announced working on their take of such a game my interest was gotten, as other recent entries had left me cold. So I pre-ordered the rulebook&tokens-bundle and in mid-April it arrived.
The rulebook comes in size A4, soft cover, full colour and 74 pages.
I love the cover. It goes so well together with the title. Visually it’s just a joy to look at, with those vibrant, warm colours. It sets the slightly tongue in cheek, over the top mood. On the inside the book is also rather pleasant looking. Full-colour, good quality paper, barely any walls of text, not a single page without some sort of illustration or colourful example of gameplay mechanics. It is noteworthy that this book does not contain a single photo of a miniature, just comicbook-style illustrations.
What do You Need to Play?
- The game rules
- A set of six-sided dice (~10-20 per player)
- Tape Measure
- A model tank of any size/scale you like for each player and a table (6′ by 4′ is the suggested minimum; for smaller tables 10mm or 6mm models and using centimetres instead of inches is advised)
- A tanker dashboard for each tank
- Some sort of tokens (4 per player)
- The Universal Tanker Tool(tm)
- A set of What a Tanker! cards
The first four points are pretty self-explanatory. The ‘tanker dashboard’ is basically a sheet of paper on which you got an overview of your tank.
On this sheet you will the type and hopefully nickname of your tank, special Attributes some types of tanks may have, the Armour (defense) and Strike (offense) values of your tank and, in the unfortunate event that you should get hit, a box to take notes of damage to your vehicle. The darker grey boxes are used to place tokens or dice.
This brings us right to the next point – the tokens. I got the whole set from the Too Fat Lardies web store. It contains enough tokens for six players, plus the hexagonal Universal Tanker Tool(tm).
The tanker tool is used for turret adjustment and turning. These tokens are rather nice. Thick, sturdy pieces of acrylic. However, they are not entirely necessary. You can just as well use coins, buttons, bits of bird seed – what ever. Any hexagonal shaped template will do for a tanker tool.
The What a Tanker! cards set are also available free to download from the TFL website. These are little extra bonus cards tankers may acquire over the course of their careers.
How Does the Game Work Then?
What a tanker is a fast game. It’s not ‘the primary game of the evening’, it’s more like something you play after the main game of the night’s over, but you still got some time left. Or of course you can just have a bunch of games of What a Tanker! after another.
As mentioned above, each player usually commands one tank (or multiples, if you like). Before the game players agree on a scenario and historical timeframe (= year) to play, choose their tanks based on what they have with them or the points system included, roll for scenario layout and have at it. Of course players are also free to adapt historical scenarios.
At the start of each turn an initiative order for all vehicles involved is rolled for. This is the order in which players will activate tanks this turn. If you have more than two tanks on the table it’s a good idea to have tokens or numbered paper chips to help you keep track of the initiative order.
The first thing a player will do on their turn is roll six command dice. These results what the crew of the tank will manage to do this turn. Each of the results is read separately and means the following:
1 – Move
2 – Acquire Target
3 – Aim
4 – Fire
5 – Load
6 – Wild Dice
So for each One you roll your tank may move in some way (forward, backward, turn in place, move turret), Twos will help you spot your target (an obstructed target may require multiple Twos to do so), a Three will let you aim the main gun an acquired target, but to fire it you’ll also need a Four. A result of Five will have your loader reload the gun. A Six is called a ‘Wild Dice‘, meaning that the player may choose what result they want to count this die as. Sixes may also be used for various bonuses and/or smaller repairs. So overall very handy.
Sometimes you won’t be able to do what you like in your turn. Such is life and, as far as I read, war. However, it leaves you with interesting decisions to make on every single turn.
In general the firing procedure is: Acquire target, aim, fire. This looks simple, but if your dice are against you this can take a few turns to finally work out. On the other hand, if you roll luckily, you may fire multiple shots a turn at your target.
Of course you can drive around ‘unbuttoned’ (= hatches open, commander sticking his head out to get a better look at things), which will help a lot at acquiring targets, but this leaves your commander vulnerable to enemy fire.
Movement is pretty straightforward. Each One you roll may be used for a movement action. You may use this result to roll two dice, adding them up, this is the number of inches you may move your tank, including small turns. Alternatively you may use it to turn on the spot or turn your turret.
Should things work out and you get to fire you roll to hit first (modified by things like obstruction of target, possible optics damage to your tank, etc.), if you hit you roll as many dice as your tank has Strike, the owner of the target tank rolls as many dice as their tank has Armour, you compare successes (usually 5s or 6s, attacks to the side or rear armour are more likely to succeed) versus saves. If the firer got more successes than the target the target takes either temporary or permanent damage. If the target rolled really badly and the attacker rolled really well the target tank may light up right away or have the crew bail out instantly, taking the vehicle out of the game.
For each permanent damage you’ll have to roll for what happens to your tank. This can be various levels of driving gear damage (or even broken tracks), damage to optics (making hitting harder), injured crewmen, and so on. Temporary damage on the other hand can be repaired over time. However, damage will always reduce the number of command dice you’re allowed to roll on your turn. This can severely limit any further actions you take. If a tank has no Command Dice left it counts as destroyed.
The game usually ends with one side’s tanks being out of action or having withdrawn.
…and that’s it! Pretty straightforward.
One of the best things about What a Tanker! is that it’s got an in-built campaign.
When ever a tank deals the killing blow to an enemy vehicle they are awarded a ‘kill ring’. In future games each kill ring will allow for your tank to be awarded a Tanker bonus card in the pre-game phase.
If this tank’s crew happen to survive a few games and acquire several kill rings they will be awarded ‘Ace’ status. ‘Ace’ status comes with several perks on top of a number of Tanker cards you get at the beginning of each game. As an Ace you also get the option to hop into a tank of the next level.
In the back of the book you will find Career Ladders for all major nations who partook in World War 2 (France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Soviet Union, United States). These are split up per level and year. Let’s say you play an early war campaign right from 1940 on. You are the commander of an entirely charming Pz.35(t), manage to acquire enough kill rings for Ace status. Now you have the option to be a happy Pz.35(t) commander, along with all the Ace perks and bonus cards and whatnot OR be awarded a shiny new Panzer III Ausf.E (with that nice, thick, welded armour), and start collecting kill rings anew.
This adds another layer to the game, as people will be eager to make those kills, but also preserve their crews.
So far I have two games of What a Tanker! under my belt. It’s a fun game indeed, especially as a multi-player game. It plays fast and fluently. On tables with too much terrain lines of sight can become a bit bothersome, so refrain from a table full of buildings, or entirely wooded tables. You know, the kind of terrain into which you wouldn’t want to send tanks anyway.
We played with 15mm models, as this seems to make the most sense visually and in terms of ground scale. I know that many people will play it with 28mm models. That’ll work as well of course.
It scratches that itch of playing something with tanks well and swiftly, and all of us have tanks lying around in some box, right? And it’s so uncomplicated that it can be adapted to other periods or settings. Cpt.Shandy, ever the mariner, instantly started pondering converting the system to gunboat combat, virago wants to turn it into a Battletech game, and my instant reaction was ‘this can’t be too hard to adapt to 40k’. And I’m rather sure it’s not. Each tank has exactly two stats (Armour and Strike), plus a small range of possible special Attributes.
So yeah, I think it’s yet another job well done by Too Fat Lardies, adding a much lighter, faster game to their catalogue of great rules sets. Other games, such as Sharp Practice or Chain of Command play great and are really good fun, but games can get tense and afterwards sometimes you feel exhausted, simply due to how gripping a story each of these games tell. What a Tanker! is a good way to come down again, and just have a laugh. And that it does well.