MBT: First Clash

In 1989, Avalon Hill released MBT , a design by James M. Day.  Like its title heavily suggests, MBT was all about modern tank warfare. Set in Germany in the late Cold War period, MBT let players slug it out on a tactical level (100 meter hex, individual tanks and infantry squads) with the latest weaponry of the day. Fast forward 27 years later, and MBT is once again on our shelves - this time around published by GMT.


2016 GMT's MBT
1987: Avalon Hill's MBT


With updated maps, counters, and scenarios, MBT has been loving revived and streamlined for today's gamers. I have never played the original MBT so I'm not sure what the exact differences are between the two versions, but if you're interested in a comparison, I suggest reading up on this thread over at BGG.


The first scenario from the new MBT is called First Clash. This is a good introductory scenario for new players because it's vehicles-only. You can play this with just the basic rules set. The advanced rules introduce all sorts of neat bells and whistles like infantry, ATGMs, artillery, air support, and well...just about anything you can imagine.  I'll try those out in a future report but for now, I'm new to this game and system so I'll just stick with the basic rules this time.

Setup:

It is September 27, 1987. The Soviet 48th Motor Rifle Division and the 15th Guards Tank Division are fighting against US VII Corps. We're using Maps 2, 4, and 7 here. The US player has 15 M60A3 TTS tanks fending off the advance of 13 T-72AVs from the 210th Motor Rifle Regiment.

We're using maps 2, 4, and 7. This scenario is 15 turns long.



The required victory margin is 310 VPs. Controlling the ford at 2D8 yields 250 VP. Another 250 VP goes to controlling 2DD4 and 2CC5. The side that controls both bridges at 2I5 and 2V7, earns 375 VPs. Neither side controls any objectives at the start.

Rolling for setup, the Soviet player ends up rolling lower than the NATO player. He chooses the north side of the board to set up on. The NATO player will set up second on the southern side of the map. Both sides set up within 3 hexes of their respective map edges.

Strategy:

Although it seems like the Soviets have enough tanks here to do whatever they want, it would be wise to keep our ambitions modest and just take the main objective (375 VPs) and just one of the smaller objectives (250VPs).

The Soviet player sees there is a lot of open ground to defend near the two ford objectives on the west side of the map so it may be easier to leave that for NATO and just take the ford in D8 along with the the two bridges.

This would give the Soviets a margin of 375 points at the end of the game, plus or minus the VPs they gain or lose from eliminating tanks from the other side.

The Soviet player will split his force into three components. One platoon will take the bridge in V7, another will take the bridge in I5 and the third platoon will take and hold the ford at D8.

Each platoon will use column formation to get to the objectives as quickly as possible, using road movement where ever possible. Once the objectives are reached, the platoons will be further split with two tanks serving as static defenders on overwatch and the other two tanks used for movement and counterattack against any NATO attempts to reach the objectives.



Although the NATO forces will have the high ground with three big hills near their start area, it would be an extremely bad idea to just rush up our M60s on to the hillsides and try to blast away at the oncoming Soviet tanks. There is plenty of time for the Soviets to get their T-72s into overwatch before the M60s get to the top of the hills and they will be easy targets for the Red Army gunners.

The NATO player decides to focus on seizing the two bridges and any other objectives of opportunity. The rest of his VPs will be gained by destroying Soviet tanks. One team of two platoons will go for the objectives. The other two platoons will be used to maneuver and destroy targets of opportunity. The aim is to use cover, concealment, and quick maneuver between his platoons to keep the Soviets off-balance.  The cluster of woods hexes on the south side of the river on the left side of the map look like very good cover. The town on the south side of the river also looks like a good place to fire at Soviets from close range.

Force Comparison

NATO gets 15 x M-60 tanks while the Soviets have 13x T-72AV tanks. Both sides are pretty evenly matched but it still bears a good look at the differences between the actual tanks themselves.

The most important thing for the NATO player to remember is that M60s should definitely not be treated like M1 Abrams tanks! The M60s have several disadvantages. They are slower than the T-72 tanks (5 offroad MPs versus the T-72's 7 OR MPs). They have a weaker gun (105mm vs. 125mm) and less armor (48 Front Armor vs. T-72's 85 Front Armor). Point for point, the M60 is inferior to the T-72AV on an individual level but working as a team and under good command, the M60s should be a very good match against the Soviet tanks.



Before I get into the replay, I should mention how the game plays for those who have never tried it before. Each turn has several distinct phases. The first phase is the Spotting Phase. Basically, players figure out which units begin the turn spotted. After that is the Command Phase where both players secretly allocate orders to all of their units on the map. In the Initiative Phase, both players roll for initiative for the turn and then the Direct Fire phase begins. The first player fires all of his units that have a Fire (or Short Halt) command and then the Second player does so with all his tanks. After that, units on Overwatch can fire at spotted enemy units that have fired. Next is the Movement Phase and the First player moves units with a Move or Short Halt order followed by the Second player who does the same. Finally, in the Adjustment Phase, we do all of our book keeping by removing and adjusting counters, etc. It's all shockingly simple and it works really well.


Setup

The Soviets set up on two roads on the north side of the map. Team Red-1 will seize I5 while Red-2 will grab V7. Red-3 will take the ford at D8.

The Americans also set up on the roads and split into two teams of two tank platoons each. One team (Team Blue-A) is on the east side of the map and one team (Team Blue-B) is the west side. Blue-A will attempt to take I5 while Blue-B is a tank-killer force that will use the woods and town to conceal their movement in an attempt to surprise any nearby Soviets and kill them.

You'll note I've marked the locations of Command Vehicles. I'm playing the Basic rules here where command rules are not used. I have no idea really what to do with these guys so I've decided that they will just sort of hang back from the fighting and try to spot enemy units. If things start going badly enough, they'll jump in the fray.




Turn 1:

Initiative: NATO
First Player: Soviets
Second Player: NATO

The Soviets move their tanks out towards their objectives while NATO jockeys its forces into position. Team Blue-A advances down the road and hooks left behind the cover of the woods to the north. Two M60 Pattons remain in hex 7L5 to shoot next turn at the Soviet tanks from Red-1 moving west down the road in 2S7.  Team Blue-B advances north towards the string of woods from W1 to Z1.



Turn 2:

The T-72s from Red 1 and Red 2 are spotted by the M60s from Team Blue-A in 7L5 and 7I2. Everyone else is still hidden.

Red 1 splits its commands between Move and Fire while Red 2 does the same. Red 3 will just move up and grab control of the ford in D8.

The M60 tanks from Team Blue-A in 2L5 and 7I2  will perform a Short Halt Fire while the other 3 tanks in H2 will move up and get into position to fire for next turn.  Meanwhile Team Blue-B will move straight towards the Woods to the north.

Soviets roll initiative and decide to be the First Player for the turn.

Direct Fire Phase: 

Both T-72s from Red 1 use their Fire markers to shoot at one of the M60s in 2L5.

Just to demonstrate how AP combat works here, I'll work out the first shot here for you:

At 15 hex range, we check the vehicle chart for the T-72AV and find that we are firing at Medium range. On our player aid, the AP Hit chart shows that the base to-hit chance for this range is 50 per cent.  We look at the modifiers on the table to the right and find that the large size of the M60 pulls the to-hit chances up one column on the chart to 55 per cent.

The M60 is considered moving due to its Short Halt command and the T-72's hit chance goes down two columns for a final chance of 45%.

We roll a 28 and the M60 is hit! The penetration for the APFSDS round is 86 at this range, which we compare to the front armor of the M60.  The American tank has a front armor of 48 so the shot penetrates. Since the penetration value is more than 10 points beyond the armor value, we find that the M60 brews up, creating lots of cool and explosions and plenty of smoke to annoy the other T-72 gunner shooting at the other M60 in the same hex (a -2 column shift).

The next T-72AV fires at the other M60 in the hex and misses.

The next two T-72AVs now fire at the two M60 tanks in I2. The Soviets destroy one American tank and miss the other.

Now the M60s from Team Blue A fire back and they both manage a miss. So far, this is not going well for the US.

Movement Phase:

Red 1 and Red 2 both send two tanks to seize their objective bridge hexes and move towards cover after crossing the river. Red 3 takes the ford intact and moves towards the line of woods in 2C6 and 2D6.

Team Blue A tries to pick up the pieces. It sends three tanks to take the bridge at DD4 while the two surviving tanks that were fired at and missed move down the road. Team Blue B moves up three tanks into the woods for cover and the other half of the team moves up on the right flank into the open.



Turn 3:

During the Orders Phase, the Soviet player commands two tanks in Red 1 to fire at the three M60s that are on the bridge in DD4. Those same M60s are ordered to Short Halt (which means they fire and then move in the same turn). Hopefully, the NATO player can take care of those two T-72s and take the Ford to the north for some VPs.

On the east side of the map, Team Blue B is carefully maneuvering into position. Three M-60s are poised to head towards the town to the north where a pair of T-72s have been spotted. One M60 will fire while the other provides overwatch while another will move one hex west to get a wider field of fire.  The Soviets are advancing Red 3 south into the woods and two T-72s from Red 2 are ordered to short halt fire at two M60 tanks from Team Blue B.

The Soviets roll 38 initiative while NATO rolls a measly 11. The Soviets will take First Player for the turn.

In the Direct Fire phase, the two T-72s from Red 1 fire at two of the M60 tanks on the bridge in DD4. Both are hit and brew up.

One of the Soviet tanks from Red 2 fires from 11 hex range at the M60 on overwatch in the woods at 7Y1 and manages a hit after rolling 28. The tank brews up. The other T-72 misses.

During the Second Player phase, one M60 in the woods at 7Y1 fires back at the T-72 that just killed his buddy. The roll is 88 and a miss.

The sole M60 occupying the bridge in DD4 also aims for revenge after the pair of tanks he was with was blown up. We roll a 93 and it is also a miss.

In the Movement Phase, Red 3 leisurely pulls into the cover of the nearby woods and glances to the south in glee at the sight of burning M60s belching thick black smoke into the air.

Red 2 moves its pair of tanks one hex south into the nearby building hex. Meanwhile Red 1 maneuvers around the woods to see if it can squeeze the two American tanks to the west.

The American M60 in DD4 thinks better of being in the sights of two T-72s at short range and reverses back down the road and pivots to face a hulking T-72 only 4 hexes away!  The other remnants of Team Blue-A turn towards a lone T-72 from 200 meters away in the light woods hex.   Team Blue-B has pulled off a miracle and put three M60s in the town to the north without suffering any fire. The tanks are now stalking a pair of T-72s in a building hex very close by.

The command tanks for Team Blue-A and Blue-B are now on the northern slope of the hill and looking over the battlefield.

Oops - I broke the road movement rule by changing the facing of my M60 in hex CC3. Ah well.


Turn 4:

NATO finally gains initiative this turn and takes First Player.

In the Direct Fire Phase, all hell breaks loose.  A pair of M60s open fire at point blank range at the T-72AV sitting in the  woods hex in 2W1 and score a hit.

The lead tank in Team Blue A fires at a mere 400 meters away from a T-72 in 2Y4 but misses.

The commander of Team Blue A fires at 9 hex range at one of the T-72s in 2S7 and knocks it out.

One of the two Soviet tanks sitting in the town hex in 2I3 is destroyed.

Despite firing at point blank range from two positions, the Soviets fail to hit the American tanks (rolls of 88 and 89 - Yuck!).

The Americans try to reorganize the remnants of Team Blue A by pulling the lead tank back towards the two tanks to the south. The M60s in the town creep to the northwest edge for a firing position on the two Soviet tanks from Red 2 on the road to the north.

Meanwhile Red 3 splits its forces and sends two tanks to maneuver behind the M60s from Team Blue B that entered the town just last turn! One T-72 gets fired upon by an M60 on overwatch but it misses.

The two T-72AVs from Red 2 decide not to approach the town after all and instead veer off the road and pull their tanks into the cover of the woods, hoping to gain a better defensive firing position for next turn.

I felt the Americans really pulled ahead in the Direct Fire Phase this turn but the Soviet tanks appear to be in better position by the end of this turn.


Turn 5:

The Soviet player gains initiative and takes First Player. Things could be very bad for NATO this turn as the Soviets have placed a ton of fire commands.

Sure enough, NATO has to cope with the loss of four of its tanks in the Direct Fire Phase. The lead tank from Team Blue A is killed while two of the tanks from Team Blue B that are in the town on map 2 brew up. The third tank from Team Blue B is destroyed in the woods hex in 7X1.

The Soviets only lose one tank sitting in 2I3.

Not really much to do here in the Movement phase. The Soviets rush two tanks from Red 3 into town, trapping the one remaining M60 there. The Americans move up a command tank near the center of the map. The M60 in the town pulls back towards the south. It seems the Soviets are very firmly in control of things and are just mopping up now.


Turn 6:

I'm not sure if the game is going faster because I'm learning the rules or if it's because everyone on the map is dead...

Anyway, the Soviets sit nice and tight where they are and issue fire orders on most of their guys with the exception of the T-72 in 2Y5, which is on overwatch covering the eastern road.

NATO tanks are all firing at the nearest Soviets. It looks like this turn will be yet another bloodbath.

Soviets get initiative and the T-72 in 2AA8 fires at the M60 in 7H1. We roll a 04 on the AP hit table and the M60 brews up. Team Blue A is down to a single tank.

The T-72 sitting in the town hex in H4 gets an 89 to hit the M60 in the adjacent hex, which mercifully misses due to the AP Hit column shifts due to cover and smoke. No matter. The other T-72 in the same hex fires and kills the M60 with a roll of 11.

The T-72 in 2C1 rolls a 34 to hit the M60 sitting in the woods hex in 7Z1 and manages a kill.

The turn ends with the US player managing a lucky middle-distance kill on the T-72 in 2K9.

Down to three M60 tanks versus the seven Soviet T-72s. This looks pretty hopeless for the Americans.

Turn 7:

Fire commands again all around for the US player. None of the shots hit. None of the Soviets score a hit.  The Soviet player shuffles some tanks around to mop up the US tanks on the map board.



Turn 8:

The three remaining American tanks are assigned Short Halt orders. It's do or die here and they don't really stand a chance if they can't win initiative. There are too many guns focused on too few tanks.

Sure enough, the Soviets win init and claim First Player and then go to work firing with every tank at the Americans. The T-72s on the southeast hill eliminate Team Blue B commander. The tanks in the treeline on map 2 make a medium-distance kill on the M60 south of the forest on map 2. The Soviet tank in 7AA2 hits the final American tank in 7R2. All the US units are gone and the scenario is over well before the 15 turn limit.

Conclusion:

So what went do disastrously wrong for the US player? I think it had A LOT to do with not taking good advantage of the terrain and using overwatch effectively. It may have actually worked much better by keeping the M60s behind the hills and sneaking them out behind cover to fire at the T-72s from long range.  There are some very decent fire avenues available from the bottom of map 7 which could have been used to cover the approach to 2I5. It also could have been used as a lane of advance for other US tanks to get them forward into a flanking position to hit at Soviet tanks holding the positions on the east side of the board.

My tactics were pretty abysmal from the start with both teams but the Soviets at least had a more concrete plan than the US player. I'd be very interested in playing this scenario again with some of the advanced rules and seeing how different the outcome might be.


Comments

  1. Hi Brad! Nice AAR. I've heard of MBT, but don't have any experience with it. Looks like a fun, but fairly complex game. How does it compare to something like the LockNLoad series?

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    1. Thanks Ken! I would say the major differences are the levels of realism that you can layer on with MBT. If you look at the advanced rules for MBT, (http://www.gmtgames.com/mbt/MBTAdvGameRulesFinal.pdf) you'll see a wealth of options that can really crank up the level of detail. I always got the impression that LnL was a squad combat game with the tanks added in. I feel that MBT is a tank game with infantry added in. The sheer number and variety of tanks that you can play with in MBT (you can try different variants of the same tank, for example) is pretty impressive. The command rules for MBT also add in some interesting gameplay options. So LnL and MBT seem like two very different games. If you love tanks, then get MBT. If you like epic infantry battles with tanks thrown in there, then LnL is probably going to appeal.

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    2. Thanks for the info! I'll download the rules to check them out. I like the idea of a tank game with added infantry. FYI, I recently re-read Red Storm Rising and I'm thinking of reading Red Army again. In the meantime, breaking out the WAW series or Platoon Commander may be in order.

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    3. You're welcome, Ken! Drop us a line here and let us know what you think. Red Army and Red Storm Rising..great great books. I just recently re-read the old "War of Tomorrow" novels published in the late 1980s, which are a pretty cool companion to both those books. https://www.amazon.com/Armor-Fulda-Gap-Visual-Tomorrow/dp/0380758431

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  2. Excellent AAR. I picked up Panzer, but I might have to get this as well. Are the advanced rules fiddly? Does the game benefit by the extra layer of realism?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I can't really speak to the advanced rules yet as I haven't really played with any of them. What I like best is that you can just sort of pick and choose what chrome from the advanced rules that you want to add on to make the game work. If you want to add in Commander Independent Sights, go ahead. If not, just ignore the rule and enjoy your game. My impression is that if you really want the added amount of realism, you can just use every advanced rule and you would likely get something that approaches a simulation more than a game.

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  3. Replies
    1. Thanks man! Nice to hear from you. Hope your August trip went well!

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  4. Nice AAR! I'm learning my way through this game too. One little point, the second (non-initiative) player moves first in the movement phase, and the first (initiative) player moves second. You said it the other way around at the start of the AAR but maybe you didn't play it that way?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Peter! You're right - my mistake on that. I did actually play that way. Guess I didn't catch that bit in the rules. Oops!

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