TANKSgiving! GrogHeads Reviews DVG’s Modern Land Battles

frontier wars 728x90 KS


TANKSgiving kicks off with a bang!

Jim Owczarski, 21 November 2015

Click images to enlarge

Dan Verssen’s Modern Naval Battles has rolled past its 25th birthday and is making its way to its 30th.  I’ll pause for a moment and let that sink in with those who were already adults when it was released.  Bitter reminders of our mortality aside, the game has been and remains a popular choice for grogs interested in playing a game that feels crunchy and lets them indulge their love of technology while not requiring days or weeks to play.

Enter, then, Modern Land Battles: Target Acquired, a 2-6 player non-collectible card game that tries, in its own abstract and simplified way, to simulate mechanized land warfare in the period following the Second World War.  I’ve already done a piece un-boxing the game (Modern Land Battles – First Look!) so what follows is a review of the game’s mechanics, level of simulation, and overall flow.

As indicated in the earlier article, MLB allows two players or teams of players to select from seven national force pools:  United States, Arab Multinational, China, Great Britain, Insurgent, Israel, and U.S.S.R.  And while I did discuss some of the vehicles before, it would hardly be TANKSgiving if I didn’t offer a few more shots of lovely, lovely AFVs.

I keep wanting to shout "Wolverines!!"

I keep wanting to shout “Wolverines!!”

A bit to on-the-nose at the moment.

A bit to on-the-nose at the moment.

As can be seen, there’s nothing particularly gripping about the photography or the graphic design.  In these areas, MLB resembles its nautical, 1980s-vintage forebear.  Also, the symbol for the Arab Multinational army seems to have been switched with that for the Insurgents which might explain why the former has a ton of technicals but no heavy armor.  That said, the design is clean and each card makes clear its skills and abilities.

As for the force pools, I wanted them to be a bit deeper.  It’s not that there aren’t a fair number of weapon systems for each nation, it’s just that I know of many more that aren’t represented and, as the game covers nearly a half century of history, it feels like more variety was in order.  Beyond any doubt, if Dan Verssen Games is so inclined, there’s plenty of space to expand both the existing nations’ forces and add new countries to the mix.

Each unit is given a point value (it’s the number on the lower right of the cards above) and players pick to a set number of points.  Each player is then dealt a hand of cards that’s used to drive play.

Combatants take turns fighting over a single battlefield with three parts.  Each part can be fought over by as many as three rows of units with rows being used to calculate range between units.

The main area is the center.  Lose the center, predictably enough, and you lose the battle entirely.  It’s here that troops are deployed at game start and where they’re sent if brought up as reinforcements.

The center may, in fact, not hold.

The center may, in fact, not hold.

The combat system is simple and clever.  Each unit fits into a category — small arms, cannon, missile, and artillery.  With the exception of artillery, in order to “fire” a unit players need to discard a card from their hand that bears the appropriate matching symbol.  The attacker then rolls 4d10 and tries to roll his or her attack number or higher on as many dice as possible, each success scoring one hit.  All units have four health points and, upon losing these, the destroyed unit is turned over to the other player for victory point purposes.  Unit strengths degrade with hits — one die lost per hit — and can only be repaired or healed with special cards.

On either side of the main battleground are the maneuver areas.  Here the battle goes more to the swift than the strong.  On the right is that set aside for terrain maneuver.  This flank is occupied by a deck of cards each of which depicts a type of terrain.  Units sent here can attack their opposite numbers on the other side of the battlefield, but more frequently will try to roll their maneuver values or higher (again on 4d10) as often as possible.  For each success, a marker that starts at a zero point on a scale in the center of the card is moves one space closer to that combatant’s side.  If the token is moved all the way off, the terrain is said to have been won, the card turned over to the winner for victory points, and, in many cases, a temporary benefit of some kind is conferred.  My son has repeated taught me the folly of ignoring his attempts to Zerg terrain from my grasp.

 Send in the soft-skins!

Send in the soft-skins!

On the other flank is the, um, flanking area.  In this area, troops are again trying to roll their maneuver numbers or higher on 4d10.  For each success, the side making the attack either adds one “Superiority” marker to his or her side of the central battlefield or takes one away from his opponent.  This is a zero-sum proposition so only one side can have superiority at a time.  For each point of superiority, one is added to the combat die rolls of attacks in the center.  Statistically and in practice, this is no small matter.

All your rear area are belong to us!

All your rear area are belong to us!

Finally for present purposes, the game offers an array of response cards that can soak damage, repair units, reduce the amount of terrain taken, &c., which are played out of turn in reaction to an opponent’s choices.  These are powerful cards, but they have to be used prudently as they can only be replenished if a player takes a turn “off” to draw his or hand to full.

In the end, this is a really good game.  It certainly won’t win any aesthetic awards, but I don’t know if I’d expect something like that in a game about modern warfare.  It presents some great choices; lets the players have at with a range of weapon systems that, at least generically, feel right; and plays quickly enough that even the worst defeat can be met with “all right, let’s do that again, shall we?”  I hope Dan Verssen & Co. give real thought to new gear and new nations; I’d buy them in a minute.

It is now GO TIME.

It is now GO TIME.

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One Response to TANKSgiving! GrogHeads Reviews DVG’s Modern Land Battles

  1. Matt says:

    Jim –

    Thank you for this review. You’ve cleared a few things up for me, but I was hoping you might hold the key to a few more! I just got this game today and my fiend and I played a game through. However, based on your comments, I’m not sure we played the maneuver zones exactly correct. I understand the basic function of moving from the centre to one of the other zones, and scoring superiority or terrain on arrival. However, once in that zone, can those units continue to score toward Superiority and Terrain capture? Do they just declare a maneuver and roll again (assuming they have been action refreshed)? This would have changed our game dynamic, but it does make sense in getting value for capturing terrain. Similarly, once committed to a maneuver area, can a force card “retreat” back to the breakthrough area to be re committed?

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