Milton Bradley created a lot of classic board games over the years. For every hit though there were many games that have mostly been lost to time. You wouldn’t think that these forgotten games would be very good as there must have been some reason that they never took off. This is usually the case, but there are some diamonds in the rough that were before their time. This is why I like to occasionally look at old Milton Bradley games to see if I can find some of these hidden gems. This brings me to the game I am looking at today Tank Battle. Originally released back in 1975 the game never really seemed to take off as it was only reprinted once in 1976. Generally I am not a big fan of war games as they are kind of dry and boring. I didn’t have high expectations for Tank Battle but I was intrigued by a few of the mechanics. Tank Battle is an interesting combination of Battleship and Stratego that you can have some fun with even if it ends up becoming a basic guessing game.
How to Play Tank Battle
- Assemble all of the tanks. Place a different number on each tank for each color.
- Each player chooses a color and takes all of the corresponding pieces. Each player will also take five white and six red pegs.
- Assemble the plotting grids and give one to each player. Place the five white pegs along the bottom of the plotting grid.
- Place the gameboard between the two players so the red line is in the middle.
- Set aside the flag pieces and the spinner.
- Each player will place their headquarters, ammunition dump and fuel dump on their side of the board. All three buildings must be placed on spaces in different rows and columns (not including the back row).
- The players will place their six tanks in the back row closest to them. They can place the tanks in any order.
- The players will place their five anti-tank guns on any space that doesn’t already contain a building or tank.
- Finally the players will place their two mines. These mines can be placed on any space on their side of the board that does not contain another piece. A player will write down the location of the two mines on a piece of paper which is placed inside the headquarters.
- The player using the green tanks will start the game.
Playing the Game
A player will begin their turn by moving their tanks. To begin the game each player will have six movement points/spaces per turn. This can change later in the game as I will explain later. A player must use them all to move their tanks six spaces. There are a few rules about how these points can be used:
- All tanks must be moved either forward or sideways. They may never be moved diagonally.
- Once a tank reaches the other side of the board you will place a flag on it. To receive the flag the tank must stay on the space until their next turn. This makes the tank a “command tank”. A command tank can move forwards, sideways, and backwards.
- Tanks may not move back and forth on the same space during a turn. A tank may not be moved back to the space that it started the turn on.
- A tank may not move through a space occupied by another tank or building. A tank may move onto a space that has one of their opponent’s buildings on it though.
- Each tank can be moved only a max of three spaces. The one exception is when a player has only one or two tanks left.
- At least one of your tanks must move forward at least one space each turn. If you have a command tank you can instead move it back one space and still meet this requirement.
- When a player only has one or two tanks left the rules for movement are slightly altered. The rule where you can only move three spaces with a tank is removed. The requirement that you must use all of your spaces is also removed. The only rule regarding movement is that you have to move one tank at least one space forward or one space backward if you have a command tank.
After checking for shots, mines and battles (see below) play will pass to the other player.
Shooting At Tanks
For each player’s first turn they will move without any risk of getting hit by their opponent’s shots. After each player’s first turn though players will have the opportunity to start shooting at one another. Before a player moves their tanks the other player will use their red pegs and place them on spaces in their plotting grid that they think the other player will move their tank to. A player can only place a peg on a space that is currently unoccupied.
During the game players will have access to five special shots. These white pegs can be used only once during the entire game. White pegs work the same as red pegs and are used when a player wants to take more shots on a turn. After these shots have been used the player will discard them for the rest of the game.
The current player will then move their tanks. Before the player takes any other actions the shooting player will compare the location of their pegs to the locations of the other player’s tanks. If the player moved one of their tanks onto a space that the shooting player put a peg in the corresponding tank will be destroyed. The shooting player will show their grid to the other player so they can verify and then the tank will be removed from the board. The player does not reveal the value of the tank that was destroyed to the shooting player.
At the beginning of the game each player placed two mines on their side of the board. If an opponent’s tank ends a turn on one of these spaces the tank will be automatically destroyed. The mine will then be gone for the rest of the game. To verify the location of the mine the player has to show the other player the location that they wrote on the sheet of paper. When showing the other player you should cover up the location of the other mine.
If a tank moves through a mine space (doesn’t stay on it) the mine will not destroy it. A player may move their own tanks on or over one of their own mine spaces without the tank being destroyed.
After all of the shots and mines have been resolved players will see if their tanks are able to attack any of their opponent’s tanks or buildings. To attack a tank or anti-tank gun a tank must be on one of the four adjacent spaces (horizontal or vertical). To attack a building a tank must be on the same space as the building. If a tank is in a position to attack it must attack. If a tank is placed in a location where they can attack multiple pieces they will have to attack all of them. The attacking player can choose the order that they will attack the pieces.
The process for each type of attack are as follows:
Tank vs Tank: When two tanks battle the players will compare the values of each tank. The tank with the higher number will destroy the other tank. If both tanks are the same value both will be destroyed. When a tank is destroyed it will be removed from the game.
Tank vs Anti-Tank Gun: When a tank attacks an anti-tank gun the attacking player will spin the spinner. Whatever the spinner lands on will determine whether the tank or the anti-tank gun is destroyed. The destroyed tank or anti-tank gun will be removed from the board. If an anti-tank gun is removed the player that owns that gun will also lose one of their white pegs (if available).
Tank vs Building: When a tank ends the turn on an opponent’s building that building will be destroyed and removed from the board. Depending on the building that is destroyed the player that owns that building will face a penalty.
- Headquarters: When a headquarters is destroyed the player will lose their mines for the rest of the game.
- Ammunition Dump: When the ammunition dump is destroyed the player will only be able to use a number of red pegs equal to their number of tanks. For example if a player only has four tanks left they will only get to use four red pegs.
- Fuel Dump: When a player loses their fuel dump they can only move their tanks up to a total of four spaces.
End of Game
The first player to destroy all of the other player’s tanks will win the game.
This variant rule can be added to the game if both players agree to use it.
A player can shoot a shot at one of their own buildings if they think their opponent will try to destroy it on their next turn. If the other player moved their tank to the building both the building and tank will be destroyed. If the other player didn’t move their tank to the building though the building will still be destroyed.
My Thoughts on Tank Battle
I have to say that I was a little surprised by Tank Battle. Just looking at the box it looks like your typical war game where players use their tanks to try and destroy the other player’s tanks. While that is the objective in Tank Battle there is a little more to the game than that. Effectively Tank Battle is a combination of Battleship and Stratego with the ability to king pieces like in Checkers.
I would say that the main mechanic in the game is the Battleship mechanic. Like Battleship in Tank Battle players will use a grid to try and locate their opponent’s pieces. Choosing the locations of your shots is very similar to Battleship. The one main difference is the fact that you can always see the current location of your opponent’s tanks. This drastically changes the gameplay. In Battleship you are just randomly guessing locations hoping to land a shot on one of the ships and then shooting at neighboring spots to eventually destroy the ship. Instead of randomly guessing the current location of the tanks in Tank Battle you are trying to predict where they will move and only need one successful shot to destroy them. Due to the movement rules there are limits on how the tanks can move which gives you a general area of where they can be moved. You then need to try and read the other player to shoot at the spaces you think they will move to.
I found this to be a really interesting mechanic. In theory I like the Battleship mechanic where you call out spaces trying to hit your opponent’s pieces. The problem with Battleship is that the game relies almost exclusively on luck. There are some strategies that you can implement to increase your odds but the player who guesses best will find the ships and win the game. I have always wanted a game that would improve upon these mechanics and Tank Battle does to a degree. The fact that you always know the current position of the tanks means that you have a general idea of where you should shoot. You won’t have enough shots to cover every space which means that you have to predict where the other player will move their tanks. Players that are good at predicting what the other player is going to do will have a big advantage in the game. This change adds some decision making to the game as you have extra shots that are one time use. Choosing when to use these shots can be crucial to the game.
While the Battleship mechanics make up most of the gameplay, the Stratego mechanics also play a role. Basically the premise of Stratego is that each player controls an army of units consisting of the same troops. Each player can place their troops in any arrangement though so players never know which of their opponent’s pieces represent each type of unit. The combat then comes down to you reading your opponent so you have a more powerful unit in the fight than your opponent. While you have a lot less troops in Tank Battle this element of the game plays basically the same. For the tanks that you aren’t able to shoot on the grid you need to set up a battle where your tank is stronger than their tank. Anyone who has ever played Stratego should know how they feel about this mechanic. I have always had a soft spot for Stratego so I had fun with the mechanic. Unfortunately it doesn’t play a big role in the game due to how few tanks each player gets and most of them will be destroyed through the Battleship mechanic.
The final element that comes into play in Tank Battle are the buildings and anti-tank guns. I think the addition of stationary buildings/guns was an interesting idea. Having these buildings on the board entices players to be more aggressive as they will receive a benefit for destroying the other player’s buildings. You can also use the placement of your buildings to dictate where you want your opponent’s to move. Some of these buildings are quite powerful that you really want to protect them while others aren’t that helpful. By far the weakest building is the headquarters which just eliminates your mines. The mines don’t seem all that powerful as the odds of landing on a specific space is not that likely. Losing an anti-tank gun doesn’t do much outside of losing one of your extra shots which can hurt a little. By far the two most powerful buildings are the ammunition and fuel dumps. When you lose the ammunition dump you will lose several of your shots each turn which reduces your odds of hitting your opponent’s tanks. Losing the fuel dump greatly reduces your movement options making it much more likely that your opponent will destroy your tanks. Losing one or both of the dumps will drastically reduce your odds of winning the game.
For a game that I had never heard much about I have to give Tank Battle quite a bit of credit. Many board games from the 1970s didn’t contain a lot of strategy or unique mechanics especially games made by mainstream publishers like Milton Bradley. While the game borrows mechanics from much more popular board games, I think it deserves credit for creating a game that was pretty creative for its time. The tweaks on the Battleship mechanics in particular actually improve upon the original game. I am wondering what you could do with a Battleship type game where you could occasionally get a clue to where your opponent’s units are located. The Stratego mechanics don’t really distinguish themselves as they don’t really do anything different. For that reason I wouldn’t say that Tank Battle is better than Stratego.
I thought Tank Battle was a game from before its time and it turns out that Milton Bradley thought the same. Back in the early 2000s Milton Bradley launched the Mission Command series which basically took older military/war themed board games and updated them for more modern audiences. The series spanned three games with one of the games being Mission Command Land. Basically Mission Command Land took the main mechanics from Tank Battle and slightly tweaked and updated them to try and improve upon the original game. While I haven’t played Mission Command Land to compare the two games, I am intrigued by the game as I am curious if it was able to fix some of the problems with Tank Battle.
Other than the game having some interesting ideas I think the game’s other best asset is the fact that the game is pretty simple and plays pretty quickly. While I don’t think the game’s instructions were written very well, the game itself is pretty simple. Especially if players are familiar with Battleship and Stratego you could probably teach the game within a couple minutes. There are a few different mechanics that you need to keep in mind but none of the mechanics are particularly difficult. I don’t think children would have too many issues with the game since the game does have a recommended age of 8+. Unless players have trouble hitting each other’s tanks I would also say that the game plays pretty quickly. I would say that the game should usually take around 30 minutes. For these reasons I think the game could work well as a family game.
I have to admit that I was genuinely surprised by Tank Battle. For a 1970s game that never became very popular there are some good things about the game. Unfortunately all of the good things about the game are somewhat ruined by the fact that at the end of the day it is just a glorified guessing game. The game doesn’t rely entirely on luck as your decisions will have an impact on the game. The problem is that luck will also play a big role in the game. While the game gives you information that helps inform your decisions, you are still ultimately guessing at the location of the other player’s tanks. Guess well and you will have a distinct advantage over the other player.
The reason why Tank Battle is basically a guessing game is that there are so many options for a player to take with regards to movement. The game puts some restrictions on movement but it still leaves in a lot of potential movement options for players. You don’t have enough pegs to cover all of these spots so you just need to hope you pick the right spots. There are so many potential movement options for a couple reasons. At the beginning of the game you have six different tanks and six movement points. You can use these movement points in a bunch of different ways where you could end up moving between two and six tanks. Good luck guessing the pieces that the other player will pick and which spaces they will get moved to. Things get arguably worse in the late game as most of the movement restrictions are removed once you are down to your last two tanks. While you don’t have many tanks to work with there is a lot of flexibility as you can move them between one and six spaces. Unless you corner a tank in an area that severely limits their movement options, you will have to get lucky to hit your opponent’s tanks.
Before wrapping up I want to quickly talk about the components. For a game made in the 1970s I would say that the components are better than I would have expected. The tank pieces are pretty nice as they show quite a bit of detail which includes the top of the tanks swiveling. The game’s artwork is basically what you would expect from a war game. It won’t blow you away but it does its job. I would say that the biggest problem with the components is that the box is quite large. The games uses one of the larger Milton Bradley boxes which is mostly due to the size of the board. I like that the game has a larger board but I think it could have included another crease so the box could have been made smaller. For a game that is pretty average it is hard justifying the box taking up so much space.
Should You Buy Tank Battle?
With most Milton Bradley games from the 1970s not being all that great I didn’t know what to expect out of Tank Battle. On the surface it looked like another very generic war game. After playing the game I have to say that I was a little surprised. Tank Battle basically feels like a combination of Battleship and Stratego. The game takes the grid based combat from Battleship but alters it where you can see the current locations of the tanks. You then need to try to guess where the other player will move their tanks. This is a interesting twist as you have to try to figure out what the other player will do. The Stratego elements are basically the same as the original game as when two tanks get into a battle the higher tank will win. Along with a few other mechanics Tank Battle deserves credit for creating a unique game for the 1970s. The game is also quite easy to play and plays pretty quickly. At the end of the day though the game is still a pretty basic guessing game. You can make an educated guess while shooting but due to so many different movement options you basically have to just get lucky.
Overall I had mixed feelings about Tank Battle. There are things I liked about it but there are some problems as well. If the theme or the mechanics don’t seem all that interesting to you I don’t think Tank Battle will be for you. If you are intrigued by the game though you can have some fun with it. As Tank Battle has some issues though I would only recommend picking if up if you can get a good deal on it.