By Vasily Krysov and Shan Revan, with contributions from Hob Gadling and Hubis.
Right now it is no secret that the tank meta is quite out of whack. We see the best of the best space tanks paired up with straight up WW2 surplus crap. This is a problem thematically, for gameplay and authenticity. We’re sure everyone would like to see more Pattons, T-72’s and Leopards (and tigers, OH MY!) driving around killing things and exploding.
It is our position that with the correct use of pricing before anything else, without having to introduce new systems or program in gimmicks, we can fix medium tanks to being useful. In this analysis we will be using the USSR tank section in many examples as it is the most complete and comprehensive selection.
First we’re going to talk about Activation Point pressure. Or rather the near total lack thereof in the tank category (Which is mostly why armoured decks are kind of a bad deal at the moment). Why then, is the tank category so lacking in AP pressure, when the Infantry section is practically boiling over? Simple: Infantry fulfill a lot of different roles, and many of them are highly desirable. Tanks on the other hand really only have two roles, three if you're being generous. That is, the infantry support tank, the dedicated tank hunter, and maybe something that is adequate at both.
The infantry support tank doesn't have much in the way of requirements. If it can lob HE at enemy infantry from out of range, and kill light vehicles, then it's good enough. Really then the biggest concern is getting as many as possible, for as little as possible. Is it really any wonder then why tanks from the 1940's roam over the fields and forests of Asia in numbers that put Kursk to shame? Extremely cheap, extremely cost efficient, and often available in numbers that rival infantry militia, they're an obvious choice for the min-maxer. Especially the old Centurion Mk.V, who does all that, with both armour and gun not much worse than a Leo1A1’s or T72’s! Supplement these guys with some fast light guns and autocannons from the VEH section and you've honestly got most bases covered at the moment.
At the other end of the spectrum you've got the dedicated tank killers. If you're feeling especially min-maxy, and good at microing, then a card or two of your favourite super-heavies are the obvious choice. For those who don't feel like inviting ATGM plane hordes down upon them, it can often be worthwhile stepping down a few levels, saving a bunch of pts and calling it a day, after all, there are plenty of hard-counters to these units that are probably cheaper, and probably more versatile anyway.
Then we have the vast middle ground. There are, and have been, some definite good deals in this section, but for the vast majority of them, they simply don't offer much more ability in killing infantry or light vehicles than the left-overs from WW2 and the VEH section, and they don't really kill tanks very efficiently either. For the majority of these tanks, even if they do have adequate availability, their performance just doesn't match up to the asking price.
It should be noted that over-priced units with high-availability creates an illusion of balance in the sense of the price being compensated for by the availability. This however is a fallacy, because frequently the price prohibits you from actually making use of the extra availability, and even when it doesn't, there are opportunity costs associated with it, which can be pretty big.
The end result is you frequently don't even need the five slots offered to you and probably don't actually need more than thee, saving the AP for some fast light gun platforms like Zhalos or Sagaies.
On the other hand, the tank category suffers very highly from price:performance pressures. Partly because there are no AP pressures to offset this, partly because there’s so few roles and partly because so many tanks are mis-priced.
As we’ve discussed before, there’s really only room for three roles. The first one, as we’ve mentioned prioritises getting numbers out there for coverage and support. Cheap and available is the name of the game here to the point that little else matters. What they lack in any one category is made up for in numbers and price efficiency. We've also discussed the second type, the “tank killer” option. Generally money is no expense here. Quality over quantity and all that. The third type I’ve mentioned can exist is the middle ground. Something that is cost-effective at doing both.
The problem however, is there simply isn’t anything that is “cost effective” at doing both, and whenever there has been, it has been “nerfed into line” with the others, despite often wide community agreement that it should set the new standard. This is the realm of the Medium tank. The medium tank should probably be the bulk of our forces, valued for their versatility and cost efficiency, but worse than at any one role than the dedicated options. In theory, they have the versatility - the stats make them okay tank killers, and okay infantry support. The problem comes down to efficiency.
The whole selling point of the medium tank is its efficiency, but at their current price schemes, they simply aren’t efficient! For the price of two medium tanks, you can buy 10 to 20 support tanks, which will completely outclass it in support roles, and probably even anti-tank abilities. On the other hand for the same price you could buy a top-tier tank-killer and be more than doubly effective at killing enemy tanks. In the same way line infantry need to be the most cost efficient option if you want them to exist as a useful role, so do medium tanks. They need to be not just exactly priced at their exact performance value, consciously go a step beyond, and to be made just a little bit OP in price efficiency, whilst maintaining adequate availability. Suddenly we will see medium tanks become the main force. Suddenly the other options are there to support and protect each-other.
Tanks Vs Tanks
There are three themes to tanks:
1- If you make them dirt cheap and very AP efficient, they will always have value in any deck for spamming.
2- If you make them not-dirt cheap/price efficient and keep very AP efficient it is just over-paying for a tonne of turds, which makes it even worse when you don't get any other choices.
3-If you make them very price efficient but not AP efficient that means any deck which has access to better tanks will preference those, and any deck that doesn't will have the extra slots to spare to take more cheap tanks.
That broadly describes the situation of tanks as it currently stands. We have lights that are cheap spam, mediums that are not worth their cost and heavy tanks that deliver excellent returns on their initial investment with their firepower. To what I have seen on the public forum and elsewhere, everyone finds this to be an undesirable state of affairs.
The start of this is probably the misguided idea that the old reservist tanks should be in any way “competitive” relative to other tanks. They should be quite literally obsolete if you have access to better options. Stat-wise they are in fact very obsolete already - however, naively in the name of balance people attempt to make them "viable" against stuff they shouldn't be viable against in main decks.
By doing this, all that has been accomplished is that the medium tanks are now priced out of their actual effectiveness relative to the heavy tanks. Sure, the Medium might be worth the extra 20 points over the light tanks, but it certainly isn’t worth that relative to it’s predator. This is important as the main guiding principle should be “what will you get for approximately 160pts of this unit” instead of “is this tank worth +5 on an individual basis to another tank”. Another way of putting it, is that the pricing should scale downwards from a “zero point”, not scale upwards. Key to this point is how the relationship between AP and AV functions:
As we can see in the chart, as the difference between AP/AV grows, it actually becomes less important than the first few points.So to make an example, the M1A2(24AP) will treat a T-80B(14AV) the same as a T-55(7AV), yet the latter costs only a fifth of the former. This means that for the purpose of “catching shells” the T-55A is far better than any of the mediums between them and the T-80B.Being able to take 10 shells in total, to the T-80B’s 2. Interestingly, the T-34/85 is actually no better than the T-55 as it is one shot due to having only 3AV, so 10 of them will take 10 shells. However that is against the extreme case of 24AP KE damage. If we reduce that to 20 or under AP< then the T-34/85 becomes the better shell catcher. This is primarily why the Centurion Mk.5 is so popular, at 15pts for 9AV, it makes it the best damn shell catcher in the game, bar none. The rest of it’s stats don’t matter at all since it’s only going to see either not-tanks or other chaff that has no armor, or it will be facing the top shelf heavies that it would never have a hope against in the first place.
So this creates the current conundrum, the medium tank either isn’t good enough to fight properly in all cases(heavies), or it simple is not cost effective for the purpose of providing mass in which to absorb damage(lights).
Another factor is that in RD, the addition of the new “uber heavies” has raised the quality ceiling even higher and has now reshuffled the roles of a number of tanks. As an example, it used to be that the T-72B1 with it’s 18AP was effectively a “pocket heavy” that only needed to slightly close the distance in order to penetrate even the heaviest NATO tanks. Now however it is woefully unable to perform against the new breed of tanks with more than 20AV/AP and increased accuracy, which will be able to stomp them with little danger with only a slightly higher cost involved. While they are still decent budget tanks, their real utility has dropped and needs to be accounted for.
Tanks in the Wild
But of course, not everything in the game is a tank. Most of what it will be facing is light ground targets, aircraft and helicopters. Once we consider the effects of the latter two, the situation of tanks becomes even more dire. Any attack in numbers will be countered with bombers and any actual penetration of the line will be countered with fresh reserves and helicopters. This plays into the current meta, you simply must go by helicopter or by wheels in order to get to the merge point. One would assume that due to the slower speed of tracked vehicles, they would correspondingly be more powerful so that when they do reach the front, they are able to shift it with raw power. This is not the case however funnily enough, simply due to the new deck system and the changes to SAM systems.
It used to be that you could overload your deck in the support category if you so choose in order to get the variety of tools needed to change the battle. But now you are stuck in a quandary with no good choices. If you skimp on AA, then the obvious happens. If you skimp on artillery then you can’t soften up positions or use smoke. If you skimp on rocket artillery you are basically throwing your tanks against the wall of unsuppressed enemies in their defensive positions.
Once we consider the whole cornucopia of LAWs, RPGs, and ATGMs threatening tanks, we’ll find that tanks have a rather brittle and short-lived life unless their armor matches their threats.
“The tank’s fast but the armor’s crap!”
-Sardonic tankmen saying after T-34 armor was surpassed
A short list:
-Tanks are far more affected by bad morale due to how cannons work
Essentially, the tank was public enemy No.1 for almost every single other arm on the battlefield. However this is someway of a swing and a miss in game as there is a sore absence of tanks to actually shoot at aside from cheap spam and heavy tanks. The point of this however is to say something simple: even if we make tanks much more competitive than they are now, there will still be a hell of a lot of things stopping them from overrunning the enemy.
It is a well earned point of pride for Eugen that there are so many units in the game; and tanks make up more than 10% of the full armoury list coming in at 164 units out of 1472 in the Tank category. That’s a lot of tanks! It’s a lot of tanks, that have to be distributed in price over a scale of 5-180pts. That doesn’t sound too bad until you realise the 5pt interval makes that only 35 discrete price points to distribute 164 tanks! Fortunately, many of these tanks are duplicates of each other, but even if we generously assume that ¾ of the tank category are replicas, that still means there are over 40 unique tank-forms to distribute over 35 price-points. Not too bad, but not too good, especially considering there’s probably a few more unique tanks than our generous assumption would portray.
Fig.1 This shows the current categories of tanks for the USSR line. As one can see, some tanks are totally out of place (T-72B does not belong with the heavies!) and another question is, how many of these tanks are considered worth the price? Not many I’d wager. Most of the Medium tank band is seldom seen in the wild.
So what is the consequence of this? Quite simply, a lot of tanks have to share prices when they probably shouldn't. In other words, no matter how we distribute them, a lot of tanks are going to be mis-priced compared to their performance. The trick to solving it, is consciously making a decision on what to "unfairly" price and acting accordingly. I say unfairly, because it can go both ways, they can be priced lower than they should - giving them the advantage, or higher, making them undesirable compared to their peers. Expanding on this, we must realise the repercussions of this are not solely inflicted upon the tanks which get priced “unfairly”. Fortunately, price isn't the only balance mechanism alone, but it's still a big issue to consider.
The matter of Inertia
Another severe problem is that simply put, tanks are slow.They will take between 3 to 4 minutes or even more to get to the front line. Artillery, helicopters and aircraft can be on station within seconds to counter any of their moves. So to me we can almost express the total power of these arms mathematically:
Speed*Strength = Power
So for tanks, the only way to have them be equal against the enemy’s supporting arms is to have a stronger concentration at the time of the attack. But that then plugs into the economy, 1000pts to start with + 1050pts per 10mins in your standard conquest match. If we account of attrition, competing costs and so on, there is only a small fraction in which to invest on tanks. Currently, putting 500pts on tanks would get you only a small quantity of these units to the point that the enemy will get the points to buy a hard-counter amount of air power in the time it takes for your forces to drive to the frontline! This is clearly seen in the opening stages of conquest when you are “making the merge”, by the time this occurs both sides have amassed roughly 150 points, enough to get a “nuke bomber” that can decimate or outright annihilate the starting force. So the first thing that must be done every time is to spread out the opening group before everything else. Heaven help you if the enemy manages to land an F-111C load on your forces.
Later in the game, this is shown in how the enemy will “panic button” air power against any given attack. Which places people in a dammed if you do damned if you don’t: either your attack is concentrated enough to break through, and gets bombed, or it is too diffuse and can’t make headway, and still gets bombed. Tank forces are currently unable to roll with the punches like they should.
So with all of these hares running wild and destroying everything, tanks and tracks need to be the winners of “slowly but surely”. To do this they just need to put on a few extra pounds so they can really punch out the featherweights around them.