Saturday, 7 May 2016

Iron Cross T34 v Tiger I

Iron Cross - Great Escape Games.

Iron Cross are a fast play set of WWII rules for miniatures. They use an innovative activation system, which I will briefly go into in the post, but primarily the post is about how the system portrays gun / armour tables.
Booklet cover

There are a couple of similar comparisons made for various systems between the T34/76 and the Tiger 1 on this blog and links to the relevant postings are show at the foot of this post in the resource section.

Please press the 'read more' tab for the rest of this post.

I am certainly not a rivet counter, preferring fun and simpler systems, but I have always been fascinated how rule designers approach amour penetration in their systems. The first thing I always check out is how they rate the German Panther to the Tiger I, as these make a good benchmark pair due to their opposed design features but similar technical performances.

The significant characteristics of these two vehicles are (in terms of armour / gun values) that - the Panther has the better armour penetration, especially over the longer distance, it probably has better frontal armour against most incoming shots because of the sloped armour having the physical effect of increasing thickness. The Panther has weaker side armour and generally the Tigers had the more experienced crews (Tiger I's not Tiger II's). These are the main factors that systems across the board should be reflecting in their stats.

In many rules, due to having to squeeze the variable of ranges into a relatively narrow band that will accord with the involvement of either a D6 or D10, the Panther and the Tiger will usually have the same stats, but with the Panther showing weaker side armour.

In Iron Cross, the Panther has frontal armour valued at 17 and a gun valued at 10. On a Tiger I, those respective figures are also 17 and 10, the vehicles are pretty much identical except the Panther's side armour is one point lower (that seems slightly stronger than I would have anticipated) and the Tiger counts as a heavy - nothing wrong with that except in this system, heavy means that things that activate more than once, suffer a penalty in their activation attempt. Having regard for the Tiger I crews being experienced and confident in both themselves and their machines, that seems a little strange (though perhaps more so in 1943 and less so in '44/45).
Suggested admin markers and dice in the rules

There are three aspects about these rules that should be explained before we look at the T34 / Tiger traits.

Firstly is an interesting activation system and I can see people who don't use these rules as their 'go to' set, grafting this system into their own games. Basically both players get a command allowance for the turn. To activate anything requires the expenditure of one command token. The first time that something activates it spends a token and activates automatically, but units can potentially activate a number of times in a turn. To activate a second time, the player rolls a D6, needing to score more than the number of command tokens already spent on that unit. So a second activation needs a 2+ and a third 3+ etc. To attempt this activation, another command token is spent without any guarantee of getting the activation and that very command point will also feed into future tests.

The opposing player can interrupt play by spending a command token and rolling the dice. Reacting units always needing a base of 3+ to act (even if it is their first activation) plus any previous command tokens spent on the unit.

A roll of 6 always is successful regardless of how many tokens a unit carries and in the case of interrupting, if a 6 is rolled, the interrupting player will always seize the initiative from the other player.

Players with the initiative can just keep on going until they lose the initiative (rather like the Crossfire rules), so multiple activations even of the same unit is possible.

Secondly - Morale markers are interesting, because they accumulate and once a unit collects more morale markers than its own morale value, then it is removed from play. This abstractly covers a multitude of outcomes from significant damage through to surrender etc. For armour, a hit but not an outright kill will cause one or more morale markers to be allocated to the target vehicle. To lay a morale marker, the attackers gun must be capable of penetrating the defending armour in the first place i.e. Even though the hit did not actually penetrate ..... it potentially could have.
Artwork from the rule book

When a unit attempts to activate more than once, not only must it roll higher than the number of command tokens on it, but it must roll higher than the combined figure of command tokens and morale markers currently with that vehicle.

A Tiger I has a morale level of 6, the T34/76 level is 4 (the T34/85 has the level increased to 5). So accumulated damage to the vehicle and injury and psychological impact on the crew are taken into account in a simple and elegant way. The only downside is that units begin to trail a morale marker and command tokens around with them, but I think the effects are worth that.

Thirdly, when a gun hits armour with a result that is higher than the armours defensive value, it can penetrate the armour, but if it only equals the defensive value, it inflicts a morale marker onto the target instead ...... but only if the gun would have had a chance of penetrating. This borderline situation has particular elegance to our T34 v Tiger discussion.

So these three things taken together give this system a lot of inter-activity and substantially play into the gun / armour rules and how the outcomes of gun duels play out and need to be borne in mind as we look at the way the Tiger I and T34 interact.

The T34 is classed as a medium tank and the Tiger I as heavy. This only really has two impacts, as already stated, heavies have a +1 to activation attempts, due to things like awkwardness and risk of breakdown etc, but as stated above, in the case of the Tiger, I don't think this reflects the nature of the Tiger's crews. I suppose you could house rule that the penalty only occurs for movement and not fire, although the rules are fast play and not meant to be full of chrome.
Artwork from the rule book

The second impact is that heavies find it easier to advance over difficult ground and have less chance of bogging down (can't move for the rest of the turn). Now this includes hedges, ditches and rubble, but can also include steep hills and marsh and so that rule seems a bit generic as there are some terrain types in which one might expect the T34 to actually perform better, though admittedly both the T-34 and Tiger I had wide tracks. Mediums do move a bit faster than heavies (normal movement is 10" for mediums and 8" for heavies, though there are rapid move and on road movement options).

Anyway, moving on to our duel between the T34/76 (these are the 44-45 lists, so presumably this is a late model) and Tiger I.

The T34/76 has front armour of 13 and a weapon value of 7. Since we roll a D10 for the fire system, it is convenient to think in terms of percentages. When firing, the T34 needs to roll and add the D10 to its weapon value of 7 in an effort to beat the defending armour on the Tiger of 17 and it can't do that - so a T34/76 not being able to take out a Tiger frontally is a good representation.

The best that the T-34 can do is roll a 10, added to the gun value of 7 would score 17 and thereby equal the armour value of the Tiger. But this is not enough, because while equalling the enemy armour value normally allows the firer to inflict a morale marker onto the target, it can only do so if the gun is actually capable of exceeding the target's armour ..... Which the T34/76 cannot.

However, if the T34 can get to within 6" of the Tiger, it will get a +1 to the die roll, in which case a 10 would cause the Tigers armour value to be exceeded and the vehicle would then have to test of the penetration table, but there is only a 10% chance of getting this hit. This bonus for proximity is useful in the case of the T-34 as it of course would not only allow a die roll of 10 to be effective (10+1+7 defeats armour 17), but that the bonus +1 (for being within 6") is now useful because the morale hit could be applied, as the even if the guns equals the defence, it is now the case that the shot could have actually exceeded the armour value. This has the effect of giving a further 10% chance of at least causing some harm.

Anyway, the fact is that frontally, the T34/76 cannot penetrate the front of a Tiger Unless they get close and then they are only on the margins of being able to do so. That accords with real world performance and also matches similar results in Conflict of Heroes, Lock 'n Load and Band of Brothers (all tactical boardgames).

If we up gun the T34 to the T34/85 version, then real world reports suggest that the T34/85 should start to be able to take the Tiger I on frontally from around 500 metres and closer.
From the rulebook - a Marder advances

In Iron Cross the gun rating of the 85mm is 9. This puts it one point below the German 88/56 and on an equal footing with the German 75/48 (as found in the later PzIV), which seems about right and this is also how the anti-tank performance of the 85mm is handled in the previously mentioned games and it adds credibility to the gun charts used in the game.

To knock a Tiger I out frontally (there are no range limits in the game, everything, except hand held anti-tank weapons can fire as far as they can see) the T34/85 would need to roll 9 or 10 to go straight to the penetration table and an 8 (for being equal) would of course inflict a morale marker. If the tank got to within 6" of the target it would get a +1 to the die roll, so 8, 9 or 10 (30% chance) could potentially kill the Tiger by rolling on the penetration table and a further 10% chance of inflicting a morale marker.

As an aside, the Tiger (firepower 10), could knock out a T34/76 on a roll of 4 or more (or 3+ if it got within 6"), so giving a 60% chance (rising to 70% chance) of a roll on the penetration table. If anything, this is probably just a tad behind some of the afore mentioned systems on a shot for shot basis ........ but in this system, that activation mechanic means that the same unit can keep on firing if there are enough command tokens to spend and if the tank can pass the activation roll and if the other player does not steal the initiative (there is just so much going on under the bonnet of this game for such simple procedures).

So in effect, that chance that a tank gets to destroy an enemy tank can become accumulative throughout the turn, substantially increasing the chance of a kill - in many other games, a miss often means the other player just goes "phew - I can relax now until next turn" - not here. The Level of inter-play and associated decision making is significant.

The surprising thing is that flank shots do not seem to be as devastating as they are in many other systems. Armour values are frequently just 1 - 3 points lower than the front and there is no separate flank die modifier when firing - but, our T34/76 firing into the Tiger's flank armour (value 14, it was known for its unusually thick flank armour), at standard range would need 8+ to penetrate (with a +1 to the die roll if within 6" for close range). In the same position, the T34/85 would penetrate on a 6+).

For the record the side armour of a T34/76 is 11.

Just looking at the Panther and Tiger stats and then examining a duel between the T-34's and the Tiger, leaves me feeling that despite the tag of 'fast play', the gun / armour rules will be accurate enough for a lot of gamer and the tension from inter-play making gun duels exciting and engaging.

If we put one Tiger and three T34/76 on the table at say 24" distance apart and give the Germans the initiative, then part of the turn may run something like this;

The Tiger wants to fire at one of the tanks. A command token is placed by the Tiger. Since this is the first token placed, it automatically gets to act. It declares the fire and the Soviet player attempts to interrupt, stating that it wants to Rapid Move one of the T-34's forward. As a reaction the base roll is 3+ on a D6. The die is rolled and the Soviets score a '1', the T-34 fails the interruption attempt, but one command token is still placed with that T-34.

The Tiger now continues with its action and fires at one of the other two T-34's. It rolls a D10 and scores 7 added to its gun value of 10, this gives them 17 which exceeds the front armour (13) of the T-34. This is a penetrating hit, so the German player rolls on the Penetration Table (D6) and gets "vehicle destroyed". So now just two T-34's face the Tiger and one of them has a command token on it.

Initiative remains with the German side. They declare that they will fire again and will have to pay another command token to fire again, but this time they must test to see whether they can act. They already have 1 command token on their tank from the last activation, so they need to roll higher than that with a D6 - however, as the Tiger is classed as heavy, it suffers a +1 modifier on the die roll, so they will need to roll 3+ to activate. The die is rolled, resulting in a 2, so the Tiger fails to act, but another command token is still spent and placed with the Tiger, so that next time it tries to activate it will have to take both tokens into account.

Initiative still remains with the German side. Again they declare that they will fire at a T-34 and place a command token with the Tiger. There were already two command tokens in place at the start of activation and there is the plus 1 penalty for being heavy, so the Tiger must roll 4+ to act. They roll a 1 (this crew must have come straight from the cadet school) and fail.

initiative still remains with the Germans, but they only have 3 command tokens left and will want to hold a couple back so that they can react to soviet moves later in the turn. Do they voluntarily hand the initiative over to the Soviets or attempt to activate the Tiger again, but this time needing 5+ (risky) or do they try to activate something else.

They have two unused Panzer IV's hiding on the edge of a nearby orchard on the T-34's flank. They decide to activate one of those units to attack the T-34's in the flank. They declare a fire against the T-34 without a command token on it (i.e the unused tank) and place a command token on their own vehicle (now just 2 tokens remaining for the German player) and automatically activate because it is their first action.

Following this declaration the Soviet player can attempt to interrupt the Germans, which they do. The T-34 that has no command token on it states that they will shoot at the activated Panzer IV. This reaction fire is made on a 3+ and is modified like all activations by command tokens and morale markers (none in this instance). A command token is placed next to the tank. They roll a 3 and so they pass their reaction and fire at the Panzer IV first.

The T-34 rolls a D10 and scores 4, this is added to their gun value (7) for a total of 11. The front armour of a panzer IV is 14, so the shot fails.

The German Panzer IV now continues with its action, firing back at the T-34. They roll a D10, getting 2 and add that to their gun value of 9 for a total of 11. The flank armour of the T-34 is 11, so the scores are equal. Since the Panzer IV could have potentially knocked out the T-34, an equal score allows the German player to place a morale marker on the target tank. That tank now has a morale marker and a command token on it (for a total of 2 markers) so both of these will affect any further attempts by the tank to activate.

The initiative is still with the German player, but they only have two command tokens left and the Soviets have 4, so they decide to voluntarily pass the initiative over to the Soviet side.

The Soviets now have the initiative. They are in a real quandary, being caught between the Tiger and the Panzer IV's and their flank exposed. They decide that they will reverse at Rapid Speed into a dip in the ground that is behind them. The T-34 with just 1 command token on it (i.e. not the one with the morale marker as well), declares that it will reverse. The second Panzer IV tries to interrupt the action by firing on the reversing T-34. It is unused, so will not pay any penalties when testing. Interruption needs a score of 3+. They get a 1 .... another cadet!, so the interruption fails and the command token is placed with the Panzer IV, leaving just 1 token for the German player. The T-34 reverses at best speed (15") and drops out of view into the dip in the ground.

The initiative remains with the Soviet player, who wants the other T-34 to now try and reverse to safety. They put down one command token. This tank already had one command token and one morale token, so instead of declaring a move action, they declare a 'fall back' order. This will effectively allow them to activate in the same way, but fall back moves can ignore the morale markers, so are more likely to succeed.

So in this case the Soviets just need to roll 2+ (because of the existing command token). However, the German player, concerned that his prey as about to vanish from view decides to spend their last command token to interrupt play and fire on the retreating Soviet tank.

A Panzer IV (with one command token already on the vehicle) needs the basic 3+ to interrupt, plus the +1 for the command token it already has, so a roll of 4+ is needed. It rolls a 4, so it can fire. The target counts as moving, so there will be a -1 to the die roll. The tanker rolls a d10 and scores 6, added to their gun factor gives total of 15 minus 1 for the movement equals 14. This is enough to defeat the T-34's flank armour, so the Penetration Table is consulted, which confirms that the T-34 is knocked out.

The Soviets retain the initiative, what will they do now to try and clear the way ahead? With just a couple of command tokens left, the turn will likely end and both players can recharge their hand with a new allowance of command tokens.

In our example, I threw a couple of ambushing Panzer IV's into the mix, just to show the dynamics of the game - but I also picked up the scene again and ran it without the intervention of the Panzer IV's.
Basically the Soviets used a command token to Rapid Move towards the Tiger. The Tiger did not interrupt (but I ran a fire test anyway and had it reacted, it would have knocked the T-34 out with ease).
The Soviet tank spent another command token to make a move / fire action and this time the Tiger did attempt to react, spending it's precious command token, but it failed to react. So the T-34 took its move, advanced 5 inches to draw up level with the Tiger and then fire into the Tiger's flank (gun 7, D10 rolled 8, firing within 6" gives +1 and the firer moving deducts -2) getting an attack score of 14. This equals the Tiger's flank armour value, so a morale marker was simply put on the Tiger.
The Soviets could not do anything further for lack of Command tokens and the Germans likewise were happy to see the end of the turn, their morale marker and +1 for being heavy making reaction fire difficult.
I quite liked the way this 'swarming' test played out. Both sides were respectfully fearing of the others capability as there was a chance that the Soviets could overrun the Tiger and a chance that the Tiger could have knocked out the Soviets before they became a danger.
The intervention of the Panzer IV's also reflects the real world tactic of a Tiger formation operating with support to increase potency and for a while, a Tiger company had an organic element of Panzer III's for this very reason.
The rules are fast play, so some things have been stripped out or streamlined into a more generic approach. At the same time the same time the initiative and morale systems bring in a ton of flavour and tension for minimum rules overhead. Gun / armour values seem to work well, there is clearly an abstract relationship between armour that is rated 10 and above and guns that are rated 11 and below and the result of a D10. But I do like systems that manage to build gun and armour values into the 'to hit' process, so that a single roll indicates either a miss or a meaningful hit. The rules are Solid and so can easily be tweaked by players to get the game that they want.

Overall, the rulebook holds a lot of promise, especially for games between friends who will not argue over ambiguity in the rules (there are some) and I look forward to trying different situations, in particular city fights, to see how the infantry dimension plays into the question of armour vulnerability.


T34 v Tiger I for Conflict of Heroes HERE

T34 v Tiger 1 for Lock 'n Load HERE

My sister web site COMMANDERS, compliments this article based blog with a more chatty, news snippet style HERE


  1. Interesting. Thanks for highlighting this, Norm, as the activation part looks as if it would be well worth more study.

  2. Hi Ellis, I think the activation part could well be translated across to some tactical boardgames., especial as stacking the markers is a better prospect than the smaller scale figures carrying them around with them.

    I was thinking about Lock 'n Load. They already get a marker to show activation and in that system there is no final fire type stuff etc, once they are marked that is it, so a an activation system like the one in Iron Cross would transform that game (for good or for bad - who knows)..

    Anyway, as always, it is nice to see something new that captures the imagination.

  3. "I was thinking about Lock 'n Load."

    OK. I have now got a copy of the latest East Front version, but have not played it. I will try out the system out-of-the-box, before tweaking it, though.

    On the other hand, the Iron Cross framework is a candidate to replace the overwrought command and control, orders, and morale (morass?) that is in Panzer (GMT). I really like the detailed armour game, and can live with the more simplified infantry stuff. But I do not like the C3 stuff at all. Personal taste, for sure.

    "Anyway, as always, it is nice to see something new that captures the imagination."

    Agreed. Thanks again for sharing this. I saw a notice about these rules and completely overlooked them. That one idea would have made the price worth paying on its own!

  4. Thanks for the detailed write-up Norm. I find it questionable that the T34 could react to a PzIV firing from a hidden position in the woods in the first place. It seems to me that the T34 wouldn't even be aware of the PzIV until it fired, would it?

  5. In Conflict of Heroes, an activated unit takes an action and then the defender gets to conduct an action in response. I don't believe that this "interrupt an action" thing (such as what you're describing in IC) can occur in COH unless some special card allows it.

  6. Hi Clay, thanks for visiting. Your first point, I agree, but to an extent I do like the idea that ambush is not as certain as it is in some games. Don't forget, for the most part the reacting unit needs to roll a 3+ to pre-empt the ambusher, plus any command token and morale markers that they already carry, so nothing is certain and I quite like certainty removed from games. It does take some power away from the players and helps solitaire - but you are right that it doesn't totally feel right. I think you could tweak it by saying there is an extra +1 to the die roll to react against anything in cover that has not been used in that turn.

    Re Conflict of Heroes, I hadn't given that much thought, as I was primarily considering trying it with the Lock 'n Load system, but I don't see it being a particular problem because you are totally switching out the activation system, so in CoH, you would dispense with the action track and instead allocate all those Action Points to the player who will then spend them as command tokens - the activated unit would then spend their allowance as usual from that activation I.e. A LMG could fire several times up to its cost allowance upon activation or include some movement, so from that point of view the dynamic side of the game would be preserved, but at any point the other player could react by spending a command token.

    I'm sure that other things within the system would then need to be tweaked to make it work and one would be fundamentally changing the way the game works, though they did do that themselves between 1st and 2nd edition awakening the bear and things can be played differently again with the solitaire kit, so some might enjoy exploring the potential of playing in a new way. I know that when I play COH, the constant referral to the command track is disruptive to the flow of play, so it is something that I would consider.

    I think you would need to buy the Iron Cross rules as there are other things going on that my blog did not cover that make it a more rounded system to borrow from.

    But as always, they are just ideas ...... And plenty of mine don't work anyway :-)

  7. I do have the Iron Cross rules. Thanks for the responses.

  8. I have the Iron Cross rules and I think you need to read the introduction to them to understand that they are not designed to cover every contingency in every situation. In cases like that they tell you to talk about it and make a decision. The rules are only about 10 pages with about 4 pages of charts and examples so say 14 pages.

    In the case of the Panzer IV I would not allow a reaction shot as I would have allowed rules for Ambush(First shot no reaction). Gentlemen's house rules.

    I love that you took one particular thing that you test all rules by as far as duel accuracy and put Iron Cross to the same test. I think this is a fair way to test any rule set. I have seen rules where a normal Sherman will penetrate a Tiger 40% of the time. Drives me CRAZY! The Heavy Tank penalty though I think is fair. Heavy Tanks broke down all the time and crew just didn't sit in tanks that couldn't move and use them as pill boxes for long. Depending on their facing and supporting elements. More Tigers were abandoned on the west front NEARLY than destroyed.

  9. Hi Andrew. The rules are better suited to a game between like minded friends rather than competitive play for the reasons you open with. I have their sister rulebook (Sword and Shield) which is superbly written, by contrast Iron Cross feels a little like it missed out on a final proof read so the reading can at time feel a little clunky - to me at least.

    I agree about the performance of weapon systems to be properly reflective of their real life capability and to have the confidence that the designer truly understands the subject matter.

    The point about abandoning tanks is interesting, I can't remember where I read it, but basically, a Tiger was under attack and though safe, the crew's nerves were frazzled. A glass visor block had been hit and blown into the crew compartment, it was glowing red hot. I read elsewhere that the Soviet 14.5mm AT rifle was used to aim at specific weak spots such as visor slits and door hinges etc.

    I quite like the way Iron Cross uses moral markers against armour to reflect growing psychological unease (frazzled nerves!) of a crew. Very good,



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