Western Front Tank Leader
Designer: Leonard C. Quam. (Original system design by John Hill with Guy Hail)
Publisher: West End Games
# of Players: 2
Play Time: 1 to 3 hours
Scale : Platoon Level
Two colour 22” by 17” maps
320 colour 5/8” counters
72 formation and strike cards
2 player aid cards
1 colour track sheet.
32 page rule book
Western Front Tank Leader (WFTL) is the second game in a series of three tactical wargames released in the 1980’s. First in the series was Eastern front Tank Leader and third was Desert Steel (covering North Africa and Tunisia). WTFL covers the western front in 1944 and 1945.
Unit counter are platoons or companies. Counters are provided for German, American and British units. Tanks are rated for Anti-tank, Defence and Anti-infantry along the bottom. Above the anti- tank rating is the movement allowance. Weapon range is top right (a black bar indicating indirect capability)
Infantry, guns and non-armour vehicles are rated in a similar fashion
A part of one of the paper maps is shown below. With black or brown urban terrain, black and red roads, different level hills, light and dark green forest, bocage, river, river with shallows , creek and creek with fords.
Each scenario will define what terrain is present and what effect it has. The scenarios list :-
Season: – Winter, Summer or Spring/Fall. (Affects rivers and creeks)
Contour: – Flat, Rolling or Hilly. (Affects Hills)
Area: – Arid, Wooded, Forested or Heavily Forested.
Urbanisation: – Devastated, Sparse or Normal
Road net :– Restricted, Moderate or Dense
E.g. If the urbanisation is devastated, then both the black and brown areas are ignored (treated as clear). If it is sparse, then the black is wooded building and the brown is clear. If it is Normal the black is stone buildings and the brown is wooden buildings.
This variable terrain allows a large variety of terrain to be generated from one map. However I personally found it difficult to remember during a scenario, that those brown building don’t exist and that the red road is treated as a trail rather than a surfaced road and that certain levels of hills don’t exists etc. The track sheet helps (it shows which terrain is present), but my solution was to pick scenarios where all of the terrain was present and different. However other people had less of a problem with the memory/visualisation.
Line Of Sight (LOS) is traced from centre of hex to centre of hex, however no centre dots are provided on the maps. However blocking terrain is assumed to fill the whole hex (i.e. it is not just the depiction) which eases making the LOS check.
In WFTL several units make up a formation which is identified by a combat formation card. Here is the card for C Squadron of the British 4th tank Battalion. In 1944 it consists of four M4 Sherman counters, in 1945 four Comet counters.
The combat formation cards are the heart of the game. Each combat formation is rated for its command, control and communications (C3) from A to F shown in the bottom left of the card. Also on the card is the morale of the units and what penalty is suffered to morale for each unit that has been lost from the formation. The experience of the formation is either G,S or V for Green, Seasoned or Veteran. The experience and the units in the formation may be a function of the year. E.g. An American formation may be green in 1944 but seasoned in 1945. Likewise a German formation may be veteran in 1944 but only seasoned in 1945.
Command Formation Cards represent the high level of the chain of command. These cards list the combat formation cards that form their command. Here is the German 38th Motorized Infantry Battalion command formation card which commands four combat formation cards (HQ/38, A/38, B/38 and C/38).
The Americans are unique in that they have parent cards which add an intermediate level of command between the Command Cards and Combat cards. Here is the full Combat Command A which commands the 55th Tank Battalion the 91st Infantry battalion and two “independent” formations, the A company 781st and the 40th recon squadron. (CCA is the bulk of the American forces present in the game)
1. Reinforcement Phase
2. Operations Phase (the bulk of the turn)
3. Morale Phase
The C3 rating of the cards determine the order in which formations, and hence their units (counters) will activate, with higher rated formations being able to move or fire before lower rated or waiting to see what the lower rated formations do. At the start of the operations phase the player with the lowest C3 rated combat formation plays it (if tied allied player goes first). Either player can then interrupt this formation by playing a formation card with a higher C3 rating. If both players want to interrupt they select their interrupting cards and reveal them. The card with the higher C3 rating goes on top of the interrupted card. (there are rules for breaking ties ). The other player’s card goes back to their hand. Again both players can interrupt. The process is repeated until both players don’t want to interrupt or can’t. Then the top card is activated and its units may perform an action (move or fire after which they are placed face down) or pass (stay face up). Once this is done then the next card in the pile activates unless it is again interrupted.
E.g. The American plays his lowest rated formation, an “E “. The American chooses not to interrupt his “E “ formation, however the German player wish to interrupt, and places a “D” formation card on top of the American E card forming the “activation pile”. The American player is not happy about this and announces he wishes to interrupt, however, so does the German player. The American player reveals a “B” rating and the German simultaneously reveals an “A”. The “A” rated card goes on top of the pile. The “B” card goes back to the American’s hand. Both players now announce they don’t want to interrupt and so the German “A” formation activates. After the ”A” formation is finished its card is removed from the pile and put to the side for reference until the next turn. The American then announces he is going to interrupt, the German declines. The American plays his “B” formation to the top of the pile. Both players announce they are not going to interrupt and the American “B” formation now activates.
This process goes on until all formation cards in the scenario have been placed in and activated from the activation pile. This ends the bulk of the turn where upon the players proceeding to the morale phase.
The higher level cards, the command formation cards and parent formations cards (Americans only) allow combat formations listed on their card to be activated. So a combat formation may be activated twice in a turn (or three times in the case of the Americans) however the units (counters) may only perform operation once (either move or fire).
E.g. When the combat formation card with 3 tanks units is activated the player may decide to conduct operations (move or fire) with only one of the three after which the counter is turned face down to show that it has done its single operation for this turn. Later in the turn (later in the activation pile) the higher level command formation is activated and it in turn allows the activation of the same combat formation card to be activated. At this point the player decides to conduct operations with the two remaining face up units.
This unique operations phase allows the players many options.
E.g. an “A” rated formation may decide for a turn to not interrupt and leave its activation till the very end of the turn. On the following turn it immediate interrupts to allow it to activate first and effectively have two turns back to back. Alternatively on the second turn it again interrupts at the beginning but only half of its units conduct operations. The other half are left in reserve to either opportunity fire at moving enemy units or be activated later in the turn when their higher level command formation card activates their combat formation card for a second time.
Movement, LOS, Spotting and Opportunity Fire
The movement and LOS rules are fairly standard. Stacking is terrain dependent and per player. Units can enter the hexes of enemy units. This is a way for weak tanks to have a chance against strong tanks as there is a large bonus for firing in hex, however getting there may be difficult.
Combat requires a spotting roll to be able to fire at the target.
Opportunity fire is available. A spot roll is required and after firing the unit is flipped face down.
Anti tank fire involves subtracting the defenders strength from the attackers. Modifiers are then applied based on the firer, the target and range to end up with a positive or negative net modifier. Three dice are rolled and summed and the net modifier applied. The net result is then cross reference to a table with an 8 or less resulting in a miss, 10 to 16 resulting in different levels of moral checks and a 17+ resulting in a kill.
Tactical doctrine requires units of a formation to stay within a hex radius or cluster of hexes. Units out with the radius/hexes suffer penalties. These rules are nation specific with the German having the most flexible and the Americans having the least.
Morale rules cover individual units that fail a morale check becoming suppressed. A second suppressed result equals a kill. Suppressed units cannot do anything. Formations can become shaken. A shaken formation may not be activated. Units and combat formations morale decreases as their formation takes casualties.
The above covers the basic rules (~ nine pages of text) and allows the playing of the first five tank only scenarios (tank fests!, the clues in the game title).
The advanced rules, a further six pages, add:-
Air and Artillery Strikes* (controlled by a separate small deck of strike cards)
Since it is the second game in the series WFTL is a refinement of EFTL. As such it adds a few new rules and refinements. These are clearly marked in the WFTL rulebook, so if you know how to play EFTL you only need to read the new rules. The only new rules are those marked with an asterisk
There are 5 basic rules scenarios and 10 advanced games scenarios. Some comments in the rating section at Boardgamegeek suggest that some of the scenarios are not very balanced. I think another factor in this is the variable terrain. Some of the scenarios have all of the terrain of the map randomised which can result in an advantage for one side.
This is a good game on tactical platoon level combat. It packs a lot in to its 15 pages of rules. The formation cards and activation pile allow for some interesting tactics. The game has subtle national differences, occurring in the command cards, tactical doctrine and extra parent cards for the Americans.
BBG posts by people have said that they would buy a revamped version of this game. I agree. If the counters, cards and maps were updated and the scenarios revised then this game (despite being 25 years old) would still be comparable to much more recent, squad level games such as Band of Heroes and Conflict of Heroes. I haven’t played the platoon level games, Panzer Grenadier or the re-vamped Panzerblitz Hill of Death, but I imagine the same would hold true.
Thanks for writing a very good overview of one of the tragically overlooked Tank Leader games. Every game has a story to tell, and the Tank Leader series is all about formations and C3. You're right, this game would immediately find an audience if it were re-published today (along with the other two in the series).
Every weirdo in the world is on my wavelength
We carry a new world here, in our hearts.
Thanks for this interesting review. Tipped as promised here.
Oh man I havent played this since I was 16! What a flashback
Your list was the main motivation for doing the review. I don't have many of the wargames on the list, but this was one of them.
I really would like more "here is what I found from playing," rather than a rules review.
Confusion Under Fire
I came here to look for wargames that had orders by way of cards and it was great to find a review just a few days before I came to the WFTL gamepage. The review gave me a good insight as to how the game is played and some of the good and bad points. Thanks for a good review.
Excellent review! It's great when someone circles back to review an older game like this.
Royal Dublin Fusiliers "Spectamur Agendo"
Thanks for the review. I owned this game during the early 1990s, and had vague memories of it, as I never played it and gave it away having not owned it for very long.
Where is the "BBG" website referred to?
Great review! I got my copy at the 2014 GenCon charity auction and have been wanting to get it on the table for a couple of years- now I have a better understanding of whether to spend the time with it! I hope to introduce it to a few fellow gamers in my home group (The Asheville Historical Wargamers) very soon.
I also agree that this would be a top selling game if updated and re-released to the wargaming community. Either a box set that incorporates all three games or as a core game with expansions. Three stand alone games would work as well.
Again, thanks for taking the time to write the review!