A pleasing bait and switch
One might guess that Gratuitous Tank Battles is a sequel of sorts to Gratuitous Space Battles (GSB). The latter says what it does, and does what it says, being all about building a fleet of custom space ships, organizing a battle formation, and slamming it into an enemy fleet — no real story, just battles, and an excellent source of mindless fun.
Gratuitous Tank Battles quickly diverges from GSB, creating an alternate history of Earth, where World War I never quite ended, creating a world of perpetual war a la George Orwell. The grim yet cheery game manual gives you the basics of what need to know from a faux British point of view (although most battles can be played from either side).
Adding story is an easily forgiven change from the ideas of GSB, especially as it’s done so well (albeit ignorable all the same). A more important change is this game is no longer one of actual battles, instead being, alas, a tower defense game. One side is the attacker, forced to trudge along set paths of invasion, while the other must quickly build up defenses to destroy incoming attackers before they advance off the battlefield. I’m not a big fan of tower defense games, as they’re either dull or insane click-fests, but the story pulled me in enough to play despite my reservations.
Yes, there are tanks here, but the game isn’t really about tank battles. There are three basic types of offensive invasion forces: infantry, tanks, and mechs (big walking robots). All are customizable. Infantry, naturally, are fairly slow-moving and vulnerable to machine gun fire, although you score major victory points if they make it off the board intact. They also drop dog tags when wiped out, granting extra supplies to the defending player, making them a bit of a risk to deploy. Tanks (light, medium, and heavy) mostly shrug off light arms fire but are vulnerable to lasers, which cut through their heavy armor. Mechs typically have shields that stop lasers, although they generally can’t carry the armor to take artillery fire. Additionally there are ambulances, repair, and supply trucks, granting bonus victory points and benefits to appropriate pieces. To call the units “customizable” is an understatement; there are dozens of viable weapon/armor/targeting modifiers for creating your own units (before or during the battle), and it’s fun to send out waves of units hoping to crack enemy defenses long enough for some forces to escape the battlefield.
The defender has the same options for infantry, as well as a vast array of fixed, and similarly customizable, defenses he can build. Both sides get an initial allotment of supply points, gaining more over time. Eventually, the supplies run out, and if the invader hasn’t moved enough pieces off the map (and scored enough victory points), the defender wins.
“…if you’re into tower defense games you can spend a lifetime making up your own battles, or downloading and playing those made by others.”
The battles start out simple but quickly become tough and the campaign will take many grueling hours (and much experimentation with unit design and deployment) to play through successfully. Luckily the campaign is not all the game has to offer. The battles, much like the units, are fully customizable, and if you’re into tower defense games you can spend a lifetime making up your own battles, or downloading and playing those made by others.
Gratuitious Tank Battles may be a different game from Gratuitous Space Battles, and while it may lack the awesomeness of a Civilization or Elder Scrolls game, there’s a fun little game here. Fans of tower defense games should check it out, and anyone looking to design such a game should look here for some great ideas to use.