Situational Awareness

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One of the key abilities you should strive to cultivate in World of Tanks is situational awareness.  A lot of things fall into this category within the game, and all of them are important.

On the small scale:

  • Be aware of your proximity to allies.  Don’t pull up directly behind an ally; this prevents them from retreating to cover.
  • Also be aware of the problems you cause by firing at enemies while near an ally.  For instance, if your Heavy pulls next to a friendly Tank Destroyer, chances are you will be spotted but your ally will not.  When the enemy fires at you, they can inadvertently hit your ally on a miss or bounce.  This in turn can cause the ally to move, exposing their position too soon.  Suddenly your action results in two targets rather than one for the OpFor (short for Opposing Force for those who aren’t familiar!).
  • Take care not to bump stationary allies, especially Tank Destroyers.  Merely bumping them causes their camo net and binos to drop, as though they moved of their own volition.
  • Be aware of a friendly tank’s firing rate.  If two or more of you are utilizing the same cover, it usually means taking turns pulling out of cover to fire, then falling back.  If you don’t pay attention to your allies’ firing, you can easily pull forward and block their shot.  You wouldn’t want anyone doing that to you when you have that sweet side shot, so please don’t do it to others.

 

On the large scale:

  • Pay attention to the map at the beginning of the match and where your allies are headed.  We’ve already touched on lemming trains – don’t join it.  It may feel like suicide to go to the flank less defended, but someone needs to – otherwise the enemy has a nice, long, red carpet rolled out, straight to your base.
  • Pay attention to the map during the match, making sure your team is holding up.  If you can see that a flank is falling and yours is doing well, consider relocating to give support to the faltering allies.  Map control is important and will be better defined in a future post, but in a nutshell it means all key areas are covered and controlled by your team.  If you see an area falling that would give an advantage to the enemy, locate your gun to better help the team.
  • Do the quick math when a capture is pending.  If you know there are multiple reds close to your base, particularly closer than you are to theirs, then you are not going to successfully cap their base.  There’s no polite way to say it – it’s a stupid maneuver to get on the enemy cap after they’ve already placed 3 or more tanks on your base.  The bottom line is they will win – at best, the game will be a draw.  If at all possible, consider running back to the base to help reset the cap while teammates continue on to the enemy base.  Obviously, this is dependent on the speed of your tank.  The faster tanks (lights and mediums, primarily) are the ones responsible for countering the enemy’s cap at this point.

There are plenty more points to consider with situational awareness, but this brief overview hits on some of the key ones.  The ultimate takeaway from this should be to check the map frequently and make your decisions based on what your team is doing.  Yes, there will be lemming trains – preach the word against it as much as you can and lead by example.  The team that makes the better tactical decisions will win more than 90% of the time.

Paper Tanks

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I often hear people refer to various tanks in World of Tanks as “Paper Tanks”, meaning that the tanks existed only in blueprints and never saw action.  I’ve referred to them by that term myself on many occasions.  I originally used the term in a negative sense, because I was let down by the fact that my Tiger I was not the dominant force on the battlefield that it historically should have been.  No, it contended with T29s and Black Princes, neither of which ever faced a real Tiger in WWII.  These paper tanks made my Tiger less powerful somehow, the mental image that I’d built while working along the tech tree got shattered the first time a T29 got hull-down and obliterated me in the open field.

However, I appreciate the inclusion of these non-existent (and sometimes outright fabricated) tanks in the game.  Let’s face it, there wouldn’t be a game without them.  If we were to stick to historical tanks only, then the majority of battles would consist of tier V and VI tanks engaging against an opposing force of everything from tier V to VIII (and in the case of the Jagdtiger, IX).  Imagine your green team being composed of only real world allied tanks, mostly M4 Shermans, Soviet T34s and British Churchills against a red team composed of some Panzer IVs, accompanied by a few Panthers, a few Tigers and perhaps even a Tiger II.  15 on 15, you would lose every time.  The reality is that the allies won the tank battles they did through sheer volume – there were far more M4s and T34s on the battlefield than Panthers and Tigers.  So, the only way to simulate that would be 15 tier V vehicles against 2 tier Vs and 2 tier VIIs.  Most of the time, the team of 15 will win, in spite of the more powerful tanks roaming the field.  Such as it was in WWII.

But that wouldn’t be any fun.  To field 15 tanks on either side, with everyone capable of progressing up the tiers, paper and even imaginary tanks have to exist.  The Tiger must have equal opposites, as must the Tiger II and the Jagdtiger.  And not all the tanks are paper or imaginary anyway; they just didn’t see the amount of action during that period that would warrant their inclusion in a historical game (the IS line is a good example).  By having equal opposites among all the nations, players have a wide variety of tanks with a wide variety of performance specs to choose from.  And the best part of all of this is that they truly are different.  The IS-3 is a tier VIII tank the same as a Tiger II, but they are in no way similar in play style.  Each brings something different to the table and demands that the driver understand its respective strengths and weaknesses.  And every tank does have weaknesses, thank goodness!

Paper tanks.  I don’t think of them as an issue anymore.  I see them for what they are: a brilliant answer to a game balancing problem.  Moreover, I kinda like the idea that Wargaming has brought to life, digitally anyway, these tanks that existed in large part only in the minds of the original designers.  Can you imagine what it would be like for a designer or engineer from 1942 to see what their scrapped project behaves like on a theoretical battlefield?  It’s a cool concept when you think about it – they’re not just “fake” or “paper” tanks.  They’re the tanks that could have been, and the ideas behind them are still alive in tanks today.

All Aboard! (The Problem of Lemmings in World of Tanks)

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It happens too often: 3/4 of the team rolls off in the same direction like a line of ants hellbent on losing.  The idea, assuming there is one, is that there is safety and strength in numbers.  On the surface this should be true, but players who know the game have witnessed too many losses when the lemming conductor calls.

Why doesn’t it work?  Before answering that question, let’s look at the rare occasions when it does.  When lemming trains succeed, it’s usually because they keep pushing.  Every enemy tank they encounter is overwhelmed and dispatched to the garage while the train keeps grinding forward.  Three reds struggle to hold their position while 7-8 greens surround them – tracked, racked and whacked.

It doesn’t work because, unfortunately, that’s not the norm.  What generally happens is 7-8 greens encounter those three reds and stop moving.  They take partial cover, fire from behind one another and practically paint artillery bullseyes on their tanks.  Meanwhile, elsewhere on the map, 2-3 greens get overwhelmed by 4-5 reds and the reds push through.

You’ve seen this before: “Help!”, “Attention to Sector ##!”, “Requesting fire on…”, then silence, then the sound of the base capture alarm.  It’s frustrating, saying the least, for those of us who are counted among the tiny pockets of resistance left behind by the train.

So please, if you’re new to the game or an old dog with bad habits, have the self respect to say no to lemming trains.  Actually respond when a weak flank calls for help.  And in the event you find yourself an unwitting part of a lemming train (sometimes we lead them through no fault of our own), please, in the name of all that is good and holy, keep pushing.

Managing the Table

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As a DM, you wear a lot of hats: story-teller, actor, number cruncher, rules master and mediator, to name a few.  Players create their characters and, for the most part, they spend every session making decisions for and acting on behalf of that character with little else to worry about.  When they leave the table the game is ended; they may think about the game or their characters a bit between sessions, but not like we do.  DMs think about the game constantly, how to make it better, what went wrong or right in the last session and what challenges they can present in the next one.  I guess what I’m saying here is players have it easy compared to DMs; running the game is a lot of work.

Of course, when I say DMing is a lot of work, it is certainly a labor of love.  We do what we do because we love doing it, and because that one session that goes perfectly makes up for all the others that don’t.

In a perfect world that’s all there would be to it.  Unfortunately, there’s another job the DM must do: manage the table.  Like any group of people, a table of players is inevitably comprised of varied backgrounds and personalities, not all of which gel easily.  If there is to be a game at all, the DM has to ensure that each player is included and is comfortable.  Specifically, it often falls to the DM to mediate between players and, in extreme cases, decide when an individual player is simply too disruptive to be part of the game.  That’s the real point of this article – how do we, as DMs, tackle the job of table management?

Suppose you’ve invited four friends to play an ongoing campaign.  Suppose these four friends know each other in the most minimal sense – they are each a friend of yours (perhaps one is a workmate and another is an old gaming buddy, etc.), but they are not that familiar with one another.  What do you do when it becomes apparent that one of your friends/players is the only one that isn’t gelling well and is disrupting the game?  It’s not an easy subject to breach, particularly because now a decision concerning the game can turn into a decision concerning your friendship with that player.  People don’t like to be singled out, particularly by a friend.

The only real answer is to try to get to the root of the problem.  Perhaps the disruptive player is a particularly insecure person who is intimidated by the others.  Maybe they don’t know the rules as well as others or don’t feel as smart as them.  Your first effort as DM and friend should be to let the player know that it takes all types at the table.  Some players are experts at the rules, even more so than the DM, but their ability to think outside the box (outside the rules, even) may be lacking.  Find the strong points about the disruptive player (great imagination, keeping the DM on his toes, etc.) that contribute to a great game and reassure them that these qualities are valuable.  At the same time, you have to address any issues, including the disruptions at the table.  It’s usually best to do this away from the game, on a personal level.  With some luck, you may find common ground and restore order on gaming night.

My introduction about the many hats of the DM and all the work we do is leading somewhere.  While you try to address the feelings of the disruptive player, be honest about yours as well.  The fact is that a disruptive player derails a session into which you’ve poured a great deal of work and preparation.  When a session fails to move the game and story forward in any meaningful way, it often feels like your work was wasted.  Try to get the player to empathize and thereby realize how disruptive they’ve actually been.  Be nice about it, forgiving, but make it clear that wasted sessions can’t continue.  Hopefully it all has a pleasant sitcom ending where everyone understands what it takes to make a great gaming night and no one is left out.  But what if it doesn’t?  What if the disruptive player is clearly not going to change their behavior?

The bottom line with table management is that the game needs to satisfy everyone involved on some level.  The DM needs to feel they’ve presented a great hook and interesting challenges, while the players need to feel they’ve accomplished something and impacted the gaming world with their decisions and actions.  That can’t happen if there’s always a player bringing attention to their self and constantly derailing the game.  That’s when you as DM have to make the tough call and tell your friend/player that they’re no longer welcome at the table.  It should already be clear why, since you’ve tried to smooth it out previously.  Ideally your friendship will survive.

It’s the toughest call you’ll make as a DM, deciding when enough is enough.  It’s the point when a game stops being “just a game.”  Everyone is dedicating their free time to it, especially you, and everyone deserves to enjoy that time.  It really is as simple as that.  If only the managing part was!

Sight Mechanics in World of Tanks

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A real point of confusion for World of Tanks newcomers is the combined concepts of View Range, Radio Range, Spotting Distance and Camouflage.  View Range is the physical limit to your tank’s sight – tanks outside of this range cannot be seen.  Radio Range determines how far away from your tank a broadcasting or listening ally can be in order to be heard or hear you.  Spotting Distance is the distance from your tank at which a moving or stationary tank will be “detected”.  Camouflage impacts detection by counteracting the Spotting Distance with a modifier.  Some tanks have inherent camouflage values which are better than others.  Lights, for example, are generally better at camouflage, as are many Tank Destroyers.

It is important to firstly understand the difference between View Range and Spotting Distance.  Just because you can see 320 meters does not mean you will notice an enemy tank that far away.  Spotting Distance is always significantly less than View Range.  Enemy tanks within your Spotting Distance can be detected and continually viewed.  Enemy tanks within your View Range but outside of your Spotting Distance are visible for as long they are spotted by an ally within Radio Range.  The most literal way to look at View Range is the range beyond which tanks will not be rendered.  Even if an ally spots someone and is within Radio Range, your View Range limitations will prevent the spotted tank from being displayed outside of them.  View Range and Spotting Distance are positively affected by binoculars and/or coated optics (equipment options).

Camouflage reduces an enemy tank’s Spotting Distance relative to your vehicle and vice versa.  It is an inherent statistic for each tank which is further modified by factors such as camouflage paint (about a 5% increase camouflage rating), a camouflage net which is equipped (25% increase to camouflage rating), terrain features (bushes, fallen trees, etc., varying in impact), and so on.  The stronger a tank’s camouflage, the shorter an enemy tank’s Spotting Distance is in relation to that tank.  Camouflage rating is affected negatively by movement as well as firing your gun (the sound effectively gives away your position).

Putting it all together, suppose you are in a medium tank, proceeding across the open field of Malinovka, and an enemy tank destroyer is hunkered down behind a bush on the opposite side.  Your tank has coated optics, increasing effective view range and spotting distance by 10%, slightly reduced because you are moving full speed ahead.  Your camouflage rating is relatively low while in motion, so you are fairly easy to spot already.  The tank destroyer is stationary, concealed behind a bush, has deployed a camouflage net and is using binoculars to observe the field ahead.

Suddenly you are given the warning that you are “Detected!” while you have not spotted any enemy tanks so far.  Your medium tank, taking into account the Camouflage Rating, has entered well within the View Range of the tank destroyer and furthermore just entered its Spotting Distance.  As soon as the tank destroyer spots you, any other enemy tanks within radio range of the TD and within View Range to physically see your tank now have you on their mini map and main display with a red (or purple) icon.  Meanwhile you are closing in on the tank destroyer, even though you can’t see it.  The tank destroyer fires at you – whether a hit, a miss, a penetration or a bounce, the tank destroyer suddenly appears ahead, because the gunfire negates the camouflage rating temporarily.  Let’s assume it’s a hit and your medium is tracked.

Your reaction is to request fire on the tank destroyer, but a few seconds later it disappears from your view.  That’s because the tank destroyer’s Camouflage Rating has been restored, and it is now considered outside of your Spotting Range.  At the same time, the tank destroyer has also disappeared from view of any allies who are not within their Spotting Distance from the TD and were relying on your Radio Range to help them see it.

Quite likely you’ll have taken more than the one TD shot because other enemy tanks who can see you will be firing at a stationary (tracked!) target.  At this point a newcomer is tempted to think that the tank destroyer’s player is somehow cheating with a hack of some kind.  However, because you now know how spotting works and why tanks just disappear, you’ll curse your luck and move on, right?