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.