Thursday 30 March 2023

Tankhiem: Dieselpunk Post-Apocalypse

The background

WW1 rages 1914-1918. Widespread use of poison gas and chemical warfare cause radical changes to weather patterns - frequent storms, and toxic rain. Vast tracts of Europe are left uninhabited. Birth defects and mutations skyrocket. Viral and biological weapons become commonplace.

1918 - the Plague appears. Both sides blame each other for deploying the weapon. The war grinds to a halt in 1919 as whole armies are destroyed. The Plague has a 90% mortality rate and rapidly spreads to other continents.  Governments soon collapse. Europe quickly becomes quasi-fuedal, with private armies, roaming gangs imposing a harsh law of might. 

Most of the world is depopulated and nature starts to reclaim many towns and cities. Mutants, cannibals and wild beasts roam the countryside. Humanity for the most part lives in fortified enclaves, guarded by walls or barbed wire. Half-track caravans, escorted by tanks, form trade convoys between inland cities as rail links can be too predictably raided. 

The war machines

Tanks, developed to break the stalemate in trench warfare, have proven ideal to traverse the hostile wastelands, ruined cities and decaying road systems. Even the lightest armour is proof against savage creatures and mutants. Tanks can be rigged against the toxic rains that limit aerocraft, which promised so much in the War. The great fortified factory-cities of Detroit, Leeds, Tankograd and Nibelungenverke continue to churn out hundreds of machines to meet the demand.

Light tanks are cheap and popular for patrolling, escort, raiding and reconnaisance. Tank destroyers are usually cheap vehicles equipped with high power guns. Heavy tanks and assault guns are used to assault enemy strongpoints. Medium tanks are a jack-of-all-trades and perform a variety of roles.

The now

It is Europe, 1945. It is 25 years since the Great War that ruined the world. The largest political bodies are small nation-states of allied cities. Most cities retain militias and are well fortified with barbed wire, automatic weapons, pillboxes, spotlights and anti-tank guns. Many hire mercenary tank forces to supplement their forces, especially when on war footing with their neighbours. 

Mercenary Tank Troop

You are the commander of a mercenary tank troop - up to 12-15 tanks. Depending on the role, this typically includes two platoons of 3-5 medium tanks and various supporting vehicles - heavy tanks, light recon tanks etc which often are deployed in pairs.  For ease of supply and maintenance, vehicles are usually sourced from a single factory, although supplies for some common tanks like the Sherman or T-34 are readily available almost anywhere.

Your missions are diverse; and can include patrolling, protecting or raiding convoys, assaulting or defending fixed positions, supporting infantry, or establishing local superiority over enemy tanks. Sometimes tanks can spearhead exploration missions into ruined cities looking for useful salvage.


As you can guess from its name, Tankhiem is meant to be a narrative skirmish game. This means I'll track crew's "XP" like a RPG - tank crew can 'level up' and gain skills and traits. (XP!)

Tanks can also be customized; with more powerful engines, special ammo, add-on armour - sometimes even upgunned which along with 'supplies' (ammo, fuel) can be either bought or salvaged. (Loot!)

A mercenary force can gain a 'mobile workshop' that makes repairs and customisations cheaper (Crafting!)

Basically, I want an excuse to use my 15mm tanks, I'm disinterested in FoW/Bolt Action, and if I wanted a mass battle game I'd use 1:300 microarmour or play Steel Division on PC.

I'll probably post more on this topic as I fiddle with the design of the game; this post is to 'orientate' readers as to the intent and atmosphere of the game (which plays a role in game design choices).

A few design notes I'd made for myself:

(+) Crew matter. Crew are the heroes of the story. Ace tankers win. Make most actions hinge on crew skill. Better crew do more stuff and react faster/better (spot earlier, shoot first or more often).

(+) Gameplay over simulation. E.g. buff and nerf tanks to make light tanks/early war tanks viable while retaining the respective role/feel of the tank. Tanks should feel different, without having to argue over 23mm vs 25mm of armour. Lean into the idea of tank 'classes.'

(+) Campaign rules. Crew skills/traits. Tank repairs/upgrades. 

(+) Fast play. ~6 tanks per side = 1hr game. Complexity is allowed in crew and activation, but dice rolling for shooting/damage etc should be simple.

(+) Not too much recording or tokens. Maybe can damage mobility, crew or gun, or 'killed.' Maybe crew shock/suppression. No more recording than a typical GW skirmish game.

(?) Spotting. This is a big deal IRL but 15mm on a 4-6' table seems silly not to see a tank 12"away. Use commonsense. Scale is 12"= ~500m but that's not to be 'real' ground scale - just differentiate weapons. Autospot range bands? Or dice roll? Or just cover/not cover. Definitely have narrow view arc though.

(?) Supplies. Each tank costs supplies, so you choose what/how many tanks to bring and don't just automatically field everyone. A better warband = better choice, not a bigger army on the table.

(?) Infantry. It's about tanks. Keep simple. Maybe just base on FoW style bases and move as 'crew' or rifle team, not individually.


  1. Love it! I've been getting into some Weird WW1 stuff lately with 'Last War'. Its an predominantly infantry skirmish game but I think you'd like it!

  2. As someone who supports military logistics I laugh at the thought of tanks being used in a post- apocalyptic scenario by roving mercenary gangs. I imagine this would function for about three months before all the tanks had broken down.

    Suspending disbelief I love the story, and mixing in a little reality might help balance light, medium, and heavy tanks. The bigger and better a tank the more common breakdowns are. You could mix in some Battletech and give actions the possibility of damaging a tank, the heavier the tank the more likely damage will occur - crew quality would be an important factor in the roll. This would allow heavier tanks to be fast more powerful, but would have to avoid sprint speeds, sustained fire, etc. unless absolutely necessary or they could be degraded without providing real battlefield benefit.

    1. They aren't living off the land - they do operate from city bases. Although I could field a TOG/Maus/T-35 as a kinda mothership or use halftracks as mobile workshops.

      But I will add in a 'supply' resource that represents fuel and ammo - medium tanks are x2, and heavies use x3.

      There will be a base cost to field a tank, and perhaps an extra cost if you bring special ammo (APDS, HEAT) or you use maximum RoF or Sprint. Definitely a major cost if you are damaged in some way.

      Tanks can buy supplies OR scavange them (loot them off dead enemies or by exploring objective markers in game).

    2. The ongoing Ukraine situation suggests that tanks wouldn't last more than a month, at most, if realistic logistics and support is a factor. Even with massive NATO support, it seems like the Ukraine has basically no heavy armor or artillery - the stuff gets destroyed as fast as it gets deployed.

      Having city bases is good, but what stops mercs from besieging the city? Seems like there would be profit for banded mercenaries to simply siege, raze and pillage smaller cities one by one. Maybe just go a LOT bigger and copy the ridiculous movie with the city-tanks that capture and scavenge other city-tanks?

  3. If it's me, I'd use Flames of War rules and stats as the mechanical and numerical basis, and just focus on the campaign as the real value added. No point in reinventing the wheel unless there is something seriously wrong with how Flames works.

    1. I regarded FoW as less interesting than 40K back when I played it.

      The 'to hit/to damage' stuff could be borrowed, sure - but given it's a warband skirmish-y game I'll probably be having mobility/turret/crew hits, for example.

  4. If you're looking for any inspiration for this, try playing Armoured Commander on Steam. It's an interesting little turn based roguelike, and I think some of the ideas from it, specifically it's crew skills might be applicable in a game like this.

  5. I look forward to seeing more.