We often hear people talk about how Bolt Action is an infantry focused, squad/platoon based game. In that way it is the opposite of games like Flames of War, where later war, bigger tanks with larger guns usually equates to better performance. In BA, smaller early war tanks festooned with piles of machine guns tend to be great because they beat up the games primary units, infantry. Because these tanks tend to be light on armour, many players tend to skimp on anti-tank assets as they are often unnecessary. These smaller vehicles also tend to be pretty cheap, points wise, compared to their larger cousins making them even more attractive when players build their forces. This trend tends to indicate that bigger vehicles are a big no-no. I would tend to disagree.
First of all, let me be clear, I, Old Man Morin love big scary tanks. There is something awesome about looking down on the table and seeing a monster on your side of the board. I played a game not long ago where my opponent's only vehicle, a Japanese tankette, was literally small enough to fit inside the gun housing of my StuG 33b. It was visually striking but heavy ain't cheap. It is something like 40 to 50 points (gun costs aside) to upgrade an armoured vehicle from medium to heavy and something like that again to upgrade a heavy tank to a super heavy tank.
That is a LOT of points to improve your armour rating by 1 point.
Is it worth it?
Well, let's see. A medium tank's armour can be damaged on a 9 or better. A light anti-tank gun can damage a medium vehicle at long range with a roll of a 6 (+4 armour penetration -1 for long range) and can pin it no matter the experience rating of the vehicle. Likewise, an anti-tank rifle can damage the same vehicle at close range if it gets a shot at the side (+2 armour penetration +1 for penetrating to the rear). Given that some armies try to get away with skimping on anti-tank assets by taking piles of anti-tank rifles, it is not uncommon to see a bunch on the table. Again, this can lead to your beautiful tank getting pinned to the point where it is constantly backing away from the fight (failing a pin check) or missing with its guns (which defeats the purpose of taking tanks).
Jumping the armour up to 10 dramatically changes the pinning and penetration game. All of a sudden light AT guns need side shots to even have a sliver of a chance of penetrating your wee beastie at long range and you can largely ignore ATR's attempts to hurt you. Not to mention, weapons like the dreaded Panzerfaust, if you get hit with one, only has a 1 in 3 chance of seriously damaging your vehicle. In my mind, this is the sweet spot of points efficiency and thuggish durability. As an aside, I know the comments above are slightly generalised as I like running these vehicles as regular (they are expensive points wise enough as it is). As regular I get to ignore pins 50% of the time after the opponent has hit with a weapon not strong enough to penetrate my thick hull.
I find that this gives my army a bit of a chin for my opponent to hit. I can position my big tanks in places where my opponent has to deal with them (mission dependent) or risk losing their own valuable assets or the game as a whole. Because my vehicles are durable, I want my opponent to try to "hit" my "chin." When my foes pour their army's firepower into my tank and have to reposition units to inefficiently deal with my armoured threat, I gain control of the game. They are distracted. If they lose their focus on achieving the mission's objective and that helps me achieve mine, winning the game. Conveniently, many of these heavy armoured vehicles also mount really big guns. This makes them really hard to ignore. You can only take one or two hits from a medium or heavy howitzer before your army is in real trouble.
Though I want my opponent to be afraid and/or distracted by my big tank, it is not wise to leave them out on their own. A well timed charge by a unit with AT grenades or a unit lugging around armloads of Panzerfausts are bad for any armoured vehicle. When I use heavy or superheavy tanks I find that I have to carefully plan the rest of my force. I need to include units that can be used to support the brute and, more importantly, other units necessary to actually win missions; all the while playing around with fewer points than your opponent's forces because you have sunk a significant percentage of your points into your big armoured vehicle. You really need to focus your list building and have a purpose for the units that you can afford to include into your army.
You need a plan and your big expensive tank NEEDS to be a part of it.
Until next time BA fans...
Survivor of a thousand game systems, a thousand journeys and a thousand years,
Old Man Morin...
Salty and experienced.