Review: Battle Tanks

Battle Tanks (N-a-z-g-u-l, aka Bob666, 2005) is a very interesting specimen of lane-pushing game. It’s quite distinct from most AoS maps, and has enjoyed a large following for many years. The game is still being updated by Exodus and the Btanks team, and the most recent update was Feb 2014.

The basic premise of Battle Tanks is familiar: it’s a 5v5 matchup with three lanes, and the primary objective to destroy the enemy base. Less familiar will be that the full map is visible to everyone at all times (no reconnaissance meta), and that the game is symmetric!

Instead of picking heroes, every player starts with a Tank Pilot and a sum of gold. Players then spend their gold to buy one of the available tanks, and kit out their tank with weapons and other goodies. Each tank behaves like a hero: it gains experience, can hold up to 6 items, and has 5 abilities which can be levelled up. Over the course of the game, players switch between tanks to access better stats and abilities. Switching tank preserves experience, level, and items, and the same tanks are available to both teams.


Let’s roll out!

Weapons

After picking a tank, most players will grab some weapons. Tanks don’t have an ‘attack’ in the conventional sense where you right-click your intended target. Instead, Battle Tanks takes auto-attacks to a whole new level: they’re completely automated! Every weapon is based off a Warcraft III ability called Phoenix Fire, which periodically selects a random enemy unit in range and launches a projectile at it.

Most tanks have a hero ability they can level up called Tank Cannon, which selects targets in a 900 radius, and fires once per second, dealing 60/120/180/240/300 damage per hit. The rest of the game’s weapons are purchasable items, so a maximum of 6 can be held at once.

This system for attacks has some interesting consequences. In order to focus your fire on a single target, they should ideally be the only enemy in range of your weapons. So while long-range weapons can be safely used from a distance, they’re easily distracted by troops and tend not to focus enemy players’ tanks. Short-range weapons are easier to focus, but demand riskier positioning. Buying several of the same weapon is common, because it’s easier to position yourself when all your weapons have the same range.

Teamwork is also very important, because with this system, 2v1 almost always wins. Not only is the lone tank taking fire from two at once, its damage is divided between two targets, so it’s much harder to kill one first and hope for a turnaround. Hence, teamfights are a carefully coordinated balance of soaking damage for your allies, and trying to focus your own weapons on priority enemy targets.


This one’s between the two of us.

The available weapons are quite diverse in stats, but they’re all balanced via the following formula:

damage = (4 * gold cost * cooldown) / (0.06 * range)

As the formula is linear, all weapons are fundamentally the same, it’s just a matter of whether you want range, or dps, or item slot efficiency. There are a few mechanically significant exceptions, such as some having long cooldowns (meaning they’re less certain to hit the desired target and are vulnerable to disjoints), or being restricted to certain targets like creeps-only for farming, or buildings-only for laying siege.

Most weapons, and many other items, can be upgraded once by clicking on them. This usually just increases dps, but depending on the item, could increase its range or the number of projectiles. During the 10 second upgrade period, the item is disabled, but this is still quicker than heading back to base for an item, so how practical an item’s upgrades are can be a deciding factor when choosing.

The utility items include mines (which gradually become invisible), and an instant teleport item with 3000 range! There are extremely specific consumables for countering these, such as wards which reveal the invisible, or the “teleport catcher”, an invisible ward which intercepts teleporting tanks and reroutes them to its own position.

Buildings

There are a number of different buildings scattered around the map. The most useful of these are the capturable Control Points. While controlled by your team, they produce troops, gradually repair any nearby tanks, and allow use of the Control Point Teleport ability, which lets a tank teleport from one friendly Control Point to another. The ability costs 75 gold, takes only 2.5 seconds to cast, and has almost no cooldown, providing a lot of mapwide mobility if your team is maintaining control. In a sense, the unpredictability of Fog of War is replaced by the unpredictability of enemy teleports.

An uncontested control point takes a tank 10 seconds to claim. Having several tanks nearby will claim it quicker (takes 5 seconds for 5 tanks), but due to how quickly enemy tanks can teleport in, their repair advantage, and the fact that some tower types will contest the claim as well as soaking damage, means that they can be difficult to take from a coordinated team.


Dogfight over a control point.

Towers are plentiful, and fill their usual role of stopping enemy advancement. When a tower dies, it leaves behind a tower ruin, which may be instantly rebuilt by either team into a new tower. The game begins with mostly the standard Rocket Towers in play, but when rebuilding teams may choose one of several other “towers”. These include a Barricade which won’t attack but has lots of life and provides a defensive aura, a Cloak Generator which turns nearby tanks invisible, the formidable Laser Tower, and a Teleport Beacon which is a valid target for Control Point Teleport.

The game begins with some Tower Ruins already on the map, if players want to invest in an early positional advantage. The rebuilt towers are only temporary, and there is a cooldown for each team when rebuilding at a particular tower ruin.

Trading

There’s a special type of tank called the Trader which can’t carry weapons or hulls, but can instead pick up goods from various production facilities dotted around the map. The goods can then be sold at one of the markets near the centre of the map. The goods are worth more gold and experience if the production facility is in enemy territory, or further from the markets.


The Trader tank, outside the oil refinery.

Instead of selling goods for gold and experience, it’s also possible to trade directly for items. For example, 1 fossil, 2 wood, and 3 salt can be exchanged directly for a bomb. This is the only point on which Battle Tanks isn’t completely symmetric, as fossils and wood are significantly closer to one team’s base.

By revisiting the same facility several times, traders can establish a monopoly, which decreases the delay before a good becomes available again. This means that traders are encouraged to establish trade routes, visiting 2-3 of the same facilities before returning to the market, and repeating the cycle. The predictable movement creates a risk, but also increases the reward.

The goal of trading is to gain a resource advantage which can eventually be used to buy a powerful tank. The trader’s team will be fighting 4v5 on the lanes, or more accurately, 2v3 on mid-lane where the markets are, so the trader’s team is relying on them to stay alive and trade efficiently, or the tactic won’t pay off. This of course makes the trader a priority target, producing an interesting game of cat and mouse.

General Strategy

There are a number of other features scattered around the map, such as a few shops selling the higher end tanks and weapons. ‘Strategic points’, marked by flags, are areas with high-ground giving bonus armour and slowly repairing any tank near them. Healing powerups spawn periodically around the map, encouraging players to roam.

Aside from weapons and trade goods, there are a bunch of other items available to buy. Players can summon temporary reinforcements, mortar squads for laying siege to enemy towers, or upgrade their maximum life or movement speed.

Whenever a player misses a last hit, the AI controlling the player’s team gets the bounty instead. Every 5 minutes, the AI will split the gold its gathered amongst the team’s players, though not at 100% efficiency. This means that the 5-minute, 10-minute, and 15-minute marks are significant milestones in the rhythm of a match.

Having supplementary gold arrive to a ‘beat’ like this has some notable implications. Particularly during early-game, if there is a gold discrepancy between a losing player and a winning player, the sudden injection of gold at 5 minutes means that both will probably be able to afford their first upgrade at the same time, though the winning player will have more left over. This behaves as a subtle anti-snowball mechanic. Contrast with gold flowing in continuously, where the winning player will be able to access their upgrade sooner, and continue to press the advantage.


From humble origins…

The AI also automatically upgrades the team’s troops and buildings with armour and weapon upgrades. Players can spend on the upgrades too, though it’s usually left to the AI. Some tanks require that the team has a certain level of an upgrade before the tank can be bought. Independently of upgrades, the bounty for troops increases steadily over time, gaining +100% of the original bounty over an hour.

Another neat feature is that when a player sells an item, they get half its cost back, and the item is moved to the team’s Junkyard. Other players on the team can buy the item from the Junkyard at half its usual price, and a quarter of that goes to the selling player. This system for recycling items is fantastic for helping teammates who have fallen behind, and also benefits the seller.


Lots to choose from

When it comes to tactics, the most important choice is which tank to pick and when. Investing in a tank is an important decision, as half the cost of a tank will be lost when selling it for a new one. This means that upgrading gradually is inefficient. Sometimes players will try and stay with a weaker tank for a while to save gold for a big upgrade later, while other times they will compensate for upgrade loss by using the latest model plus weapons to get more last hits and kills.

The tank-specific abilities are nothing fancy, but they do have strategic importance and make each tank unique. For example, the flying Ghost tank can summon several units which distract enemy fire. The Thunder Tank can cast a storm which deals sustained damage in an area: great for destroying enemy towers.


An early game siege, backed up by the Tinker’s mini-towers.

Revive time is very short compared to most games, starting at 10 seconds and scaling slightly with net worth. Even late-game, revive time tends to be under 30 seconds, which combined with Control Point Teleport’s mobility, keeps things action-packed.

Battle Tanks makes a distinction from other lane-pushing games with its formulaic approach to balance, symmetric teams, and removing the guesswork of fog of war. Presented with complete information, everything comes down to where players position themselves, both on a macro and micro level. There’s a lot of opportunity for trying out different builds, tactics, and timings for upgrades, as well as the significant emphasis on teamwork and team objectives. Overall, a solid game and unique take on the genre.

Download: The latest version at Btanks.net

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One thought on “Review: Battle Tanks

  1. A lot of this is overlapping with the features of Battleships (Sked) which came first. I think you should comment on how global vision changes battle focus from positional advantage to focus fire advantage. In my opinion global vision is the biggest reason battle tanks has a weaker competitive community than the battleships one – because fighting to control your focus fire with only one variable (enemy units) is more tedious than controlling positioning and vision.

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