If there are two things we like, it's history and games. So when the chance arises to combine the two of them, you know we'll be there in a flash. Such was the case last week, when Bovington Tank Museum - a museum which holds one of the largest collections of tanks in the world, with over 300 vehicles on site - hosted its annual gathering of heavy metal, in the way of Tankfest - a multi day event that brings in guest tanks from all over the world, and sees some 20,000 spectators watch both live demos of tanks, and explosive mock battles. With Wargaming and World of Tanks acting as this year's main sponsors, we decided to head down to the show for a couple of days, to check out a few of our favourite tanks in their rugged metal glory.
And there were explosions
Tanks that did unusual things
And a strong Wargaming presence
In fact, one of the more unusual things over the weekend was just how busy the Wargaming stand was. Hidden away in the kind of "behind the scenes" vehicle collection hall, where tanks undergoing restoration and maintenance are kept essentially in storage, the queue to play World of Tanks (either on console or PC) went literally out the door - and often round the corner too. With giveaways, contests, and the chance to try your luck against a YouTuber in a 1v1 duel (we were rooting for a six year old, but he didn't quite manage to pull off the upset), World of Tanks was one of the most popular parts of the whole show.
And to be honest, it's not hard to see why. A hugely successful game in and of itself, World of Tanks' partnership with the tank museum has been incredibly beneficial for both sides, as it gets a younger audience interested in history, which in turn encourages them to visit the museum, and see their favourite tanks "in the flesh" for themselves. Since they first teamed up, the Tank Museum have seen their visitors increase by 30% - something which they believe is largely attributable to the Wargaming effect. After all, it's one thing seeing your tank in game - and another thing altogether being able to stand next to it, and realise just how incredibly large some of these machines are - and how unusually small others are.
And that's one of the weird things about going around the Tank Museum having played World of Tanks - even if you don't really consider yourself a tank expert, if you've played the game, you'll end up recognising a huge number of tanks purely on sight, seeing as you've seen them trundling around the game. From the huge Russian KV-1s, to German Tigers, British Churchills and American Shermans, every few steps, you'll be spotting another tank you know from the game - and you'll already kind of know what they're capable of. You know which ones you fear, you know which ones you like, and the handy signs next to each tank will fill in all the blanks about what you don't know, including plenty of interesting stories of heroics (and fails). It's unusual, too, that at the Tank Museum there are no barriers, no ropes, and no "do not cross" lines - here, you can get as close to tanks as you want, sticking your head underneath, touching the solid metal, and peering in through the gaps to get a look at the inside, because after all, these are tanks - it'll be hard to do much damage to them.
Of course, not every single tank from World of Tanks can be found in the museum. For some tanks, there are no remaining examples left, while for others, the only ones that do exist are in another museum (like the only German Maus, the heaviest tank of the war (and incidentally, Wargaming CEO Viktor Kislyi's favourite tank), which is held at the Kubinka museum in Russia). For those that can't be there, Wargaming have come up with an ingenious way of creating the next best thing, with a "mixed reality" experience they've created for the new Tiger collection.
An exhibition designed to get tank nerds rather excited, the Tiger Collection is the world's first ever gathering of every member of the Tiger family, Germany's over engineered, yet fearsomely armed star tank. With a Tiger 1, two King Tigers, a Jagdtiger and an Elefant all together in the one room, it's an exhibition with plenty of historical significance - but one important Tiger's missing. Known as the Sturmtiger, this infamous tank basically strapped a giant, 38cm rocket launcher onto the hull of the Tiger, creating a devastating weapon that was designed to level entire buildings. And with only three Sturmtigers left in existence, two of which are in Germany, and the other of which is in Russia, the chaps and chapettes at the Tank Museum weren't able to agree a loan to get an actual Sturmtiger there. So Wargaming did the next best thing - they brought a virtual one in instead.
Through the magic of new technology like the Microsoft Hololens glasses, and Google Tango for smartphones, Wargaming have been able to bring a Sturmtiger into the room with you. Providing a number of tethered Lenovov Phab2 phones for you to play around with, all you need to do is hold up the phone, and point it in the empty space where the Sturmtiger should be, and it will appear. Better yet, it's actually an animated exhibit - not only will it smash through the wall to enter the room, but it'll also essentially give you a guided tour of the tank, going far beyond what a static installation could, showing you how the thickness of its armour compares to other tanks, giving you a cutaway cross section of the rocket it fires, and even letting you see inside, to take a look at where the crew would sit.
Needless to say, it's all very cool - and one of many things we had a great time playing around with at the Tank Museum. If you've played World of Tanks, it's well worth going to the Tank Museum - and if you're into your tanks, it's also well worth giving World of Tanks a try. Bovington may seem like it's in the middle of nowhere, but it's well worth the trip.