Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bolt Action - I Shall Return

Followers of the blog may have read my frustration at trying to get historical games going in our local area. We've had a Flames of War community in the past but I lost interest in that game as others came up. I've looked at a few historicals lately including SAGA, Musket and Tomahawk, and now Bolt Action. All three are much different from what we currently play (Warmachine / Hordes, 40k, Fantasy, and Infinity) and I feel offer a varied set of play styles in a skirmish setting.

These games are a little niche, though, and I think the historical periods will put people off. I can't shoot bullet hoses at those dudes 48" across the board? Gah! Bolt Action differs in my opinion because it is a more recent event - the weapons are more modern, there are tanks, and WW2 movies and TV couldn't be more popular.
Is my grognard rage showing through?

Bolt Action Actual Thoughts

Bolt Action is a game produced by Warlord Games. They're in Nottingham and employ many former GWers. The game itself is written by Alessio Cavatore and Rick Priestley, two of GWs best. It is set during the second World War and allows you to play 28mm battles with infantry and tanks on a 6x4 tabletop.

There are a few main things that makes Bolt Action different and attractive. I'll likely compare it to 40k because the system is somewhat similar; I'll also compare it to Flames of War because it is the other very popular WW2 wargame that you'll see around.

The good thing about Warlord Games producing this is that they are a larger company with more resources. Compare that to some of the smaller historicals - I think there is a definite advantage to having a company that produces everything you need and provides a competitive price. Often times I think people just want to be told what to buy, not shop around on a dozen small company sites for what they want, even if the models are much cheaper.

Did you know there was a battle during the F&I War named "The Battle on Snowshoes"? So cool
Warlord has an entire range of models available for Bolt Action. One 'theme' change from Flames of War is that you can play as many more countries for more time periods (early war, middle war, late war).

Countries available just from Warlord Games:
  • USA
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • Soviet Union
  • Britain
  • Belgium
  • France
  • Poland
  • Finland
  • Italy
  • Partisans (think: resistance forces against occupying Germans in France and Russia)
You could likely find models from other companies for other countries if you wanted to, like Hungarians or some of the other slavic countries, or Australians / Scots / Canadians etc. The stats for them would be similar to armies already produced. 

As far as I know Flames of War hasn't even touched the Pacific yet, which is a disappointment. Bolt Action allows you to play out that conflict using Japanese forces and US Marines or Army. Each country has its own 'stat book' for about $25 which also includes ways to customize your force for certain theaters and time periods.

This brings me to a point about the books: Warlord teamed up with Osprey to publish the books and it is amazing. Osprey is known as the military book publisher. They've produced thousands of uniform books so the rulebooks are chock full of sweet art.

One of the 'similarities' when compared to 40k is that you have a basic force organization chart. You pick your commander (medic, forward observer, lieutenant, etc.) and at least two infantry units, then you can choose from other pieces. Bolt Action is definitely infantry focused - you can usually only have one tank. This means you won't see four Tigers vs 40 infantry, or entire Sherman squadrons. It definitely simulates smaller skirmishes as opposed to huge battles.

Along with that, though, you can customize your force with tons of different things: pioneer squads, navy squads, paratroopers, anti-tank guns, weapon teams (bazookas, mortars, MGs), armored cars, transports, etc. You won't see the skew that you get with other games like having an all warjack army, or all dudes with jetpacks, but you do have customization options. It means less models to buy too :)
I bought a sweet Lee Marvin "Dirty Dozen" model at AdeptiCon. Someone there didn't know who Lee Marvin was :(
We've talked about general army setup, but the game really defines itself on the board. Troop movement and shooting functions somewhat similarly to many other tabletops; infantry move 6", run 12". If they move they can shoot. If they run they can't. When shooting, they always hit on a 3+ with modifiers for cover, distance, etc. The wound roll is based on the target's quality (inexperienced, regular, veteran). The game definitely simulates the inaccuracy of warfare well: if you move and shoot at a target in trees from over half range, you need a six to hit, and you're mostly shooting with single shot rifles, not bullet hoses.

Each time you hit with a unit (no matter how many hits) the enemy takes a single pin marker. The pin markers start adding up. You can put two or three pins on a unit in one turn and the next turn it makes it very hard for that unit to activate. They need to pass a morale test at their rating minus how many pins they have - so a regular squad has a morale value of 9, minus three would be six. If they pass they can remove a pin and continue. If they fail they just go to ground, basically. 

Each pin marker on a unit makes it harder for them to hit in shooting. A squad can use a turn to remove pin markers if they again pass a morale test. Leaders like lieutenants help out on these morale tests.

The main difference between Bolt Action and 40k is the activation mechanic. Instead of I go with all my units, then you go with all yours, we both take one counter for each unit in our army and throw it in a can. We then pull out a marker for each activation. So say I have ten units and you have seven, we'd throw seventeen markers (each of us has a different color) in a can and then pick them out one at a time.

When a player gets the activation they can command a unit to:
Fire: shoot without a movement penalty
Advance: move then shoot with penalty
Run: move double
Rally: attempt to remove pin markers
Ambush: shoot during opponent's movement, basically overwatch. Didn't really use this yet

Like I said above, if you have a pin marker on you you must test first before doing any of these actions. If you fail you go to the DOWN state and you cannot activate. You can also go DOWN as a reaction to enemy shooting to add a -1 modifier to their shots. 

The pin markers and order mechanics are the main difference and I think it really stands out in game design. Instead of all my dudes running across all at the same time, we might have pockets of action going on at different times. It also adds another layer of strategy; do I activate my tank on the bridge RIGHT NOW so it can shoot his tank, or do I activate my infantry near the objective to take it?
There are other differences as well. The tank penetration is similar - take the strength of your weapon and add it to a D6 to see if it penetrates. Guns aren't as strong, though, so tanks don't just die to a stiff breeze. Pin markers will help to remove them - if a unit gets as many pin markers as its starting morale number it just leaves.

Close combat is a lot deadlier with one side guaranteed to be removed. Tanks are not nearly as fast unless they're on a road. Models don't receive saving throws, rather the to-hit roll is modified which makes a lot more sense in my opinion.

We played a game this past weekend and it was really fun. Just learning the rules took about ten minutes as it is very simple but the strategy is still there. I will post more about this game soon - I hope to introduce it to our club and get a playgroup going. Keep your eyes on the blog for more!

Update: I whipped up this force organization chart just to show some newbies how it works. You build at least one reinforced platoon - if you fill out the required stuff for one you can then build a second in your army.

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