Thursday, December 6, 2012

First Impressions of Bolt Action

All images stolen from Warlord games (Thanks!)
So in my last blog post you'll find that I got to do my first real play through of the Bolt Action rules. I wanted to spend some time today looking at the different bits of the game and what I like and don't like about it. Overall, It's a great fun beer and pretzels sort of game that will motivate me to get some 28mm Dubya Dubya 2 mini's painted. Something I've wanted to do for a while but haven't had any excuse to get started on. Mostly, I think the rules are good and the game play is loose, fast and fun.

For those of you who haven't checked it out yet, Bolt Action is the new 28mm wargame from Warlord Games. It focuses on the concept of the "reinforced platoon" as the primary format for building your armies. This means that you'll have in every army 1 foot hq of 1 to 3 guys and two footslogging units of (normally) around 5 to 10 guys. Each of your basic platoons can be geared up with all the gubbins you'd expect from a nationality. Germans get a bevy of AT and machine gun assets, Americans get the BAR, the Tommie Gun and what not. After you've figured out your base units you get to pick from a pretty comprehensive list of additional assets to reinforce the basic two squad structure. Everything from snipers and medics to infantry guns and artillery piece armored cars, jeeps and tanks are yours to choose depeding on the list/army you're going for.

Armies are built with the traditional point value system and you can expect a 1,000 point game to have anywhere between 5 and 10 units.

German activation dice, showing the orders you can take
Now this is where the game gets interesting. The game isn't IgoUgo like most every other main stream mini's game on the market. Instead it uses colored activation dice drawn from a hat, a cup or other suitable receptacle. We used the old nerd stand by, the Crown Royal Bag. Each player puts a number of colored dice into the bag equal to the number of units they have in their army list. At the start of the turn one of the players draws a die, and it's owner get's to activate any unit of their choice from their army. Then, the non-acting player blindly chooses another die. If it's from the same army as the last one, that player gets another activation.

Each unit can be only be activated once and only given one order. If you move, you can shoot at a penalty. If you run, you can't shoot at all. If you go down you're harder to hit. Warlord Games of course has made faction specific dice that have printed on them all six orders. These are super handy so you can both track which unit has already been given an order and what order they were given. If you're going to play I'd highly recommend picking up a set or two for your chosen faction.

Keeping gamers drunk and giving them dice bags
for more than 100 years
This process repeats until each person has moved all of their units.

Bottom line, I love this mechanic. It adds enough variability to keep the game interesting and sure, sometimes you might draw like 5 of the other guy's activations in a row. But you're used to that already, it's the system we've all been playing for years. When it is a solid back and forth or you get two activations in a row however, you can really get some cool move and fire, support play going on while allowing the opponent to react in a realistic way. I also think, in the hurly burly of battle initiave tends to be much more fluid than the whole all my dudes move then all your dudes move thing and Bolt Action does a workable job at representing that.


Moving your dudes around the table is pretty standard for the foot sloggers. Dudes move 6 inches and need to stay within an inch of another dude in the sqaud. The 1 inch coherency thing is a little weird as it leads to clumped up units. Not, I believe, a strictly historical or smart thing to do. But because of the way artillery works the clumpy ness doesn't really matter. It does however limit your units threat reach. Which is a bit of an issue in a game about fire and maneuver.

Infantry can of course run as well at a 12 inch clip, but can't run through terrain. Vehicle movement is cool and you get a set degree and number of turns based on the type of vehicle. I find this a welcome change from the magically rotating King Tigers and Land Raiders. Go at full clip? SURE! Turn on a dime? DEFINITELY! Always thought that was a little silly. Besides movement mechanics add an extra choice to the game. And war gaming should always be about making hard choices to get an advantage.


Here is where the game fell down a bit for me. So, in order to shoot you first have to be in range (duh). But, you can't pre-measure. I know some folks like this, but it's particularly irksome to me. When you're abstracting the range of an M-1 Garand down to about the same length I could move in a couple of turns at 28mm you've already abstracted a great deal, so why not just let me measure the bloody thing? Why force me to guess about where I should move to shoot at the evil kraut? Don't my dudes kind of know how far their gun could shoot given X situation? Don't I have field glasses?

Also in order to shoot I have to be able to draw line of sight. Sadly, only like two things actually block line of sight: Walls and buildings (or really high hedges like Bocage as well I'd guess). I think it detracts from my tactical options when things like woods don't at least restrict line of sight. Shooting dudes in woods does give you a penalty and that's fine. But in terms of game design what you're left with is something closer to a shooting gallery. I can imagine that it was purposefully designed this way to get you rolling dice and killing dudes but as a guy who loves more complexity (to a point) in my games, abstracting out the ability to have solid concealment rules is also irksome.

I'm going to test out Line of Sight quote a bit more using a higher density of terrain once I get some appropriate pieces for 28mm play.

Of course, then you do the shooting. Good old fashioned six sided dice. To hit a unit (you target by unit not by guy) you need to roll a 3, plus or minus any modifiers like being in light or dense terrain, being at range or at point blank. There are no saves, just a "firepower" check where you test against the relative skill level of the opponent. Green troops are easier to kill than more veteran ones.

At close range it can be exceedingly easy to kill anyone, especially if you've got MG's of any fashion opening up. And this brings me to my final observation on this bit: I think the curve between shooting/hitting and killing is a bit skewed... I don't have enough numbers/experience to back me up though. So it's something I'm going to keep an eye on as I play more games.


You better run Boys!
You've finally gotten close enough to go for THE BIG PUSH! Your dudes rush up, bayonets fixed and go for the kill. In bolt action your foot sloggers have a tremendous assault range of 12 inches. I think this is a very good thing. It requires both players to think very carefully about how close to move their dudes to get off that better shot. And, if you're extra sneaky you can assault from 6 inches with no defensive fire. Also pretty cool.

Close combat is deadly. Very deadly. Like, if your side loses the first round of combat it leaves the table deadly. Other than that the rules are very simple. Run up, suffer defensive fire (if you're outside 6 inches), roll some dice, if you get successes you kill some dudes and then the defender does the same. Not a ton of modifiers here and I like that in my assault. Simple, clean and efficient.

The one bit they do that I like a good deal is using assault weapons. Each assault weapon gets you two die rolls in combat instead of one. So, when you're picking out your forces you can build one squad to be your base of fire squad and the other can be your Thompson wielding automatic fire assault squad of doom. Not sure if it's points efficient but I like the symmetry.

Overall impressions

Not stolen from Warlord Games.
Do not take my gripes in the shooting/terrain/los section to mean I don't like the game. Quite the opposite. It's a blast. Giant sized Shermans and Tigers and cool looking army men running across the table always had a call for me, and now I have something to scratch that itch. The rule system is, however, a little less than robust. And I'd be concerned about how it played in a tournament environment. Armor is normalized across nationalities meaning a heavy tank is a heavy tank for the most part, it's the armament that's different. The game goes fast, it's only 6 turns (die roll to continue) and with a recommended point limit of 1000 per game you'll be getting 5 to 7 squads to move a turn. We played at 750 and game moved along well and felt "right" for the points size.

Bottom line, if you like great looking models a fast and unpredictable (in a good way) game system that doesn't require a photographic memory, but has a ton of flavor this might just be the game for you.

For me, it won't replace Flames as my primary love, but it's certainly found a spot in my painting and gaming rotation.

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