Sunday, January 13, 2013

Learning to use a Bolt Action...

How do you learn a new set of rules?  Buy a copy, read it in depth and then arrange a test game; get an experienced player to show you the ropes?  I'd prefer the latter in most cases, followed by a solid reading of the rules afterwards.  However this is not the approach I ended up taking with Bolt Action, Warlord Games latest set of historical rules, for WW2 games.

Myself and (younger) Richard brought WW2 troops to the club on the first Sunday of the year, when others were already playing Bolt Action.  Borrowing a set of rules and the knowledge of someone who had at least read the book once, we set to try the rules out without so much as a clue as to how they would work.

To begin with we picked a couple of 500 point forces (the smallest the rules cater for).  Richard had two squads of infantry, a mortar, Bazooka Team, an M3 Half Track and a Lieutenant; I initially had two smaller squads, a Hetzer tank destroyer and my own junior officer.

Finding a basic scenario, I deployed per the rules on the defensive and we set to:

I had to defend the crossroads, so placed half my force in the ruins next to it.  The rest was in reserve.

The game that resulted was to say the least, one sided.  The turn mechanic is by unit activations randomly drwan for sides, but then you may choose which unit may activate.  With six activations to my two initially, Richard was able to pile on the pressure, by the time my second unit of infantry appeared, the Germans were already on the back foot.

Once the command and control mechanics are out of the way - units can receive one of six different orders, and if they have not been activated yet in the turn, have limited options to react to enemy activity - the rest of the rules are now more complicated than say, Warhammer 40k.  You roll to hit, then to wound/damage targets all on D6.  Some of it is for me overly simplistic, and not as subtle or sophisticated as Kampfgruppe Normandy for example.  But it rattled along well enough, given we were probably missing lots of rules anyhow!

Given the situation, my defenders of the crossroad, being pounded from all sides soon collapsed.  My Hetzer never even made it on to the table, and I had soon lost.

We agreed to have another go, with an additional recommendation that I change my list to a more reasonable one.  Out with the Hetzer, and in with a 75mm Infantry Gun, Machine Gun team and an armoured car.  The next scenario was an Envelopment encounter with the Americans on the Defence. My orders were to get into the American Deployment zone, or off their table edge.

This game, given we had equal numbers of units on table was far more balanced.  My armour's mobility allowed me to destroy Richard's and run amok in his rear lines.  It helped that the American Bazooka couldn't hit a barn door at ten paces either.

It's worth adding that when activating units, nothing is certain.  Once a unit has received a pin token for being hit by fire, it has to take command tests as part of it's activation.  A typical command rating would be 9, but each pin token reduces this by one.  To actually receive an order you must roll below your current command rating on 2d6.  Commanders can add a couple of points to the command rating, if in range.  Similarly when shooting, pin tokens reduce the effectiveness of fire, drastically, so allowing them to build up is a real problem.

Units, can choose to rally to remove them, but we never got around to the morale tests that would see a unit up sticks and run. As it was, the Americans found themselves under a lot more withering fire this time, and certain of their units were soon trapped under cover:

I also lucked on to the effective use of smoke rounds from my IG18.  Even though they only create soft cover in effect, their psychological effect, and coverage was considerable.  Smoke swathed the central road, and allowed me to advance freely, making good use of the lie of the land to get several units in to the American rear.

At the end of this game, honours were therefore even.  And my view of the rules was that they are simple, but effective enough.  There is enough subtlety within the command and control to place the relatively simple shooting and movement rules in a reasonable context.

These are in no way a radical departure from anything that's gone before, but they are competent and the glossy production will doubtlessly attract players.

And as it turns out, they are very easy to learn.


  1. Units in reserve still get their dice added to the dice cup. See page 18 of the rules.

  2. This is true, but when my Hetzer refused to come on as a reserve three turns in a row (rolls of 10,11 & 10 IIRC) it does leave one rather fighting with one hand teid behind one's back!