Friday, 21 October 2016

Review of Bolt Action version 2 Rules


I finally decided to purchase a copy of the latest Bolt Action version 2 rules by Alessio Cavatore & Rick Priestley (Warlord Games/Osprey, 2016) a few weeks ago. I should stress that I have no significant previous experience of the first version, and therefore cannot comment about changes made. I have also never played 40K, so cannot say whether Bolt Action are similar or not. Since they arrived I have played approximately a dozen solo 1,000 point games using a diverse range of army lists, all late war European games. Some games involved standard infantry-heavy forces, whereas others had various tank add-ons, or infantry in APC’s etc. Most games used regular units but I did try inexperienced units, and veteran units. All games used the supplied scenarios and I have now played most of the 12 scenarios listed.

The publication is a beautifully illustrated, A5 sized, hardback. The use of Osprey as the publisher means that many of their excellent pictures are included, and these are augmented by a scattering of photos showing various nicely painted miniatures. There is surprisingly little ‘fluff’, which is personal bug-bear of mine, and a brief timeline of WW2 is solely there as an intro. The rules revolve around a re-enforced infantry platoon structure with tanks/armour playing an ancillary role. This is exactly the size of 20/28mm game I wish to play, which is great. As a consequence the rules are infantry focussed, with the section on vehicles, artillery/air supports and urban fighting added after the main rule structure has been explained. Next there are 12 different scenarios, all briefly explained and providing alternatives to the simple meeting engagement. Finally there are basic army lists for the 5 major late war protagonists: Germany, USA, UK, USSR and Japan. These lists are not exhaustive but do provide enough information to allow representative forces to be generated. Bolt Action do sell additional books on each army and/or theatre giving greater detail and expansion opportunities, but I’m personally not sure I will go down this potential financial sink-hole! I hope to peruse friends copies to garner the small amounts of additional information I may require. It is interesting that the lists in the main rule book do miss a few ‘obvious’ entries: no German Panzerschreck teams, no US Marine flamethrowers, no British 2” mortars, no Russian tank-riders. Maybe this is to encourage players to buy the supplements?

The rules themselves are well written and have numerous clear illustrations to highlight the mechanics. When I needed to check an issue in a game I was able to quickly find the relevant section in the book. All the rules use the standard 6-sided dice (no fancy dice required).

The assignment of orders by the random drawing of custom order dice from a bag works well (the authors do discuss cheaper alternatives to these dice), and the range of orders available are consistent with those found in many other rules. The random nature of the turn order allows for uncertainty, reflecting the ‘fog of war’, and makes the rules very suitable for solo play. Officers, especially higher ranks, can be useful for co-ordinated moves, particularly early in the game, by drawing additional dice. The non-active player can choose to order a targeted unit ‘Down’ to significantly reduce the effects of incoming fire, but this burns a valuable turn for that unit.

Movement is simple, both for infantry and vehicles; either an ‘Advance’, which allows firing or crossing difficult terrain, or the double speed ‘Run’ order. Bolt Action scenario games tend to only last 6-8 turns, so there is little time to carefully manoeuvre or set–up an attack, instead forces tend to get in fast. There is no subtlety in the infantry tactics; you cannot use your MG34 to provide covering fire as the riflemen of the same squad dash across the street, the whole section moves or not. Combat can occur in the very first turn of a game!

Firing is also simple with a basic 3+ to hit (plus a few modifiers), followed by a quick ‘to kill’ dice roll (adjusted by the target quality). Bolt Action games are bloody, but hits also inflict ‘Pins’ even if no kills result, which can be as significant as actual kills. Units with multiple ‘Pins’ can just sit around with their heads down, and often require rallying (which is surprisingly easy but does negate a valuable turn). Additionally, weakened units can suddenly evaporate leaving alarming holes in your lines at the most inopportune times! Anti-tank fire is simple, requiring a penetration dice roll and damage effect if successful. Bolt Action is not a set of rules for ‘tankie’ gamers; there are only 4 levels of gun and 4 levels of armour. So, if your thing revolves around variation between a PzKfw IV model F2 compared to the H model, then these are not the rules for you! I soon learnt that the German player should take plenty of cheap Panzerfausts. Firing HE rounds again uses similar mechanisms and employs circular templates of different diameters to determine the number of potential hits. From previous gaming experience this can cause issues in opposed games; is the figure just in, or out, of the blast zone? The irritating situation I commonly found using the rules, concerned Snipers. They seemed to be far too deadly, picking of key team members at will, and the best counter was to use your own sniper to take out the opposing sniper.

In Bolt Action close combat is more frequent compared to other rules I have played, and it is devastating and decisive. The loser is KO’d and removed from the game. The defender’s best defence is to employ an ‘Ambush’ order to fire as the attacker comes in. But the question is whether to maintain this order at the turn end and not fire at all (because you were not assaulted), or try to convert it into a ‘Fire’ order and cause some damage to enemy units? You can find opposing units both quietly sitting waiting for the other to blink, resulting in an uneasy truce!

Off-table artillery strikes and close air support rules are interesting because you are not certain about what will arrive, or when. In addition to damage inflicted, they can cause widespread disruption by placing multiple ‘Pins’ on units close to the target zone. The British ‘free’ FAO team is a powerful bonus, and the US FAC team with a second strike capability can also be deadly. I’m not sure the Russian Katyusha elements should be an on-table support option. I also liked random nature of air strikes and the panic they cause to both sides, plus the possibility of friendly A/A fire occurring.

So, what do I think of Bolt Action version 2? How do they compare with my other WW2 favourite, Chain of Command? Bolt Action gives a very fast, action packed game that is fun to play. The simplicity of the rules means there is little referring back to the main book and QRS covers most situations (in fact, most actions don’t even require the QRS). They work very well for solo play, and I look forward to playing opposed games in the near future. I would summarise by saying Bolt Action gives a good ww2-GAME, compared to Chain of Command which gives a good WW2-game. I think I will continue to use Chain of Command for opposed games against experienced players, but Bolt Action will now be used for my solo play and those quick, pick-up club games against non-WW2 gamers. I think it interesting that both sets of rules focus on the same command level i.e. the re-enforced infantry platoon. If I wanted to play using a higher command level with more troops, especially tanks, I would probably opt to use the Battlegroup Kursk/Overlord rules.

Readers thoughts, comments, criticisms, disagreements are always welcome. Finally, Bolt Action has encouraged me to play more WW2 games and I’m now seriously considering buying a matching pair of Japanese and US Marine forces.

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