Sunday, 16 September 2012

Bolt Action - First Impressions

Amazon managed to send out Bolt Action rulebook, only about ten days after the official release date, which wasn't too bad.  So ends my attempts to paint up a platoon before the rules were released (who am I kidding, I'd have a better chance of becoming Prime Minister than finishing a nerd project on time!)  I thought I'd put up some of my first impressions from the rules, not a review as such, just what jumped out at me after reading and playing.

Physically, Bolt Action is similar to Osprey's other hardback rulebooks like Force On Force or the Field of Glory range; lots of artwork from both Orsprey and Warlord Games, as well as lots of photos of Warlords miniatures.

The rules themselves take up about half of the book, with the scenarios and army lists take up the remaining pages.  Although that is a lot of pages of rules, the basic rules themselves are surprisingly brief, particularly as the pages are taken up with lots of diagrams and photos.  In keeping with Warlord's other rulebooks, there are also lots of little panels filled with trivia about particular weapons, tanks or anecdotes from World War 2, a really nice touch.

The order system is a nice little element to the game, nothing ground breaking, but it simply means that activating a unit isn't always automatic (think Black Powder or Hail Caesar.)

The random unit activation doesn't seem as much of a negative as I thought it would be, in fact, there looks to be a bit of depth to the mechanic.  Quickly, each unit in the game has an order dice, all dice from both sides are placed in bag or cup and are drawn out one at a time, each dice lets the relevant player activate one unit.  A couple of things to keep in mind; forcing a unit to go "down" before it has activated removes it's order dice from the pool, giving your opponent less activations that turn, while going into "ambush" makes one of your own dice unavailable for the next turn, again limiting the activations available.

The pinning mechanic is very simple, but elegantly affects every facet of the game.  Again quickly, a unit takes one pin marker for each enemy unit that fires upon it (some weapons inflict more than one marker,) each pin marker inflicts a -1 modifier to your order tests, shooting attacks and morale tests.  So more pins makers, the harder it is for your unit to be effective.  It's kind of a risk management mechanic where you have to decide to actively remove pin markers or to try to move or attack and manage the pin markers on your unit. Simple concept, lots of depth.

Combat looks pretty straightforward, a standard "to hit" score of 3+ with lots of modifiers (mostly negative,) with a fixed kill score based on how experienced your troops are.  A nice wee twist to the shooting is that if a "to hit" score goes above 6+ (Bolt Action only six sided dice exclusively,) the roll simply becomes a 6 followed by a 6, so no having to work out what an 8+ or 9+ would be.  Again, shooting looks to be pretty quick with just the two steps (roll to hit, roll to kill,) which kind of explains why the sample army lists from Warlord Games were much larger than I thought they would be.

Close quarters (melee) combat is suitably brutal, even more so than in Flames of War. Simply charge, take the defence fire, then both sides roll to kill.  No saves of any kind and assaults are always resolved in one turn, with one unit being removed from the table.  In rare circumstances, it looks possible for both units to wipe each other out too.

There are a nice mix of weapon and unit special rules, many of which aren't used with the army list in the book.  Presumably, we'll see a lot more of these in the nation supplement books.  Most of the special rules read like they are appropriate to what they are describing, flamethrowers work like they should, assault weapons are good in assaults, that kind of thing, but I haven't tried out too many of them yet.

The six scenarios included in the book are mixed nicely and are simply what you would expect from a wargame rulebook.  There's a free-for-all mission, a hold the line mission, a couple objective missions etc.  Nothing startling springs out at me, but on the other hand, nothing seems out of place or missing either.

I've only skimmed through the vehicle, building and artillery rules, all of which look appropriate enough, if a little simple when it comes to vehicle profiles, my concern being there isn't a huge amount of difference between different tanks etc.  The four army lists have a good mix of units for each nation, with options for veteran and green troops, along with plenty of support units.  A little flavour is added through the different army special rules, eg. the feared German machine guns roll extra shooting dice, while the Soviets get a free squad of conscripts for their army.  Nice enough, but I hope there will be a lot more depth from the nation supplement books.

Having only had a couple small games, I'm pretty impressed by Bolt Action.  The rules are simple enough to grasp the basics on the first read through, but I think there will be enough depth to keep me interested.  As with all games, how enjoyable you find Bolt Action will depend on different factors, most of which are nothing to do with the rules themselves; your opponent, your armies and the table you play on.  I'm looking forward to getting some games in at the club in the near future.

P.S.  Sorry for the wordy post, still having trouble uploading images, I had to resort to hotlinking the picture above!


  1. Thanks for that! A very nice summary of the rules for the uninitiated like me. Superficially, it seems to share a few hallmarks of Force on Force, like the activation system, simple kill rules, and the shooting based heavily on your troops' experience rather than your weapons. I still haven't taken the plunge yet, me and headologist are still on single squads at the moment so it's NUTS etc for the moment while we build up our armies. My big hope is that while the nation supplements will have to be unique, they don't pander too much to the Hollywood image of each army - like the two rules you mentioned (German MGs and Russian conscripts) seem to do. I hope there will be provision for the conscript German army and the élite Russian armies as well, the different spins that encourage a bit of background reading. But waffling aside, thanks for the post and I look forward to seeing where your BA adventures go from here.

    1. Now you mention it, the rules do share some similarities with Force of Force, but are far less abstract when it comes to line of sight, cover, casualties etc.

      Actually, there is an option in the main rule book to field Volkssturm German squads, suitably green and underarmed. Still take your point and I hope the nation books have plenty of character.

  2. Not really my period at the mo, but they do sound rather interesting!