Bolt Action has grown in popularity very rapidly, it’s now being played by some over 10 persons at Nopat & Taktiikka Gaming Club, and it constantly raises interest in demo sessions. I’ll try to describe here why that is, and why I really like the game. The games design principles are really good : there is very little unnecessary special rules for different involved countries and units, the game flow is fast-paced no-nonsense gaming. Really few tables to be remembered. Everything feels intuitively good, and You get immersed to the action. Even though the rules are relatively simple, You don’t get a ‘game-playing’ feel, instead You feel like having a combat in the World War II.
So, Bolt Action is a game for 28mm World War II infantry teams. It’s a skirmish game, so the amount of models is reasonable. An army of 1000 points typically consists of 3 – 5 infantry squads, a tank and/or armored car, some support units like : Machine gun, Mortar, AT gun, Sniper or Artillery Forward Observer. The main focus in this game is the operation of the Infantry squads : they take the objectives and are the main focus in the heat of the battle.
Bolt has taken influence from Warhammer –games, mainly the basic movement and Leadership values. Troops move and operate in skirmish formation like in Warhammer 40k. If the squad has to take a moral or leadership test, the mechanism is similar to Warhammer. The shooting and close combat has a lot of resemblance to 40k, though there are differences also.
There are two unique features in Bolt Action in my opinion, which combined to the keep it simple –style makes the game good :
- Activation of Units. There is no my-turn – Your turn –mechanism. You put tokens per unit for each army into one bag, and then take them one by one randomly. If the token is for Your army, then You can activate one of Your units. It does it’s movement, shooting or close combat, and then next token is taken in random. You can also put Your unit to Ambush or Down, or if the unit hasn’t been activated it can react by going down. If a unit is destroyed, it’s dice is removed from the game. This activation system minimizes ‘down time’ – it’s always Your turn !
- Pin markers. Whenever Your unit is shot and hit, You take one Pin marker. Next time You want to activate Your unit, it has to test leadership if it has pin markers. The markers are reduced from leadership, thus making it harder for the unit to follow orders. If the order succeeds, one pin marker is removed. Any remaining pin markers affect the unit’s shooting accuracy. You can also command the unit to remove more pin markers, but then it doesn’t do anything else that turn. Excellent mechanism.
Those are in my understanding the unique features in this game. All the troops and units are categorized to three types : Irregular, Regular and Veteran. These affect the characteristics in shooting, morale and close combat. Really, really elegant. No need to have a set of different characteristics, there’s only the that one category. Of course the troops may have different gear with them, like submachine guns, pistols etc, but that is something that is always clearly visible on the figure. All else You need to know from Your friends units is whether they are Veterans, Regulars or Irregulars. Makes it fluent to play.
The same Keep-It-Simple –style goes to Artillery and Tanks : You have Light, Medium and Heavy Antitank Gun, You have Light, Medium and Heavy Tank, and that’s it ! In addition they have the unit category, and different guns, like amount of MMGs. So the amount of tables and numbers needed for units in the Army lists is thus really small.
There are rules and army lists for the main players of World War II European front in the main Rulebook : Germany, Soviet Union and Britain (well the rules guys are from GB…). These lists are really all You need to play the game. There are also Army books published for all of those, plus combined books that contain more esoteric countries like Italy, Hungary and Finland… The books are nice reading for us who are mainly educated in the World War II from ‘Korkkarit’, ie Commando comics. They contain theatre selectors and some additional units, but if You play with any of the four main factions, You don’t really need those. Of course You buy them anyway, because the game is so good, but that’s Your choice…
OK, so the game is straightforward and rules and especially the Special Rules are few and far in between. Then, why is this game good ? Yes, exactly because of that… With just a few parameters, the troops function as You would expect from the WWII troops. You need to use cover to stay alive, You need to coordinate You operations, and if attacking it’s better to give some bombardment to the target before running heads up to close combat. And most importantly, the rules and scenarios allow You setup battle situations that feel right. We have played less ‘points games’ and more historically inspired encounters and campaigns. Instead of arranging tournament, we have arranged a Scenario playing day, where we had four ready and setup tables with troops readily available. There was a games master describing the scenario and tutoring the game for new players. Point is not in playing games between random forces, but instead creating fun and entertaining battles. Warlord Games has done things right, and published Scenario books for different theatres, instead of going to the path where more specialized troops with points values get published.
Most importantly : 28mm scale and short game-time allows us to take is easy. focus on the finely painted miniatures and terrain. A lot of terrain is needed in the game, and the boards looks really good with nicely done buildings, hills and bushes.
Of course players are free to play points games also :)
Wednesday is the Bolt Action gaming day at the moment, join the movement !
Bolt Action Facebook group : https://www.facebook.com/groups/366495353525132/
Rules Reference sheet : http://warlordgames.com/downloads/pdf/bolt_action_reference.pdf