September 30, 2013

First WhifF of Black Powder

A lot of ‘firsts’ this month, it would seem! Couple of weeks ago I’ve gotten the opportunity to get the first taste of ‘Bolt Action’ and last weekend it was its sibling’s turn to try to impress me.

Now, ‘Black Powder’ has been around for quite some time, and a compulsive ruleset hoarder that I am, I have acquired it pretty much as soon as it was released. Since its arrival at my doorstep, it’s been gathering dust on my Ruleset bookshelf until last month, when L. discovered it along with the ‘Raid on St Michel’ mini-campaign booklet from Caliver Books. At first sight, it’s a rather attractive combination and Unlike me, he has the miniatures and terrain suitable for the period and seeing an opportunity to use them, he quickly commandeered both books.

It took an additional couple of months before L. was ready with  his preparations, but last weekend T. and I were summoned to face off in initial clash of the above-mentioned campaign. Once at L’s place, we received our orders; I was to assume command of a vanguard force tasked with a quick capture of a bridge, thus making it possible for the rest of the army to get over the river. Three infantry regiments of various quality, two cavalry regiments, an artillery battery and some light infantry rabble were made available for me to complete the task. T.’s force was nominal – two infantry regiments, small cavalry force (reinforced in the middle of the game) and an artillery battery would try to do their best to stop me in my tracks.

The game

I won’t spend much time on the game itself – it was a small affair and both T. and I knew that its outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion, mostly due to my superior numbers. At the same time, for the very same reasons, the scenario was a perfect test bed for us getting acquainted with the ruleset, which previous to this game was completely unknown to both of us.


Let’s make a rather long story short… My advance toward the bridge was veeery plodding, in equal parts thanks to ‘Black Powder’s’ rather arbitrary unit activation system and dismal quality of my commander. This gave T. plenty of time to bring up his paltry force into position. After a while both sides faced of each other over the bridge, which caused my commanding officer to enter a comatose condition. Turn after turn, I failed to activate even a single unit. It is therefore hardly surprising that when the dice finally allowed me to act, I sent my best cavalry regiment over the bridge with every intention of smashing into smithereens whatever stood in their path.


Well… off they went, only to be promptly disrupted by a well aimed musket salvo from T.’s militia while still on the bridge. A long delay and couple more disruptions followed, but when I finally reached that pesky regiment barring my way, I had all reason to believe that I would instantly punch my way through their lines. Imagine my surprise when the melee that followed spanned over five (!!!) rounds, before being decided in my favour. While that rather odd clash of arms run its course, L. was generous enough to allow me to push my infantry to the other side of the bridge, even though it was really blocked by my cavalry, still stuck in column formation.


Once my infantry was on the other side of the river, the game was in most respects over and done. T., unable to stop me, ordered a slow retreat for those of his units which were still on the field (that stubborn militia regiment, once defeated, actually ‘vaporised’ into thin air) to the high ground nearby and I was quite satisfied with just the fact that I was finally in possession of the bridge. It was as good time as any to call it a day.

Musings after the battle

Just like in other aspects of life, when it comes to rulesets, sometimes things just “click into place” pretty much from the start. For me “Check Your Six” and “I Aint’ Been Shot Mum” are perfect examples of such rulesets – things just immediately felt right! Then there are rulesets that take a little time to get used to before their potential can be properly appreciated – “Dux Britanniarum” is the most recent experience of this type for me. And then there are rulesets that give you that feeling that something just doesn’t fit. I’m afraid that “Black Powder” may very well be one of those rulesets for me.

Now, let me say this – it is far to early for me to make an authoritative judgement of any kind regarding “Black Powder”. I am yet to read it (once in L’s hands, they are surprisingly hard to reclaim) and we have played only a single game with it (with all misunderstandings and messed up rule interpretations such games are usually plagued with). Furthermore, the scenario we played was rather small and if I understand things correctly, the ruleset is intended for large engagements. In other words, I am hardly in a position where I can dismiss “Black Powder” as a bad ruleset. Quite contrary, I am happy to say that in some respects “Black Powder” is rather likeable. Its core mechanics seem to be simple and based strictly on D6 dice, which makes the ruleset almost instantly playable for most people with basic wargaming experience. Also, it seems to be rather quick – a quality claimed by many rulesets, but provided by far fewer!

At the same time, I can’t disregard the fact that I found some of the rules that are defining for the “feel” of “Black Powder” to be either annoying or worse, not really “anchored” in my perception of black powder era battlefield. Until I actually read the rules and try to grasp designer’s philosophy, I won’t go into further details of that statement. But there is no denying the fact that first “Black Powder” whiff of mine left me rather underwhelmed.

Next game in our campaign is to take place in a couple of weeks. Rest assured that next post about “Black Powder” will be posted shortly afterward.

September 10, 2013

First taste of Bolt Action

And so, the dry spell was finally broken last Sunday. Not only did I get the chance to roll some dice and move some minis, but what’s even more important, for the very first time in quite some time I played a World War II game that was genuinely fun!

Nuts and bolts of Bolt Action

Although I live in what can only be described a wargaming backwater, even I could not escape being enlightened about the fact that “Bolt Action” has arrived last year. Nor had it escaped my attention that it has since its arrival been hauled as the next best thing since the sliced bread by a rather significant number of WWII wargamers. I am therefore assuming that by now countless detailed reviews have been written about this ruleset and will limit myself to a short overview of what it’s about.

“Bolt Action” is a skirmish WWII ruleset with models representing individual soldiers and vehicles. Each unit (usually a squad or weapon team) and vehicle has its own dice. Each side uses dices of specific colour. Turn is driven by random draw of dice, one dice at a time. The side to which the drawn dice belongs decides freely which of its units is to act next. Units can usually perform single action. List of actions consists of movement, a run, moving and shooting with reduced effectivness, rally attempts, taking or maintaining ambush position (a sort of overwatch triggered by enemy movement) and finally, under certain circumstances, dropping to the ground and hoping to avoid taking a bullet between the eyes.

Shooting, assaults and morale is resolved exclusively with help of one or more D6 dice. Anyone familiar with Warhammer will probably recognize the concepts immediately – weapon’s firepower is represented with certain number of dice, a hit is achieved by rolling certain number or higher. This number can be adjusted by different factors - distance, cover and other “typical” conditions are taken into consideration. If result is achieved, the result is at least one ‘pin’ point and can possibly result in casualties (achieved by additional rolls on dices that had effect in initial roll). Pin results have double effect – first of all they reduce afflicted unit’s morale (base for regulars is 9). Also, if a unit has pin markers, it must pass morale check (rolling 2D6 equal to or below current morale) to be allowed to perform an action. A very nice mechanism, with similar effects as the suppression system I loved so much in previous version of ‘I Ain’t Been Shot Mum’.

The game

The game was a simple ‘let’s see what happens’ put together on the fly by T. Without being presented with the details, L. and I were given command of a platoon of British commandos already deployed on a beach and given the order to knock out nearby bunker and some sort of supply dump located a bit further away from the coast.

IMG_1011Reconnaissance pictures of target area

IMG_0995The landing

First part of the task turned out to be a walk in the park – the bunker turned out not to be manned. It was promptly occupied and demolished. Unfortunately, while approaching it, our little band was spotted by the lone German sentry. As soon as he saw us, he promptly run away in direction of the chateau where rest of Jerries was apparently soundly asleep. Alarmed by the racket raised by the sentry, in no time at all they streamed out of the chateau. A PzKw II parked outside was manned and moved to cover the road, while the rest  of the Germans did their best to form sort of defensive line. They did pretty well, catching one of our squads in open field and pinning them down for couple of rounds. They were wiped out soon enough in the firefight with another squad that moved forward in support of their pinned-down buddies. However, the delay they caused turned out to be of utter significance for the outcome of the game.

IMG_1006Commandos boldly (or foolishly) approaching the bunker

IMG_1015Commandos splitting up along each side of the road
as the German tank assumes covering position

IMG_1019On colliding paths

IMG_1033Situation at the height of the action

Last British squad moved along the other side of the road, without meeting any significant resistance. Soon they were nearby the dump, but with the German tank covering the road any forward movement would be suicidal. Finally a lucky smoke salvo from 2’’ mortar that the Brits dragged with them onto the beach temporarily screened the tank and the commandos rushed across the road. At the dump site they encountered German command group, which was promptly dispatched. Subsequent German counterattack was also repulsed and victory seemed in our reach. Unfortunately, that pesky PzKwII changed position and started to cause some serious problems for the commandos, who were forced to hide among the crates as 2cm shells started to slam into their position. To make matters worse, German reinforcements have arrived. A 37mm flak gun mounted on a truck added to the mayhem created by the PzKwII and a German platoon was not far behind it. Without support (other two squads were stuck in a field) and taking casualties, the British realised that the time was running out and order withdraw was given, thus ending the game.

IMG_1043Storming the supply dump

IMG_1037German reinforcements arrive

Musings after the battle

Since we tried to keep the rules checking to bare minimum, I’m quite convinced that we made multiple mistakes while playing the game. Nonetheless, I think we’ve got a good idea about the “feel” of “Bolt Action” and our impression was unanimously very positive. The game flowed rapidly (total effective gaming time of about 2.5 hours), the rules were easily absorbed and weren’t “in the way” and there were no significant “hiccups”. Most importantly, we all had a great time while playing the game.

Now, a couple of words about the proverbial elephant in the room. It is hard not to notice that Warlord Games is touting “Bolt Action” as a ruleset for individually based 28mm miniatures and accordingly sized vehicles. We run our game with 15mm minis and multiple figures based on individual bases. Nor did we make any adjustments to the movement or firing ranges. Did we experience any problems? None whatsoever! The fact is that we all thought that a game of even this relatively small size would not be visually appealing if played in 28mm “scale” – space available to us is simply not large enough.

All said and done, it was an excellent gaming session and a very positive first impression of “Bolt Action”. I’m really looking forward to next session with this ruleset.