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 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.
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.
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.
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.