Review: Bolt Action (WW2)


Bolt Action 2nd Edition Review

Probably the game that will pique a lot more interest here on ARRSE, Bolt Action is a WW2 tabletop wargame designed by Alessio Cavatore and published by Warlord Games, fought at supported platoon/small company level. It is probably the best crossover point for people who love military modelling, and fancy stepping in to the realms of tabletop wargaming.

Ooo, tanks and stuff. Alright, I'm interested. What is it, and how does it work?

Bolt Action uses 28mm infantry models and vehicles (1/56 scale - though vehicles can look a little small), with beautifully modelled gaming tables to fight platoon/small company level wargames. It has elements that are common to many popular wargames, i.e. the use of six-sided dice to determine the results of various actions, templates to work out who/what is caught in blasts, and movement values, and then others which are unique to the game. The primary difference is the way the turns work, which is actually one of the game's best aspects. Instead of the traditional I-go-you-go setup, for the entirety of the turn both players are actively involved - you draw coloured dice specific to your army at random from a bag, which determines who gets to use a unit next. More on that shortly.

I should stress at this point that Bolt Action, as with other historical wargames, is more of a wargame within a historical setting, than an accurate historical recreation. Although there are many aspects that give each nation a flavour of their real life counterparts, you're still working within the confines of a balanced game, and as such things at times will not be true to life. That said, it's still a great game that is worth a look if you like military modelling and have a few pals who may all be up for giving it a go.

Great. How does it play?

As with many other games, you need to build an army. One of the best places to start is probably the starter set, pictured below this paragraph. In it you get 12 German Grenadiers, and a SdKfz 251/10 AusfD. 3.7cm PaK half track on one side, and then 24 US Airborne troops on the other. On top of that, you get a ruined farmhouse, a load of pin markers, coloured order dice (grey for ze Germans, and green for 'Murica F*** Yeah), and then traditional dice for shooting and all that warry business. Oh and the rulebook and a quick start guide.


The £70 'Band of Brothers' Starter Set

The models can be built with a range of weapons, and some handy cards in the boxed set tell you the recommended way of assembling them (notice the .30 Browning team for the airborne forces).

Okay this looks right up my strasse actually, go on...

Once you've constructed a force, it's time to get a game going. Choose a scenario from the rulebook, and deploy the forces. Once you've deployed as per instruction, it's a case of drawing the first order die from the bag. Stick your hand in, and if you pull one of yours out, you can pick a unit and do something with it. Options are as follows:

Fire! This allows you to fire at full effect, all your blokes in fire positions taking aimed shots. You can't move, but you can put out some serious lead. Shooting is subject to several modifying factors, namely what you're shooting at, how far away they are, and what kind of cover they're behind. For example, you normally hit on a 3+ with some Veteran Paratroopers. If the target is over half their weapon's range, it's -1, so you're on a 4+. The target is also in hard cover, for a -2 modifier. So now you're hitting on 6s. You put out 10 shots, and miraculously you score 4 hits. Before resolving the shots to see if you seriously wound or kill any enemy soldiers, they automatically receive 4 pin markers. This is crucial in Bolt Action; you don't need to kill the enemy to be useful, you can quite effectively suppress them.

Advance! Advance allows you to push forward and then fire, usually with a negative modifier for having moved. Useful for keeping the enemy's heads down whilst you manoeuvre your forces around if you've not got another section suppressing the enemy for you.

Run! Move at double the normal speed for that unit. You can't fire, but you can use this order to assault a position.

Ambush! Can't move or fire, but when a target presents itself during the turn, you can immediately open fire as per the fire order. Useful if you've got a strategically placed MG team in a building, and you need them to keep an eye on a bridge but you don't want to move them for example.

Rally! Can't move or fire, but the NCO in the squad starts doing some chest poking and gets the blokes focused again. You roll a dice, and remove that many pin markers from your section/unit. Pin markers severely hamper a unit's effectiveness.

Down! Ordering a unit to start digging shellscrapes with their eyelids is a very effective way of keeping them alive. Not only do they receive a -2 to be hit on top of whatever other bonuses they're receiving, they remove D3 pin markers too.

All these orders happen automatically in most circumstances if your unit is not under fire. As soon as they come under effective fire and your opponent starts scoring hits, you start to accumulate pin markers. Each unit has a morale value, which is a reflection of the unit's experience level. Inexperienced troops, such as conscripts, have a morale value of 8. Every pin marker you receive reduces that morale value. If a unit is pinned, orders are not automatic - you have to make an order test, to see if the unit's NCOs can stop people staying behind cover to avoid the shooting. You roll 2D6, and if the result is equal to or lower than the unit's modified morale value, the order is passed - they remove one pin marker and carry out the order. If you roll higher, confusion reigns, and the unit does nothing except try and avoid getting shot. If you roll a double 6, however, you get a FUBAR! result. On a 1 or 2, it's a Friendly Fire result, and you blue-on-blue any friendly unit within 12" of the enemy. If there aren't any friendly units, you just receive a Down! order instead. Or 3+, you get a Panic result, and your unit immediately runs in the opposite direction to the nearest visible enemy. If there aren't any, the unit goes Down! instead. Either way, not useful. If you receive a number of pin markers that equals or exceeds the unit's morale value, the unit is routed and they just leave the area entirely. This is rare, as normally they've all been killed long before this happens.

Of course there are many other things involved, such as artillery observers, mortar fire observers, tanks, airstrikes, assaulting positions, snipers, officers adding more morale and allowing for activating nearby units with order dice, and a myriad of other additions. All of them add layers of complexity to the game, but at its barest bones, the game operates with the order dice being drawn out of a bag and the designated unit carrying out an action. Once all the order dice have been used up, the turn is over, and the dice are all put back in a bag ready to start turn 2. Easy!

Sounds like a good laugh - how much is it?

As far as most wargames go, Bolt Action's price range isn't too shabby at all. They offer on their website 1,000pt armies in a box ready to go for £90. That is more than enough to get some seriously decent games in. The picture shown below is one example.



British Airborne Starter Army, for £50(!)

The miniatures are a mixture of plastic and metal, depending on whether they're newer or older sets. The set above includes the following army list:
  • Second Lieutenant & one extra rifleman (Veteran) - 78 pts
  • Artillery Forward Observer - FREE
  • Paratroop Section (10) NCO and 2 soldiers with SMGs, LMG team - 169 pts
  • Paratroop Section (10) NCO and 1 soldier with SMGs, LMG team - 166 pts
  • Paratroop Section (8) NCO and 3 soldiers with SMGs - 127 pts
  • Vickers MMG team (Veteran) - 65 pts
  • Light Mortar team (Veteran) - 46 pts
  • Medium Mortar team with Spotter (Veteran) - 75 pts
  • PIAT team (Veteran) - 52 pts
  • Sniper team (Veteran) - 65 pts
  • Flamethrower team (Veteran) - 65 pts
  • QF 6-pdr anti-tank gun (Veteran) - 90 pts
Total: 998 pts


There are other starter armies available, such as the German Grenadier army below.

£90 German Grenadiers Starter Army

Bearing in mind that from sites such as Element Games you can get 10% off these prices, it's not a terribly high entry cost to get into it.

The final verdict...

Bolt Action is a fast paced, engaging game, that is made all the better for its historical backdrop. The random turn sequence keeps both players having something to do, and makes the battle unpredictable and tactics all the more important. It makes a welcome change from the usual fantasy/sci-fi settings of wargames, and is a unique scale compared to most WW2 games which are usually in the 15mm range. This makes them a lot easier to paint, yet a lot more detailed.

I never played the first edition, so I certainly can't comment on the changes between that and the new second edition, but of the few games I've played, I've had a really good time and thoroughly enjoyed it, to the point I'll be investing in my own army. The boards for Bolt Action can be even more spectacular than the miniatures, some of them rivalling those of Hornby train enthusiasts, and really adds to the cinematic effect.

If you're already a keen military modeller, then Bolt Action is a great game to get into, if you fancy doing something on top of painting. As far as wargames go it's not too expensive, which is a huge plus. I highly recommend it.
 

13:10
 
Ladies of the night don't do that, but I like to pretend they do whilst they carry out other paid services. That way I feel loved.
 

jim30

LE
Great review - I played it, but gave up after the local opponents disappeared. Really fun to play though.
 

qualitycrab

Old-Salt
Have had a lot of great fun games with Bolt Action, the local games shop runs several events and leagues which keep the players interested and available, so don't suffer from the player drought that @jim30 does
 
Think I'm going to pick myself an army and get stuck in - the starter forces seem like a decent deal. Any better suggestions?
 
All good - I think depends on whether you are a tournament player or a filthy casual...
Filthy casual for Bolt Action! Tournaments saved for AoS.
 

OMJT

Old-Salt
This is my goto wargame and I've had a lot of fun with it. I don't play that often and sometimes I even have to rope the kids into a game. I'm more of a painter than a player and so am a bit pants. Currently working on a Handschar SS army. The new Waffen SS sculpts are really, really good.
 

Sadurian

LE
Book Reviewer
I played a few games but got disillusioned with the appearance of some of the more outlandish rules (the 'Tiger Fear' being an example) and with the prevalence of ridiculous support appearing in an infantry skirmish. When your three sections of infantry is facing a King Tiger and 105mm howitzer at point-blank range, you know that this is not an historical simulation!

Bolt Action is a fun game but I need something a little more believable in terms of what you are likely to face. I prefer Chain of Command now, which work better for what I am looking for in a Second World War game.
 

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