Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Bolt Action Rules: First Impressions

   I purchased the new Bolt Action Rules from my FLGS, Rochester Games, for £25. First impressions is that it is physically good value, at a 216 page hardback. Strangely the writers names are omitted from the front cover. It is credited to 'Osprey & Warlord', which means nothing, or less than nothing as far as Osprey are concerned, given their track record with rules.
   However, inside, in microprint, it admits that Alessio Cavatore and Rick Priestley designed the game. Hello, Osprey, the lights are on but there's no one home - is there? Cavatore and Priestley are two of the best known and most celebrated wargame designers in the world. If you want to sell the book you put their name on the front cover. I believe this is known in the business world as marketing.

   The pedigree of the work is clear on a read through. The rules are well laid out, readable and complete. They make sense and after one read through that took about an hour or two. Then one can play a game using the helpful rules summary sheets and tables at the back. In short, this is a professional job.

   The book has nice pics from the more recent Osprey books and photos of Bolt Action Miniatures.

   Army lists for 1944 British, German, American and Russian armies are given and I understand that there will be a raft of army list supplements.

   The game is clearly designed for Warlord's 28 mm range. An army consists of one or two platoons reinforced by vehicles (suggested one light and one heavy) and heavy weapons. The army lists make it clear that the generic scenarios included assume 1000 point armies. 

    Above is a 1000 pt Russian army for Kursk (yes, it's '43, I know) from my collection. The infantry are Plasic Soldier 28mil, the BT7 light tank from North Star Miniatures (can't remember the brand), and a 1/50 Corgi Russian Lend lease Churchill with 6pdr. The infantry are regulars and the vehicles inexperienced.

   The points buy a platoon with a command squad led by a captain, two rifle squads of eleven men supported by an LMG, and a section of tank riders with SMGs, an LMG and anti-tank grenades. The platoon is supported by an anti-tank rifle, an HMG, and a 76mm general purpose field piece.

      The Churchill was a serious piece of kit in ’43 with heavy armour and a medium AT gun. In reality it was less useful than its specs suggest as it was mechanically temperamental, especially with Russian crews, and slow. The light tank is a death trap. Russia only kept making them because they could be manufactured on car production lines that couldn’t make T34s. A mistake, as all they did was cost the lives of crew.

   The German army is veteran. It represents elements of the Gross Deutschland recon battalion and assault gun battalion, which were used as a spearhead at times during Kursk. My points bought me a command unit lead by a 1st lt, two rifle squads with LMG Spandaus, an assault section with Schmeisers and another Spandau on a tripod as an MMG.The infantry and Hanomag are 28mil from Warlord.

   Vehicles include a Stug III assault gun, and SDKFZ 222 light armoured car and a Hanomag. The Stug is Tamiya 1/48, and the AC Hobbymaster 1/48

   It is quite clear that this is a skirmish rules set with limited forces. A full one thousand point army could easily be assembled for under £100.

 For my first test game with Shaun, I set up two 650 pt armies of six tactical units each in Normandy. My forces, the dastardly Hun, had a veteran Stug and Hanomag and a three section platoon of regulars with command squad.

   The command control system is one of the fashionable 'alternate by section' systems, which is why you can't use too many units. Each player puts chits into a mug equal in number to the number of tactical units in the army. Chits are drawnone at a time allowing the lucky player to move a unit.

   Units may be given one of six orders: stay still and fire; move and fire with a negative modifier; run - double move; ambush - go on overwatch; rally - remove pin markers; down - stay still and go to ground. This all takes time compared to a straighforward IGO-YUGO, hence the small armies.

   Firing, line of sight, and movement are all pretty standard. Hits lay on pin markers even if there are no casualties, a bit like Hammers Slammers: these affect morale checks and firing. There are no 'spotting' rules.

   My opponent were a veteran Royal Marines platoon supported by a Centaur. We played the centaur as a medium howitzer rather than a light (to up its armour penetration). The battle quickly came down to a duel between the Stug and the Centaur. This is a problem with WWII skirmish armies with one tank each: the resulting duel can have a disproportionate weight on the outcome.

   The Centaur piled pins on the STUG without penetrating its armour, but affecting my accuracy. I fired five times at the Centaur. I missed twice, I hit twice without  penetration, and I knocked out the tank on my fifth shot (6th turn).

   Shaun advanced a PIAT team forward but missed the STUG. I had taken the precaution of protecting the assault gun with a rifle team that shot up the PIAT team.

   Shaun conceded at this point as he had no realistic way of dealing with my armour. My first thoughts? It plays smoothly albeit I found the command system a bit fiddley. In a smallish army the tanks were overmighty, probably less of a problem with a full 1000 point army. Even so, each player will probably only have one MBT, two at max.

   Recommended, but don't expect to field big forces.


  1. Interesting report John, I read a review recently where it was felt the rules had a regressive feel about them; did you encounter any similar impressions?

    1. The command system is very fashionable. No, I wouldn't say it is regressive.

  2. Great writeup, John. I look forward to hearing more as you play through it a few more times.

  3. Nice review. This is something I've thought about getting at some point.


    1. Dear Simon. I don't think you will be disappointed, provided you are happy with the army size limitations. J

  4. Useful review of the rules John, combining it with an AAR really helps give a flavour of how they operate. I may just take the plunge and see for myself!

    Can I ask where those ruined buildings are from? They look rather nifty!


  5. I suppose the real question is how "accurate" the profiles are. It's always the trouble with historical games - that it is needs a toss up between game balance and historical accuracy... Most of the time the cop out is to use points as the balancing factor which can work to a degree, but generally only balances if you are pricing out offensive capabilities and is of little use if the albeit expensive unit is all but unkillable (tiger anyone?)

  6. Smashing stuff: thanks for this stuff, John!

    I'm looking forward to finally exploring thes BA posts...