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Xenophon's Ghost covers military history and wargaming from the ancient period to modern times.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bolt Action - First Impressions

I recently purchased the Bolt Action game rules and the United States army supplement.  Having read the rules several times now, I am impressed with the game mechanics.  Bolt Action has the scale and feel right for this level of warfare. There are several comprehensive reviews of the game on the web, so l will just recap the key concepts and focus on my first impressions.
  • The game is based on opposing reinforced platoons, using individually based figures.  
  • A squad of 5 to 10 infantry counts as one unit, as do heavy weapons and vehicles.
  • Command and control, and turn order, is controlled by selecting an order dice from a cup and using it to order one unit. The random order keeps the game dynamic.
  • Units under fire get "pinned down," affecting their motivation and combat effectiveness.
  • Forces are formed based on points, and the point allocation is consistent across all armies.  A medium tank with one coaxial MMG will cost the same for any nation.
  • The game includes off-table artillery and air strikes and fighting within buildings.
  • Each nation possess a few unique characteristics that effect gameplay, and the army supplements expands the number of unique characteristics.

A nice change

Having only played DBA, which is quite abstract, and horse & musket era rules, the game focus on a smaller unit size is a nice change. The rules are intuitive at this level of combat; I might be leaning on my personal experience in the service a bit. Squad level infantry tactics have not changed that much, frankly. With unit-based games such as Lasalle and DBA, the rules that deal with stand contact and the fixed shape of units are a bit abstract for me.  My first guess on how the rules will play are not always correct.  With Bolt Action, movement, actions, and reactions seem natural. I anticipate the fluid aspect of the squad formations, unlike fixed base units, will add an element of realism.  You also need to concentrate fire to be successful, a realistic tactic.

Minor gripes

I like rules that include photos of figures for inspiration and instruction. However, Bolt Action is chockfull of them. It might be too much, really.  There are repeats of photos in the core rules and the supplement. I lost count of the number of Sherman tank photos, and I would have preferred to see some shots of other vehicles and units that are less common to help me learn more about the weaponry.

The US supplement does not adjust the basic list for a reinforced platoon to reflect national characteristics. The standard reinforced platoon, for all nations, can select 0 to 1 medium machine guns.  For the Americans, there is an extra selection rule allowing up to three medium machine guns. The basic and theatre selector lists in the supplement still note the 0-1 MMG limit. 

Theatre Selectors

The supplements provide tailored lists of available units for specific theaters and timeframes, as well as additional unit types. For the Americans, there are four categories:

-North Africa (four lists)
-Western Europe 1943-45 (nine lists)
-The Fall of the Third Reich 1945 (two lists)
-Pacific - 1942-1945 (two USMC lists)

Having recently read great accounts of the US Army in North Africa and Italy, I was impressed with the coverage of both North Africa and Western Europe. The lists seem to get the balance right, and I wish I had bought the German supplement for comparison sake.

I am pleased to see coverage of the Pacific campaign, although I was disappointed that the US Army is not covered at all. US Army operations in the Pacific do not get much coverage in the history books, either. I hope the Commonwealth supplement covers Australian Army operations in the Pacific.

Some of the added weapons options are interesting in the supplement. I need to play a few games to understand the benefits of some options.  For instance, late war Marines can add a pistol to their weapons for a few points.  An element can only fire one weapon in a round, and it isn’t clear to me when you would want to fire a pistol instead of a rifle.  I didn’t see any rules that addressed restricted movements in close quarters that penalized riflemen.  Pistols do get two shots in close combat, though.

Bolt Action or BKC II?

Readers of my blog know that I recently purchased the Blitzkrieg Commander II rules, so I have two WW II choices in front of me. Bolt Action will be my next project, and I have settled on 28mm figures after looking at the various scale options. I’m interested in trying my hand at painting the larger figures, and the figure count is not high. I worked up a few 1000 points armies, and you only need about 30-35 figures and a few vehicles to play a this standard level. I might still jump into BKC II later, probably focused on North Africa and using either 10mm or 6mm figures.  

For Bolt Action, I’m leaning seriously toward the Pacific campaign, but Europe would also be fun to model and play. For the Pacific, I need to look at the available figures more. Warlord Games sells Marine Infantry, but I'm not sure if the support units and heavy weapons are available as Marines.

 I’ll break out my Axis & Allies minis for a few test games, but I will delay buying figures until I finish my current DBN project (I hope!).

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