This past Friday, my friend and fellow author Dan Eldredge and I got together to play out a game of Bolt Action for the first time. Neither of us has had the time to fully paint our armies, and we agreed to not do a full battle report (the shame of a formal bat-rep containing unpainted miniatures would be too much for Dan to bear...), but we had the day to get together and enough miniatures to fight a good-sized battle, so we brought together everything that was assembled and decided to just have a go at it and try out as many of the units and rules as possible.
In short, I fielded a mixed force of British Army and Commando forces, with a bunch of weapons teams, a Daimler armored car, and a Sherman tank. Dan fielded a platoon of Panzergrenadiers in half-tracks, along with several weapon teams, a squad of veteran late-war grenadiers carrying StG 44 assault rifles, and a Tiger tank (yikes!). We played an "Envelopment" scenario, where the attacker (Germans) tries to break through the defender's (British) lines. This seemed well suited to our units, since none of my infantry had transports and I had a ton of weapons teams (mortars, AT rifle, Vickers machine gun, etc.), while Dan had mechanized infantry and a powerful tank.
|British on the near side of the board, Germans on the far side|
One immediate difference we noticed between Bolt Action and Warhammer 40K (which we've both played a lot over the years) was the effects of pinning and morale. The more a unit takes fire from enemies, the more they are "pinned", and a pinned unit has to take a morale test in order to do...well...almost anything. A unit can get pinned into utter uselessness without taking a single casualty, a situation in stark comparison to 40K, where many armies have very high morale and many units are Fearless or Stubborn or otherwise ignore various morale situations. The mission began with a bombardment of my lines, and although I only suffered one casualty, many of my units suffered pinning and a couple even broke and ran! This caused me quite a bit of trouble early on, as a number of my units couldn't get into the fight for the first couple of turns (thankfully I had a lot of units, so I wasn't completely hampered in this regard).
Dan's Panzergrenadiers made a bold thrust into the center of my lines, determined to punch through my regular infantry and split my forces. My poor infantry section stood their ground for a short while, before weight of fire from several squads of Germans, as well as their support weapons, caused the unit to suffer too many casualties and eventually break and get wiped out. In Bolt Action, if you lose half a unit's models in a turn, and they fail a morale test, the unit is destroyed. This definitely keeps the tempo of a battle going and prevents tiny remnant units running around ineffectually.
|The Poor Bloody Infantry, about a turn away from being wiped from the board. Note the Tiger in the distance...|
|An empty shell crater is all that's left of the Panzergrenadier squad, while their mates to the right look away in horror...|
Determined to press on, Dan drives his Tiger tank through the bombardment zone and tries to get off of my size of the board, since his infantry are so pinned by the bombardment that they're refusing to embark on their transport. With my Sherman immobilized and out of line-of-sight, and my armored car on the other side of the board (he's been sniping at a German MMG unit and the veteran Grenadiers all game), all I've got to deal with the tiger is my lone PIAT anti-tank gunner, who lost his loader and broke and ran in the opening bombardment. He's finally collected himself and lost his pinning penalties, and he moves forward, finally getting within good range for a shot at the Tiger's flank.
|Steady hands now, lad! Make it count!|
Overall, we both had a lot of fun. The rules move fast once you get the hang of them, and while the game isn't exactingly realistic, there are enough elements that make sense to give it a feeling of completeness and logic. The effects of pinning especially can be very frustrating, but it makes sense that your men aren't just blithely going about their business as shells explode and bullets snap all around them. You also need to make sure you're using your officers' Morale bonuses to their best effect, something I think neither of us paid much attention to during the game.
I'm not sure when we'll have another chance to play, but we're both looking forward to another battle, this time with the game mechanics more firmly understood and a better idea of how the game itself plays out. When we do, I'll be sure to post another report.
Until next time, Cheers!