Sunday, July 5, 2015

My First Game of BOLT ACTION WW2 Miniatures Wargaming

Over two years ago (wow!) I picked up the BOLT ACTION core rules book, several Army Books, and a small force of British Commandos (naturally - new readers, look to the left of this article...). I reviewed the game in the abstract over on the Post Modern Pulp Blog, but I figured an actual game report was best suited to this blog (I'll put a "Hey, take a look" post up over on PMP pointing back here as well).

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...
Once Dan's infantry had punched a hole in my lines, he also managed to immobilize my Sherman with a single shot from his Tiger. I quickly found myself staring into a lot of enemy gun barrels, and decided some audaciousness was in order. So, I turned to my Commandos and sent them into the teeth of the enemy, bayonets and daggers gleaming, Sten guns blazing away. In Bolt Action, an assault is dangerous - the enemy gets to react by firing on the charging unit if they start far enough away - but there is no draw, just victory or death for the attacker. Thankfully for me, Commandos are "Tough Fighters" and excel at the assault, and so I wiped out one of Dan's squads in a flurry of bullets, blades, and bayonets.

An empty shell crater is all that's left of the Panzergrenadier squad, while their mates to the right look away in horror...
At this point, Dan's officer jumps into the half-track and opens fire on my Commandos with its machine gun, and the other infantry squad also opens fire, as does the advancing Tiger tank. Seeing my center forced open yet again, my Forward Artillery Officer calls down a barrage of artillery fire on the German squad (see the white die with the bulls-eye in the photo above). Unfortunately, the blast radius of the barrage is HUGE, and over the next two rounds, a number of units - both friend and foe - are pinned or damaged, and my poor medic and his stretcher-bearer (the bare metal models in the top-right of the above photo) are killed by a heavy howitzer shell!

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!
He misses with his first shot due to moving and firing and long range, but the second shot hits. I roll a "5" for damage, enough to cause a penetrating hit, and I get another "5" on the damage table, knocking out the Tiger. With only one infantry squad left, Dan makes a roll to see if the heavily-pinned unit will board its Hanomag half-track, and it fails. At this point, Dan concedes defeat, since he really can't get anyone off my side of the board in the next turn (this was the end of turn 5).

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!