Green Recruits – Starting Out in Bolt Action

Greetings Wargamers and Hobbyists, and welcome to the war…

This article and those that follow are intended to chart the journey of myself and my clubmates as we go from being green recruits to experienced veterans in the game of Bolt Action, from Warlord Games. This is my story. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Of course at this stage we are fresh off the boat, but this will help to preserve my ‘new player’ perspective, rather than looking back later and trying to remember what it was like to be new to the game. Hopefully this will make the series interesting and useful to other new players that come after me.

boltactionlogo

Starting Out

Ok then, first things first – the decision to start out. This was all the fault of a clubmate, who for the purposes of this series I shall refer to as ‘Dave’. Dave had a few days off work, and as the Devil makes work for idle hands, he ended up browsing Bolt Action stuff, and then contacted me all worked up about how awesome it looked and that he thought we should give it a go. And now here we are, all of four months later, with burgeoning armies and a first game under our belts. I have already talked about my own personal feelings about playing in this period in a separate article, so here I will talk about the nitty-gritty of getting our hands dirty.

Initially both of us had to look at the financial commitment, as we are both playing more than one other game as well – I am playing about five other games at the moment – and this not only means that the love can sometimes be spread a bit thin, it also means that there are multiple sets of rules to keep up to date with. And 40K tournament gamers thought they had it tough!

Seeing as in general we only really play at our club, we considered the option of playing at a smaller scale, 1/72 instead of the 1/56 that the Warlord miniatures are produced at. Perhaps not quite as nice, but certainly viable as well as being substantially more cost efficient, and with lots of options for models out there. Going with a different scale however might restrict our playing options outside the club later on down the line. It also turned out that a couple of other guys at the club already had a few Bolt Action models in 1/56 (28mm), so we decided that was the way to go if we wanted to get other guys involved.

So paying for starting out in a new game? I have never been the kind of guy to do things by half measures, and really wanted two things for starting out. I wanted forces that were playable from the off, rather than having to build up one unit at a time over an extended period before being able to play ‘proper’ games, and I wanted to collect two separate forces – one German and one British – so we could avoid mismatched games with forces of the same nation or alliance facing off against each other.

Of course this required a bit of a cash boost to get the ball rolling, and I managed to make things easier in a couple of ways. First off, I managed to find a reliable dealer that was able to provide everything I needed and at a discount on the full retail price – always a good thing. There are various independent retailers out there, but the one I have been using and will continue to use is R K Studio Store. Terence is helpful, flexible, responsive and provides a great value service in my experience so far.

Second was just as important, and was the deciding factor in being able to make an investment in the game. I happened to remember I had some fairly rare items tucked away which I decided to finally put up for sale – a few boxes of ‘new in box’ Man O’ War ships (I had more than enough models in my various fleets already), and some early 90’s metal Dwarfs still in the blisters – some Crossbowmen and an Organ gun – as well as the old metal Dwarf Flame Cannon from the same era.

Everything got sold pretty quick. Some of it went to Dorset, some of it went to Canada, some to Holland, and some of it went to Japan. On the day the last item sold and the payment came in, I started placing orders.

Requisitioning Forces

In the event, I had made enough cash to go in big and do just what I wanted. My broad theme for my collection and the kind of games I want to play is ‘Market Garden’, the Allied invasion of Holland in 1944. With this in mind, I bought the German Grenadier and British Airborne 1000 point Starter armies, the second edition Rulebook with yet more Grenadiers as the ‘complimentary box’ that was a special offer, and to round out I ordered a pair of British Airborne Twin Vickers Reconnaissance Jeeps. I got everything via R K Studio, except the Recce Jeeps, which I got from 1st Corps after a recommendation on the Bolt Action community Facebook Group page.

Then came both a blessing and a curse at the same time. There were some other models I wanted to get to fill in a few gaps and round out my model selection. Some snipers, officers and observers for both forces, plus some additional support weapons and other bits and pieces. Enter the ‘Black Tree Miniatures End of Summer uber 50% off all WWII Infantry Sale’, and boom! Dave and I had both ordered a few more models for our armies. Fantastic prices, nice miniatures, and what were now two nicely rounded forces – Late War Germans pushing 3000 points (more than I will ever need I am confident, but you never know), and about 1600 points in British Airborne. My theme of Operation Market Garden was becoming a reality.

The Germans

The Germans, before the Flame Troopers and extra SMGs arrived.
The Germans, before the Flame Troopers and extra SMGs arrived…

This is the 1000/1250 point army that is sold as a set by Warlord (which I ordered via R K Studio), and the extra thirty Grenadiers I got with the 2nd edition rulebook, and consists of six ten man units of Heer Grenadiers, each with a Light Machine Gun (LMG) team, an NCO, and two Panzerfaust. In each squad the NCO and three other troopers carry a combination of Sub Machine Guns and Assault Rifles. This loadout for squads comes after some consultation with the guys on the Bolt Action Facebook group about what kind of numbers of Assault Rifles, Panzerfaust etc is appropriate, but with some flexibility in the list.

The Grenadier Squads are organised into two Platoons, each led by a ‘Leutnant’ with an adjutant, and each platoon is also supported by a Medium Machine Gun Team and Medium Mortar Team.  The last components of the Warlord set are a PAK40 field gun, the StuGIII Tank Destroyer and the Puma Armoured Car.

One of the MMG Teams and one of the Mortar Teams came from Black Tree, as well as a few Snipers available to assign to either Platoon, a pair of Communications Officers which I bought to use as Forward Observers or Spotters for the Mortars, and an Assault Engineers squad made up of a Flame Thrower team and four troopers (including an NCO) with Sub machine Guns.

To round out the entire force, I recently added a Panther tank and a Hanomag in the R K Studio Store Black Friday sale, and with those additions as far as I am concerned this force is now complete. Now they all just need painting!

The British

The British Airborne 1000 point starter army from Warlord (again via RK), plus the Jeeps and a 10 man Section from Black Tree
The British Airborne 1000 point starter army from Warlord (again via R K), plus the Jeeps and a 10 man Section from Black Tree

The force pictured is the 1000 point starter collection, plus another 10 man section from Black Tree Miniatures, a pair of Comms Officers from the same for use as Forward Observers/Spotters, the Recce Jeeps from 1st Corps, a 6lb Field Gun (Warlord), and somewhat incongruously but irresistible at the same time, my Dads Army Home Guard models, which were a gift a year ago from the wife.

The British force is noticeably smaller than the German force, but this is partly because I will be using the Germans at our club more than the Brits I imagine, and wanted more options with them, but also because my theme is Market Garden – the Brits are supposed to be outnumbered!

Alternative Miniatures – Black Tree

Before I invested in models from Black Tree, I did ask around to make sure that there wouldn’t be much of an issue fielding them alongside the models from Warlord, and I was advised that they were a good purchase. In practice I have found that the size of the BT models varies very slightly compared to the Warlord minis, but the difference in height is negligible, and they will fit in just fine alongside my other models. If anything, they add a nice variation in height to the men in the units. After all, we are not all the same height, are we?

As the models from Warlord are available to view both in the photo above and on their own website, I have included some additional photos of the models from Black Tree and 1st Corps so you can see what these are like assembled.

Here are the support weapons from the German force – the PAK40 that came with the 1000/1250 starter, the Medium Machine Gun and Medium Mortar Teams. The MMGs are on the left of the photo and the Mortars on the right, and in each case, the left hand Team is the Warlord set, and the Team on the right of each pair is the Black Tree set.

German Support Weapons
German Support Weapons

Below are the Black Tree Snipers and Comms Officers.

Snipers (left) and Comms Officers (right)
Snipers (left) and Comms Officers (right)

Here are the Black Tree SMGs and Flame Troopers.

Wehrmacht SMGs (left) and Flame Troopers (right)
Wehrmacht SMGs (left) and Flame Troopers (right)

Here are the Black Tree British Paratroopers, four with SMGs and six with rifles.

British Officer models and Riflemen Adjutants, all from Black Tree.

And finally, we have the Twin Vickers machine gun Reconnaissance Jeeps from 1st Corps. I decided to get these as the Warlord version is nice, but only has a single machine gun as far as I recall, and the model from 1st Corps was recommended to me by another of the guys in the Facebook group. They are also a little cheaper than the Warlord miniature. They went together without much trouble, but I certainly recommend mounting them onto a base as I did, otherwise they are likely to be rather fragile.

 

First Game

Of course after assembling all those cool models and reading through the rules a few times, we wanted to get our first game played. It’s one thing reading about how the game works and even watching games played online, but another experience entirely to be running through the rules for yourself for the first time. Having played several rather complex games in my time, I would lay Bolt Action alongside games like Warhammer 40,000 in sheer volume of rules, and way more to take in than games like Age of Sigmar or Kings of War.

Dave and I decided to start off small and pick a couple of 500 point forces. He took his Brits, and I took my Germans. All my units were Veterans, and the list looked like this:

1 x 2nd Lt with Assault Rifle + 1 Rifleman

10 Grenadiers inc. NCO, 2 SMG, 2 Assault Rifles, 2 Panzerfaust & 1 LMG Team.

10 Grenadiers inc. NCO, 2 SMG, 2 Assault Rifles, 2 Panzerfaust & 1 LMG Team.

1 x MMG Team

1 x Medium Mortar Team

Dave’s Brits were as follows:

1 x Regular Lt with a Pistol + a Rifleman

8 Regular Infantry inc. NCO – Rifles

8 Regular Infantry inc. NCO – Rifles

Medic (Regular)

Forward Artillery Observer (Regular)

7 Commandos – inc. NCO, all with SMGs and Anti-tank Grenades

6 Veteran Infantry – inc. NCO, all with Rifles and Anti-tank Grenades

1 x Light Mortar Team

As you can see, Dave had substantially more activations than I did, but at the same time my units should be more resilient and would benefit from the ‘At full strength’ rule.

We decided to keep things very simple, as this was never intended to be a competitive game, rather it was simply an opportunity to see the game mechanics in action and get to grips with how the game played. To that end, we simply set up a bit of scenery, and decided to play out a Kill Point game. We played out a full six turns before the roll for an additional turn ended the encounter, during which we saw plenty of movement and shooting, and tried to bring as many of the game mechanics as we could into play, by initiating assaults etc.

Contact!
We have contact!

 

Engage!
Engage!

What did we learn?

This first taste of playing Bolt Action did teach us quite a bit about the game. One of the most important things that emerged was that Bolt Action is unlike any of the other games that we play, thanks to some unique game mechanics, such as the drawing of dice or tokens to determine the order of unit activations during the turn, and the relative strengths of the various weapons, plus the impact of the Pinning mechanic, all of which provide a very different challenge from the off.

In addition, we learned that the character of the game is one of long range whittling and pot shots designed to deter enemy units and control the battle zone, which all of a sudden becomes a deluge of punishing fire once units get within close range with their weapons and can stop moving to focus on unloading at the enemy.

We learned that mortars rarely hit their target – in fact, neither of our mortars hit anything the whole game. This was partly because the target units were moving around a fair bit, and partly because the mortar teams themselves had to move once or twice to better positions. We also learned that the German advantage that comes from being able to activate more units than their enemy via their Officer special rules, and the opportunities to focus fire that this brings should not be understated.

It certainly has a broad set of tactics to learn, which bring everything together, play to a force’s strengths, and which allow you to concentrate your fire against the right part of the enemy line at just the right moment to either destroy or rout them and crush their chances of mounting a robust counter attack. In all, I very much look forward to playing more Bolt Action, and of building up my collection of appropriate scenery, not to mention getting two armies painted! As we play more games and work through the various scenarios, we will increase the number of Requisition Points we are selecting our forces with, so allow us more flexibility and so we can get more juicy units onto the table. This is going to be awesome.

 

Many thanks for reading,

Eternal Wargamer.

  • That was a good write up and I found it very interesting as both Bolt Action and Konflikt 47 appeal to me.

    • Frank Ford

      Thanks Rory, I appreciate the comment. I have liked what I have been hearing about Bolt Action for some time, and it is a period I have a lot of interest in, though I only decided recently to take it up. It’s nice to have that ‘new game’ feeling.

      • Looking forward to reading about your further explorations.

  • Great article! As for the Black Tree Design miniatures, I like them but people have told me that part of the WW2 range (can’t speak for the others) is a bit up and down. I can’t remember if it’s the newer or older sculpts that are the best. I have for my Russians and a smaller number of US Paratroopers from them and they are all very nice.

    If I were to start the game now, from scratch I would choose 1/72 hands down. Just the difference in cost would make it an easy choice. But we had some 28mm already from playing a Weird War 2 game so we also went with 28mm.

    Mortars can be very good and if I could remember where the heck I’ve misplaced mine I would use them in most games.

    • Frank Ford

      Hey Nils, thanks for the feedback. I think that Black Tree are like a lot of manufacturers and suppliers, it pays to do some research before committing, and I hope that articles like this one will help others.

      I do think that if the other guys at the club didn’t already have 28mm minis we probably would have gone 1/72. I think we were probably unlucky with the mortars – but they will have to hit sooner or later! Learning about target selection with them to pick targets that will be hit after ranging in, rather than targets that may be a bigger threat but much harder to hit – I guess that’s where the overall interlocking of the units in the force comes in, and making them support one another.

  • Nice write-up. Even though I’m not likely to branch out any time soon I still think it’s cool to see some non-40k action on the blog. It’s always good to know what else is out there!

    • Frank Ford

      Thanks Kamui – I agree about having a bit of variety to keep things fresh. I guess that’s why I play so many different games. I may not become a master at any of them, but they will certainly never get stale!

  • Seems like it could be an intriguing game, but another complicated ruleset isn’t on my plate at the moment. It’s a reason I’m all over Blood Bowl right now. It’s a quick and simple game when I don’t want to deal with 40K’s imbalance. I love the game, but some days…

    Anyway, I didn’t realize you could play in different scales. That’s interesting. I assume there’s no templates (flamers, blasts, etc), or does the game tell you how to handle scale for things like that?

    • Frank Ford

      They introduced blast templates in the new edition, but I guess you could scale them down, or even just put the smaller scale minis on 25mm bases.

      I do love the mechanic for drawing dice to see who activates a unit next.

    • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

      The base rules are slightly simpler than 40k, and the army rules much much simpler. All told a far more balanced and somehow less stressful experience than 40k!

      I’m really enjoying building up my Defenders of Stalingrad army.

      • Frank Ford

        Nice! I like a themed force. Any pics?

        • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

          Nothing painted yet I’m afraid!

          • Frank Ford

            Well perhaps as I start to get stuff painted and post it in the blog you can post anything you have managed to get done as well? Don’t worry, it won’t be immediate.

            • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

              Sure, that would be fun.

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