Saturday, November 2, 2013
Review: Bolt Action
World War II is an era that has been popular with gaming for some time. It was a war where many feel there was a justification for us to enter, and there was a real sense of unity and accomplishment that (at least for the United States) didn't seem to be there in wars after that point. Many great games have tried to capture the feel of world war II from many perspectives from the large scale games like Axis and Allies, and World in Flames, to the more tactical level of games like Memoir 44, and Flames of War. But recently I picked up a newer 28mm miniatures wargame that puts the action into a squad level war. The game is called Bolt Action, and it is written by Rick Priestly who had originally penned the first edition of Warhammer 40,000, and Alessio Cavatore, who is also a former GW employee who worked on their biggest titles. So in this review there will probably be some comparison to Warhammer for several reasons.
I had originally picked this game up with less than much in the way of intention to play it. I found it on www.thewarstore.com as a starter box. which comes with 40 miniatures, order dice, and Terrain as well as a rule book. Now here is the first place to compare it to warhammer (and flames of war for that matter) in most starter games, you get either an abridged rule book or a digest sized rule book, pushing for you the player to buy the "official" rule book later. In the case of Warhammer and 40k, this means after spending $120 on the starter box, they want you to eventually spring for the full rule book for about another $80.00. In the case of Bolt Action (and other Warlord games products) the Starter comes with a full freaking hardback copy of the rules. I had originally bought the game for the minis and terrain figuring them useful for a savage worlds WWII game I was considering and getting it through the warstore dropped the original $90.00 price tag to about $72.00 US. so even if the rules suck, at least the minis would be usable elsewhere.
In short, the rules did not in the least, suck. Bolt action is an amazing game, with simple and concise rules, that offer a plethora of tactical options as well as tactical obstacles. Initiative is at the heart of this game and it is handled with special order dice, which have the six major orders written on them- Fire, (don't move, and fire with no penalty) Advance (move standard, fire at penalty) Run (Move 2x, no fire) Ambush (hold at the ready) Down (not an action but a reaction, to force a penalty on a shooting unit) and Rally (pull demoralized troops into action) each unit on the field puts one die in the cup which is drawn randomly. If it's your color you assign it and it's capabilities to one unit of your choice. units that have gone (leave the die by the unit) cannot react. This makes order of your actions as well as choice vital to a successful strategy. Morale also plays a great part in game, not just the standard if you are less than 50% strength roll a morale check, or flee. but when you have been successfully shot at (even if you lose no troops, you gain a pin marker, representing your soldier's realization of their own mortality. Any unit with pin markers must make an order roll to perform an action after the action is declared. Each pin counts as a -1 to that check. Failure means they won't act and are effectively pinned down by fire. Success means you go for it guts and glory. this makes suppressing fire and timing more effective in game than in most minis games with firearms in play. While each army gets some special rules based on their nation and the like (Russians for example get a free 11 man green infantry squad, and germans get an extra dice when firing light machine guns) The game does not rely on a litany of special feats or rules breaks that often go forgotten like in some games. The minis are mostly plastic with some metal and resin for most vehicles, and are well sculpted and very nicely detailed. Armies do take on an almost stereotypical look of each nation (US Troops chomping on stogies, the Brits with the Walrus mustaches, and so on.) They are distinct enough to recognize unpainted without being too over the top.
If there is a downside to this game it is in the same initiative system I mentioned before the more stuff on the field the longer turns will take. meaning this is not an ideal game for super large mass combats. In short Memoir 44 or Flames of War may be good games for running the storming of Normandy. This game is for more personal firefights. Taking a section of Stalingrad to fight a few blocks of door to door combat, vs trying to take the whole damn city.you probably want to keep your game around 1000 or so points or it can get out of hand. Mind you that is still a lot to play with for the detail, My 1000 points of russians inludes 55 men, a command staff, med crew, medium mortar, and a t-34 tank. Not too Shabby. Also Warlord games seems commited to bringing out all sorts of forces for the game. After Christmas I intend to start building a French army, just to be able to field a Char 1B. Players can also build Belgian Polish and Italian forces with either free pdf supplements or add on army books. The core book gives great starting lists for the US, Britain, USSR, and Germany. So you will have plenty to work with even if you don't rush out and buy every army book they make.
If you like games like Warhammer 40,000 or Flames of War Bolt Action is probably right up your ally. and unlike Warhammer the cost of units is still quite reasonable. $120.00 will put you into a full 1000 point army. where a 40k starter is maybe 1/3rd of a full army for game. So what are you waiting for man, join the war effort today!
Verdict - 5 out of 5 stars