Thursday, 24 October 2013

Playing Bolt Action: Battle at the farm

I had been trying to find a moment to play 'Bolt Action' for a time, and I have succeeded at last!
As you could see some weeks ago, I had painted the Normandy starter set, 20 infantry minis for each side. It also included some ruined walls for scenery, and I decided to do something special with them. Instead of having a few unrelated walls, I made up a ruined house:

Ruined house as seen in a ruined photo
I hadn't read much of this game but I had heard that it was kinda Warhammer in WWII. With that in mind and having this small country building, an stupid idea just popped up in my mind: We could play the 'Battle at the farm' scenario from Rogue Trader! A few German soldiers are stuck in a farm and it was just a matter of time that an American patrol came by the neighbourhood. That's it, just that simple. I wasn't aiming any kind of historical scenario or accurateness, this was just an attempt to test the rules in a simple way. So don't expect point values nor strategy... only trying to see how rules worked.

This was the display. Equally simple
The American sniper team soon got into position

No, the pic's not blurry. Camouflage is doing its work
The German Squad behind the farm decided that the best defence is a good offence, so they didn't stay behind cover

The farm is too small for all of us. Come with me!
Come, we will find a new one!
The yankees are shooting!
As it's not a new game, I guess that many of you might be familiar with the rules. For those who are not, I can say that it's true that the game is quite similar to Warhammer. There are some differences. Each player chooses a unit of his army and gives it an order (you place an 'orders die' besides, to remember what they are doing that turn). The orders can be 'advance' (move and shoot), 'run' (move double, no shoot), 'fire' (no move, but more accurate shooting), 'down' (do nothing but take cover), 'ambush' (no move or shoot, but take up firing positions) and 'rally' (no actions as before, but recover morale, regroup...)
After the unit fulfils the order given (or miserably fails to do so), the other player chooses a unit from his own army and gives it an order. So the turn is somehow more dynamic. The rules for shooting are essentially the same than in Warhammer, rolling dices and comparing tables. It reminds me quite of WH40K 2nd Ed, with those modifiers, differences between short range-long range and so. Well, as an abstraction for playing a battle I can say they are OK so far. Let's see something more, I'm speaking too much.

Germans open fire from the farm
Man down! Set a 'pin marker' (I only could set a die), the unit can be affected
So we have a crossfire with some casualties

This American Squad woved through the flank and charged the Germans
Here it comes the part that I find a little bit dissapointing. The close quarters phase is maybe too much. Let me explain: Attackers roll to damage, defenders take casualties and survivors counterattack, rolling to damage. The side which causes more casualties simply wipes the other side out of the table.

You see, one casualty per side...
That means a draw! Draws are for sissies! Immediately take another close quarters phase until one side is destroyed!
Sarges' fight!

I believe we made some mistakes here about positioning minis. But this was just about getting along with the rules, so don't worry, the result was the same: Americans caused two casualties and Germans only one. So, German side was defeated and the whole unit is destroyed. I really find it hard to see that. I would have liked it more if losers were pushed back to their positions, forced to fall back suffering additional casualties... Something like that.
The way the game solves these situations is too quick and ends up in an instant massacre while the rest of the battle is still taking part. I can see the carnage in an bayonet assault, but losing up to... what? Ten men? in a second, while the rest of the battle is being undertaken, is much more than a simple abstraction.
The time taken in that assault is inexistent to game effects. While your mates are moving, taking cover, shooting and maybe a couple of casualties are being caused, a unit has just dissapeared having needed two (or eventually more) rounds of close quarters combat, which apparently have happened in a glimpse. As I say, this is the weaker part of the game in my opinion.

But enough chatting! There's a battle going on! Where were we?

We were winning!
Oh, yes. That. Then Germans tried to counterstrike

There they are! Advance!
General overview. Captain Hammer in the background added for dramatic purposes
Germans in the house shoot everything they have
Though Americans went down, they received casualties
And more casualties
For those who haven't played the game, I told previously that suffering casualties is bad for morale. How is that so in the rules? Remember, you set as many 'pin markers' as casualties received (I'm still using those green small dice until I develop something better). When a unit is 'pinned' and receives an order, the soldiers might be reluctant to accomplish it (or they may be too scared to act properly... these things). In that case you must take a morale test to see if your troops overcome adversity. Roll two dice and if the result is equal or less than their morale value, they can act normally and discard one pin marker.
This happened to this American Squad, which had suffered two casualties. They checked and...

Fubar!..... I'm sure you don't need me to translate that acronym
Being that the case, you have to roll again to see the effects for that. In this case...

Snafu!.... (it means basically the same, you know)
They were forced to fall back. 'Tactical retreat' should be a formal way to say that.

On the other side of the table, the sniper was beginning to get some spectacular results

Whooops! Where did that came from?
The German Officer and his aide, having witnessed the uberpower of close combat, bravely decided to charge the enemy

Notice the Officer pinching the enemy's nose
But... What went wrong here?
The American Lieutenant decided to bravely do the same stupid thing that his counterpart and advanced towards the farm

Trust me, I've seen this in the movies
The sniper was causing some serious mayhem, the German unit had to take that flank seriously

They received a rally order, which they gladly accomplished
And here it comes the absurd. The Lieutenant and his assistant reached the house in an epic run. Charging through the door, the Private fights to death.

Just so you can see the situation
The American Private kills an anemy

Aaaargh! (Read with German accent)
Sooo... Yup, that's it. Americans win the round and kill/take prisoners/whatever the whole squad. The German squad is wiped out. Wow. That's a thing, man.

We deserve a movie!
 Of course, their mates were scared to death to see what two guys could achieve. They had to ensure that could not happen again.

The Americans die, but it was totally worth of
It looked like the battle was quite decided by now. Americans advanced cautiously.

Our youngest general oversees the progression of operations. Geek parenting is meritorious
This was the situation at the moment. I believe I can predict the result...
Being under siege and pinned, the German Squad has to roll dice in a morale check...

Twelve? This happened twice in the same game? Seriously?
They checked the chart and just went 'down'. Unfortunately for them, the sniper team was at the top of their skills. One shot, one dead. The poor guys in the farm tried to 'rally'. Being pinned, they have to check and........

Come on! This is becoming ridiculous!
Well, what can I say. This was hilarious. The jinx squad had no other option than fall back and leave the farm.
Enough for one day, I'm no paid for this
American victory! The guys in green take control of the farm.

On the whole I can say the game is not bad at all, but I believe it lacks 'something' to be that great. I find it valuable that the abstractions are made in a simple way and easy to understand. You get the dynamics of the game in a glimpse, specially if, as it's my case, you come from the WH40K world. You can see Rick Priestley's hand all over. The game has charts, modifiers and all that hallmark, but it's not complicated, you can get used to that in no time. Some of the concepts are nice and quite logical and a general overview to the rulebook makes you see that there is a lot of work behind and it's well thought in general.
But there are some things that are not well solved. I have pointed the close quarters, for example. For me that's a thing that almost kills the game. I'm not talking about it being decisive, but being unrealistic, almost clumsy. I believe it really needs some work and a re-thought.
The pinning system is well conducted in general terms and I like it, but as you can see, we had a 'fubar' event three times in the same battle. For sure that's out of statistics, but it also became something weird. Maybe an excess of charts and crossed references, don't know.

It has been my first incursion in a historical wargame, so I have different thoughts on the subject. First of all, I wanted this kind of things, for a change. I was in need for something different that Space Marines and Orks, and I really wanted to play WWII, so I approached the game in a good mood. That said, the warhammer-esque approach has made me easy the adaptation, buy I realize I expect something 'different' from a historical game, not just 'Warhammer in WWII', if you know what I mean. Playing a wargame is a matter of abstraction, of course, but there are ways and ways to conduct that abstraction. Though not being displeased at all with 'Bolt Action', I believe there are some aspects that could be improved in one or other way.
For sure we will give the game more chances, so I will tell you if my thoughts on it change.
For all of you who already know the game, how were your experiences like? Similar to mine or totally different? How do you face the aspects I mention? Any thoughts on that? Thanks!


  1. I never liked Bolt Action, I settled on 'Rules of Engagement' by Great Escape Games for my 28mm WWII fix instead. Like many modern wargames it borrows heavily from GW but it is a very satisfying experience.

    1. As this has been my first experience with historical wargames (as a matter of fact first wargame out or WHFB or 40K) I wasn't sure of what to expect. The game is not bad, but it's true that I had the impression of being playing a variation of 40K.
      I love the ambientation, and Warlord Games minis are superb, so I don't rule out the idea of trying other rulesets. I have noted down your suggestion, thanks!

  2. Sounds like a very fun battle. Don't you think that all those surprising double 6s increased your enjoyment? ;)

    1. It was definitely fun! Maybe all those circumstances made the game a little bit cheesy, but the experience was fun indeed. As I've just told, I may try some other rules, I've enjoyed this WWII experience.

  3. Would you use Bolt Action to play WH40K instead of the original rules?

    1. Hum, that's a pretty good question! It shouldn't be that complicated adapting the concept. You can easily use the given profiles for troops and weapons. Maybe you should think a little about the pinning or morale issues (regarding Space Marines and 'they shall know no fear' special rules or things like that), but other than that it could be an interesting idea for small fantasy or sci-fi skirmishes.
      Hmmm, I may try your idea actually!

  4. I really like that you made the Germans the Marines and the Americans the Orcs, hehehe ;)

    Keep it up!

    1. Haha, I thought it was the most logical option! Glad you like it!

  5. i accept that a heroic character kill a whole squad in close combat in 40k, in fantasy or sci-fi games is correct to me., no realistic but funny.
    but in a historical game, or at least in one who aspire to be in that category is unacceptable, i think that if you want to reflect real war you have to pay more attention to details like this.
    really your great report convince me to not play this game,although his excellent models are another matter, a pair of halftracks will fall into my hands.
    sorry for my english, i read it like spanish but I fear that I write as a 6 yo scholar

    1. Well, this tries to be a simple game, encouraging the 'quick turns' concept and the 'kil-kil-kil' style. Just an easy way to play WWII, nothing else. I'll try to look for 'Rules of Engagement' as Warlord Paul suggested or some other rulesets, but as you say, the minis by Warlord Games are superb indeed, that's right.

  6. I loved the geek parenting part! I am doing the same... :)

    1. Haha, not an easy way the path of the padawan is, nor his master's...