Friday, 14 February 2014

Bolt Action in 15mm

I bought Bolt Action by Warlord Games shortly after it's release at the end of 2012. I've never played (to my dim recollection), and certainly not collected, a force for a historical wargame before. I also had a few worries about 'gaming' conflicts that so many brave people fought and died in, in what was living memory for many people present in my childhood. I remember close relatives talking about their experiences.  I had always preferred Science Fiction and Fantasy games for the simple detachment from reality and the complete creative control, in painting and modeling terms.

I soon realised that if I wanted to game WW2 I would at least have to read some accounts and do some proper historical research to understand the situations presented, even just a little. It should be noted at this point that Bolt Action is not really a historical wargame, it's a wargame with a soupcon of historical flavouring. Imagine the aromatherapy school of military history gaming and you're there (this isn't to say that it's bad(or that there is anything wrong with aromatherapy) just that this isn't a game that will necessarily please people who want rules heavy, painstakingly detailed games systems or old school rivet counters). It has been described by others as a fantasy WW2 game. It should also be noted that there is nothing in Bolt Action to say you have to play it historically: it's a game after all and you can choose how you play it. I intend to play scenarios similar to actual ones but not game the specific events of the war necessarily. I'd also like to do a 'what-if?' operation Seelowe once I have my forces finished up.

I started learning the rules. It seemed simple yet relatively elegant and the main rule book does have all the army lists for the main protagonists so initial outlay was reasonable (I'll come back to this). It isn't brilliantly laid out and it can be tedious tracing a series of disparate entries across the book to solve a gaming situation. After many conversations with my opponent we decided to play in 15mm, without adjusting the game scale, for a couple of reasons:
  • Cost: You can buy a lot of 15mm compared to 28mm and this will allow us to have a greater army pool of available units to pick from.
  • Space: To reduce the on table miniature queuing that's nearly always prevalent in 28mm games. I'd scoured the net and read as many reports and stared at as many pictures as I could. I've played 40k "grimdark parking lots in space" (Tanks aren't really the right things for this scale of conflict so at least do them in a smaller scale). Nearly all of them seemed crowded when played with a reasonable amount of scenery...
  • Scenery: We both already had, and had planned for; 15mm scenery for our Near Future and rustic Sci-Fi games using Tomorrow's War and Force on Force. I'm a big fan of scenery, yet have very little, so I wanted it to be as usable as possible for as many different systems as possible.
  • Time: In theory we can paint up a force much quicker than 28mm. I am a misguided fool.
  • Weapon Ranges: In a 28mm game a pistol fires the length of a standard truck. In a 15mm game the range is equivalent to three such trucks. It seems more appropriate.
After more discussion we realised that we both wanted to do the same sorts of forces. Because we're British we had an almost knee jerk urge to play as the Allies (although my friend showed early signs of deeply red opinions). At this point we realised we'd both have to collect and paint one German army each so that the same person didn't repetitively play them and had a decent range of options. I decided on a Fallschirmjager force. Michael Caine running around dressed as a Polish para came to mind: He'd seemed quite honourable overall. On went netflix. Thorough research done I believed I had it sorted. 

I was wrong. I wasn't properly prepared for not only the amount of available information, but also the contradictory natures of some accounts and practices.

I threw myself into ospreys books, online accounts and the like, and I realised quite quickly that it would be unlikely that I'd re-create an actual, specific force for a number of reasons.

I wanted to be able to use the forces in a number of different theater's; most importantly Normandy and Market Garden. This is hard to do with historical games. Dig too deep into the vast swathes of available research and information concerning WW2 and you'll end up modelling 30 specific chaps during a one week period, just to get the outfits, colours and equipment right. Or at least how the majority of amateur and professional historians believe it was.... it can be daunting. I also want the opposing allies and axis forces I inevitably collect to be usable in the greatest range of conflicts and theater selectors possible to provide some gaming variety.

With our scale choice of 15mm I had two key miniature producers in mind: Peter Pig and Battlefront. I love Peter Pigs infantry and would rely on the ease of availability and vast range provided by Flames of Wars vehicles. Unfortunately (for me) I like variation in models, even if only slight, and even in 15mm. I have a strange fixation with personalising models, even if only simply, so that they're 'mine'.

Battlefront has a good range of somewhat variable poses of infantry but the weapons can be flimsy and the faces often mangled in my experience. Peter Pig has a good range of lots of forces but you usually only get three poses in each specific weapon/pose pack, the Peter Pig chaps were crisper and slightly chunkier (and more importantly: more to my personal taste) than the Battlefront miniatures so I planned to mix Fallschirmjager and Zeltbahn wearing infantry together to represent my force. I'd found a photograph with FJ's wearing zeltbahn and jumpsmocks in Normandy and that would give me a greater variety of individual pose and sculpt variety. There are also some regular heer models that I could adapt with procreate additions to represent para smocks. The heer and zeltbahn troops available are wearing the stahlhelm (this would have been appropriate in the later conflicts, but I wanted a strong, universal and visible theme in such small playing pieces) and so tentatively decided to attempt to re-head them using the sprues of individual heads (Para helmets and the M1943 field cap for officers and NCO's) available from peter pig (these are awesome and I'll definitely cover this soon). I'd either have to replace the Flames of War vehicle crews with them entirely where possible or re-head them like the infantry.

The infamous 'Battle of that corner' a messy and ultimately fruitless waste of little men. There was smoke, an inneffective flamethrower, a sniper who only hit one thing over three games and a bear in a soviet owned opel blitz.
My darling wife bought me my Peter Pig infantry as a Birthday present and I bought myself some Battlefront tanks as an indulgence. I learnt the rules and planned, and blu-tacked chaps to bases to use for test games and planned, picked up Flames of War box sets and vehicles when at good prices through eBay and game show bring and buys (I shouldn't be allowed near them) and planned, and ultimately didn't play the game for nearly a year.

Time demanded an unreasonable amount of my attention....

What little gaming time we got was used on other things. Other excellent things like Tomorrow's War, Hind Commander and Full Thrust. Then suddenly we manage to play a couple of games of Bolt Action and I'm back into staring at the web and trying to get my head around military forces, camouflage patterns and historical settings.

As the Russians fortify the Church, my FJ's prepare to flank and assault.

Recently we managed to have a number of games of Bolt Action (and Chain of Command - a whole other story and developing obsession) in the space of a few days ranging from low point infantry fights up to a large armoured and infantry platoon game. During this time I have got a better idea of how the system works and my feelings about it:

  • LMG's are badly implemented. This is a well discussed issue around the internet. I play games to enjoy them, but I'll still try to take equipment for my forces if it's thematically correct (even when overpriced and ineffective).
  • Units in hand to hand lose all the pins they have collected - seems against the point of suppressing them in the first place. Some effect would be appreciated.
  • Historical accuracy is variable. In all honesty the idea of producing such a game and having to get all these details 'correct' is daunting and the system is so simple and applicable you can just apply your own historical knowledge to compensate. This makes the system quite user friendly and it can be played by a range of gamers from points shaving, tournament lovers to fluffy, history buffs.
  • Tanks go bang too easily. I don't totally believe this, we played an excellent large game with an armoured platoon and a regular platoon each, lengthways down the table. It was great fun. The tanks really concentrated on each other and a secondary and supportive infantry firefight emerged around it. Maybe just a bit more detail with armour would do (see my last point).
  • The rules are badly written and laid out. The errata and FAQ's help but it still takes a little time to find what you need. Luckily the system is simple and you'll soon learn it off by heart.
  • It is a fun game. I may be caught glancing at the seductive cover of chain of command, saucily poking out from beneath my scribbled army lists, but I do like Bolt Action and will continual to play and enjoy it.
  • There is a level of 'codex creep'. The later books offer greater variety and the german ones feels left out not just in some power/costing issues but also themes like the variant army rules for brits or the free selections for the russians. There is also a worrying feeling that with the onset of the armoured add on excitedly entitled 'Tank War' in August (20/08/14 last time I checked) and the general success of Warlords system it won't be long before we see Bolt Action v2. I'm not against the rules being cleaned up and developed I just hope I don't see warlord enter a spiral of rules updates and rapidly outdated books popular with other games producers.
Tank War coming your way 20/08/14. Followed by escalation and dataslates...
So now up to date. I have done some frantic basing, re-heading and sculpting in the past few weeks. I have a relatively large (in specific game terms) Fallschirmjager army based and nearly ready to paint. It has options for both Bolt Action and Chain of Command. I have a few unfinished or trial vehicles built but none really completed. I have a pile of Battlefront blisters, PSC boxes and Zvesda kits to make up, or hack apart and adapt. I want to add some generic Heer/Panzer Grenadiers to the force to increase the number of theater selectors and scenarios I can use and add some regular quality troops. It keeps raining and I need to spray paint. I've also got some Foreground buildings to make including the farm complex my wife bought me for this birthday (she's an awesome present buyer). 

The chokepoint alongside the church and the Panther's combination of a super heavy anti tank gun and good frontal armour spells the doom of the soviet tank advance. Sneaky germans are seen using Opel Blitz' disguised as UN landrovers and a Blu-tack schwimmwagen. 

Hopefully another update with some actual models in it soon. Thanks if you managed to read all that.



  1. An excellent and really enlightened insight into a subject you obviously have a great feel for. I really enjoyed this article.

  2. This was really interesting and helpful. Great post mate.