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Lights, Camera, Bolt Action

Good whatever time of the day it is when you read this to you!

Fellow Bunkerer Em and I have been taking our relationship to a new level and have been experimenting together. Pushing out into pastures new and trying out things neither of us have considered before. We want to share with you what we have been getting up to.

We've been playing some Bolt Action by Warlord Games.

Normally we're strictly into Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Fantasy by Games Workshop. We've both been very happy with these games and have many memorable memories collecting and playing them. Both get the creative juices flowing by giving us a massive world/galaxy in which to indulge our every sordid whim. Between them they cover our need for shooty space alien death explosions and brave undead knights saving hairy monsters from ravenous damsels. So you might be asking why have we branched out into historical wargaming? This would be a fair question. Let's give a couple of reasons why we are giving it a go.

GI's ready for combat


I've always had a keen interest in history, and for those who know me anything classic (pre-fall of the Roman Empire) and anything post 1900 has always held my fascination. So a chance to play out the WW2 era really caught me. Plus there are a ton of cool tanks to paint up and explode stuff with. This is what drew me in to start with.

I'm also enjoying the realism. This might sound a little odd, but I enjoy the constraints that realism brings. Knowing that I have to pick certain things because that was what was I find an interesting challenge. It might have something to do with my OCD but I think it also comes from my fear of the blank page. An empty space, a blank canvas or free rein scare the snot out of me. I like to have rules and boundaries to work within. This might sound counter creative, but I find that if I have something to think around or towards I'm far happier. I think everyone has an element of this, tournament gamers have the goal of making seriously competitive list and the fluffy gamers among us give ourselves themes and narratives that limit what we collect and paint.

Go there!


When Maisey first waved his phone in my face with a picture of the Warlord Games Normandy battle set my first thought was 'why the hell not'.  The models were well done, the scenery realistic and the cost was very reasonable. The undeniable romanticism of the WW2 era is of course a big part of the draw as is the knowledge that my Grandpa would be tickled pink to know his granddaughter is continuing the long tradition of painting up little men and tanks to recreate momentous historical battles, particularly from a time he lived through and spent many long hours recounting! (He had a rather good war, never seeing combat but getting the full RAF navigator training in a Lancaster).
The idea of actually learning something about real historical events, troops, weapons and vehicles while having fun gaming also appealed. For instance, I am now well versed on the relative merits of the T-34 Russian tank versus the Panzer IV! The rule book is gorgeous to look at and contains lots of fascinating titbits of information for spec hungry gamers and WW2 nuts.

So that answers the Why. What about the How? Well, BA plays very differently to any war game I've played before. I'll go through some of the main differences below.

Turn Structure:

We're all familiar with the standard, you take your turn then I take my turn, method of playing. BA handles this very differently. For every independent unit in your army you need a counter or token. We have two sets of dice, one blue and one green. both players' tokens are then added to a cup or bag. Each player then takes it in turns to remove a token at random. If one of your tokens are drawn then you can use it to activate a unit. Once a unit is activated you complete that units actions for the turn. You continue until all the tokens are drawn.

In actual game play turns this really can affect the ebb and flow of a battle. In one turn your opponent can completely get the upper hand on you and vice a versa by simple fortune of war. It goes a long way to give the feeling of a chaotic and unpredictable skirmish. This mechanic also throws up a lot of tactical choices. Which unit do you activate at that precise moment and how is that going to affect your overall strategy. Do you take the chance to get into cover in preparation for the next turn or do you push forward knowing your opponent may have a chance to react before you can bring supporting units in.

This mechanic makes the game a very different beast to WFB and 40K.

Advancing through cover


Morale plays a huge part of the game mechanics and not just in a simple 'oh we're taken some casualties, lets run away' way, but a unit that is under fire will be hindered in their actions and seriously heavy fire may mean that unit simply doesn't follow orders. For example, a unit is fired on and no casualties are caused but the unit receives a pin marker (we use a die) for every opposing unit that fire at them. These pin markers become a negative modifier to that units leadership when they test for their orders roll. So if a unit under fire wishes to return fire, advance or run, they need to pass a leadership test to do so. One or two markers won't bother veterans or regulars but green troops will suffer. Three or more becomes a serious problem. If a unit fails this leadership test they simple go to ground and take cover. Pin markers also apply a negative modifier to a units ability to shoot accurately. as in the real world a solider won't be able to fire effectively whilst being fired at themselves. In BA it is perfectly possible to keep a unit pinned down in cover without directly causing any casualties whilst a second unit moves to flank the pinned unit.

Under fire and taking cover

Pins can be removed in several ways. Easiest is to order the unit to rally, in which is spends the turn taking cover, checking ammo etc and can discard D6+1 markers. Second is to successfully pass a test for orders, a unit can then discard one of it's pin markers before then carrying out the order.

Finally, it is possible to fail a leadership test so badly that there are more severe consequences than not just carrying out their orders. If one rolls a double 6 when taking a leadership test then the player must roll on the FUBAR chart. On a roll of 3 to 6 the unit panics and moves away from the fight as fast as it can. On a roll of a 1 or 2 the unit will actually fire on the nearest friendly unit, mistaking it for the enemy in the confusion of battle.


So in the above paragraph I mention leadership modifiers. Well, modifiers are used extensively. However, you only normally need to make a single roll, with both the 'to hit' and 'to wound' rolls found in 40k & WFB being accounted for. For example, a regular infantryman, at standard range will hit and wound on a 4+, however this roll is then modified based on the following factors. He will suffer a -1 to hit if he has moved, or the target is at long range or if the target is in cover. It is perfectly possible that the roll to hit and wound will be more than a 6+ , especially if the target is hiding behind the wall your running towards. In this case a 7 is needed (a roll of a 6 followed by a 4). The end result feels similar to 40K & WFB but a little bit slicker once you get used to working out the modifiers.

Which way am I supposed to be shooting?

Close Combat:

Close combat or close quarters battle is a short and brutal affair in BA. In WFB & 40K it is not uncommon for evenly matched foes to end up in protracted combats lasting for many rounds. In WFB this is a fairly natural state of affairs and suits the style of gaming. Similar with 40K epic heros making glorious last stands or plucky underdogs beating superior foes are common place and again, suits the fantastical nature of the game. BA, however is set in the real world and CQB is a brief and bloody affair and is resolved in a single round of combat. How it works is nice and simple. The assaulting unit gets a die per member of the unit and makes a roll on their unmodified attack value (normally 4+ for regular troops) and the defender suffers a casualty for each successful roll. If the defender has any models left in the unit she gets to make her rolls in the same way. Once that has been done, who ever suffered the most casualties is simply removed from play. It is presumed that the loser is either wounded, has surrendered or has been incapacitated in some way or another. If there is a draw, with both sides causing the same number of casualties, then you simply repeat the combat with the survivors, but simultaneously this time until a winner has emerged.

There are many other smaller differences in the game but these are the biggest one's. Em and I are still learning the ropes but so far it's an enjoyable alternative to the GW games. There are enough differences in game play and style to make it stand out from the other games. At the moment we're just working through getting a small force painted for the German and Americas (the Germans aren't complete enough to be photographed). Once these small forces are done and if we're still enjoying it I think some expansion of these forces and maybe even checking out one or two of the other nations is in order.