Rob Cook

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Reflections on Bolt Action


Bolt Action has been my go to rules system for wargaming for the past few years. First and foremost it is fun. Secondly the rules are simple to learn, and don't require memorising a lot of special cases. Third and finally it is set in world war two, so the act of pushing tiny men across a make believe battlefield feels marginally more grown-up than some teenage sci-fi shenanigans.

Played at the platoon level, the game sees you commanding 20-30 men organised into 2-6 squads (or sections for you British commanders). There's an officer to keep everyone in check and help with issuing orders, and copious amounts of support. Unlike a real platoon of the era, a platoon in Bolt Action can readily expect everything from machine gun teams, mortars, field artillery, armoured cars, and even a tank to have their back. The game is won or lost by the infantry, but it's the varied support options that lend the game much of its fun.

All types of squad and support are detailed in the respective nation's army book, and are given a points value. A "standard" game is played to a limit of 1000 points across a 6' x 4' battlefield. My preference is for a smaller 750 point game, played across a 4' x 4' area. The lower point limit makes for some tough choices when picking the elements of your platoon, and the tighter space ensures everything is in on the action whilst still leaving room to manoeuvre.

The game uses 28mm scale miniatures, so gives plenty of scope to indulge in painting characterful infantry and making small dioramas out of the supporting pieces. Vehicles are large but manageable painting projects. Scenery is a big part of the game (running into machine gun fire without any cover was a generally bad idea). Whether pre-made or scratch built devising new battlefields to fight over is a great hobby in itself.

True to its military roots, the rules allow the concocting of many different scenarios. Taking and holding objectives, enveloping an opponents forces, surviving an ambush. Pretty much anything you can think up is viable, though there are a substantial number of optional books that detail new scenarios for you.

As game systems go Bolt Action has a very high fun to frustration ratio. Rare is the time you get confused by the rules, or fail to have at least one incredible event occur during battle. It has been and continues to be my favourite set of gaming rules.