As someone who is an avid armchair historian on the 2nd world war, I’ve made the natural progression to a new game: Bolt Action! I had been avoiding this one like the plague since I viewed demos at Adepticon. Dear Lord I do not need to spend time with another game… sigh…
After hearing an outline of the rules for Bolt Action on Bolt Action Radio, I started to become intrigued. I am a fan of Hail Caesar, and while the rules aren’t related, I feel that there is a similar vibe, and style to the way that the two games (both from Warlord Games) were developed.
The heart of the rule system is a random dice activation system with a robust pinning/suppression mechanic. When a player fields a unit (represented by either a squad of troops, a single vehicle, a heavy weapon and it’s crew, or a singular specialist with their ‘retinue’ like a Medic, or senior officer) that player gets an order die for that unit. These dice are put in a bag/hat/box and drawn randomly to see which side gets to activate a unit. This alone was enough to get my attention. Once the die is drawn it is placed by the unit that the owning player wishes to activate. That activation is resolved (in most cases) by having that unit preform one of the actions available to it such as moving/shooting, running, setting an ambush, ect. Once that activation is complete, the next player draws a die… repeat. This allows for a situation where one side may get to activate several units in a row. This is an elegant way to represent initiative and fog of war.
The second mechanic that helps this game stand out from others is it’s pinning mechanics. Most ‘Wargames’ that have a historical bent tend to have some kind of pinning mechanic to represent suppressive fire, but few integrate it into the flow of the game as universally as Bolt Action has. Each time a unit is attacked by an enemy unit and at least one hit has been scored on that unit, it receives a pin counter. Each pin counter makes makes the unit less accurate at shooting and the like, but also potentially paralyzes the unit in the way that it integrates with the dice activation ‘orders’ mechanic mentioned above. Units which have pin markers need to pass a common leadership test (2d6 vs a leadership value) to be able to perform the order given to it when their dice were drawn. Naturally there are ways to shed these pin counters, but that requires energy that could have been spent attacking or maneuvering your unit.
Hopefully after the holidays I will have an opportunity to get some Bolt Action in and I will post a proper set of thoughts about the game!