Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

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Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

Post by Primarch » Sun Jan 31, 2016 11:56 pm

As Bolt Action has been gaining in popularity over the last couple of years, I figured it might be a good idea to keep all the info on how to start playing this game in one place.

What is Bolt Action?
Bolt Action is a wargame based around the conflicts of WWII. Players command a platoon of infantry (usually three squads and some supporting units such as mortars, snipers and a tank) and aim to win games using positioning, manoeuvre, cover and making good tactical choices. While it is possible to build 'cheesey' lists, so far no-one locally has done so. Historically themed forces are pretty popular, with players looking into real units and building their army based on that. The game uses a randomised activation sequence, which leads to a need to prioritize targets. Do you activate your tank early and attempt to nullify the opponent's AT gun or do you keep it until the end of the turn to react to any attempts to secure the objective? As units get shot at, they get pinned in place which reduces their effectiveness. Even the most powerful unit in the game can be pinned into uselessness with a little planning.

What do I need to play?
A 500 point force is enough to get you started, though we usually play around 750-1000 points most of the time. The bare minimum for any army is 1x junior officer and 2x 5 man infantry squads, though this will only cover you for about 150 points. A good starting point is 1x junior officer, 2x 10 man infantry squads, 2x support teams, (usually a mortar and an anti-tank team will be a good choice) and 1x armoured car.
In addition, you will need a copy of the main rules, which contains a few army lists, and maybe a full army book. Ideally, you will also need a set of order dice, with enough dice to have one per unit you put on the table. At the moment, a second edition of the core rules is in production and due in the second half of 2016.

Which armies are available?
There are several army books available for players to choose their forces from, though not every entry has models available and some don't have any. The books available are:
Armies of Germany (also rumoured to be getting an update as it is widely regarded as being the weakest of the 'big' armies). Germany offers great AT assets, a wide range of equipment. Some of the best infantry weapons in the game and is quite versatile. It's special rules are lacklustre and require investment in expensive upgrades to make the most of.
Armies of the Soviet Union. The Russians unsurprisingly can bring large hordes of infantry to the table. They have some good all-round units and a few of the more interesting options in the game such as troops with body armour that ride on top of tanks.
Armies of the United States. The Americans are the experts at fire and manoeuvre. Their special rules generally work well with their army builds. Unless you are taking the more specialized armour, their tanks are better Vs. infantry than against other tanks.
Armies of Great Britain. The British forces have a huge range of toys to play with, getting to choose from a lot of American vehicles as well as their own. They also have a range of special rules they can choose from that vary from useful to 'why wouldn't I choose this?'
Armies of Japan. The Japanese have poor armour choices in comparison to nearly every other late war army. They do have access to a lot of cheap, small units, which gives them an advantage in terms of activations. They can automatically declare charges with their infantry, which makes them very hard to pin down and a good army to play aggressively.
Armies of Italy and the Axis. A book of minor Axis powers, Italy, Finland, Hungary and Romania. All of the lists are quite small compared to the 'big' books for the major powers. Italians tend to either win big or lose big as their special rules make them either better if they are in the lead or worse if they are losing. The Finns have some of the best infantry rules in the game, but lack in the heavy armour section. Hungary and Romania are very poorly represented in terms of models available and are therefore not seen on the tabletop very much. They do have some good, but restrictive builds if you can track down minis.
Armies of France and the Allies. This book mainly covers early war forces, French, Belgians, Poles, Norwegians and Resistance/Partisans. The French have a good selection of colourful units and vehicles. Most of the armies in this book have a drawback built into their special rules (usually very minor though) and can't reliably deal with late war tanks if you are playing a mixed period game. The Norwegian list in particular is very, very sparse in terms of heavy hitting units. The Partisans offer a different twist on the game with options for booby traps and using captured tanks.
Empires in Flames. This book contains not one, but three army lists for the Chinese. One national army, one communist army and one army list for rebels. A lack of model options and the relative newness of the book means that no-one knows how well they work.

Most of the books give some option to run either regular platoons, or more specialised choices. E.g. British Commandos, US Rangers, Waffen-SS, Russian Spetsnatz. You can even mix the elite formations with the regulars if you want. There is a generic force selection chart which lets you take pretty much whatever you want. There are also more specialized charts, known as Theatre Selectors, that limit your choices to units that historically fought together at the same time in the same area. (e.g. Normandy, Kursk, Berlin etc.) These selectors are still fairly broad in many cases and you don't lose much when using them.

Where can I get models from?
Warlord Games obviously provide all of the books, dice, scenery and a large range of minis. As historical conflicts can't be copyrighted, there are other makers of figures out there if you look around. Plastic minis are harder to find, but there are a couple of manufacturers. Warlord also do starter sets which offer pretty good value if you want to get started quickly.
Some common choices:
Warlord Games - A wide range of minis covering a lot of major theatres.
Perry Brothers - The current range is all based on the campaigns in the Middle East and North Africa. Their minis don't scale well if mixed with other makers, but their ranges are largely self sufficient anyway.
Black Tree Design - A wide range of metal figures.
Wargames Factory - They have just entered into a partnership with Warlord, and have stopped selling their WW2 minis. If you can find them, they offer a cheap range of Russian, German and US generic infantry.
Plastic Soldier Company - A few Russians in plastic at 28mm (Check the scale first as they also sell a lot of 15mm stuff)
Artizan Designs - A range of figures for Germany, British Commonwealth and more. All in metal, but with some choices not available elsewhere.
Crusader Miniatures - Another metal range, covering a fair few armies.

How do I decide which models to buy?
Well, that is really up to you. Most army lists and theatre selectors for BA are fairly similar. You can usually take 1-2 officers, a medic, an observer for calling in air strikes or artillery bombardments, 5 squads of infantry, 1 machine gun team, 1 mortar team, 1 sniper team, 1 flamethrower team and 1 anti-tank team. You can also select 1 tank or self propelled gun, 1 armoured car, 1 piece of artillery or an AT gun or an AA gun and as many transports as you would like. At 1000 points, you probably wouldn't fit all that into a list anyway. Different armies have some variety on those options, but that covers the basics of a list.
If you need more information on how forces were armed, equipped and sent into combat, I recommend Bayonet Strength, an excellent website that has collected a lot of information from all over the place and compiled extensive lists for several armies. Likewise, a google search of nation WW2 TO&E should give you a few ideas.
Another option is to have a look on Wikipedia and search for some battles or operations that you are interested in.
Warlord produce a series of campaign books covering large chunks of the war in broad strokes, with interesting or unusual points highlighted and picked out for the reader. I have the full set so far, so if you are stuck for ideas, I can lend out a book or two.

What are the differences between the troop types?
Honestly, there isn't much difference between the various types of infantry in the game. Most of the time, you'll have guys with rifles on both sides of the table. The main differences come down to troop quality. Inexperienced troops are your rookies and can't tell one end of a rifle from another. They die faster, shoot worse and break more easily. But they are cheap. Regulars are the soldiers who are well trained, most armies in BA will probably be regular, unless they are... Veterans. Veterans are tough, usually well equipped and often have a special rule or two. They don't shoot any better than regulars, but their better leadership helps them shake off pinning effects more easily. Elite units like Paras and Commandos are usually Veteran.
Speaking of Elite units. In the army book, you won't see many entries for them. For example US Rangers only have one entry. It is possible to make an all Ranger force though. Simply select Rangers for your main infantry units and then select support teams with the same troop quality. If you have any questions on choosing a force, feel free to ask.

What scale is Bolt Action?
Bolt Action is a 28mm scale game, or 1/56. However, some people (me for example), prefer to use slightly larger tanks. 1/48 scale plastic model kits are available in a lot of hobby stores at a considerably cheaper price than the 1/56 scale kits from games companies. The 1/56 scale stuff is easier to build and the correct scale for the game. The 1/48 kits are a lot more labour intensive, more fragile and a bit bigger. IMHO they look better on the tabletop, but that's a matter of personal taste. Bigger models are obviously bigger targets, so expect them to get shot up by your opponent if you go that route. :)

Any suggestions on other sites to look at?
Two useful sites are:
Easy Army - A free, online army building resource. You can plan out what you want in your army before you purchase it.
Caliver Books - Caliver are an online store with a low minimum order to get your toys shipped free. There are certainly other shops around, this is just the one that I use.
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Finished Minis in 2014: 510.....Finished Minis in 2015: 300
Finished Minis in 2016 (as of Nov 30): 369 + 2 Tables of Terrain

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Re: Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

Post by Mikball » Mon Feb 01, 2016 1:22 am

Thanks for posting this Primarch!

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Re: Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

Post by YellowStreak » Mon Feb 01, 2016 2:14 am

Maybe for anyone interested in a new army, current players could post some information on what they currently have (in terms of nation/period/theatre).

I have painted:
French Foreign Legion (Early War Period, desert/North Africa theme)
French army (Early War 'blitzkrieg' Period, Western Europe)
German Fallschirmjager (Early War Period - Crete Invasion or Monte Cassino theme)
Australian Army (1942 Kokoda/Milne Bay campaign, jungle theme)

I have planned:
Japanese Army (1942 Kokoda/Milne Bay campaign, jungle theme)
German Army (Early War 'blitzkrieg' Period, Western Europe)
Combined British/French/Norwegian Army (Battle of Narvik, Winter/snow theme)
On the painting table:
Bolt Action Narvik Army
Necromunda Gor-liaths
Walking Dead Survivors/Zombies
Zombicide base set (so many zombies!)
Test of Honour Samurai
Rangers of Shadow Deep Rangers+Monsters
Astral Hams BigMarines

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Re: Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

Post by job » Mon Feb 01, 2016 9:48 am

I have:

German Grenadiers (1000 points)

Want someday:
American paratroopers
Models Painted, 2019
32 28mm miniature
1 walker

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Evil Overlord
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Re: Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

Post by Primarch » Mon Feb 01, 2016 10:57 am

The first post has been updated slightly.

As for my armies:
Late War German Grenadiers (Will eventually become a Festungs Division, Normandy)
Late War Waffen-SS Panzer Recon (10th SS Panzer Division, Operation Market Garden)
Mid-Late War US Infantry (29th 'Blue & Grey' Division, Normandy)
Mid-Late War Russian Infantry (Rifle Division, Operation Bagration)

To be painted:
Late War British Armoured Division (11th 'Black Bull' Division, Operation Market Garden)
Mid-Late War Commonwealth Indian Army (British 'Forgotten' 14th Army, Burma)
Late War US Airborne (82nd Division, Operation Market Garden)
Late War German Panzer Grenadiers (2nd Panzer Division)
Early War Polish Infantry (I haven't done any research yet...)
Prims Painty Points > +924.5
Finished Minis in 2014: 510.....Finished Minis in 2015: 300
Finished Minis in 2016 (as of Nov 30): 369 + 2 Tables of Terrain

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The Other Dave
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Re: Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

Post by The Other Dave » Mon Feb 01, 2016 12:11 pm

I've got an embryonic late war German grenadiers force - hopefully up to a respectable points level in time for NagoyaHammer.
Feel free to call me Dave!
Miniatures painted [unpainted] in 2019:
40K / Kill Team: 59 [0] Infantry, [a bunch of terrain]
Age of Sigmar / Shadespire: 58 [65] Infantry, a bunch of terrain
Adeptus Titanicus: 5 [4] Titans, 6 [4] Knights

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Re: Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

Post by Spevna » Mon Feb 01, 2016 12:31 pm

I've got German Grenadiers in winter gear painted up.
I've also got three 38t Panzers, a regular Panzer, and a Tiger 1 painted up in winter camo.

I guess that'd put them at 1942? That's about the only time those tanks would've been fielded together.

I've got another army's worth of Germans to do, along with a Tiger, Marder, and Puma.
Stuff painted in 2014 56
Stuff painted in 2015 118
Stuff painted in 2016 207
Stuff painted in 2017 0

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Re: Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

Post by komura » Mon Feb 01, 2016 10:54 pm

My current faction is Italian regular army & paratroopers.
I love niche faction, so I intend to start Chinese faction someday.

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Re: Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

Post by kojibear » Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:56 am

I bring King George's finest to the field :)

I have two British platoons:

British Airborne Paratroopers (Inc a battle of Arnhem themed platoon and a late war 6th airborne armoured reconnaissance in cromwell tanks)

British 49th West Riding 'Polar Bears' reconnaissance platoon

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Re: Bolt Action - A Beginner's Guide

Post by Primarch » Tue Feb 09, 2016 9:42 am

Added a couple more lines at the bottom of the first post.
Prims Painty Points > +924.5
Finished Minis in 2014: 510.....Finished Minis in 2015: 300
Finished Minis in 2016 (as of Nov 30): 369 + 2 Tables of Terrain

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