As Tom’s last game before heading back to Uni, we picked the newly-arrived Bolt Action from Warlord Games. For a refreshing change, I actually bought a set of rules for which I have all the figures painted so we were able throw 2 forces straight onto the table and get on with it instead of waiting for me to paint up those last 2 regiments or whatever. I rolled to be the German attacker and had 3 tooled up 9 man squads in Hanomags with an HQ squad and a Panzerschreck supported by a STuG III. The defending British platoon was straight from Rick Priestly’s list on the Warlord games website, except that Paras replaced the R.M. Commandos as the veteran choice. I’m a bit of an order dice fanboy (too many games of Epic and Battlefleet Gothic!), but we used glass beads in a cup for activations as we didn’t have the real thing and the large blue dice on the board are in place of order to dice to show which units have been activated – the smaller red dice are showing pins. The British deployed their regulars and 6pdr hidden on the board, and kept the Paras and Sherman in reserve off the board waiting to see where the STuG was going. I like the hidden mechanic – basically, you deploy your unit on the table in cover, mark them as hidden and they remain so until they move or fire. Your opponent can see them and fire at them, but the cover save is so good that it’s unlikely to cause any damage so you’re probably better off trying to draw their fire rather than wasting activations on futile shooting.
The British got the first activation and put the 6pdr covering the road on overwatch – I obligingly drove a half track up the same road, hoping to draw fire and push a second half track behind it. The 6pdr crew held their fire until the Hanomag cleared the bridge, then put a shell into it causing massive damage (3 more than the roll needed to penetrate) so they got 2 rolls on the damage table which has a 50-50 chance of a destroyed result – the British of course didn’t need 2 rolls, and the half track was destroyed, 2 of the squad inside going up with it. What was worse for me was that the bridge was now blocked, so the only way over the river (which ran parallel to two thirds of my board edge) was over a ford which was heavily defended.
The rest of the turn consisted of me cautiously bringing on my remaining 2 half tracks and tank – I succeeded at avoiding being seen, so the British merrily put the rest of his units on “ambush” (think overwatch) as his units were activated. On turn 2 I led with the STuG hoping to cover the half track deployment into the trees on my right flank – unfortunately, a British activation came out next, so he advanced the Sherman he had held in reserve onto the board on an advance order, took up a hull-down position behind a hedge then let off a shot at the STuG.
The Sherman 75mm counts as a medium AT gun, so needed 4+ to hit then 4+ to penetrate the front armour of the STuG. In typical fashion, he rolled a 5 to hit followed by a 6 on penetration so that was 2 rolls again on the damage table with a 50/50 chance of destruction on each. Both hits rolled destroyed, so the STuG was blown sky-high – not a good start to the turn for the Germans! The only good thing was that the STuG had drawn out the Sherman, so my half track managed to get into the cover of the trees and its infantry squad and Panzerschreck dismounted. The British 6pdr could just draw line of sight to my left flank half track with the HQ and last squad in it after I had moved (I miscalculated slightly), but luckily he chose to put HE fire into the dismounted squad instead and missed. I tried some shots at hidden units in response with predictable results – no sixes followed by sixes rolled, so no hits. The squad from the destroyed half track on the road made their way towards the left flank, taking a couple of hits from an MMG and LMG on overwatch both resulting in a casualty and a pin – this was not good as the squad was now on 3 pins and would need a rally soon.
The British decided to take most of their units off overwatch at the start of the 3rd turn, so most of their beads went back into the cup. The plan it seemed was to advance them into better shooting positions and it worked a treat. My German infantry couldn’t seem to hit a barn door whilst they accumulated hits and pins aplenty. The Sherman destroyed the half track facing it before it could even get a shot off with its MMG – luckily the Sherman was hull down so couldn’t use its own MMG against the squad or the Panzerschreck. My advance had ground to a halt, and I was going to have to rally some squads before the number of pins became unacceptable, as this affects the dice roll needed to receive an order.
On turn 4, 6 (that’s SIX) British activations came out before the first German one did, by which time the German force was decimated from pins. When a German activation did eventually come out, I spent it trying to rally pins off but failing (with order dice rolls at minus 4 or 5 so needing to roll 4 or 5 even with an officer bonus to get the order through). My last hope against the Sherman, the Panzerschreck, lost a crewman to H.E. from the tank so was now unusable. I had a Panzerfaust with the squad in the trees, but that had to get into range (12″) – unlikely given the volume of fire that would come its way if it closed. I conceded the game at the end of this turn, as my squads would never rally off the number of pins they had even if I got 6 activations in a row straight out of the cup!
For the sake of simplicity we didn’t have any artillery or a preliminary bombardment so none of the British squads started with pins, and this may have made a difference early on to the German advance. Fair play to the British in counter attacking before I could get a foot hold, and even without the run of 6 straight British orders on turn 4 I think I would have been in trouble.
So what did we think of the rules themselves? I can see that the generalisation of tank armour and guns might give some people problems – a 6pdr has the same penetration as a 75mm on a Sherman for example, but I don’t mind this too much if it gives a quick game – and it does. Even if I hadn’t been rolling the fistfuls of ones and twos which ended the game on turn 4, we would still have finished in around about 3 hours – not bad given the number of troops on the table, and the result was completely plausible. The fact that the British didn’t miss one AT shot, could roll sixes on demand and stop any German activations coming out of the cup is hardly the fault of the rules! As the Germans, I only killed 1 Para in total in the entire game – he was from a PIAT squad but after the game we discovered that 2 man teams count as a small target and are therefore -1 to hit so I wouldn’t even had got him had we been playing the rules right – it was a real drubbing!
We did have some minor concerns – for example, is -1 an adequate penalty for tanks moving and firing? Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to playing the rules again, maybe next time using some scenarios from the excellent Iron Ivan “Without Fortune” Arnhem book. I also want to try the game splitting the squads into separate LMG and manoeuvre sections (the rules allow this by having a minimum of 1 NCO and 4 men in a unit) as this would be more like the structure of real WW2 squads – whether they would then be too brittle because of the small number of casualties they could absorb will have to be tested. I also think the rules would work perfectly well for the Spanish Civil War, so that’s got to be on the list of things to try out.