Welcome to Normandy – Quick Guide to Bolt Action for New Players


Charlie’s Luch & Stug chilling out in Normandy… my living room floor

If you read this blog on the regular, you may have seen my coverage of the Warlord Games Day last month, which pretty much turned out to be a love letter to the company and their runaway success, Bolt Action. Well I’ve been preaching to the Corehammer guys for long enough about why they should be getting involved, I thought I would expand on my congregation and chirp on at you guys too.

So, what the hell is Bolt Action then? Well it’s a WWII “themed” 28mm (although it can actually be played at 16mm successfully) wargame. Upon its release last summer, it was initially described by the Internet as ‘1940k’, because:

  1. It has a similar feel to 2nd edition 40k (pretty much the first version of 40k for most of the Corehammer Crew).
  2. Being the contributing factor to 1, it’s written by Alessio Calvatorri and Rick Priestly (Games Workshop royalty right there).

It’s worth noting that since then Andy Chambers has come on board to write the Soviet Army book and is working on the upcoming Eastern Front campaign book.
So why “themed” and not straight up historical, well I think if it was straight up historical, the game would have a limited audience and would be straight up brutal for certain armies at certain times. “Themed” allows for balance and the creation of those Hollywood moments you see in films and series like Band of Brothers.

So why is Bolt Action different from any other system? Well it has 2 distinctive mechanics that set it apart from all other competition.

First off is Order dice, this simple device creates the tension in the game. Each unit gets an order dice and both sides order dice are then combined and placed placed in a bag (or in my case a bobble hat). You then draw a dice from the bag, who ever it belongs to can activate one unit of there choosing. This happens until all order dice are taken from the bag and then the turn ends, all dice are placed back in the bag minus dice for units that have been killed. This simple mechanic completely spits in the face of the ‘I go/you go’ turns of pretty much any other game, thus creating an incredible tension and a total inability to form the game winning turn. Each player has to then work out which units need to be addressed immediately and which can be left later in the turn, as you may draw 1 order dice and then your opponents or you could draw several of yours in a row, which could later allow your opponent to have a run of unit activations as only their dice remain in the bag.


Also, it’s worth noting that each dice face shows one of six possible orders (advance, run, fire, down, rally and ambush), so when activating a unit, you place the dice next to the unit, being a nice record of what units have activated that turn and what they did.

So the other main mechanic is pinning, while Bolt Action can be particularly bloody, it’s also more likely that it will take a fair bit of fire power to kill an enemy unit, however it’s possible to make them ineffective. If unit x opens fire on enemy unit y and hits (regardless of casualties), unit y receives a pin marker. So what does pins do? Well the effect is 2 fold:

  1. Units with a pin or more has to take an order test to activate (this is basically a leadership test modified by the amount of pins on the unit). Failing means the unit goes “down” under the fire and takes cover. This does mean they are at -1 to hit though.
  2. If you pass your order test, any shooting action is then modified by the amount of pins, so a heavily pinned unit won’t be able to hit the broad side of a barn from a few meters off.

Pinning along with the unconventional turn style really makes you have to evaluate which units are a threat, now and in a few activations. Is it worth piling the pins on one unit that is an immediate threat or spreading them across the opposing force to slowly neutralise the force?


Greyhound Armoured Car trying to pin a Stug

It’s also worth mentioning, you can remove a pin by passing an order test and also D6 by doing a rally action. However if you obtain the same amount of pins as your leadership value, your unit breaks and is removed as a casualty, so pin management becomes all important after a turn or two.


US & German’s bum-rushing the objective

Sounds pretty cool so far, right? So how do the armies work? Well you pick a country which would usually have an army book (although there is 4 playable army lists in the main rule book, Germany, US, Brits and the Soviet Union) or a PDF list (as the Warlord releases more books (the Japanesse is the latest book), there is free “get you by” PDFs to allow you to play lesser used forces such as Italians or French as well as others. Once you have picked you faction, you have the choice of using the standard force organisation chart or picking a theatre selector (so a special theatre selected for Bastogne or Burma), which allow you to take more of certain units to make a more historically accurate and themed force. Each army is based on a platoon (although you can have more than one platoon in your army) which must have a LT and 2 troop choices, then after this you can flavour your force as you would like. The advantage of taking more than one platoon would be to allow yourself to get duplicates of things like tanks, however you would have to then purchase the LT and troops to make the second platoon legal.

Obviously it’s not enough to have a good game design, aesthetics can at a large part in picking up a new game. Personally I really like the plastic and older metal models that Warlord put out as well as their resin tanks (I love my Chaffee).


Chaffee all up in your grill

Warlord offer whole 1000pt army boxsets, which I the standard size game for around the same price as a GW Battleforce/Battalion boxset. Also, WWII has plenty of options for alternate models, from other 28mm game companies to 1:56 sale model companies. The extra choice is welcome, as you can get models for a wide range of budgets and detail if you personally don’t like the style of the Warlord Games models.


GI Joes

So that’s pretty much the flavour of Warlord Game’s Bolt Action. Obviously there is a lot more depth to the game than the brief run down I have just given. All I can say is I recommend picking up a rule book, having a read and then picking an army and roll out some troops.

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About Stevie

Stevie Boxall currently lives in South London. He has experimented with putting shows on, doing a zine and being in a band, he was pretty crap at all of them. He redeemed some of his punk credibility by doing a semi-well received distro while living in Bournemouth. He is currently playing Bolt Action, Warhammer Fantasy, Dreadball, X-Wing, is presently running mangaworthreading.co