Saturday, June 13, 2015

Bolt Action Again (or is it Column, Line, and Square?)

After a long hiatus and rescheduling due to illness, convalescence, and assorted other evils, we finally  got together this afternoon for a Bolt Action game set in North Africa. Phil Bardsley had an idea for a scenario he wanted to try, so we carted in our toys and set up a game.

Dick Larsen and I were the British, Phil and Bill Stewart were the Axis. The figures used in the game were Phil's DAK infantry and tanks and his Italian M13/40; Bill's DAK infantry, sandbags, and craters; and my British infantry, tanks, and French Foreign Legion infantry (Les Kepis Blancs). Dick supplied the "gerbils" or "dust bunnies," "tribbles," etc. that represent the dust clouds raised by moving vehicles in the desert.

The Axis mustered the following:

  • 4 x DAK infantry squad
  • 1 x Italian infantry squad (dug in)
  • 1 x DAK MMG
  • 1 x DAK mortar
  • 1 x DAK command squad
  • 2 x Pz III (long 50mm gun)
  • 1 x Pz IV (long 75mm gun)
  • 1 x Pz IV (short 75mm gun)
  • 1 x self-propelled sIG 33 (Pz II chassis)
  • 1 x M13/40

The British Mustered the following:

  • 3 x British infantry squad
  • 1 x Foreign Legion squad
  • 1 x British command squad
  • 1 x British MMG
  • 1 x British mortar
  • 1 x 2 pdr AT gun (w/Bren carrier transport)
  • 1 x M3 Grant (75mm/37mm)
  • 1 x Crusader tank (2 pdr)
  • 1 x Valentine tank (2 pdr)
  • 1 x "Honey" tank (37mm)

The scenario is set in the aftermath of a sandstorm that's scattered everyone. An Italian group is laagered in on a small rise (with a bit of support from their German friends). The remaining troops from both sides are converging on the Italian position with the objective being possession of the Italian position at game end. The converging troops enter the board on turn one using random placement.

The Italians all snug in their laager
There was no shooting on turn one, but with turn two everything started happening quickly. I got the first activation and shot my 2 pdr. right into the side of Phil's self-propelled sIG 33 and propelled it into a ball o' flame.

First kill
And there was much lamentation on the Axis side, especially from Phil who had just finished painting it only to see it knocked out in the first shot of the game.

Phil moved his panzers (which came in across the board from him) against the British armor, which all came in on the far end of the table.

"Panzers vor!"
His first shots knocked out our Grant tank, the only good tank we had. Bill started his tanks in against our tanks from the other side of the table from Phil's.

Dragging a "gerbil" through the desert
My infantry got in with Bill's DAK squads and started getting the worst of it. However, I managed to chew up his two squads a bit in the exchange. Dick's shots against Phil's tanks were disappointing.

In the next turn, my 2 pdr, fresh from knocking out the sIG 33, managed a long-range shot against the rear of Phil's M13/40 and knocked it out.

Getting warmer in the laager
Dick moved our tanks up to try to close the range against Phil's tanks. Having only light tank guns now, we had to get close to avoid being outranged by the German medium tank guns.

Half a league, half a league, half a league onward
Our "Honey" was quickly knocked out, but after that point, Phil and Dick's tanks swapped shots to no effect.

Tank battle
Bill's far tank had been heading toward the tank battle, but got way-laid en route by Dick's Kepis Blancs who charged in to attempt taking out a Pz III with bayonets and pluck.

Men against tanks
The attack failed by a hairsbreadth. In the contest of science vs. pluck, science generally wins.

Phil turned his infantry against my infantry, joining in with Bill. Bill moved his other tank forward with the intention of joining in the fight against our tanks.

Bill advances past the burning wreckage
However, the temptation to machine-gun infantry took over and Bill turned his tank in and moved against one of my infantry squads, getting into close range. I took some damage, but being within 12" of Bill's tank—and inspired by the example of Les Kepis Blancs—I felt compelled to make my own charge against a tank. Besides, the only other thing to do would be to sit and get mowed down by spandaus.

I didn't succeed; nor did I expect to (though I hoped). Dick tried another attack on Bill's other tank, which by now had turned around to machine-gun him, but failed the check to go in. Bill soon gave me another burst from his tanks MGs and I was left with two intrepid survivors for my squad.

Fewer men against tanks
With no targets in range, I needed to change ground with my heroic 2 pdr. Like an old-time horse battery, I limbered up and charged to the sound of the guns.

Changing ground
But by this time, the possibility of British success was beyond likely. My three infantry squads were badly shot up. One had two-figures left, another had four, the biggest had about six. Phil's two squads were nearly intact, and Bill's two were shot up, but not as badly as mine.

Our tanks were outclassed and outnumbered to start with, but more so now. Phil managed to knock out the Crusader on the last turn, leaving only the Valentine standing alone.

Endkampf im Wusten
The Italians were untouched, apart from their tank, and still held the position. Dick's Kepis Blancs looked menacing, but were unlikely to ever take out Bill's tank that was still machine-gunning them with no place for them to hide.


It had been so long since we played that we had to recall, dimly, what all the Bolt Action rules were. We've all been playing war-games for so long that we have rattling through the empty corridors of our brains a lot of rules that are like (or we think are like) the rules we're using. Whenever a question arose, there was much quotation about this rule and that, which could have been from Bolt Action, but more likely from On to Richmond! or Column, Line, and Square.

We tried a new method of activation for this game. Instead of activating one unit at a time, we activated groups of unit. For example, my three infantry squads were one activation. Each could receive orders on it's own independently and took hits, morale, order tests, etc. separately, but activated on a single cube.

My appreciation of this method is mixed, though I remain pretty much a skeptic. On the one hand, it seems to move the game along because you have fewer activations, but you still have as many orders. In effect, the method just elongates a single activation. We only played three full turns, I think, and it took us more than two hours. If we really want faster-moving games, we should use fewer units.

I also think that basically it skews the sense of how the rules are intended to work. Activations by pulling order cubes out of a bag is to randomize the order of units doing things. If you make larger groups of units, you get less randomization and can overwhelm a single unit by shooting at it with several units at once before it has a chance to do anything. That may happen anyway in a game if all your units get an activation cube before the other unit does. But, the probability of having three activations before the opponent gets one is low, but it's an even chance with this method.


In the post-game retail moment, I picked up some more Beyond the Gates of Antares figures. I've already completed 2 regular Algoryn AI squads, 1 AI assault squad, 1 MAG support gun, and 1 command team. I have a third regular AI squad in the works.

The figures I picked up were an AI infiltration squad, an X-launcher, and a pod of targeting drones. I've been making good progress on the figures I've done so far, so I expect to get these done in time for a first game (maybe) later this month.


  1. Very cool game using another favorite set of rules, David. I like BA's activation sequence, and kind sympathize with your reservations of multiple unit activations. Bummer about Phil's SP being knocked out so early - at least it was captured for posterity, flames and all. BTW, what was the table size? Another reason I like BA is the relatively small table size (with appropriate terrain), much like Muskets & Tomahawks - 5 X 6' is nice as it is the dimensions of two Costco folding tables which I have :)

  2. I see your point, and I always loved CL&S! That goes back quite a ways!