Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bolt Action: Rats of the Desert

Saturday saw our fourth foray into WW2 skirmish gaming using Warlord Games' Bolt Action rules. Phil Bardsley, Bill Stewart, and I played an initial game of these rules back in early February using the few figures we had painted—mostly Bill's, augmented by a few units from Phil and me.

Several years back Phil and I caught the North Africa campaign bug when Artizan Designs released their WW2 range of 28mm figures. Phil started some DAK and I started some 8th Army and French Foreign Legion (the Free French who fought for the allies, not the Vichy swine). We each got about two squads done and left off for years thereafter.

When Bolt Action came on the scene, I went looking through my boxes to resurrect the units I had finished and to start painting the pile of raw lead I had amassed. That pile included more legionnaires as well as some Italians. Bill had been painting some of Artizan's commandos/S.A.S. as well as a lot of NW Europe Americans and Germans.

What might have been a one-off game has become an irregularly monthly occurance. Mike Lombardy and Dick Larsen are regulars in the games and we have guest appearances of others, like Dave Schueler.

We also had some time to paint. I finally managed to get two more squads of British 8th Army completed along with a mortar, a Vickers MMG, and two bren carriers in desert splinter pattern. I also finished one squad of Italians in their little shorts and sun helmets. Bill managed two squads of Afrika Korps and another two squads of North Africa/Med commandos and a mortar and Vickers for 8th Army. This gave us the opportunity for a game using only North Africa troops, instead of the ersatz forces we've used until now.

Saturday's game was a scenario that came out of my head. Mike and Phil played the Axis (of evil) and Bill, Dick, and I were the Allies. Phil and Mike set up with one squad each plus a MMG and medium mortar in support. The remaining troops were in reserve.

Phil had the Afrika Korps squad  on the right while Mike had Mussolini's Merry Men on the left.

"Is it time to surrender?"
The Allied attacking force was Dick with three squads on the right, Bill with two squads and a mortar and MMG in support on the right, and me with two small squads in bren carriers along with a mortar, MMG, and a command group of one lieutenant and two riflemen.

My attack started inauspiciously when Mike zeroed in on one of my bren carriers with a mortar in the first try. Fortunately, he only set it on fire and the brave crew put it right out.

An opportune moment to brew a cuppa
While Dick worked his way (mostly) along the edge of the board to catch Phil's Germans in the flank, Bill distracted them by running his Desert Rats right up the center into the teeth of their withering fire. Unfortunately, speed is not an antidote to bullets.

Avant, k├ępis blancs!
Run, Tommy, run!
While Mike kept up a lively fire with his mortar at one of my bren carriers, the other managed to advance in defilade along a dry wadi and come out on the flank of Mike's position.

This unwelcome appearance cause Mike to fall back to the house.

Fort Apache in the Libyan desert
Bill managed to get an intact squad right up next to the barbed wire in the cover of some shell holes, that happened to be there because the Royal Artillery couldn't hit the target. However, with Phil's point-blank fire and Mike's MMG in support, the squad didn't last long.

Right in Fritz' face—for now
Meanwhile, with Mike's mortar zeroed in on its transport, the half-squad in my formerly burning bren, popped out and into a shell-hole of their own opposite the Italians.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire.
I also brought up the Vickers to occupy the hole next door and before long we were putting a lot of fire on the Axis. (And getting a bit back, too.)

While Bill's lads charge to glory in the background, my lads fire from cover
By this time Axis reinforcements were coming in. Phil's other squad manned the wire against Dick's steadily advancing troops and Mike's troops came on in a halftrack.
Phil's second squad reinforces the line
Fewer Italians, but suddenly more Germans
Dick's command was getting into position and starting to put pressure on Phil's flank.
Dick's lads advance
Mike's Italians were getting pretty well plastered by rifle, LMG, MMG, and mortar fire, which kept running up the pin level. Despite several tries to rally and one attempt to close assault, Mike was unable to move them. As in history, they just didn't have the same zeal as Germans did to die for fascism.

Not content to sit behind his stone wall and be shot at, Mike sent his recently arrived panzergrenadiere to assault my remaining bren carrier. (The other had finally been put out of action by Mike's relentless mortar.) The attack took out the bren easily; however, the troops inside had dismounted turns ago and were still a force to be reckoned with. I also had my command team nearby.

Ring around a burning bren
Coming out into the open, proved ultimately to be Mike's undoing. I got a few shots at him in the clear and he took out my command team with another assault. However, the paltry remains of my bren carrier troops (just the bren gun team and the squad leader with a tommy gun) got a devastating shot that took out four of his remaining six men. He failed the required morale test and that was that.

The Italians, too, gave it up after getting to the unrecoverable pin level 9. They never managed to recover from their initial hits and being in the building brought them into spotting range of the mortar, which had zeroed in early on and kept chipping away along with small arms fire that had little effect apart from adding pin after pin.

Finally, Dick's lads on the Allied right got around and flanked Phil's remaining squad (the other was gradually worn down until a single fire action took the rest away.

Last stand of Phil's Afrika Korps
The Allied victory condition was to capture one of the two houses and get two squads off the board by way of the road. In eight turns, we didn't do it, even though we had nearly annihilated the Axis defenders. I think the Allies started too far back; it took three turns just to get up into shooting range of the small arms. I think the Axis should have had one more squad and/or MMG—even though the Allies took a lot a damage coming in and we certainly didn't do the job in the standard six-turn time frame of Bolt Action games.

Bolt Action has been a lot of fun. Even if it isn't the most detailed set of rules for WW2 skirmish, it stands up well to other sets and has the hallmark typical of Warlord Games rules: you left wanting to play more.

So far we've focused on North Africa, but our next game will move to the other side of the globe.