Bolt Action is a World War II-themed tabletop wargame published by Warlord Games and written by ex-GW writers Rick Priestley and Alessio Cavatore. First published in only 2012, Bolt Action's popularity has increased as Warhammer 40,000's has declined, thanks to similar mechanics making it easier for 40K veterans to understand. As a relatively new game, Warlord doesn't have a comprehensive range, so they encourage the use of third party miniatures, even listing some of them on their main site and working with Italeri to create more 1/56 scale miniatures!
Part of its popularity comes from how supportive Warlord are of clubs, tournaments, and events, with free starter kits provided for clubs and prize support (at a significant level) for events and tournaments (At least in the UK), their supportive approach has lead to the poaching of many one time 40K players.
The system on a whole is a more gameplay focused experience. All weapons are (mostly) generic, been reduced to "rifle" or "SMG" rather then each faction having it's own correct and different weapons, leading the game to have a very "arcade" feel to those who want a historically focused and realistic game. If you want a fun and simple game which is ideal to introducing the most rookie wargamers to a historical setting, Bolt Action is ideal. If you want a realistic game, or one which focuses much more on the historical side then another system is ideal. The number of older players for Bolt Action, who have childhood memories of playing with WW2 era models and now come back to it as an armchair historian is quite high, proving that to rookie wargamers it can be sufficient. This unique position can mean the community is quite unlike another Wargaming community (although can be just as toxic!)
In late 2016, a second edition of the game, commonly named "v2", was released. It fixed many of the issues of the first edition with minor changes which were mostly well received. The use of 40k style templates for HE weapons however continues to be a cause of much skub.
Warlord offers generic box sets for each army and often has separate army sets for each faction within a faction (e.g. Waffen-SS and Heer). These are generally enough to start an army, but Warlord also has a "Build an Army" system which allows you to pick from a variety options for a set price. This is pretty good and often comes out as a better deal than the generic army boxes (you also get a free tank).
Warlord's recent plastic boxes are also generally enough to build a small force, with twenty five to thirty miniatures. This is easily enough to build two infantry selections, an officer, and adjutants.
The Starter Set "D-Day Fire Fight" contains twenty Americans, twelve Germans (who also get a half track), some terrain, and your typical rulebook and card board makers. The German models have recently been updated as the new Warlord Grenadiers (which are much better sculpts than the originals). These can be painted as Waffen-SS and have a lot of options, as do the Americans.
As mentioned above, Bolt Action shares many similarities with 40K, with a few key differences and plenty of minor changes to distinguish it. The core mechanic of Bolt Action is the command dice system. Each player has a number of command dice equal to the number of units they have, each player having a different color. All the dice are put in a bag and are drawn out. The player whose die is drawn gets to perform one of six orders, which are shown on each of the facings on the d6:
- Advance: The basic order, a unit can move 6" and shoot.
- Fire: The unit remains stationary and shoots, slightly more accurate then if they advanced.
- Run: The unit moves 12", or in CQC.
- Rally: The unit loses more pins.
- Down: They become harder to hit, but can perform no other action.
- Ambush: They open fire on any unit that moves in their line of sight.
Every unit has one of three levels of experience: inexperienced, regular, and veteran. Each level is a step up in durability, morale, and damage output.
The third mechanic, which works with the orders above, is pinning. Every time a unit is hit at least once by another unit they take a single pin marker. Having at least one pin will force the unit to take an order test when they want to perform any order except Down. Veterans, regulars, and inexperienced troops have a morale level of 10, 9, and 8 respectively and the order test works exactly like a Leadership test in 40K and Fantasy: roll less than or equal to your morale on 2d6. Each pin marker acts as a negative modifier to the morale level. If they fail, they simply go down.
The final core mechanic is how shooting works. Every unit hits on a d6 roll of a 3 or more, but plenty of modifiers apply, including distance, their movement, how much cover the enemy unit is in, and pin markers. If a unit hits, they give a pin marker to the enemy, then roll damage. The likelihood of wounding is based off the veterancy of the enemy troops and the pen value of the weapon used.
Warlord have produced a variety of books, allowing players to represent most fighting forces which took part in World War II. Each book allows both generic platoons (which consist of a basic structure, with any unit or vehicle allowed) or "Theater Selector" platoons, which have more restrictions but also some bonuses; for example, most German theater selectors allow two MMG teams, as opposed to the single team that the generic platoon allows. These Theater Selectors allow players to represent a very specific time period or battle during the war. Each army has two or more special rules, representing the nation during the Second World War.
Infantry are practically the same within every army, while every army has access to some form of veterans, etc. Some units from the same books are practically the same, like the Waffen-SS and the Fallschirmjäger in the Armies of Germany Book. The only difference is that the SS get the Fanatics option.
- Armies of Germany: A good selection of elite troops (Waffen SS, Fallschirmjäger, or simple elite Heer), along with decent access to plenty of cheap, inexperienced troops (Ostruppen, Volksgrenadiers, and Volkssturm) compliment some of the better tanks of the game. Their special rules represent the high rate of fire of their MGs (Hitler's Buzzsaw) and the initiative training their troops received. The updated 2nd edition AoG book adds rules to make their officers more efficient, and grants some of their tanks (mainly the "big cat" tanks) a "Tiger Fear" rule that causes enemy troops that can see them more likely to cower in fear. The update took them from one of the weakest "main" armies in the game to being able to hold its' ground.
- Armies of the United States: With easy access to regulars, and some veterans (in the form of Airborne and Rangers), the US are a highly mobile force, represented by their special rules allowing less penalties for moving and firing. The Yanks also get a variety of light and medium vehicles to choose from, but with very few heavy tanks.
- Armies of Great Britain: With generally good vehicles, with some gaps, the Tommies put up a good show with a large variety of troops representing men from all over the Commonwealth. They have a list of army special rules they can choose from to further allow the force to represent a specific nation and featuring some of the best infantry in the game, even after the nerf.
- Armies of the Soviet Union: Plenty of cheap troops and even a free squad through their special rule, the Soviets also have access to excellent artillery and tanks.
- Armies of Imperial Japan: The CQC focused army, as you would expect, the Imperial Japanese have
generallyreally good infantry, ignoring morale and casualties in most circumstances, but the tanks and vehicles to back them up are lacking. The Axis powerhouse in first edition, they have been indirectly toned down with second edition.
- Armies of Italy and the Axis: Representing several of the smaller Axis powers, this gives each of the following nations their own list, theater selectors, and special rules:
- Italy: Italy has a mix of mediocre to decent infantry, with special rules granting them at least one free emplacement per game. Italy's issues begin with a mix of lightly armoured vehicles, which provide bonuses to enemy shooting through their bolted armour, and end with their Avanti Sovoia rule. This causes their morale to change significantly depending on if they're winning or losing- that is, they become braver if they happen to be winning, and they puss out if they happen to be losing. Considering what was just said about their shitty tanks...
- Hungary: fairly generic army with standard infantry choices and very little tank selection. They also get elite officers, and the army can take a German "ally" unit to represent that they were Germany's
bitchpartner in the crusade against disgusting Bolshevism.
- Bulgaria: same as Hungary, but instead of the elite officers, get anti-partisan rules that disallow enemy outflanking and infiltration.
- Romania: same as Hungary, but instead of the elite officers, can take a free unit of artillery to represent that they modeled their army somewhat on the French army (see below).
- Finland: an army that is entirely about ambushing and outflanking, getting bonuses when they do either. Some of their elite units can even move and drop back into ambush mode, or use outflank to appear directly behind the enemy (instead of to the flank). The army also tends to not mind fighting in winter conditions, and has a weird rule that their infantry squads get better as they suffer casualties. The only real downside is they don't have much for armor, and what they do have is mostly stolen Soviet tanks, which are less reliable due to a lack of spare parts. A bit of an oddball faction, a good player can make them a powerhouse leading to the simple axiom: With Finns, you win.
- Armies of France and the Allies: The Allied version of the above book. Once more, each of the nations get their own list, theater selectors, and special rules. It should be noted that these armies tend to have rules that hamstring them a bit, to represent that they're a tiny country and/or that the Germans quickly overran them before they could get their shit together. Most of these armies are for people who enjoy a challenge, or want to experience the thrill of being the victim of Blitzkrieg.
- France: Some cool tanks (although most have mobility issues) and decent artillery- which they rely on, per their special rule that grants them a free unit of it. They also get a free conscript squad if they're fielding lots of conscripts anyway. Can be quite powerful if played well, but you'll always feel a little "we're fucked". Just like France during the war.
- Poland: fairly generic army with elite officers, and a morale boost for their infantry because even they know that they're totally fucked. Famously can take lots of cavalry, including lancers, but have junk for armor (at best they can use some crappy French light tanks).
- Greece: generic army with some minor bonuses to reflect their knowledge of their home terrain. Virtually no tanks, and nothing particularly special about their infantry.
- Norway: see Greece, but add in some troops who don't mind fighting in winter.
- Netherlands: basically the same as France, with fewer options and virtually no tanks. Note: the KNIL in the Pacific theatre are actually quite good, they field trucks with anti-tank guns and have mass shirker infantry thanks to their conscripted reserves rules.
- Belgium: Netherlands, but with some more weapon upgrades available for their infantry.
- Partisans: Partisans have a limited access to equipment but are able to "borrow" vehicles from the Axis (which are unreliable due to lack of training and parts). As you'd expect, they're fairly good at guerrilla tactics, and can even set nasty booby traps for their enemies.
Within Warlord Games' Online PDF releases and Empire In Flames: Empire In Flames is a theatre book but it also contains the army lists and unit entries for all Chinese armies.
- Armies of China (Communists): These are partisans on cocaine. You receive a levy squad of 14 inexperienced riflemen and you get a free 9" move before the first turn of the game, under the 'Sparrow Tactics' rule. The Communists are like a Partisan army, except they get some decent anti-tank options and they can field lots of units that deploy like snipers. Coupled with their Sparrow Tactics this is an army that can spawn on an enemy's doorstep and be in SMG range by the end of a single turn.
- Armies of China (Nationalists): The Chinese Kuomintang forces are well equipped and have many options. French, American, British and German vehicles and German-trained infantry are stand-out units for this army. These guys also get a free 14-man levy squad. Compared to the communists, a KMT army is very conventional and quirky. They are easily converted from German, French or Partisan figures as well.
- Armies of China (Warlord Army): See China (Nationalists) but add in some unique vehicles and subtract most of the American or British equipment the Nationalists can get.
There are also additional supplements which add to the game, such as Tank War, which allows players to field armies of tanks instead of infantry, and includes scenarios to fight famous tank battles like El Alamein, Kursk, and the US Third Army's attempt to break the German siege at Bastogne; and Ostfront, which gives a range of scenarios and special rules to represent the brutal fighting in and around Russia, from Khalkhin Gol and the Winter War to the Soviet capture of Berlin among others.
But no wargame is perfect, so there is always something the game's community can bitch about. And for Bolt Action, there is a number of things that are either universally agreed to be awful or constantly be argued over:
- Previously mentioned Templates: Introduced in Second Edition, in replacement to different number of dice per strength of High Explosive weapons. As there is no spread for most template weapons (only being a thing for Smoke Shells), it's entirely up to the attacker as to where the template will be placed. The irony of the game getting templates when Warhammer 40k moving away from them is also palpable to many neckbeard who moved onto Bolt Action after leaving 40k.
- Flamethrowers: Bolt Action's Flamethrower are one of the few weapons aside from High Explosive weapons, which can place multiple pins on a unit (a 1+1d3 pins to be precise). However, Flamethrowers also follow this up with a Morale test, failing which, the unit is outright destroyed. This applies to any unit, Infantry or Vehicle. This means that your 300 point Veteran tank can be hit with a flamethrower, get 4 pins, and immediately run off the field even if it had not actually suffered any damage (as 4 pins bring even a Veteran unit to a 50% chance of failing Morale Test). Even with short range and a constant chance to run out of fuel, Flamethrowers can outright remove any specific unit from the field.
- Vehicles: Most players prefer to base their armies around infantry and supporting artillery, to have a more tactical feel that the otherwise "arcade" gameplay lacks. As such, anyone who brings in multiple vehicles, either due to using multiple Platoons or by using Armored Platoons, are looked down upon for going away from the game's "intended gameplay". Incidentally, Vehicle Flamethrower is also superior to Infantry-packed version, due to range from which unit deletion could be initiated.
- This is also made worse by rather poor scaling of vehicle in comparison of their point cost, armor/weapons, and actual capabilities on the table. Since the game is infantry-focused by design, it's far better to have Armored Cars and Up-Gunned Trucks than it is to have Heavy Tanks. Vehicles with multiple Machine Guns (such as historically useless multi-turreted tanks and AA-oriented Gun Trucks) are superior to most Medium and Heavy Tanks/Tank destroyers who find themselves stuck in constant shoot-out in another armored vehicle for most of the battle or ineffectually harass infantry squads that otherwise aren't likely to even damage them.
- Inexperienced Troop Spam: Especially noted with Japanese, whom can produce multiple Fanatic infantry squads armed with nothing more than bamboo sticks who ignore pins and are extremely difficult to defeat in close combat (close combat in this game entirely wipes out the loser, but Fanatics count losses as ties, so they merely repeat combat and grind down the enemy), and dominate the battlefield entirely with them. Other factions (Soviets and Germans especially) can field a lot of cheap, inexperienced Shirkers (troops who have to pass Morale Test to do anything or they will only go Down) who are difficult to shoot to death because of their numbers and being constantly down (thus, -2 to hit) and clog up any enemies trying to get close. Usually such troops are placed to cover more hard-hitting units (such as artillery or tanks) but entire lists of incredibly cheap units existing entirely to clog up the dice bag exist - and can be surprisingly effective, as your opponent can only deal with so many targets.
Technically not an expansion, but not a separate game, Konflikt 47 is the idea that World War 2 kept going and started to get weird. How weird you may ask? Nazi zombie, werewolf, bear men, vampire men, tesla tank, walker tank, jetpack trooper, robots weird. The story is that the it turns out that dropping a nuke opens something called the "Rift". Before the rift was fully understood, the US dropped a nuke on Germany and formed another Rift. As it turns out, the Rift spews out signals that can be translated into all the weird shit you see in the start of this paragraph. Germany now has a second wind, Soviets leave the allies, and war continues. The game is notable in that it uses basically the same rules as Bolt Action 1st edition, with some added in stuff about fear (you know, because of the bear people and shit) and reactions. However, Warlord has not fleshed out rules and models for every army in the core game. Presently, models and rules exist for Britain, the United States, Germany, Russia, (recently) Japan, (newly) Italy, and hell, even the god damn Finns.