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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bolt Action - Cold Wars List Dissection

You might not be aware, but there's a 1000-point tournament coming up in March at Cold Wars, hosted by my friend Stefan. This will be my first competitive event, and I'm sure the same can be said for the vast majority of the other competitors.

In my limited experience in Bolt Action, no vehicle has fascinated me quite like the Churchill Crocodile. I'd recently put out the call on the forum to help me with my list, and some WWPD forumites have answered the call! Obviously, this requirement restricted us to Commonwealth lists - and as it turns out, we reached a general consensus on a Commonwealth/Crocodile list!

I finally had the chance to test out their ideas on the tabletop, at the latest FTX with Dano. Care to hear how it shook out?

For those that aren't familiar with the discussion, the only hard restriction I placed on the forumites list suggestions was that they included a Churchill Crocodile. Surprisingly, this led to a few similar lists. Perhaps I really shouldn't be surprised, as the Crocodile weighs in at a hefty 300+ points, depending on veterancy. This is, of course, a significant percentage of a 1000-point list, so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised at all.

List chatter went back and forth for a while, before we decided as a group that two forward artillery observers might be the ticket for this list. It seemed, to our listing kampfgruppe, that since the Commonwealth already received one FAO for free, that doubling-down on the FAOs was the answer. After including with this our community love for veteran troops, we had ourselves a list!

116: Veteran 1LT + 2 Riflemen
094: Veteran NCO Rifleman + 1 SMGer + 5 Riflemen
094: Veteran NCO Rifleman + 1 SMGer + 5 Riflemen
094: Veteran NCO Rifleman + 1 SMGer + 5 Riflemen
094: Veteran NCO Rifleman + 1 SMGer + 5 Riflemen
020: (Free) Regular Forward Artillery Observer + 2 Riflemen
120: Regular Forward Artillery Observer + 2 Riflemen
358: Veteran Crocodile

Oops! Forgot to include LMGs! If I had included them, they would not have held up dirt clods as protection. That doesn't count as hard cover, son!

Dano and I played the three scenarios that we'll be facing at this tourney over the weekend. They included: Maximum Attrition, Top Secret, and Demolition. Admittedly, we played the Dano variation on Maximum Attrition, where a three-point objective is placed in the middle of the table - and I can't suggest that slight change enough - but for the most part we otherwise kept to the rules as written.

It's important to note what my list faced-off against. Dano played a German list, and most of it was veteran. His infantry assets included a three assault rifle command unit, three six-man infantry squads with two assault rifles each, a ten-man pionier squad with rifles and flamethrower, a regular Puma, a regular Panzer IV, and some random supports. I lump mortars and machine guns into the "random supports" group because they ultimately fulfill similar roles.

We both shamefully excluded LMGs from our lists. This wasn't by design, necessarily - we just aren't currently impressed by what they bring.

This may or may not be the image of a WWII LARP airsoft group, but blame Google's image search. I asked for British infantry!

As limited as our combined experiences in Bolt Action may be, we've both played enough games to notice a huge difference between regular and veteran troops. Since we both were using veterans, we knew going into the game that small arms fire was not going to pose a reliable risk to either side. Both sides were thankful for veterancy on multiple occasions. That being said, both sides agreed after the games that if either side had spent points on units at less than veteran skill level, the difference would have been noticable.

Bear that in mind when you build future lists. You will certainly have 30% more regular troops if you only buy regulars and your opponent only buys veterans, but the two type fight completely differently. Regular troops can and will fall before small arms fire. In contrast, our veteran units felt like pawns on a chessboard. They moved about freely unless another pawn (veteran infantry) unit got too close. Outside of expensive heavy weapons, their only fear was other veteran infantry units in close combat.

Although they don't all smoke while fighting, every plastic soldier in my Commonwealth platoon carries at least one pipe in his pocket, for appropriate occasions - like manning a huge freakin' gun. Is that guy standing in the center a polo player?

Of course, I didn't make this list to push veteran riflemen around the table. Both German and American lists have distinct advantages over the Commonwealth in that regard. The Germans can bring assault rifles, a huge force multiplier in the hands of veteran troops; while the Americans all come with a built-in advantage given the fact they don't suffer a movement penalty when firing on the move. In essence, I'd be at a distinct disadvantage if I wanted to match either of those nations in a soldier-for-soldier fight.

Luckily for me, I didn't! For starters, I wanted to bring a Crocodile! Before I get to that, though, I can't forget the two forward artillery spotters. First, I only played three games with this list, so my thoughts are nothing more than the ramblings of a guy that played three games with two artillery observers. That out of the way - they were really powerful. Yes, they are quite dicey, and not a unit to be used well by someone as they're initially learning Bolt Action. However, given their unique ability to use a point on the ground as their aiming point, they proved to be not only a territory-denying advantage, but a pin-generating machine.

In the right hands, and I don't include myself in that category quite yet, two FAOs are insanely powerful. If they are to both land, they will put somewhere around four pin markers on each unit within their area of effect. Of course, you can't count on them landing, and you certainly can't count on a D6+6" area of effect, but the mere threat of them causes your opponent to move cautiously. I've destroyed units with the FAO by rolling well and causing 3D6HE hits on them, and I've caused units to avoid an area with these observers.

I think the forum was right - the strength of the forward artillery observer is not fully realized until you get two on the board. This mitigates much of their dicey-ness, and when both come in where you plan for them to, your opponent is in a world of hurt.

Gotta' be worried if your squad leader asks you to walk in front of the tank...

Of course, all this ignores the main focus of the list: My dear, sweet, Crocodile! I have to admit, it performed admirably for what its commander allowed it to do. Finally, it fired and succeeded in saving some fuel for another shot - a first for me! Those squads it did fire at, died horribly, and predictably. That is why I brought it, after all.

However, I noticed, fearing side shots from the Puma, I often allowed the Crocodile to become paralyzed. While Bolt Action is an infantry game, tanks can run amok, if allowed to. Dano, in all our games, rightly focused on the Crocodile with both the Panzer IV and the Puma. Speaking of the Panzer IV, I have to admit I was wrong about it initially as an over-costed medium tank. While certainly, if it's facing a Sherman with gyros, I'd bet on the Sherman and it's .50 any day, the Panzer IV versus heavy tanks is another matter all together. It earns its points back, in spades.

The Churchill, or any other larger-than-medium tank, is at its best when the opponents' anti-tank assets fall in the medium range. All German armor fires at one level higher than its hull, for the most part, so the Panzer IV's heavy anti-tank gun nullified the Churchill's armor advantage. Meanwhile, the dreaded Puma constantly threatened the Churchill's side armor, where it actually had the same chance as a Panzer IV from the front. The Puma and the Pz.IV together only cost a bit more than the Crocodile.

Ultimately, I didn't push the Crocodile hard enough, risking side shots from the Puma to get more flamethrower shots on his infantry. I let Dano seize the initiative in the game-within-a-game that can be the tank battles in Bolt Action. More than once, I found myself on the defensive with the Churchill, and that is absolutely not why I brought it.

While this was happening, I noticed that the superior mobility of his Panzer IV and Puma - the Churchill is a "slow" tank - really showed in objective-based games. My tank, the mobility of my force, actually was less mobile than my infantry. If any game called for mobility, I was in trouble, and many games - especially on the defensive, surprisingly - call for mobility in Bolt Action.

A hint at things to come!

So, I was to go back to the drawing board. The list we'd talked about on the forum just wasn't mobile enough for me. It's not my style. I will certainly still be bringing the Commonwealth to the tournament - there can't be too many of us, after all - but I don't think what I show up with will be such a slow list. I'm tempted to shift back into the Germans I own; since I was the one that showed Dano the power of a Puma and a StuG originally, but I feel like there will already be plenty German players. Outside of my friend MikeP With The Master Plan, I don't think many people will be coming strong with the Commonwealth. We owe it to King and Country! 

Tally Ho, Marshall Faulkers!

Stay tuned for more list chat. Or even better, strike up your own shop talk on the forum. Just click the link below. In the mean time, to all my opponents at Cold Wars - watch out for the upcoming mobile Commonwealth!

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