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Friday, March 22, 2013

Bolt Action - Review: Armies of the Soviet Union

The Armies of Great Britain book was still fresh in my mind, when out of the blue this little surprise showed up on the doorstep:

In Mother Russia, we send our preview copies early!

There are a lot of Soviet players out there that have been waiting patiently (ha!) behind the other big three nations for their book. This book didn't disappoint me, and it won't disappoint you! Armies of the Soviet Union, here we come!

History lessons are always cooler when pictures of tanks and guys with guns are included.
Mr. Andy Chambers is the credited author of this supplement, while Cavatore and Priestley stay on as the editors. I'm not sure whether to credit the author or the editors for this, but after one read-through, I noticed things seemed tightened-up as far as ambiguous rules wordings go. I found myself reading a new rule, asking myself, "But, what if..." and then reading the next line to find it had been addressed. Big ups to whomever is responsible for this.

The introduction is entertaining and illuminating, as expected. I'm not well read when it comes to the Eastern Front, but after reading those first few pages, I've got the feel for it. Mr. Chambers did a great job not only informing, but making the information enjoyable. It was a good read! It's definitely piqued my interest in the theater, and helped me pick a few areas I'd like to dig into a bit more.

Osprey delivers once again in the quality department. At this point, if you need me to rate their publishing standards, you probably haven't purchased any other Bolt Action books yet. (If that's the case, buy the main rule book first!)

Before I move on to the rules content, I'd like to once again applaud the artwork of Peter Dennis, and add Ron Volstad to the list of great artists working on these books. Sometimes, I take the art for granted, as we're a few books into the series; but then I'll flip a page and see something (like five T-60s towing a Tiger on pages 42 and 43) that stops me in my tracks. These guys are amazing.

In case you were ever in doubt - yup, Commisars.

I think I mentioned new rules before. You know I can't talk about a new book without spilling the beans on the new rules! The Soviets were given the now-expected additional national rule treatment, like their British and American allies before them. The first of them is called "Not One Step Back!". This rule allows Soviet lists to take a new type of unit, called a Commisar. They're a fantastic addition to the game, that allow friendly infantry units within 6" of the Commisar to re-roll failed order tests once, at the cost of a squad member. Your squads had better obey orders, or else! This guy only comes as inexperienced, but only costs 15 points, and can be given the usual retinue of other command types. No other nation can do anything like this, so if you hope the army books make your army feel unique, rejoice! I know I did.

Tank. Riders. !
The other new national ability is called "Massed Batteries", which is a bit like the American special rule that boosts their air observers. Before you get too excited, it doesn't give Russians multiple artillery strikes with one observer. Instead, when Soviet artillery observers call in fire, they get to roll two dice and take the greater result when determining how large an area is affected by the barrage. So now, the Americans have their super air observers, while the Soviets have super artillery observers. Interesting.

I love what the did with the ZIS-3.

Those two rules are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unique facets of the new Soviet army. Unlike the British, where the veteran troops really stand apart from each other, individual Soviet units give you unique options at all skill levels. One that really stands out for me is the Tank Riders squad.

These guys completely change any ideas you might have had about transports in Bolt Action. A Tank Riders squad can treat any tank as a transport. One whole squad can be mounted on one tank. Within the special rule, no mention is made of sharing pin markers, unlike other transports. As a matter of fact, any time a tank with tank riders is shot at (and the firing weapon is within range) the riders must dismount before the shot is resolved, and immediately be given a down order. Very unique! I'm excited to see these guys on the table, and am betting they really change things.

There's a big boat involved.

Speaking of Tank Riders, some units are allowed to purchase body armor. This makes the unit harder to kill, obviously. Any squad with body armor is one point harder to kill. In other words, veteran infantry with body armor requires a six to kill instead of the normal five. The drawback to this is units with body armor can only run or advance up to six inches. Before you ask, they may still be issued run orders in order to launch a close combat, but may only move six inches to get into the fight. This is one of those instances where I thought the rules were written very clearly, without any ambiguity. I'd read a sentence, think of a "yeah, but," question, and it was promptly answered in the next sentence. These guys really know the rule writing craft.

I won't list every single unique unit in this book, but I'd like to add that Siberian squads are the first unit that can be purchased as regulars with the tough fighters special rule. This probably seems like a minor thing to you, but any time there's a "first" in Bolt Action, I think it's worth mentioning. There's a lot more than this inside, but you're going to have to buy it if you want all the details, pal!

In case you needed help getting excited about tank riders, there's a great pic of them inside the book. I didn't need the picture, but it still helped.

The Soviet Union takes another detour away from what's been established in earlier books by allowing players to take 0-3 anti-tank team units with one selection. It works the same way as the American MMG special rule.

All similarities stop there, though. These guys have some crazy anti-tank options! There is the obligatory anti-tank rifle, but there are also Ampulomets, which I'd never heard of before, but sound crazy. "Dog mine" teams are now available, and of course they're a crowd pleaser; and unique "tank hunters" teams are another option. They get to tote panzerfausts, and have special deployment rules.

One of my favorite images in the book.
That brings up another point - those "tank hunters" as well as Soviet scout squads are allowed to use the same deployment rules snipers and observers have access to. This is another first for Bolt Action that I'm excited to see on the table.

I'd be called out on the forum, once everyone got their hands on this book, if I didn't mention what they did to T-34s. You're now allowed to remove the hull mounted MMG and replace it with a vehicle flamethrower for forty points. I have a feeling my Germans will be facing some of those in the near future. If you were worried your precious IS-2s would get the Crocodile treatment, and see a points increase, fear not. Stalin's namesake tank is unchanged.

One last thing I'd like to mention is what they did with a couple of the Soviet guns. These have a fascinating new hybrid feel that the British 25pdr established, except to a more powerful degree. We'd seen this in the main rule book, with the powerful IS-2/ISU-122 heavy anti-tank gun that also fired at infantry with a direct fire HE 2D6 shot. Take the ZIS-3, for example. It's a medium anti-tank gun, that may also fire as a light howitzer. These come in at 80 points for a regular gun. I'm going to need to track some of these down!

An example of some of the education I received: The Soviets sometimes called the SU-76 "Suka". I'll leave it to you to translate.
This book includes another interesting departure from the previous books. Page 61 offers "some suggestions for scenarios", which are conditions in which players might like to fight their battles. There are snow rules, swamp rules, even frostbite rules. What a great addition for the scenario-minded of us.

I can't finish a review of the title without mentioning the theater selectors. In my opinion, no national force evolved as much as the Soviets over the course of the war. Mr. Chambers and Company did a great job depicting this in the selectors. The special rules included with many of the lists really gives them some flavor, like the "Baptism of Fire" special rule early Soviet forces must suffer under; and rules like "Fanatical Defense" they get to enjoy in Stalingrad battles. It's my humble opinion that these selectors will leave Soviet fans happier than any of the earlier books. You can spend a lot of time mining each and every one for the little things that make it unique. I'm a big fan.

So folks, I've only had the book for a couple hours. After one read-through, I'm really happy with it. The Soviets feel very different from the previously released books, and add a lot of new things to the Bolt Action rules. Neither of the new special national rules feel truly game changing (which is a good thing in my book) while still providing the Soviets with that special something that makes them feel unique. That's what those special national rules are all about.

As for the units, I don't know if any of the earlier books have departed as much from the established norm. I think that's a great fit for the Soviets, for what little I know about them, I do know that battles were quite different on the Eastern Front than the Western. This one's going to make all those Soviet players that have been waiting for their book happy. It was truly worth the wait.

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