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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bolt Action - Cold Wars Bolt Action 2013

The first Bolt Action tournament I've been able to attend took place March 9th at Cold Wars, inside one of the Lancaster Host's many halls, in (unseasonably warm) Lancaster, PA. We've talked about it a lot on the forum already, and after meeting with many of the guys after the games, I'm more excited than ever about the future of Bolt Action. 

By Friday night, many of the crew from our forum had linked up for a bit of a warm-up game. A lot of us had never met in person before, and some of us had met before in other convention games and not even realized it while conversing on the forum. OK, actually, I was the only one that did this. I'd been talking to forum-famous MikepWithTheMasterPlan for months about the event, without ever realizing it was the same Mike.

The tune-up game was great, if a little on the late side for some of us (again, probably only yours truly) and I have to say everyone was great to hang out with. I don't know what it is about Bolt Action, but it's drawn my kind of people to it.

Players reviewing handy terrain sheets, provided by the tournament organizer, at the start of round two.
We started the event the next morning, after the organizer, Stefan, set up at least seven tables with his own terrain. In addition, he'd gone through the extraordinary labor of printing a detailed, but easily understandable, terrain list for each of his tables. These lists were organized into columns that showed a small image of the terrain feature, followed by their game effects. After the intial matchups and table assignments were set, players were able to arrive at a their tables and review the sheets together.

Tough to have a terrain argument when you're given sheets like this.

Often, the things people don't say mean more than that which they actually do. Everyone talked about having a great time, but not a single person mentioned any confusion or disagreements about terrain. This is a testament to the effort Stefan clearly put into running this event. Not only did he provide many outstanding tables for everyone, but he eliminated the possibility for ambiguity and roll-off's over terrain effects with these terrain sheets. I've never played in a miniature wargaming tournament where players weren't expected to "discuss" the terrain beforehand, and I think this was a great precedent for Stefan to set.

One of the Far-Eastern tables at Cold Wars.
The tournament was a three-round event where pairings were intially dictated by keeping Axis versus Allied players. We were lucky enough to have seven Axis and seven Allied players, so my first two rounds were entirely Axis versus Allies matchups. This is, of course, preferable to most players. Pairings were also decided by wins and losses, and then ultimately by combat points. Combat points were used as the final tool to decide pairings. I think he may have wisely lifted this from our Bolt Action buddies down under, but regardless, a third tie-breaker was necessary by the end of the second round to determine pairings.

These combat points were tallied after each game, and based on the point value of enemy units your force destroyed. Players took the sum of the value of the squads destroyed and divided it by one-hundred. By the end of the second round, players had destroyed different amounts of enemy units, thereby separating themselves from one another.

A mess around the objective in round two's Top Secret scenario.
So, after the first round, pairings were decided using win/loss numbers, Axis/Allies, and combat points. While I completely agree that given the lack of an official tournament scoring method, something is needed beyond simple win/loss numbers, I'm not yet completely sold on combat points. They can just a feel a little dirty at times. You end up occasionally doing something that has nothing to do with taking an objective, like chasing down the last man of a squad for a point. The flip side is true, as you lose squad members and start considering withdrawing them to prevent your opponent from getting a point on you. Stefan, who I'm sure won't mind me mentioning this, echoed the sentiment that the combat point system needed a bit of tweaking.

This was ultimately pretty important, because there was a three-way tie at the top after round three when only looking at win/loss numbers; but I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the games! For those of you that don't know, this was a three-round, 1000-point list tournament.

There's a lot going on here!
None of the pictures posted in this article necessarily match up with any of my battle reports. They're random shots from all the games; but hey, this was a tournament! I wasn't about to ask my opponent to pose with his infantry.

Wait, that's a great idea. Next time!

The first game was Demolition and my Brits squared off against John Brader's Fallschirmjager force. Stefan had printed out three copies of our own army list in our player packs, one to give to each opponent before each game. I dilligently collected everyone's list, then promptly lost them before I'd left the hall. I've got a pretty general recollection of each opponent's force, though. John had the smallest, most veteran force I faced at the tournament. He had a few very large Fallschirmjager squads kitted-out with a variety of weapons - true German style! He also brought an MMG, a light, open-topped recon vehicle, and a StuGIII. His units were big, and tough, and a scary start to the day for me.

We played on a table with a road that wound its way through a big town down the middle of the board. Our objectives were offset, as I won the roll to pick table edge, I had to place first. I put my objective conservatively in the middle of the table, and John put his far out on his own right. Both of our attacks were fairly simple - we sent our tank towards the other players objective!

John's paratroopers were apparently scattered before the battle, as three of his veteran units failed to walk-on the board the first turn. This was a huge advantage for me. My Crocodile predictably incinerated everything in its path, but it was slow. The lone Brit infantry squad that accompanied it actually got to the objective first. John, despite his bad luck, pushed hard on my objective. His faster StuGIII was able to wind its way down the road, getting on one side of the objective. Luck was on my side, though, as my air observer called a strike down on his recon vehicle. It would have easily taken my objective before my attack could have taken his, if not for a lucky immobilized result on the damage chart after my airstrike. That lucky hit on an open-topped vehicle left it stranded one run move away from destroying my objective.

At one point, John had a squad of Fallschirmjager positioned to the right side of my flame tank, equipped with multiple panzerfausts, and an MMG in front of it, aiming at my one advancing infantry squad. In one advance action, the tank destroyed the MMG with its flamethrower, and forced the paratroopers to flee after a big blast from its 75mm gun. With an infantry squad parked firmly on his objective, I had the game, and because the old Crocodile fired four times without running out of fuel, I'd earned myself some combat points. John was a great opponent, and our game came down to some key die rolls. Any game that ends with both players within inches of victory is really all you can ask for.

Not sure what the stats were on the Elmo cup, but I think I heard someone mention it was super heavy.
My game two pairing was with Chris Miller. We played Top Secret on a table with a river winding down the middle of it. I'd gamed with Chris before - solid dude looks like a blacksmith and, as it turns out, is actually a blacksmith! I think in part because we'd already been hanging around and laughing the day before, we didn't take a good look at the terrain sheet, and the river was supposed to be impassable! Gah! We placed the Top Secret documents, generously given to me by my awesome previous opponent, John, in the exact middle of the table - which was in the exact middle of the river bend. This never occurred to me until long after the tournament, when Stefan shared that table's sheet with me. I'd like to think this oversight didn't really imbalance the game, as we both ended up slogging through the river we treated as rough going at one point or another. Chris also had Germans, but instead of a StuGIII, he brought a Hetzer, as well as some big veteran squads and some veteran supports. Another brutal challenge awaited me.

I again won the die roll to pick table edge, and I decided I'd like to have the side where the road was straightest, leading to a bridge that crossed the river within inches of the objective. Chris ended up on a side of the table with a tree-covered hill that overlooked the objective marker, within a foot or so of it. I basically sent my troops and tank on a bee-line for the objective, skirting the river. The flame tank destroyed a squad on the hilltop overlooking the top secret documents, and the infantry moved to grab it. Unfortunately for me, it ran out of fuel after this first shot. I should have known my luck had been too good the game before!

Meanwhile, Chris's Hetzer skirted around my left flank and began firing away with its weapon systems at my forces. The forces that remained on his hilltop blazed down onto my approaching veteran riflemen, throwing pins everywhere. An artillery marker I had placed on the hill earlier in the game failed to materialize until I had several squads around the documents. Of course, Chris shifted the artillery down into their midst, and by the end of the turn all of the squads had three or more pins on them, some coming from earlier fire.

Unfortunately for Chris, my now flamethrower-less tank turned in front of the troops, making a makeshift wall for them to escape behind. After I made my order roll, my troops handed the objective off the board in a long chain. I'd only killed a squad or two of his forces, though, so I certainly didn't earn many combat points, although carrying the objective off did earn me some.

Of course, Chris is always a pleasure to game with. This game was no different. He was at our first demo of Bolt Action, back at Fall-In! I'd feel worse about the river, if not for the fact that his wife mocked me unmercifully throughout the game; and then added insult to injury by completely tricking me in a later game of Battlestar Galactica. (Kidding! She was just as nice as Chris - except she really did blindside me in that BSG game!)

That's as much of Tim Peaslee's Russian horde list as Stefan could fit into one shot. Miles' IJA force was about as big!

The final round of the tournament found me getting a chance to play against Andy Gould, a guy from my area that I had only met the day before. We'd been corresponding a lot before the event, though; as a matter of fact, we workshopped our lists together over emails in the run-up. No matter what else happened in this round, I was just happy to have found a fellow list geek in my neck o' the woods. I suspect we'll all be hearing more from Andy in the near future. Joe Foland came with Andy, and his German army deservedly won the best painted contest. These are two guys I'm looking forward to gaming with - without having to drive four and a half hours. Sorry, Dano.

Andy brought the dreaded Americans to the tournament. He had a couple tough fighting veteran squads of seven or so men, three regular squads of - I think - six men each, a 57mm gun, a veteran Chaffee (that we'd gone back and forth on for weeks) and an air observer. He also brought a sniper, which regardless of my initial disdain, proved really valuable in the scenario we played, Maximum Attrition. Being American, he had to include a .50cal-toting jeep. There may have been another unit or two, but that was the jist of it - essentially my worst nightmare!

From the practice game, the night before. My Brits never got this close to his Chaffee.

I think it's safe to say I was mostly out played from the get-go in this game. Andy really knows his stuff. Maximum Attrition is not really a game for focused attacks, or at least I haven't figured out how to play that scenario yet with a few squads of infantry and a Crocodile. These games sort of work like this: One side makes a small jab somewhere in the line, followed by a counter punch from the other side, followed by a withdrawl by the original side, etc., etc.; so it's tough to really tell a story about how the game developed. I do remember a few important things from the game, though.

First of all, Andy's jeep/Chaffee/57mm combination, plus one air strike, really shut my Crocodile down. By the end of the game, it was one pin marker away from being completely pinned to death (8 out of 9). Second, Andy's perfect planning was foiled by my good fortune. At one point, an outflanking veteran American squad came on from the side, and had but one British veteran squad between it and three small, HQ teams. Andy did everything right, launched his assault, and somehow three or four remaining Brits managed to defeat the seven assaulting tough fighters. Really, it shouldn't have worked out this way, but sometimes the dice can be cruel! If they had crumbled, like the dice math would suggest, Andy would have easily won the game by taking a ton of little squads from me.

As it turns out, I was able to take out his air observer before he could pull it back, with my smg-laden veteran squad. It had only called in one strike at this point, and I feel that was probably my only well thought out and executed manuever of the game. By the end of turn six, we ended up rolling to go to turn seven. This allowed Andy to eliminate one more of my squads that I had aggressively thrown at his jeep, hoping to steal a point at the "end" of the game. This extra squad gave him a 2-1 edge in the game, which wasn't enough for a win, but was valuable in counting towards his overall combat points. Our Maximum Attrition ended in a draw, but Andy deserved the win. The dice just didn't fall for him.

Some of the tables.
At the end of three rounds, three players had two wins to one draw each. Of those three, I narrowly defeated Andy (2nd) and Miles (3rd) in combat points, leaving me winning the tournament. The scores were really close all the way down the list of fourteen participants, and I think everyone felt like they had a chance all the way though. Stefan has posted all the lists, for those of you curious out there. And for those interested in the prizes, I can say that awards went to the Best Painter, the Next Best Painter, the first in-game FUBAR, the first in-game tank kill; as well as the top tournament finishers. Armies worth of stuff was handed out. Very cool!

Overall, this tournament was a huge success. Not a single player had a bad thing to say about it. I have to admit, I wasn't sure about Bolt Action as a tournament game before this event; but many of the participants were long-time Flames of War tourney guys, and they all loved it. And what a bunch of great guys. John gave everyone a cool little Top Secret marker to take, and Andy painted an 28mm soldier for every one of his opponents. How cool is that? We're all really excited about the future of Bolt Action - and speaking of which, Stefan and I are planning on teaming up to run another event at Historicon. We hope to see even more of you there!

I imagine there's more coverage of this event out there, but I'd also like to point you in the direction of Miles' blog if you'd like to read more about it.

In the meantime, come check out our forum, and hop on the Bolt Action bandwagon now!


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