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Monday, May 27, 2013

Bolt Action - New to Bolt Action: Getting Started

So, You're New to Bolt Action
When reading through the WWPD Bolt Action Forum, and when talking to potential new Bolt Action players, a lot of questions arise about what you need to buy to get into the game.  Over the next few weeks I am going to be putting out a series of articles on how to go from having nothing to having a 1000 point Bolt Action force.  We'll start with the basics, then take a look at the thought that goes into a small 500 point force. Each week I'll add a little more until we have a 1000 point force ready for action. (And I might even join in. Let the "Week of the New Guy" begin! - Judson)

The Rule BookThe first thing you should do before getting into any new game is to buy the rule book.  If you don’t own the rule book, you can’t play the game.  Well, that is not entirely true, but then you’ll be that guy at your club who never buys the rules and mooches off of others for rules questions.  Seriously though, pick up the book. It is a fantastic piece of wargaming goodness.  The book costs about $35, depending on where you get it, is full of awesome pictures and is only 216 pages long.  The rules themselves only make up 120 of those pages, making this one of the less complicated and easier to learn wargaming rule sets on the market. ("Only" 120 pages - and I couldn't agree more. A 120 page rulebook is "simple"! What have I become? - J) 

The rest of the book is dedicated to historical fluff and the force selectors/army lists for American, German, British and Soviet armies.  While there are more comprehensive army books available, the force selectors in the back of the rule book provide you with everything you need to build an army.  If you want to play a minor nation or the Japanese, don’t feel left out. Warlord has released several free .pdfs, which can be found on their website.  Those .pdfs will hold you over until the appropriate army books come out; and if your favorite isn't there yet, it probably will be soon.

Cost Main Rules: $35
Cost Army Book: $25

Order DiceAnother item that is essential to playing a game of Bolt Action is order dice.  Bolt Action uses a random unit activation mechanism as opposed to an “I go - you go” turn sequence.  This random activation system allows for a certain level of fog of war, randomness, and battlefield luck not often found in other rule systems.   Each turn you place one colored order die in a bag for each unit you and your opponent has.  During game play you randomly draw dice from the bag.  If your side's unit die is drawn, you get to activate one unit.  This can lead to runs of two or more orders being given to units from a one side in a row, but be careful and think about the order you want to activate your units.  Is it more important for you to activate that tank to shoot, or move that squad caught in the open?  Only your cunningness of generalship knows. (Thought about editting that phrase out, but it was simply too magnificent to alter. - J)

While not entirely necessary to play, the unit dice are convenient.  Each six-sided die is labeled with one of the six orders you can issue to your units in the game.  This makes it easy to remember orders and track which units you have activated.  This is important for troops who are in ambush or have been given a down order.  The dice cost $16 for a set of twelve and come in variety of colors to match your army.  If you can’t cough up the dice dough, don’t worry; you and your opponent can use alternatives to activate units.  You can also use a deck of cards or colored beads to generate the random activation. 

Cost Order Dice: $16

Pin Markers Another key mechanism of Bolt Action game play is the effect pinning has on troops.  Pinning not only effects shooting, but also represents a unit’s willingness to follow the orders it is given.  If a player wants to successfully outwit an opponent it necessary for them to possess good pin management skills.  The foundation of good pin management is tracking the number of pins a unit has received.  Warlord sells a box of 8 pin markers for $8.  These are placed behind unit when they receive pins.  

If you don’t want to buy the Warlord pin markers, there are a wide variety of alternatives out there.  When I play Bolt Action I use nation chits from Axis and Allies or pin markers from Flames of War.  You could also use breads, a die, or casualty figures.  All of these items have different costs, but what is important is you need a way to mark pins. So get creative.

What ScaleLet's face it, you haven’t really lived until you have collected the same army in two or more scales.  However, your wallet or wife might not be pleased to the proposition.   Luckily Bolt Action can be played in any scale you want as long as your opponent’s troops are the same size.  You could use 1/35 scale military models, 25- 28mm figures, 1/72 or 20mm figures, 15mm figures, or even down to 10mm figures.  Additionally, you can use either single or group basing.

For example, I play using 28mm and base all my figures on single stands, but base my fixed teams on group bases.  This allows me to keep the figures in a team together, while my squads can spread out.  If playing in a smaller scale, you may already have troops on group bases, or you may want to collect a smaller scale and base on pennies to save money.  It is worth noting that most players do play using 28mm figures, but it is not a perquisite to play.  If you already have World War Two figures it is probably worth it to test the game using the figures you have and then with your gaming buddies settle on a scale you are all willing to use and collect.

Model OptionsThe sky is the limit when it comes to model option for Bolt Action.  Warlord does not require you to use their figures to play their game.  Even if they did, there would be no way for them to stop us from buying figures else were.  I have figures from at least 6 or 7 manufactures. You’ll want to find a range of figures that you are comfortable with.  Maybe cost is an issue for you, or maybe you want different sculpted miniatures than one company offers. Either way there is someone out their making miniatures for you.  

Here is a list of manufactures of various scales you may want to check out.

Black Tree Designs
Bolt Action 
Battle Honors 
Berlin or Bust 
The Assault Group 

Wargame Foundry 
Wargames Factory 
Plastic Solider Company 
Victory Force 
Perry Brothers 
Offensive Miniatures
Crusader Miniatures

Plastic Solider Company 
Sgt. Major Miniatures 
Valiant Miniatures 
Old Glory Command Decision 
Peter Pig 
Plastic Soldier Company 
Wargames Factory 


One thing that is nice about Bolt Action is that after your initial investment in you core infantry units you don’t need much more to play.  The game is very affordable to get into, so it might be worth it to drop some extra change on your troops.  

Tanks Many of the above listed manufactures also make armor and vehicles, but there are other manufactures that make suitable tank models as well.  I own a combination of pastic model kits and resin or metal miniatures kits.  Here are some addition manufactures that make tanks suitable for 28mm game play.

Die Waffenkammer
Army Group North
Hobby Boss
Company B
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the manufactures that create World War Two figures. If I missed one of your favorite companies, let us know about it on the WWPD Forum.

Next time we'll look at the fundamentals of building a 500 points force and how to use the force selectors.

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“Craig Baxter is the Director of the WWPD Northern Research center in Anchorage, AK. When he’s not contributing to he is busy blogging, painting, modeling and rolling dice. You can find more of his work and articles at”

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