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Monday, June 17, 2013

Bolt Action - New to Bolt Action: Baxter's First 500

Which Army is Right for Me?
Now that you have bought the basic game components for Bolt Action its time to start considering which army you want to play.  While this might seem straight forward, a lot can go into that decision.  Currently Warlord has made army lists available for the Germans, Russians, British and Commonwealth, Americans (Army and Marines), Japanese, French, and Belgians.  This is by no means the end all for army list options.  One might reliably predict one could expect to see Finland, Romania, Hungarian, Italian, Greek, Partisan, and Chinese lists in the future. (I can confirm that a schedule I saw earlier in the year had many of these lists on it! - Judson)  While it might feel relatively safe to go with one of the five major powers, a minor nation might interest you as well.  There are many things which can be considered when starting a new army.

First is personal preference.  Which army do you dig and fits your style of play?  Maybe you love big, heavy tanks or hordes of infantry; maybe you love elite paratroopers or tough as nail fighters.  You want to make sure your Bolt Action army is an army you want to collect and will be fun for you to collect.

Other things to take into consideration are local meta (what are others playing), what period of the war do you want to play (the beginning, middle or end), is there a particular campaign or theatre you’re interested in (Stalingrad, North Africa, the Burma), cost associated with collecting the army (large armies or unique armies can require a larger financial investment), tournament army vs. historically-driven or scenario-driven army list (do you want a list to beat the pants off someone or a list to re-fight a historical battle), personal connection (my grandfather or great uncle fought with the unit) and lastly, is it an army you feel confident painting (if you’re not comfortable painting German Camo schemes, is there another army for you).

As you can see deciding on an army can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.  Several things influenced my first Bolt Action army.  First, my only opponent at the time had Germans.  As a person who hates blue on blue or red on red, I decided I needed to collect an allied army.  I am addicted to all things Stalingrad, so I went with a Russian army.  Since I chose to base a Stalingrad themed army it narrowed down my army to include vehicles available in late 1942, early 1943.  Since we don’t have Bolt Action tournaments locally (yet), I didn’t feel the need to sweet it over a list that could defeat any opponent in any terrain.  I settled on a fairly straight forward Soviet Infantry army from the ruins of Stalingrad.

Now that you have picked an army you want to gather up as many resources you can on the army.  You will use these resources for lots of things, but primarily you want to find paint guides.  This probably seems more expensive than you it looks.  You do not need to run out and buy every Osprey and World War Two book at Barnes and Nobel.  The internet is full of great resources and photos.  Additionally Warlord partnered with Osprey when publishing Bolt Action and the army books and rule book are full of amazing photographs.    Additionally, if you came from other game systems there may be more resources on yourself at home.  Battlefront has really nice painting guides in most their books and fantastic photos of painted figures.


Building You First 500 point Force
Now that you have settled on an army and amassed a folder of pictures, its time to get down to brass tacks and build an army list; a very daunting task for a first time Bolt Actionite.  While the lists in the army books seem straight forward, there are many options.  I can take 2-6 Infantry units, but which kind?  Maybe you have already solved this when you settled on your army type, but likely you haven’t.   Also there are many options within each unit.  Do you get an SMG or LMG; what about anti-tank grenades; and what the heck is a shirker? Then there are all the support options and tanks.  To build my first 500 point list, I am going to assume I just got into Bolt Action and only have the lists from the main rule book available to me.  Here is the Russian List I settled on for my first 500 points.

500 Point Russian Starter Army
2nd Lieutenant Regular w/ SMG
+ (1) Staff w/ Rifle
60 Points
1 x Inexperienced Infantry Squad (11 Men)
+AT Grenades

1 x Rifle Squads (10 Men)
100 Points

1 x Rifle Squads (10 Men)
100 Points

1 x Heavy Mortar (inexperienced)
+ Spotter
56 Points

1 x Medium Machine Gun (regular)
+ gun shield
60 Points

1 x BA-10 (regular)
120 Points

Total: 496 Points

I built the list using the Soviet Army Builder on the website.

The Officer

The first thing you want to do when starting any new arm is decide on an officer. I normally recommend a 1st lieutenant over 2nd lieutenant because command is everything in Bolt Action. However, at 500 points it was worth saving the 25 points by running a 2nd lieutenant and spending the points else were.  Just to be safe I took one staff member to accompany the office. This will make sure the HQ unit can take a hit without the officer dying, while keeping the additional -1 to hit from being a small target. When I field the HQ section the officer will have an SMG and I’ll give the staff member a rifle. My HQ section is not a combat unit, but if needed the staff member can reach out and add a pin to someone with his rifle.

Since it is a Russian Army, I took one free inexperienced squad, which always comes in handy to boost your core squads.  This free extra squad has a much larger impact in 500 point games than it does in 1000 point games.  When maxed out the squad increases your strength by 20%, giving you an edge your opponent doesn’t have.

For my squads I went with two regular rifle units with no bells or whistles.  You want your squads to be able to dish out punishment and take it too.  I have found that at 500 points a core force of inexperienced troops has a rough go at it, while a predominantly veteran force just doesn’t have that many figures on the table.  Regulars seem to fit just right.  I also opted to save on points by not taking an SMG or LMG.  500 points go quickly and it would have cost me an extra 23 points per squad to take an SMG and LMG.  At over 12” the SMG cant fire and the LMG only give you one extra shot, making up for the missing SMG man.  A squad equipped with an SMG and LMG has the same fire power as an all rifle squad at that range.  So it was all rifles for me.
This does not mean those weapons are not worth taking, they have the strengths and drawbacks, but at 500 points sometimes it is necessary to trim the fat.  If you want a more historical looking force you may want to include those unit upgrades.  One of the joys of starting a Russian army is you can make those cuts and your force stays historical.  I just chalk it up to the material shortages of 1942. 


I took two support options for my army, a maxim medium machine gun and heavy mortar.  These two weapons will be used in almost every army I build no matter what the point value.  That brings us to one thing to consider when building your first force: What do I collect now that will be used nearly every time I play Bolt Action? The answer; a mortar and medium machine gun.  

Recently I have been in the habit of taking inexperienced mortars to games.  Their morale is one less, but they do not suffer from the -1 penalty for being inexperienced when shooting since they only fire indirect.  Additionally, since mortars sit in the back field they don’t come under a lot of fire.  By going with an inexperienced mortar crew you save points.  For example it would have cost me an additional 5 points to buy a regular medium mortar, but instead I get an inexperienced heavy mortar capable of dealing out twice the damage.

The other support option I took was the dreaded Maxim medium machine gun upgraded with a gun shield.    The machine gun is a great asset at any point level for dishing out extra pins on units.  What makes the Maxim so great is the gun shield, which is only available to the Russians.  The gun shield upgrade takes your regular crew men, who are killed on a 4+, and makes them super Russians who are killed on a 6+.  While this upgrade might seem cheesy, since the gun shield on a Maxim is the size of a dinner plate, it is awesome.  The gun shield gives this team added staying power, which will ensure its effectiveness.

There are many other support option available at 500 points, some are worth considering others are not.  For example I would not consider taking large caliber weapons.  Chances are you will not face a decently armored tank at 500 points.  They just soak up too many points.  You might face an armored car or light tank though so AT rifles or a 45mm Anti Tank gun might be worth considering.  Snipers and flamethrowers are other options you might want to consider as well.
Armored Unit
As you can see from my list I did not include a tank. At 500 points, I think tanks waste too many points. Your average tank will cost you 40% to 50% of your force. That is a substantial investment for a 500 point force. However, an armored car is an option worth considering. Armored cars will cost you about 20% of your points and give you an armored unit. Most armored cars also give you the support of a recon vehicle. I decided to go with BA-10. I like the BA-10, I think it looks awesome and it is equipped with a turret light anti tank gun and hull mounted machine gun. If your opponent fields a light tank or armored car the BA-10 will more than able to take it on.

You first 500 point force can be a daunting thing to think about.  No one wants to buy their first force and find out they will never use the figures they bought again or have a force that sucks eggs.  By starting with the basics, like core infantry units and support weapons, you will have the start to a force that utilizes figures you will use time and time again at any point level.  Next time we will look at adding more points to our force by bring in more core units and addition support options.

If you want to talk about this article or any other article on the WWPD network make sure you join the conversation on the WWPD Forum by clicking the link below.

(And stay tuned, because I'll be jumping in with a 500 point force soon as well! Listing! - Judson)

“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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