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Friday, August 16, 2013

Bolt Action - One Year Anniversary and the Meta-Shift

Bolt Action is a bit over a year old. That makes BoltAction.Net and Bolt Action Radio a year old, as well, and so that brings about reflection on twelve short months, as well as predictions for those that follow.

Old Hans here represents our initial thoughts on the game, now long out of the tabletop war, waiting to be released to fight again, or disappear as forgotten past folly. Before we get to predictions, let's go over a few of the things we've shifted away from. In the last twelve months. All the things in our rear view mirror. Some famous neckbeard (shout to my LRDGses) once said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Right? Right.

Anyone else remember the dreaded air power of pre-errata'ed Forward Air Observers? When Dano and I first started playing, immediately after Historicon 2012, we ran into some speed bumps. Much like learning any other new game system, we needed to get used to the feel of Bolt Action before we could make any valuable observations. Over those first dozen or so games, we wrapped our heads around almost all of the issues you need to get a hold of as you are learning Bolt Action; such as, the virtues of running over merely advancing in a six-turn game; when the numbers (hopefully) lean in your favorite before a close combat; what pinning really does to units; when to issue a Down order; and all the other facets that make Bolt Action the unique and entertaining game it is.

Yet, we could not figure out how to survive his dreaded, swooping, dive-bombing Americans.

Forward Air Observers, when successful, called-in a precision tool capable of taking any single unit out of the game. Their attacks did not, at that point, treat vehicles any differently than infantry; so it was not unusual to see an air attack hit a tank seven or more times, pinning it to hell. Artillery weapons were treated the same way - one shot from a heavy howitzer would "hit" a tank 3D6 times, causing pins galore.

Game after game - Dano played Americans - I'd try new things with the hopes of avoiding the baleful glare of his Forward Air Observer. Game after game, I'd lose two units. It was terrifying. Vehicle Flamethrowers were not a unit to fear in a game where one successful air attack spelled its certain doom. Not until we started playing with snipers did the threat feel even close to mitigated.

How can I talk about snipers without recalling Dano's favorite early-Bolt Action comment, "Snipers are OP!" Cries that the dastardly sniper was ruining the game rang out from many, but not all, corners of the Internet. It makes me chuckle, now, but at the time the comments were made, people were quite serious. Minds all over the world were blown the first time club mates brought two-platoon, two-sniper lists to game night. To the community's credit, I haven't heard sincere complaints about snipers in a long time.

To Warlord Games' credit, several fixes were made within the first six months to address issues. None were probably as significant as what shall forever be remembered as The Great Air/HE Change of '12, but all helped improve the game, and more importantly showed that management was listening, prepared to make changes where justified.

Within the first few months, it seemed, things were rolling downhill. Both Warlord Games and BoltAction.Net grew quickly with the rising success of the game. Dano and I were soon making bold (read: foolish) proclamations (read: drunken ramblings) about this unit or that unit, or this nation compared to the other. First came the German book, which brought plenty of excitement with it simply because it was the first supplement to our new favorite game.

Both of us loved assault rifles and veterans in Bolt. A lack of German vehicle models stymied the aspirations of many German generals out there, drooling over this variant or another of their favorite tank. Perhaps most groundbreaking of the Armies of Germany book was the addition of flamethrower weapon teams to pionier squads. Prior to this, flamethrowers had a lot of promise, Dano and I felt, but were tough to maneuver into position given the fragility of a two-man team. Adding them to veteran squads was mind blowing!

Before long, people started complaining about the power of flamethrowers and the weakness of LMGs and MMGs. I tried to stay out of it as best I could, but Dano would have none of it and pronounced with great conviction his dislike of machine guns, both light and medium. Ultimately, I've yet to see the light with machine guns, but I haven't completely given up hope. It's up to the community to figure out exactly what we're all missing with them; and some people apparently have, as they've never stopped using them.

Tough fighting, firing, maneuvering, and communicating Americans soon came around. These rocked the scene just as well and truly as the pionier squads did - and the Americans got integrated flamethrowers as well - and changed peoples' attitudes about a certain perception of imbalance with the German assault rifle. I'm currently not the proud owner of any American or Japanese forces; and in typical "grass is always greener" style, they're currently the two forces I would most like to put on the table. Thanks for creating a complete degenerate, Warlord Games!

Units like American tough fighting veterans and German pioniers; as well as the fact that people had few models and therefore fielded veteran-focused forces; led to the game's first, and thus far longest lasting community opinion: Veterans are the only way to go!

Don't mistake this, or anything else ever said in or around The BAR as the universal attitude. However, a love of vets definitely pervaded, and from this fixation sprung other opinions about the game. Flamethrowers, for example, are much more powerful when fielded against a list with eight order dice than twenty. The heavier side of HE weaponry is also just as proficient at killing veterans as it is at killing inexperienced or regular troops. Small arms, on the other hand, became a bit of a joke. A squad full of assault rifles could be relied upon to give a pin marker to its target, but not much else, since fives or sixes are needed to kill veterans with small arms. Eventually, a force that didn't have HE, flame, or assaulters became rare. All of this because, yes, those weapons were effective against the veteran, small-model-count, forces many were fielding.

The tournaments talked about on our forum featured mainly veteran lists. Of course others came as well, but if a generalization were to be made, it would be that veterans were the most numerous. Until some righteous gamer in Australia rocked Wintercon with a horde of Soviet anti-tank rifles, shaking everyone's perceptions of what's "right" or "best" in Bolt Action. That is, if, of course, they were paying attention.

What about the future of Bolt Action? Or the future for this site? I'll tell you one thing for sure, both will continue to change and evolve. For starters, Bolt Action Radio is finally going to offer some premium podcast content for paid subscribers, after (semi-)popular demand. For those worried about that, don't be. This will take nothing away from The BAR itself. Instead, The Speakeasy will go where The BAR doesn't go. The first episode of Speakeasy will be coming soon, and you'll dig it, so stay tuned.

I can only make predictions as to what I think will happen next in the greater Bolt Action scene. New stuff will of course, come out. They've already told us a bit about the upcoming theater books. As for our community, I predict a shift away from all-veteran infantry lists, in a big way. We all owned limited models at the beginning of the year, but with twelve months behind us, we have expanded. It's time to break out of that new guy rut we've been stuck in, and take some new approaches to listing.

The rules don't dictate that every player must take two or three big veteran squads with a tank, armored car, and random infantry support weapons, but that's the way many of us have been playing it. Once we stretch a bit, and get out of our comfort zones, we're going to find there's a lot more going on in Bolt Action than German pioniers firing flamethrowers at tough fighting American veterans.When we do start making that shift, weapons we once thought pointless or overpriced might start gaining favor; and the flamethrowers and HE we adored might get a little less attractive.

In the beginning, Bolt battles were often characterized by large units advancing into firing positions, staying relatively static. Close combat, as people have now come to grips with successfully moving their troops around the table, might suddenly see an upswing. People will stop pushing units across the table in a straight line, table edge to table edge, and start getting creative with their movement. Speaking of movement, trucks and soft-skinned wheeled transports, never the sexiest model to purchase as your first vehicle, will sneak into peoples' lists now that they're onto next-level purchases and expansions. Maybe even the horrific LMG will find new life in the second half of 2013.

My version of the non-veteran future will debut in ...

Whatever happens, it's going to be something new, and it's going to be driven by new players coming in with new ideas. I can't urge you enough to start trying other builds in Bolt Action, and I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with.

Before I sign off, I want to thank all The BARbarians out there for a perfect first year. No one here would be doing any of this if not for the strong, growing community surrounding BoltAction.Net. Bring ideas for new things we should do as the year wraps up and we head into 2014. Thanks to all the tireless tournament organizers around the world that keep this going, too!

Thanks to my crew, WWPD, and special thanks to the departing Steve. Good luck out there, bro.

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