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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bolt Action - Review: Armies of Italy and the Axis

It's finally here BARbarians!


Armies of Italy and the Axis! And I can't wait to talk about it!

Time to give credit where it's due; but first, it's worth noting that once again Steve and I had a hand in this book. Additionally, and mysteriously missing from the credits, my friend Jon Baber contributed to the effort. That said, I won't be looking at this from a critical standpoint at all. I'll leave that to the pros. (You.) The other authors include Vesa Nenye, Anton Von Wirtzenau, and Peter Munter. I know what I wrote, and I know what they wrote, so I feel quite comfortable saying that they did an outstanding job; one that will live up to the expectations you now have for an Osprey Publishing and Warlord Games book.

One quick side note - you might notice the art has apparently changed from what Osprey was initially advertising. I'm not sure if this means that there are multiple covers kicking around (doubt it) or they simply scrapped what they were using for the Italian PDF released a couple months ago.

Speaking of art, the talented artists credited this time around include Peter Dennis, Giuseppe Rava, Richard Chasemore, Stephen Andrew, Steve Noon, Raffaele Ruggeri, Darko Pavlovic, Henry Morshead, Mark Postlethwaite, Mike Chappell, Jose Bustamante, Alan Mander, Gary Martin, Bruce Murray, and Mark Owen. It's quite a list, I know. This fits my tastes quite nicely for this type of book, preferring a variety of different art styles rather than the same artist throughout. I give Osprey credit for this decision, as it seems to me a perfect fit to include many different styles of artwork in a book covering many different nations. It might not always work, but I believe it works well here. The astute amongst you will notice that I've included the miniature painters in the artist credits this time around. I'm not going to distinguish between the two any longer, as both modelers and canvas workers add their own distinct but equally enjoyable art to these supplements. The art here is superb, regardless of the medium.

Beautiful minis on one page, digital/traditional art on the other. I'm a big fan.

After finally seeing this book in print, it really sunk in how diverse the forces are within. This diversity is something I thought France and the Allies captured well, until I held a copy of Italy and the Axis in my hands. The Allies title let you play many different nations with one book for the first time, but the Axis book allows you to play drastically different styles with one book. Like the Allies book, this one does have its warts - in an attempt to differentiate between charging cavalry and mounted soldiers, things were made unclear (FAQ coming soon) - but this is easily my favorite so far. I realize, this doesn't mean as much, coming from an author, but I believe there are more brand spanking new, mind blowing, "wow I can't believe they added that to Bolt Action" moments in this book than in any of its predecessors.

Yet, you didn't come here to read about my personal thoughts on Armies of Italy and the Axis! You came for the preview, and a preview you shall have! I'll more or less follow a format giving you each nation's abilities, and something that stuck out for me in their list. It'll be quick and dirty, and I'm sure I'll only scratch the surface, so for more shop talk you'll have to head over to the forum and tune in to Bolt Action Radio. Let's start with the Italians, and what new mechanics they offer the Bolt Action system.

Yes, Lachlan, it includes theater selectors. No, I am not emailing them to you.
(Man, I'm really happy these two special national rules made the final cut. And yes, I'm editorializing in my own article. - J) For starters, the Italians get 'AVANTI SAVOIA!' This ability is the authors' (Referenced myself in third person. Check that off the bucket list. - J) attempt at representing the radical differences or changes in Italian morale.
"At the beginning of each game turn, subtract the number of units lost by the Italian army from the number of units lost by the enemy (keep track of the Order Dice lost by both sides). If the number is -3 or worse (i.e. the Italians are losing three units more than the opposition), all friendly Italian units have their basic Morale reduced by 2. If the number is +3 or better (i.e. the battle is going really well for the Italians), all friendly Italian units have their basic Morale increased by 2."
The second Italian ability is called DEFENSIVE STRATEGY. It attempts to capture the feel of the strategic thinking of the army's leaders, and even its very composition, by giving the Italians a bit of a "we just took these hundred yards, what's the rush" sort of theme.
 "In scenarios with an attacker and a defender, first roll as normal to determine which side is going to be the defender. If the Italian player is not the defender, you must re-roll that die - the second result stands. Note that in Italian versus Italian battles, neither player re-rolls. If the Italian army is the defender, it gets the following advantages: 1) During the first turn of the game, the enemy cannot order his units to Run as they cautiously prone the terrain in front of the Italian line for minefields and make their way across barbed wire. 2) The player can re-roll the die on the Artillery Barrage and Smoke Barrage chart - the Italian artillery is already ranged-in on no-man's land. 3) During set-up, any Italian unit starting the game Hidden may start the game already in Ambush. If you decide to do so, place one of your Order Dice already in place next to them, as if you had ordered them to Ambush. 4) After determining table edges, but before either side deploys any unit, roll a D3 - the result is the number of emplacements available to the player. Each emplacement is made of three linear obstacles up to 6" long and 1" tall, representing hard cover like sandbags, a section of low wall, or earthwork, which are always placed as pictured. These must all be within 12" of his table edge."
 My favorite unit for the Italians has to be the Blackshirts. Of course, I'm only speaking about the unit in the game, and not the history they represent. Hopefully disclaimers like that are not necessarily expected during these previews, because I never remember to issue them. What I like about them is their randomness. All Italian units have a bit of variability built into them, courtesy of Avanti Savoia, but the Blackshirts can also end up either Shirkers or Fanatics. You pay Regular infantry price for them, but never know if they'll be cowards or crazies on the battlefield until they take fire.

There's a lot more to say about Italians, but we've got a lot more to cover!

And then one day, during the Fall of '13, Cavatore and Priestley introduced the Finns to Bolt Action." - Future Famous Quote
Wow, the Finns! People once referred to veteran infantry as the "Space Marines" of Bolt Action, but that's only because this list didn't exist yet. If you like paying a ton of points for a few badasses, these guys are for you.
"SISU - When a Finnish infantry or artillery unit is reduced to 50% or less of its starting strength, the remaining models are automatically upgraded to higher quality - Inexperienced become Regular and Regular become Veteran, while Veteran earn an 11 Morale rating. This happens before any dice or rolled for a casualty-induced morale check."
"TRAINED HUNTSMEN - As long as a Finnish infantry unit has an Ambush Order die next to it, it can re-roll Morale checks. Also, when the unit opens fire from Ambush, all models in the unit that are armed with a rifle, including snipers, gain an additional +1 to-hit bonus."
"MOTTI - When Outflanking, Finnish infantry units ignore the -1 modifier to the Order test for coming on the table."
There's a lot to wrap my head around there. Help me out on the forum. Please.

The unit that surprised me most for the Finns was easily the Kaukopartio Long Distance Recon Squad. To buy into this squad of these ultimate badasses you need to cough up 115 points for five men. What does 23 points per man get you, you ask? Veterans with built-in SMGs and Tank Hunters, that also happen to be Fanatics, that also happen to count as always being within 6" of a medic, and when Outflanking can choose to come in from either side on the turn they arrive.

"But Judson! They don't even have skis!" Yeah, they do, but I'm sorry, Professor Aruba. You're going to have to pay 24 points per man instead of 23 if you want them to ignore movement penalties for snow. Don't get greedy, pal!

Skull helmets: Not just adorable fashion accessories for the Finns.
Up next comes Bulgaria! Experts (seemingly) in anti-partisan warfare!

"Hey, Bulgarians. I've got this thing called the Balkans I'm going to need you to police." - Hitler (not really)
"AXIS ALLIES - A Bulgarian force may include one extra unit from either the German list in the Bolt Action rulebook, or the Armies of Germany book, or the Italian Eastern Front theater selector. This unit does not count towards the normal unit maximum, but it cannot be a Veteran unit, and cannot be a vehicle with a Damage Value of 10+ or greater."
"COUNTER-PARTISAN EXPERTS - When fighting against Bulgarians, snipers, observers, and spotters cannot use their special deployment rules, and must instead be deployed like the rest of the force. In addition, enemies cannot Outflank the Bulgarians. They must always arrive from their own table edge when arriving from Reserve."
Bulgarian Cavalry weren't written to utilize the Cavalry special rule. Of course, the Allies book showed the shortcomings in the current reworking of the rule, but Alessio has stated an FAQ clarification is en route. Instead of charging into combat, Bulgarian Cavalry are allowed to ignore the -1 to come on-table Reserve penalty normal units suffer.

The Hungarians also have two special rules.
"AXIS SUPPORT - A Hungarian force may include one extra unit from either the German list in the MRB, or the Armies of Germany book, or the Italian Eastern Front theater selector. This does not count towards the normal platoon maximum, but it cannot be a Veteran unit, and cannot be a vehicle with a damage value of 10+ or 11+, with the exception of a Tiger I, which can be included."
"EXPERIENCED OFFICER CORPS - All Hungarian HQ units are Fanatics."
 Both the Hungarians and the Bulgarians, with their Axis Super Friends rules, mean that not only can they access one extra German unit per list, but both can also take Panzerschrecks and Panzerfausts. In addition, the Hungarians have an armored vehicle called a Nimrod with a heavy auto cannon. C'mon, you know you want a Nimrod.

Rounding out the book is the Romanian list. These guys get two abilities as well.
"AXIS SUPPORT - A Romanian force may include one extra unit from either the German list in the MRB, or the Armies of Germany book, or the Italian Eastern Front theater selector. This does not count towards the normal platoon maximum, but it cannot be a Veteran unit, and cannot be a vehicle with a damage value of 10+ or 11+."
"FRENCH ARTILLERY DOCTRINE - Romanian forces get one free Inexperienced or Regular artillery unit. It can be any anti-tank gun or artillery piece in the Romanian army list (except for heavy artillery and German artillery). This unit is in addition to the number of artillery units normally available."
A couple things here. Romanian cavalry shares the "we're not really cavalry" rule that appeared in the Hungarian and Bulgarian rules. Again, these already need clarification, but that's coming. Romanian cavalry can tote a Panzerfaust. I'm not sure how crazy that becomes. It all depends on where Alessio wants to go with this cavalry FAQ. I feel pretty confident I know what the goal was of these cavalry rules we tried to adjust, but I can't guarantee final delivery will be anything close to what we might have had in mind.

That wraps it up, folks. This book is going to shake things up, for sure. I don't know anyone that's been dying to play the Hungarians, Bulgarians, or Romanians, but I do know plenty of people that have been waiting for the Italian and Finnish forces. Get on the forum and chat us up, whether you're excited about your long awaited Finns and Italians, or if you've decided to dive in with one of the other "...ians" forces.

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