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Monday, December 9, 2013

Bolt Action - Digging-In: Tanks and Close Combat

It's a Sunday morning, a couple weeks removed from Fall-In, and I'm thinking about Bolt Action. "Of course you're thinking about Bolt Action," you say. "You're a degenerate."

Fair! In my defense, however, we're not talking mere visions of T-20 Komsomolets dancing in my head. No, gentle BARbarians, we're talking about underused units and rules. Specifically, the stuff you have no business knowing anything about, unless it's found its way to your tabletop, and your lack of knowledge rolled you harder than a vodka-fueled Tachanka driver at an Independence Day parade.

Time to kick ass and ride horses, and we're all out of horses!

Tanks and their involvement in close combat has been a recent obsession of mine. Admitting I have a problem is the first step in addressing my obsession, but the second step is establishing the ground rules so that we're all on the same page.

I often hear players mention that assaulting tanks with infantry is a part of their game plan. Taken on its own, this statement can seem a bit ridiculous. Sure, it's possible that an infantry squad has the capacity to inflict damage on an armored vehicle the old fashioned way, but is it likely?

The party wagon shown above is, of course, not being assaulted; but if you plan on assaulting a tank, you'd better bring a similar amount of bodies with you. If there are not enough assaulting soldiers to completely cover the surface of the tank, you need more! That's an exaggeration, but let's take the above situation as our example - there's a Sherman that needs some assaulting on your tabletop! How many completely-out-of-your-control factors can there possibly be?

Variable Number One: Remember, most people come into this without much of a plan. "I have infantry, therefore I can assault a tank." If you say so, Skippy. For starters, if the thing currently has a run order visible, you can't. That's it; sorry, pal. Interestingly - and more on this later - a vehicle that was issued a run order during the turn, but for one reason or another the order die is eventually turned to down, you're back in business. So maybe your "plan" is still a possibility. There's always the chance that you position your infantry squad within twelve inches of a tank at the end of the turn, and then draw your order die first to assault, regardless, right?

Variable Number Two: Did you spend a bunch of points putting anti-tank grenades on all of your squads? No? Did you spend those points on even a single unit? Alright! Here's hoping your solitary anti-tank grenade unit ends up within a foot of that enemy Sherman at some point. If the infantry squad you'd like to assault with doesn't have them, you're going to need to pass a morale test at a monstrous -3 penalty; and those are not my kind of odds. It's important to note, however, that anti-tank grenades are not the only weapon that help ignore this -3 penalty. There's a list of other weapon systems on page 91 that also count as tank hunters. It's also important to note that assaulting with the weapons they list, like a PIAT, instead of simply firing it, is probably a terrible idea, so the list doesn't matter much to us.

Variable Number Three: Remember back in variable number one, when we talked about lucking your way into pulling the first order die at the start of a turn, in order to pull off an assault on a tank? Well, that situation is going to allow them to fire defensively at your boys as the approach. If you play Germans, or maybe Japanese, I'm certain you know what it's like when a Sherman fires all of its weapon systems at an infantry squad within twelve inches.

Variable Number Four: Congratulations, big shot! You managed to get within arm's reach of that steel beast. If I'm lucky - or perhaps in your case possess a brilliant military mind - the tank hasn't advanced. If so, each of your soldiers will get a chance to roll a 4+ to hit the thing. If it advanced, we're going to need 6s. BARbarians, let's not assault advancing tanks. In this example, we've decided to assault one of the most prevalent vehicles in the game, a Sherman. It's got a damage value of 9+, so we count up all of our successful 4+ die rolls, then roll another D6 and add that number to it, hoping to equal or beat that 9+ damage value.

I'm incapable of presenting a convincing argument using the arcane, magical arts known as math. Luckily for me, the people that would be convinced by such an argument can do the mathmagic themselves. Let's just say that if you assault with the "average" size squad, you're coming with seven dice. Three or four of those should hit. To meet or beat that 9+, you'll then need to roll a five or six on that last D6 to do something to the tank.

Did I mention that it's going to be superficial damage if your unit doesn't have anti-tank weaponry?

Much like any other nerdy argument, there are plenty of opportunities to drop a, "Well, actually -" on me. If it's a soft-skinned vehicle, or open-topped like the vehicle above, it's a great idea to assault if you feel good about your chances to succeed in the first three of my loosely organized and barely cohesive variable categories. Softies and open stuff die if you succeed in beating their damage value six or seven, so I'd consider even assaulting an advancing open-topped vehicle.

Otherwise, I'm not so sure that it's practical. I don't need to make the argument that a bigger squad is better in any assault, under any condition. Are you willing to break away from what you've done before in order to get a ten-man squad together with anti-tank grenades? Are you willing to do it with a unit that's capable of getting to wherever you need it to be, in order to assault? (I'm looking at you, gigantic inexperienced squad that dies if a player two tables away sets his drink down too hard.)

In exploring all this tank assaulting obscurity, I stumbled upon something I did not know. Yes, eighteen months after first starting to talk and play Bolt Action on a daily basis, I'm still running into new things. I know I'm not alone here! Sure, there's got to be some Bolt Action Rainmen out there that have memorized every page of rules. For me, and I suspect you, I need to see it in action on the table before I learn it.

So, like the picture above shows, you could potentially have a bit of control over whether or not your opponent's tank is able to move. You see, while infantry assaulting tanks is definitely not an every game occurrence, tanks assaulting tanks is impossibly rare. I knew it was a possibility, but one significant sentence had escaped me all this time.

If you assault a tank - and mind you only tanks can assault vehicles, for specifics check the latest FAQ and page 89 of the rules - both tanks, if they survive, are given down orders at the end of the assault. Remember earlier when we discussed the maddening variable or whether or not the tank you wish to assault is even assault-able? Even launching a tank assault, whether your own tank survives or not, will force the opponent's tank down.

Admittedly, it's no guarantee. While tanks can smash into soft skins, and even armored cars, without much luck needed, you'll need to take a morale test at -3 to convince your tank commander to wedge his Panzer II between the wheels of that IS-2, but it's possible! That's something I didn't know about Bolt Action.

At this point, I didn't get to as much as I originally set out to do in this article. There's a lot to be said about assaults and tanks! That's alright - let's continue the discussion on the forum. What little nuggets of second and third level knowledge can you share?

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