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Monday, January 20, 2014

Bolt Action - After FTX Review: Tank Riders and Fanatics

Friday night, Nemesis A and I took a trip down to Technoir to demonstrate some Bolt Action and kick up some interest in that neck of the woods.

The half a dozen new guys involved had a good time, but selfishly, I'm more interested in talking about the way the forces played that we were running - Soviets and Japanese. (They're going to start an escalation league for Bolt Action and everyone's excited, more on that at a later date.)

Less interesting are the Soviets. I've been enjoying my games with a tank rider focused force. It's nothing to write home about, necessarily, but a little quirky and could possibly take an opponent by surprise.

Notice the smoke billowing from the turret of that Soviet tank above? You tend to see a lot of that if you're focusing on tank riders in a 1000 point setting. In my opinion, you're not really focused on something if you only take one of it, and we all know how hard it can be to fit several tanks into one list. That generally means the tanks you bring for tank riders to use are on the fragile side, at best. After five or six games, I'm realizing how big the difference is between a light and medium tank - enough already with the medium howitzer and heavy mortar kills! Cut a guy some slack!

Getting back to those quirks I'd mentioned earlier, the main strength of the tank riders is the extra threat range that tank rider ability gives infantry. Most players will be used to the standard threat areas infantry project. Normal riflemen move around the table with a thirty inch bubble around them. If you want to avoid their fire, you think ahead to where they could advance to on their next order, and you envision the twenty four inches of potential fire they could produce from that position, then stay away from the area you've noted. Tank riders work differently.

Since they're armed with SMGs, opponents will tend to picture an eighteen inch threat bubbled around them. You might be able to catch them off guard, knowing this, since tanks serve as conveyor belts. In order to explain, please picture a squad of tank riders eleven inches to the left of a tank. A normal SMG unit would be perceived, by your opponent, as only being able to affect an area that projects eighteen inches in any direction. The above mentioned tank riders, however, could run to board the tank and the end of a turn, then advance from the tank at the start of the turn, increasing their threat bubble by the size of the tank. Tanks can, of course, advance before their passengers advance off of them, and this potentially messes with your opponent's idea of what the battlefield will look like after any given action. Even when tank riders are forced to disembark from the tank by fire, their controller gets to decide in which direction to move them up to six inches. When multiple tanks, and therefore multiple potential transports, are in the same area, this problem only becomes worse for an opponent; as the more options for embarking and disembarking you add, the less possible it comes to avoid the projected threat each squad emits.

This leads to a drawback, however. These tanks and riders squads are relatively expensive. Tanks tend to be destroyed rapidly after a successful hit - anything but a guarantee, mind you, but the elimination of a tank usually happens quickly and without opportunity to correct - and the way I've been playing tank riders (assaulting) generally means my squads are eliminated without much warning as well. The battle can seem to be going your way, when all of the sudden a heavy mortar shell lands atop a tank, destroying it; and an assault you "should have" won doesn't pan out, costing you an expensive squad of riders. It's completely flipped on you, and you're the one reeling. Live by the assault, die by the assault, I guess.

Speaking of assaulting, it's high time I mentioned the really interesting soldiers here, but before I do, I'd like to invite everyone to listen to Eisode 19 of The Speakeasy. It's a very in-depth look at our initial feelings after playing around with troops from the Far East, and it's received rave reviews.

The IJA are the sort of force you can talk about for a long time. Trust me, I've been testing that theory for the last three or four weeks. As you can see, I'm still going! It's very easy in Bolt Action to know that a certain nation has a certain ability or distinction, but it is another thing altogether to understand what that really means.

Everyone knows the Japanese infantry and artillery units get the Fanatics rule for free, and Banzai allows them to charge the nearest enemy without passing a test; but no one really understands what that means until they've played with or against an IJA force. (Might I suggest doing both? There's nothing quite like controlling a list to help you figure out ways to dismantle it.) Those two rules make any infantry a force to be reckoned with, regardless of rating.

What happens is, you'll fire away at approaching IJA units, thinking initially that you're making hay, but quickly realizing that the pins don't matter for units with Banzai. You'd like to think that your shooting is doing enough to the approaching enemy to stop him, but at this point in the game, we all know that seven or eight rifle shots aren't killing a lot of infantrymen. Somewhere around the time you get the fifth or sixth pin on one squad, noting that there are several unpinned squads, it will occur to you that the unit won't have to take a test when you finally manage to kill enough troops to normally cause one.

There are three possible negatives that can result from firing at units in Bolt Action. They can take a pin and subsequently fail an order test. They can take enough casualties that they need to take a morale test. They can take enough casualties that every man in the unit is destroyed. Only one of those three conditions affect the Japanese.

Let's get back to the tabletop. That squad you put so many pins on and managed to reduce to half strength - if it started at twelve men there are six left. Those six charge you, but you've got six or seven of your own, so at first you're not concerned. You'd be wrong. Catastrophic die rolling results aside, the IJA player is going to put a hurting on that unit, because Fanatics means the soldiers aren't quitting the field until you've killed them all.

They just keep coming, and you can never kill enough of them. The obvious response people give when first wading into the IJA discussion is, "use flamethrowers". While this might be a perfectly reasonable response, it's a perfectly ridiculous answer that highlights a problem. What unit are flamethrowers bad at killing? What's the rock to their scissors? Flamethrowers are great at killing everything in the game, and the natural extension of that train of thought is not a place I plan on venturing any time in the future, lest we convince everyone that this is the game they should have called Flames of War.

I'd love to hear war stories you've got involving the IJA, or any other nation or unit you think is brutal. I'm currently setting IJA and US troops as the bar by which all other infantry is measured. What about you? Tell us about it on the forum.

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