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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bolt Action - Bolt Action for Beginners

(DavidOfOz from The Demo Gamers generously provides this article on the art of the demonstration game. - Judson)

Back in January 2013 my sons and I discovered Bolt Action at the Cancon games convention held in Canberra, Australia. As we began to play I was reminded of the first time I played a wargame back when I was 12 years old. It was at a games day held by a local club and I was able to not only look, but actually play a game. I still remember telling my Mum and Dad that I had killed a tank and asked if I could go again. Bolt Action is the kind of game that can achieve the same after action reports that can interest non gamers.

That began a 12 month process to build up our models and figures, scenery and gamecraft to allow us to put on the best Public Participation game we could. In my experience, the best public participation games would:

  • allow beginners to play fully and not just piece-meal,
  • have a simple enough rule set so the new player can make good choices quickly,
  • have good player's aids to improve the game experience,
  • have plenty of assistants to explain the game to players and others to catch onlookers,
  • display plenty of “eye candy” to attract non-players and enhance the in-game experience, and
  • provide a fun experience for players, spectators and organisers.

It was a pretty tall order, but I have had quite a bit of experience over the years. Luckily I wasn't trying to do this all myself, as I had my two sons (15 and 17 years old) assisting directly and my wife and eldest daughter also assisting too by making buildings, sourcing materials and sewing dice bags.

The additional gaming accessories included periscopes, turn counters, army helmets and hats, orders of battle from which included each unit’s stats so I didn’t need to print out unit cards, the rules and index, name stickers and badges, signs and business cards. Many of these I created and put up the designs and instructions on our blog so everyone else could do the same if they wished.

As we neared the big day, I suddenly realised I had to somehow transport all this gear to Canberra which was a 90 minute drive from home. Luckily I was able to utilise the “Brains Trust” on the WWPD Bolt Action forum where the idea of using the cardboard archive boxes was raised. Thank you guys!

We set up the night before so we could start first thing in the morning. Our positioning couldn’t have been better – directly opposite the traders’ area, near the canteen and beside the main corridor between both large halls. Everyone went past many times over the weekend.

The first day we had a game centered around the Grand Stone Hotel complex which proved to be quite a whirlpool of destruction, but very enjoyable to play. The other board had our winter Battle for the Beer Factory. Both boards were busy all day, and at the end of day one, we packed them both up and set up the next day's boards.

Our “eye candy” proved to be a hit with many spectators and players enjoying the little touches on the board which raised a smile and added another good memory of the day.

The next day’s boards were the highlight of our weekend – the Battle for Pegasus Bridge on a 6 x 8 foot board. The scenario we designed had three parts for the storming of the bridge, the taking of the other side and the holding the town until relieved.

The other board was a small town with our lovely large church. This way we were able to have people playing all day again on different boards depending on timing.

This is only a summary of the weekend and not a detailed after action report of each game. Why? For us, this convention was to achieve the larger picture - the battle for new players to enjoy wargaming. By the end of the three days, other than hoarse voices, we had at least 25 people who played at least one game. That means at least 25 new people played at least 2 hours of Bolt Action. In addition, we had many people enjoying the spectacle for varying amounts of time. The sponsors were happy as they sold quite a few starter sets.

The greatest victory for us was the eyes of the new players. You could see the excitement as they shared their gaming adventures with their mums and dads. While my boys hosted each game very well, I was chatting with the parents and other spectators encouraging them to give wargaming a go. It is better than a computer game. As my son now repeats, “A computer game may cost $80 and last two weeks, but figures and models you make now can last 30 years. Look at Dad’s!”

I have more detailed reviews and all the resources at our web site

(David's also known for his tributes to old comics. Check this little gem he made from Cancon gaming events out. - J)

(Thanks a lot for that, David! Have any demo gaming advice? Let us know on the forum! - J)

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