In the nearly two years since Bolt Action first hit the table, I've gone from one extreme to another, and I'm positive that I'm not the only one. If you're new to Bolt Action, and would like a glimpse of one possible, fast-approaching, future; or have been playing for a while and find your taste in unit selection evolving, this article is for you.
Like many readers of this page, I started playing Bolt Action before there were any nation-specific army books. The salad days! With only a main rule book, and my gaming experience, to guide me, I was drawn to certain units.
None of us have many painted models when we start out, so we're naturally draw to veteran soldiers in order to reach the thousand point standard as soon as possible. Additionally, many of us have a desire to kit our infantry units out - light machine guns, Browning automatic rifles, assault weapons - simply because it's what drew us to the hobby. We love our cool toys!
Some of us took another step, and applied what gaming experience we felt we had from previous game systems to Bolt Action. For me, and many others, things quickly jumped out of the rulebook. Certain weapons seemed to compare favorably to others, and flamethrowers seemed incredible.
With those initial observations, and some limited testing, I went to my first tournament with some veteran infantry and a tank mounting a vehicle flamethrower. It was a small list, like what others brought, but the vehicle flamethrower proved unsurprisingly successful. Any unit that does not need to roll a die in order to hit, in a game full of units that must successfully roll a die before being able to hit, is obviously outstanding. This, as well as the success others were mentioning regarding their own vehicle flamethrowers, made me take the logical next step: If one flamethrower was good, more flamethrowers would be better!
Not long after that little revelation, HE weapons that inflict 2D6 or more hits on their victims began to be mentioned. These high explosive weapons are not as amazing at guaranteeing enemy destruction as flamethrowers, however the constraints of list construction rules meant that you couldn't take only flamethrowers. Something else had to be included in a list! The next best thing seemed to be low cost, high explosive weapons. Medium howitzers from every nation became a staple. Many people even brought heavy howitzers to the table.
I was no different. By my second event, my list included nothing but veteran infantry, flamethrowers, and two medium howitzers. It was pretty brutal, yet the pattern had become clear. This might have been the simplest path to destroying opposing units - a list where almost every unit is capable of removing an opposing unit in one shot - its success implied a possible future for Bolt Action that did not interest me. Spank units had come into their own. They no longer surprised anyone, because at that point, nearly everyone had played against medium howitzers or vehicle flamethrowers. Spank was about to potentially overwhelm the scene.
It was, by no means, some great leap to imagine a game where every player was bringing nothing but flamethrowers and high explosive weapons to every tournament, and these were the very lists that I was bringing to the table. While I supported their ability to make that choice, no one ultimately enjoys a tabletop war game where there is one "right" way to play; and if things continued the way they were headed, this was a real possibility.
To make as obscure a nerdy reference as possible, I'd like to quote the character Rorschach from Watchmen.
"I heard a joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, "Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says, "But doctor... I am Pagliacci." Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains."
I realized then that I wanted to force myself to ignore these obvious choices in my list construction, in the hopes that I'd find some other unit or method that was able to remove opposing units as readily as the spank units previously mentioned. Most of the people I enjoyed playing with were not concerned with maximizing the efficiency in which they removed opposing units. They wanted to have fun, and I did too. Flames and HE everywhere did not seem like a fun possible future to me. Around that time is when I decided that I'd go out of my way to avoid any and all spank units.
I promptly dove into making lists that consisted of nothing but inexperienced riflemen and support units that no one else was taking, like anti-tank guns, and lots of them. In hindsight, this didn't turn out too terribly. Games were still very enjoyable, yet I discovered after a few months in the spank unit desert that Bolt Action was designed to include units that can make other units disappear in one order activation. I had simply taken to firm of a stance, turning Bolt Action into some sort of game of absolutes. My mindset at the time put certain units into certain absolute groups. Some things were "good" to include and some things were "bad".
As any of Rorschach's lycra-wearing buddies would have told me, this extreme black versus white standpoint was ridiculous. Bolt Action's just not made to be played with nothing but machine guns and rifles. World War Two was a big war, and trying to compartmentalize simply wasn't going to work.
All this brings us to the latest stage in my crazy Bolt Action trip; or in other words, how I learned to stop worrying and love the spank. I've come to terms with all the craziness that Bolt Action brings with it. Fifty point mortars can (and should) periodically ruin your plans! A flame thrower, here and there, should be something to worry about and address appropriately in your battle plan! That is absolutely not to say that everyone should take spank, spank, and more spank units. No, that should never be the focus.
Instead, I salute my past and present opponents, as well as the efforts of all the Bolt Action players around the world, for their tireless work in simply bringing what they think is cool. This game is a blast, and one of the reasons is because even with my most spank-deficient list, I had some success; but more importantly had a blast. The composition doesn't really matter! The important and most significant reason why Bolt works is because the community is a fantastic group of, not only players, but people you'd like to hang out with away from the gaming table.
Take it from me, BARbarians; avoid looking at Bolt Action in simplistic terms of black and white. It's an amazing game, when you let it be one. Stop worrying and love the spank.
As well as the completely terrible, useless, points-wasted - yet incredibly fun and cool units of Bolt Action.