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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bolt Action - Lightly-Armored Vehicles and High Explosives

Recently, in the US mid-Atlantic scene, there has been a noticeable shift towards favoring lighter vehicles on the table tops.

Why avoid heavier armor? What exactly is the draw for the lighter armored fighting vehicles compared to the heavies, or the soft-skinned transports versus their armored cousins? Why not take a Tiger tank?

The debate over whether it's worth it to purchase up-armored vehicles or not can (and hopefully will on the forum) be debated at great length. This article intends to illicit a reaction, and not simply offer up to the reader an impartial catalog of the strengths and weaknesses of light, medium, and heavy equipment in Bolt Action - so come at me, brah!

Without spending too much time needlessly explaining the points differences between an SdKfz 222 scout car and a Tiger II tank, let's establish that lighter vehicles see more play in standard one thousand point games of Bolt Action than any heavily armored vehicles, and the easiest reason to point towards is the relatively low cost of the lighter stuff. You pay for advantages in Bolt Action, and a vehicle with a 10+ damage value costs a jaw-dropping amount more than an 8+ damage value AFV with the same mobility and weaponry.

By my observation, there are four categories to consider when estimating the value of an AFV. Damage value has already been mentioned, as well as mobility (wheeled; half-tracked; tracked), and weaponry. The final consideration is which slot it occupies in the platoon's selector. That is to say, there is a difference in points cost for a tank, which must be purchased in the tank slot, and an armored car with identical characteristics which must be purchased in the armored car slot.

All one has to do to realize this is note the points cost and four measurable categories of a Panzer I tank. Generally speaking, it's statistics place it squarely in the realm of armored cars, yet it's purchased in the tank slot. This seems to drive it's price down in comparison to other fully-enclosed, twin-MMG-mounting, 7+ damage value vehicles - presumably because it's purchased in the tank slot rather than the armored car.

Presumably, these exchange rates between categories would offer some enticement to the player to purchase units with statistical advantages over other units; but this presumption has not proven true in the Mid-Atlantic. Generally speaking, players have chosen lighter armor while avoiding anti-tank weaponry in favor of high explosive type; and the HE preference started the ball rolling.

Please consider the StuH 42 and the StuG III. Both vehicles offer identical characteristics in every category except weaponry. The StuH 42 carries a medium howitzer, versus the StuG III's heavy anti-tank gun, and the StuH 42 costs forty points less than the StuG III. Bolt Action, being a game where infantry squads are compulsive to every lists, provides an incentive for players to use weaponry that destroys infantry in the most efficient manner. The advantage a medium howitzer possesses over any anti-tank gun in infantry removal is immense.

This initial favoring of HE over AT led to another accidental advantage for the high explosive rounds in Bolt Action - pin markers. Generally speaking, medium howitzers and anti-tank guns will need the same dice results to hit units. Of course, in theory, a heavy anti-tank gun out-ranges a medium howitzer significantly; yet in practice, across a four foot standard table, the six inches extra within which the heavy AT enjoys a range advantage rarely plays an important role. Both weapons are generally looking for at least five or a six to hit: Beginning with a 3+, followed by a movement penalty and some sort of cover penalty. Certainly this is not always the case, but more often than not, it is in the early stages of the game, and thereafter armored units have received pin markers that will haunt their die rolls for the remainder of the game.

Both weapons need generally similar die rolls to hit, and at that point where they hit their targets, the differences amplify. The howitzers now put multiple pins on the target they've hit, while the anti-tank guns put but a single pin on their target. Often, a regular tank with four pins on it is barely better than a destroyed one, as far as the frustrated commander attempting to get it into the fight is concerned. The application of three or more pins with one shot is often considered a great victory for the howitzer, while the anti-tank weapon needs to roll to penetrate armor, then check to see if the vehicle is destroyed if the shot penetrated in the first place. All that said, the howitzer can still end up destroying a target vehicle outright if the dice fall favorably - after applying pins equivalent to several successful anti-tank shots that needed fives or sixes to hit.

This preference for HE over AT, given the advantages mentioned above, has helped lead to the second trend: A favorable view of light armor or heavy. Since heavy anti-tank weaponry has all but vanished from the tabletop in Bolt Action, and the HE that replaced it is not particularly good at punching through 8+ damage value (light tank), but excels equally at putting pin markers on light and super heavy tank alike, the Mid-Atlantic tables rarely feature heavy tanks. (Here's a thankful nod to MikePWithTheMasterPlan for bucking the trend.)

For better or worse, this idea has also expanded to armored transports versus unarmored transports. If units aboard an eighty-nine point half track receive the same amount of pins units aboard a thirty-nine point truck do, why purchase the half track? One obvious argument is that the half track "protects" the units from small arms, but the amount of pin markers a half track - and therefore its occupants - would receive for driving around within rifle range of the enemy would render them all but useless. It is often easier to argue that the former passengers of a destroyed truck, down afterwards so harder to hit, are better off receiving the D6 hits from the truck's destruction than a similar unit aboard a half track, forced to absorb pin after pin because the half track "protecting" them continues to draw fire. At least the flaming wreckage of a truck could potentially block line of sight to the infantry it had transported unsuccessfully. The soldiers aboard the half track become rifle-bullet magnets - the shots won't kill them, but the pins they receive will certainly knock them out of the game.

There should be a reason to take the up-gunned and up-armored vehicles in Bolt Action. Wouldn't logic dictate that if players are taking lightly-armored vehicles in lieu of heavies, that medium and even light anti-tank would see a resurgence? BARbarians! Tell the world what it's missing on the forum!


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