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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bolt Action - The Infantry Issue Revisited

There's a dilemma facing me every time I open Gregg's awesome list making utility. No, it's not, "how much money should I donate for this beautiful collection of code goodness."

No, sir. The question is always, "why not veteran infantry?"

This is a topic we've spent time on in podcasts and articles, yet it never fails to crop up in shop talk sessions - the veteran dilemma. Let's run through the options. That's where the dilemma lies, after all. It's much easier to start with the front runners in my opinion, than try to explain the merits of the lesser options. Taking veterans is the easiest - in a sense default - choice for so many reasons.

Let's get the easy reason to play veteran infantry out of the way first. Whether you're a hack painter like yours truly, or a true artist like so many of you BARbarians out there, painting is hobby time spent painting, not gaming! If your goal is to paint stunning works of art over miniature men and machines, this doesn't apply to you. If your goal is to paint armies to wage war against opponents on a tabletop, regardless of quality level, you want to finish the job. No infantry forces paint quicker than veteran infantry forces.

Bolt Action is all about the execution of player-issued orders, and almost no units do this better than veteran infantry. Everybody that's listened to a podcast before knows that needing a ten or less on two six-sided dice is one hundred percent "bettah" than needing a nine or less. In a game where your pinned units won't help you achieve your objectives without first passing an order test, every bit of help counts. This sets vets ahead of the rest of the pack.

What else separates the veterans from the rest of the pack? Their toughness does! Before modifiers, vets only fall on a die result of a five or six. This seems like a small difference, this not-quite-seventeen percent advantage veterans have over regulars, yet there are so many dice chucked during the course of a Bolt Action game, these results really add up. It's easy to start and stop thinking about this strength with incoming enemy fire, but in close combat against other infantry, the power of having stubble on your troops' experienced chins really shines.

Let's say something does happen to those hard-charging veterans. If their numbers drop below half strength, they are better than any other type at surviving the morale test they need to take to stay on the table. This is just another reason why the infantry decision starts with veterans as the obvious choice, and compelling reasons need to be discovered to choose regular or inexperienced over them.

With that strong lobbying for vets aside, there is, of course, one compelling reason to take regulars and inexperienced troops. Obviously, the reason is that these guys with less stubble on their chins cost less than veterans; but you need to ask yourself exactly how much less they cost. There are many, many possible variations in the numbers here, but let's use a squad size of seven men for ease of argument.

  • 91 points for Veterans
  • 70 points for Regulars
  • 49 points for Inexperienced

The difference seems stark at first, but for most nations you need to factor in equipment upgrades. These cost the same, regardless of the troops' experience level. This means that, in a way, every point you spend on equipment for your regular squads would be better spent on veteran squads. When you factor in the penalty inexperienced units suffer, the deal becomes much worse.

Equipment aside, there are still points to be saved. A twenty-one point difference over four units of infantry give you eighty-four points to play around with, after all! I'd ask you, though, what exactly you're buying with those eighty-four points? Another infantry squad? They are, for me at least, the starting point of most of my lists. An extra squad seems like a great idea, too, except you'll find yourself in the position you were in initially: Why not veteran infantry? 

Will the extra squad you've purchased execute the orders you've issued under heavy fire? That is, of course, assuming they survive the fire they received as well as a veteran squad would have. Will these eight regular soldiers survive a close combat against seven veteran bad boys? When that regular squad is hit with a Spank unit, losing half its members, will it pass the morale test to stay the field?

I suppose it could all come down to a matter of taste. I recently put a list with only large, inexperienced infantry squads on the table with some success. However, I found myself wondering how much better the list would have been, had those eighty-four point inexperienced squads been instead eighty-four points worth of veterans.

Everyone has an opinion in the veterans versus regulars versus inexperienced debate - what's yours? Tell us on the forum.

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