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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bolt Action - Tanks in the New Pin Environment

By now most of you have seen Warlord's latest FAQ and heard the buzz created by the new vehicle pinning mechanics it has added to the rules.  If by chance you haven't heard, veteran enclosed armoured vehicles now only suffer pins from heavy weapons that can at least cause superficial damage to them, and regulars have a 50% chance of ignoring the same weak hits, each time they are shot.

This at first seems like a massive game changer, and there are some winners and losers, but I don't think this will break the game or move it away from it's infantry centric roots.  To lay out exactly what weapons can damage which vehicles, I've prepared the following matrix.  Now, undoubtedly the big loser are HMGs.  Whether or not this is a great re-balancing to bring them into line with reality, HMGs are no longer the best point for point option for dealing with vehicles.  

This matrix only has Anti-tank Guns suffering -1 to penetrate at long range as this is how the rules are currently written (Page 86 of the Bolt Action rulebook specifies that Anti-tank Guns suffer the penalty, but all 'weapons' gain the bonuses for side, top or rear armour.)  Mortars are always against a target's top armour as they always fire indirect, while Howitzers have a direct firing value and an indirect firing value.  Obviously some vehicles are exceptions to this chart; like those with 'Weak Sides', Schurzen, 'Armoured All Round' and so on.  The following opinions are all based on changes in how you take pins, because nothing much has changed in regards to how easily these heavy weapons will actually kill your vehicle dead.

Looking at the graph, you can see that enclosed Armoured Carriers and Light Tanks haven't really changed.  The only change is that a Veteran Light Tank can't be pinned by a Heavy Machine Gun from the front.  On the other end of the scale, Veteran Super Heavy Tanks now only take pins in the front armour from Medium AT Guns at close range, Heavy/Super Heavy AT Guns at any range, Indirect Firing Heavy Howitzers, Ground-attack Aircraft and the various types of personal anti-tank weapons (PIATs, Bazookas, 'Schreks & 'Fausts). (Maybe this change has affected the man-packed AT weapons like Bazookas, relatively speaking?) - J

So it looks like Heavy and Super Heavy Tanks got a massive boost in effectiveness right?  While true, the problem is to guarantee this protection against pins, you have to pay for them to be Veterans, which for the big boys can be quite costly.  A Tiger costs an extra 79 points to upgrade from Regular to Veteran, an IS-2 costs an extra 64 points to upgrade, and a Crocodile costs a whopping 97 points to upgrade to a Veteran.  The lighter vehicles, like your Medium Tank, are a lot more cost effective at upgrading to Veteran status, but it's only affording you pin protection from Light Mortars, direct firing Light Howitzers, HMGs, Light Autocannons, Infantry Flamethrowers and Anti-tank Rifles, and most of these can still pin you if they manage a side hit.

"I told Hans, sere was nosing to vorry about." (Stand-Up-Slow-Clap for that accent work, Anf.) - J

The US is also seen as a big winner because they also get the benefit of Gyro-Stabilisers for their Veteran tanks and this is true, but they are probably also the most hurt by the HMG getting relegated back to killing soft skins and infantry, as they were well known for stapling HMGs onto any flat surface.

Flamethrowers are affected by these changes as well, and while still able to kill vehicles with the forced morale check from a hit, it's harder to stack the pins on a big target with a slew of smaller heavy weapons to make the check almost impossible. 

In my opinion, the vehicles to gain the most from this are the heavy vehicles with big infantry killing guns.  Either Medium or Heavy Howitzers or dual-purpose guns like the one the IS-2 has.  Heavy tanks with big Anti-Tank Guns might get tougher, but they still can't kill their points' worth in infantry, more so if your paying to make them Veterans, and Bolt Action is still an infantry game.  Tanks can't hold objects in the book missions (not counting Demolition), so if you can't kill the enemy's infantry to stop him winning, having your big tank survive doesn't really mean that much.

"Da, dis was where we hit dem with the ZIS-3."
Schurzen on a Veteran Medium Tank now makes it immune to Anti-tank Rifles from all directions except the rear, both pin-wise and damage wise, and I think could be worth the 10 points if you have them spare and expect to face the odd Soviet.  Armoured All Round has become a better special rule in principle, except that it usually only appears on fairly lightly armoured vehicles.  A French R35 can be 8+ armour from all sides, but this is only providing pin protection from HMGs.  Likewise, the Char 1B is 9+ all round and provides it with protection from a few of the smaller scale heavy weapons.

A few people feel that these new rules are over complicated and others wish Warlord would have held off for version 2.0 of the rules before adding it in, but to be honest, I love them.  I feel after a few games, adding up the penetration values to work out if you can pin or not won't slow the average player down much and I think it really brings armoured vehicles into balance.  No longer will a couple of HMG Jeeps chuckle away as they pin out a fearsome Tiger tank, who were well known at locking down entire sectors with the fear they installed in the enemy.  Bolt Action is also still young, and a 2nd edition of the rules is probably at least another year or two off at best.  I'd rather Alessio and the Warlord crew continue to listen to their player base and make a great game even better.  A big two thumbs up from this little Aussie.

If you think I've missed something or want to add your own thoughts, join the discussion over on the forum.

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