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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bolt Action - Review: Skirmish Campaigns – Normandy ’44 – First Hours

I’ve heard a few people talk about Skirmish Campaigns and their line of products in a positive light and it really caught my attention.  The concept is that Skirmish Campaigns researches historic battles and provides scenarios that can be played individually or as part of a campaign to recreate historic fight.  What game system?  It’s a generic system that was created to make easy to fit into many game systems, including Bolt Action.  It’s fairly easy to translate into Bolt Action and the owners of the company do play the game.  There is a downloadable document on their website that translates the rules into our game system.

(This Monday edition brings guest author heychadwick of forum fame to share his review of Skirmish Campaign scenarios. - J) 
This particular book is about the battles for Utah Beach and the parachute landings around them.  The book has 10 scenarios that make up three different campaigns: one based on the parachute portion; another on the beach invasion; and a third that incorporates both.  There is a second booklet that is a Part Two to this one that involves the fighting after the first few days.  It is one I hope to get, but I want to try this book first.  Now, I will state that I’ve purchased a few booklets, but I have not played any games with them yet.  A number of locals are gearing towards Historicon and want to try out their lists.  I’m quite keen to try the game out, though.  I do need to get a good church model to fit on the table for the couple of battles around St. Lo. 
What makes this format interesting for me is that these scenarios are based on real historic events.  What is provided is a brief history of the fight with a map on how your table should be set up.  The table size varies depending on the scope of that particular scenario.  The first is about a small skirmish with paratroopers being dropped in at night around the church at St. Lo and is only 2ft x 2 ft.  The larger battles involve full sized tables that are 4ft x 6ft or even 3ft x 7ft!  The size of the table fits the size of the game that you are playing.  What terrain and where is all detailed in 1ft sections making it easy to figure out how to place everything.  Height of buildings and placement of roads is all detailed making setup not a point of contention. 
Each scenario has the mission objectives, turn length, and any special rules for the scenario.  This includes where units come on the board from (and what turn); any special terrain like mines or bunkers; or special rules, such as Germans needing to roll a d6 to see what they can do for the first two turns after the parachute drop to reflect the surprise.  Each scenario has a specific objective and rules that make it a unique game.  Some are harder for one side or another, but they all look very balanced.

One of the best parts for me is that they include what forces should be used.  What type of units and how many of each is listed.  There is always the main force to be included, but then you roll a d20 to see what extra forces are available to you for this fight.  These can greatly differ and allows some good replay value.  There is also a system to allow a side that wins a previous game to modify the roll to get a unit he wants.  An example is from the Brecourt Manor scenario for the US side:

BASE FORCE                                                                    VARIABLE ATTACHMENTS
1 Parachute HQ                                                              1-8: Infantry Scout Team (squad w/ jeeps)
2 x Parachute Infantry Squads                                       9:  81mm Mortar
60mm Mortar Team                                                      10-17: Infantry Squad
2 x Sherman Tanks                                                        18: 57mm AT Gun
                                                                                       19-20: Parachute Bazooka Team
There are some complications and questions about how to build these units for Bolt Action.  I don’t think one should do a direct translation into the strict format of the official Bolt Action rules.  For example, some of the HQ squads consist of five members and the official rules only say you can have three.  I’d go ahead and let the squad have all members, but only allow the leadership bonus from the two officers in the unit.  In another place, though, a sniper and assistant are designated part of the HQ squad.  I would break those two snipers out into a separate squad. 
There is another instance about Ostruppen troops with a special rule that says the first time they take a casualty you roll on a d10 chart to see their skill level.  Each unit can turn into anything from Inexperienced Shirkers to Veterans.  There are some scenarios with just Ostruppen troops and to go with the straight translation from the Bolt Action book would seriously unbalance the scenario.  I would think it best to stick with the special rules within the mission.  While there are a few of these questions, I don’t think it would be too hard to hash it out with your opponent ahead of time.  I don’t think they will break the scenario one way or another. 
One thing that I will note is that you must have the forces listed in the book or you will have a hard time playing the scenario.  I have some of the Early War books, including some for Barbarossa.  A high number of tanks are required on both sides of that fight and I am not only having a hard time getting my own tank numbers up, but also in finding a Soviet player with sufficient tanks.  I find it important to know what types of units you might need for the campaign book and wished someone had listed out the resources somewhere before I had purchased the booklet.  That way I would know if I was close to being able to play or not.  So, below, I will list out the forces needed to play.  They are not all needed at the same time, but I will list the maximum number of figures for one scenario and the maximum number of support weapons that you could possibly need.  Note, that the variable units might increase the number of M4 Shermans you can use in a scenario if you happen to get that result.  I’m going to list the maximum number you might need based on the variable rolls.  Also, I don’t differentiate between branches of service.  US forces can be paratroopers or ground pounders.  Germans can be Fallschirmjaeger, Ostruppen, or standard Heer. 

4 Officers (all with SMGs)
26 w/ Rifles
9 w/ SMGs
3 w/ LMG’s and 3 loaders w/ rifles
2 x MMG’s
Light Mortar
Medium Mortar
Panzershrek team
2 Observers (with SMGs)
Sniper Team
Pak 38 AT Gun
2 x Pak 40 AT Gun
76mm Soviet AT Gun (captured)
4 Panzer 35R’s (captured French tanks)
2 trucks
4 LeFH 18 105mm Howitzers – but these are not actually fired in the game.  They are objectives.
5 Officers (half SMGs and half rifles)
35 w/ Rifles
5 w/ SMGs
3 w/ BARs
2 w/ LMG’s and 2 loaders w/ rifles
Sniper Team
3 x MMG’s
2 x Light Mortar
Medium Mortar
Bazooka Team
Flame thrower team
MMG Jeep
3 x Jeeps
57mm AT Gun
Half-track w/ AA
4 x M4 Shermans
3 x M8 Greyhounds

The scenarios are quite interesting and are listed below:
Night Escape: The scattering of 101st Airborne over St. Marie.  This is a small skirmish where the paratroopers scatter on the board and try to escape.
Uncle Red Beach:  US 8th Inf Regiment needs to take the beaches at German stronghold W5.
Easy Company: A scene from Band of Brothers with Lt Winters and his scant paratroopers attacking gun emplacements.
Easy Company: In a scene from Band of Brothers, Lt. Winters attempts to destroy the artillery guns firing on Utah Beach.
Off the Beach: 8th Inf tries to move inland through flooded swamps against prepared German positions.
Brecourt Manor: Paratroopers need to take this manor house fortified by Fallschirmjaeger with reinforcements from the beaches.
Attack on St. Marie:  8th Inf and paratroopers attack Fallschirmjaeger defending the town in the first scenario.
Howell Force: Ostruppen defend against landing gliders and 8th Infantry from the beaches.
Advance to Le Fiere: 505th Paratroopers skirmish with the 91st German Inf. Division in the bocage.
Le Fiere Counter-Attack: 508th Paratroopers rush to help a small force defending a town from German 91st Infantry attacks.
Tank Attack: 91st German Infantry Div. and the 100th Panzer Training Battalion attack remnants of the 505th, 507th, and 508th Paratroopers to capture a bridge.

Overall, I have to say that this booklet is quite the catch for $20!  I like the scenarios and find them pretty balanced.  With no worries about how to set up a table or what forces to use, it can avoid the (allegedly! - J) cut throat world of Tournament Bolt Action.  No vehicle flame throwers and just a bunch of grunts is almost like taking the game back to basics.  This doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun or challenging as the scenarios make it a tough fight.  Not picking your lists means you have to fight the good fight with the tools available to you.  The Germans can find it hard to even just slow down the American horde as it rushes off the beaches.  The tired paratroopers will even find a French R35 tank hard to handle with limited resources.  I will say that after I try out some of these scenarios, I will be looking to get the next booklet in this series. 
As a side note, it might be a challenge to field all the forces that are possible.  Not all the scenarios require the full might listed above, but that’s the maximum of each type that you might need for a scenario.  Be open to proxy troops on the board if you or your opponent don’t have all the listed forces.  I know that I will use my four Panzer 38t’s for the R35’s as I don’t know anyone with that many 28mm French tanks!  Also, if you roll a reinforced unit that you can’t field that type then just roll again.  If you have everything except that AA half-track, then pick from what you do have.

(Thank you, heychadwick! Any experience with this sort of thing? Let us know on the forum. - J)

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