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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bolt Action - Me and My Sd.Kfz. 251

There's been a relaxed vibe in the Bolt Action community I participate in essentially from day one. Even when we thought we were bringing hard lists, we knew there was always another step towards the brink we could push it. I thankfully still haven't played against the mythical unicorn-like four vehicle flame thrower list, nor the let's-see-how-many-air-observers-I-can-bring list, nor any other of the bed time story monster lists our mothers used to tell us so that we'd behave ourselves during future games of Bolt Action.

My panzergrenadier force assaults the outskirts of some bombed-out European town - go ahead and tell me it never happened!

Wait - that never happened to you? Odd. Regardless, Sd.Kfz. 251 have been happening on my game tables recently, and I've been digging it!

These demonic lists haven't reared their firey, explodey heads around any table I game on; and I tend to believe they've avoided your tables as well, even in the MarkDawgiest covens of gaming in the world. Rather than escalate to that level of madness, I've played for the last few months with an eye towards avoiding those sorts of lists. Rather than encourage people to bring harder and harder toys to the table, the plan is to bring the level down a notch. I'm actually late to the party, as many of you have been doing this since day one - hat's off to you! As a newcomer to the de-escalation scene, I've got to say, it's been an entertaining ride so far!

Of course, one looking for a reason to be offended could be offended by such a goal. "Bring your A-game, bro! I don't want to play against someone wearing their kid gloves!" It's not like that, though! Believe it or not, and I hope to explain it better throughout the list discussion, there is nothing intentionally soft about this list. No unit sits in this list with the goal of making it perform poorly. On the contrary, units previously perceived as poor are included in the list just so I might make it work; and let's face it - being the guy that used the "terrible" unit to great effect is attractive to many of us gamers, if not all.

My list, moving into the undefended city of *insert historical event name here*.
Like every other list in Bolt Action, this one starts with a command unit, but the word "start" might be a bit misleading. I generally wait until the end to fill out my command unit, since it's compulsory, I only spend extra points on it if the extra leadership or firepower is needed in the unit. Since most of the key components will be veteran, choosing a regular second lieutenant for points could almost be considered throw-away - almost!

In this list, I knew that I was going to be purchasing a Sd.Kfz. 251 in order to transport some infantry around the table, but those looking to maximize the effect those eighty-nine points you spend on a Hanomag deliver know that the MMG it comes with cannot be operated without at least one transported man aboard. Enter: The Mandatory Lieutenant! Since I had to spend the fifty points on him regardless, I decided he would be the designated driver of the transport halftrack. What makes him an excellent designated driver, teetotalling ways aside, is the fact that he provides a +1 boost to the halftrack and units wishing to exit it. He's kicking them out when they get to their stop - something you almost always need with a halftrack if it starts on the table for all the fire and pin markers it draws.

For those keeping score at home, these pictures are actually short two riflemen - but where?

Aboard the transport halftrack could be one of three different task-made infantry squads. All of these squads are made up of seven veterans. One unit consists of seven rifles and four panzerfausts and the goal of this unit will be to probably come on from Reserve or a flank to destroy one scary Spank vehicle my opponent possesses. Another unit consists of six SMG and one rifle armed men with only one panzerfaust, and the unit is fanatical. The task for this unit would be to get to the opponent's dangerous infantry and eviscerate it. The final squad that might take a ride in the halftrack is a middle point between the two extremes with four SMGs, three rifles, and two panzerfausts. All three squads will be my primary objective movers, whether aboard the transport or not. Unfortunately for people who like to field expensive toys, however, these are expensive infantry units destined to take fire when aboard a halftrack - all the fire, to be precise.

Rather than despair this and give up on the idea, I'm going to try and keep it in mind as I select, and then control on the table top, the rest of my force. Assuming all goes well, I can get these jokers into a position to either advance out and unleash a salvo of panzerfausts at a tank or advance out with small arms blazing into position to assault infantry in the following turn. At this point, I don't think it surprises people I enjoy a good assault in Bolt Action. That's why I'm paying for fanatics, an oft-maligned "waste of points" for German units. Sub machine guns may also seem ill-advised compared to assault rifles, but I've found that if close combat is the goal I keep in mind during deployment and the first turn, the points saved purchasing SMGs rather than assault rifles add up. Remember, for as cool as they are, three assault rifles will buy you five sub machine guns!

Part of me says driving these open-topped vehicles down the main street of town is a bad idea, but part of me says it will look awesome. Looking awesome wins again.

Earlier mention was made of my obligation, as a guy writing a list where a Hanomag is going to transport an expensive infantry unit and therefore represent a great liability, to give my opponent other things to shoot at as well as the 251. Not only have I seen the following scenario played out on the table top on several occasions, but I've made the same mistake myself before: You throw an expensive unit or three into a halftrack and plow it towards the enemy as fast as possible, figuring it's in an armored carrier and therefore safe. At this point, most of you know this is horribly incorrect. Just ask the troops aboard that halftrack you sent blitzing forward. It was horrible for them, wasn't it?

This is where another unit in the force comes into play. The Germans threw any and every thing they could into and on top of Sd.Kfz. 251 vehicles, and in Bolt Action one of my favorite variants is the 251/9. That said, it's time for a bit of a confessional. I don't like the rules for the 251/9 at all - it makes you pay for transport capacity which is actually a drawback since the weapons need troops aboard to fire - but I really like the rules for the 250/1! I pay for a 250/1 and therefore use its rules, but put a 251/1 model on the table. If you're confused, welcome to the wonders of listing with German vehicle variants! For my opponent's sanity, during game play the two halftracks I field are only referred to as the Hanomag for the transport and the Stummel for the weapons platform. The Stummel I use mounts a forward facing MMG and a light howitzer, requires no troops aboard to fire, costs one hundred fifteen points, and really contributes to the overall "panzergrenadier" vibe I'm going for in the list.

Removable, "strung" panzerfausts. The lazy man's answer to having models to represent those that already fired their one-shot weapons.

The Stummel seems to be a decent buy to me when I compare it to what else is available to the Germans at one hundred fifteen points. A light howitzer and MMG aren't exactly going to bring down the Spank, but that's only one machine gun away from the pain a Sherman can bring to an infantry squad. One hundred points generally only buys you a turret with a light auto cannon and co-axial MMG in the German arsenal. Certainly, the Stummel suffers from the serious drawback that it is open-topped, but it provides another target for the opponent to ponder throwing lead at with the Hanomag also on the table.

Overall this is a twelve order die list, so the first half on in missions where vehicles are allowed is the Hanomag with its DD the LT, one infantry squad plus the Stummel, making four units. The last two slots will depend completely on the scenario and content of my opponent's list, sort of like which squad will be aboard the Hanomag. The final six units of the list consist of a regular sniper who's only role is to attempt to remove opposing forward observers before they launch their attacks; a regular MMG-sporting motorbike - in my opinion the game's ultimate reserve unit; two veteran six-man squads with one LMG each; one regular MMG; and a medic.

Panzergrenadier: Can they compete?

Let's not just gloss over the end of the list, though. Three units will probably stick out like sore LMG-loading thumbs to anyone that has paid any attention to the things I've said over the past two years. You're not hallucinating, I'm sincerely taking two six-man squads with an LMG each and an MMG. These three units will almost always be in reserve, depending of course on opposing list composition and scenario. They all have a bit of a range boost, the idea being to bring them on to support the point of attack wherever it is. You can only hit so many units within firing range if they all have SMGs, so hopefully the MMG and LMGs will allow me to advance or fire at one or two infantry units with all six shooters, not counting the vehicles. The sniper can also join in to help with this once all observers are gone. Finally, all these machine guns fulfill that neckbeardy itch I've got - I just have to have panzergrenadiers toting MGs.

I'd like to say there was a big secret plan behind the medic, but there's not. I had thirty points, needed another order to get to twelve, and didn't want an anti-tank rifle to interrupt my late war panzergrenadier feel. It'll either be thrown into the vehicle in order to hop out in support, or will stay near whatever squads get the unenviable task of defending; which is just another way of saying "taking fire for six turns".

It's probably clear that the Stummel will try to cause some Sd.Kfz. 251 havoc, but what about the Hanomag? Well, I will try to force myself to start with it on the table. The only advantage the Hanomag has is one extra damage value over a truck, so I figure I need to use it immediately, in situations where the truck would be unacceptable. Hopefully, if it is truly only ever destined to draw fire, my nine other units can take advantage of the bullet magnet nature of the Hanomag.

Have any success stories with your own unpopular units? Let us know about it on the forum.

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