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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bolt Action - Optimizing Big Tanks

Gather 'round boys and girls, as I divulge my ideas on how to get the most out of those beautiful big girls (queue the Queen! - J), the Heavy and Super-heavy armoured vehicle.  Heavy and Super-heavy tanks are quite rare in the standard (read non-Tank Wars) 1000 point game of Bolt Action because they usually take up 300+ points.  Such a whooping chunk of points can often leave you short on other useful tools and make your list less flexible, but there are things to consider to help you get the most out of these large investment units.

First let's look at the new pinning rules and the pros and cons of the experience level of your big tank.  With the latest FAQ changing how pins work against enclosed vehicles, you are required to be able to inflict at least superficial damage to cause a pin on a veteran vehicle.  Regular vehicles gain this benefit 50% of the time, so this means that a veteran Heavy or Super-heavy tank is actually quite impervious to a lot of heavy weapons.  Things like Anti-tank Rifles, HMGs and Autocannons are not only incapable of harming the vehicle, but also can't even pin it.  This can make a big tank quite a brute and allow you to throw it in amongst poorly-equipped enemies without fear and without having to make dreaded order tests.  Now, the downside is a veteran Heavy/Super-heavy is going to cost an extra 20%, usually making them go from expensive to crazy expensive.  For some tanks this just is not worth it, but for the right vehicle, going veteran might just make it go to Hulk (Hulk? - J) level of badassdom.

The biggest factor in how efficient that big tank is going to be, lies completely in it's weapon systems.  As Bolt Action is still an infantry based game, weapons that are great at killing infantry have an inherently greater value than those strictly for killing enemy armour.  Unless you are playing Tank Wars, you know your opponent is bringing at least 2 infantry squads.  They may or may not bring armour, so vehicle flamethrowers, howitzers and dual-purpose guns are the best choices.  If your big tank is going to be costing 300+ points, ideally it will need to kill or neutralize an equal points value of enemy units.  Sadly this makes vehicles like the Tiger who have an Anti-tank gun as their main armament not the best of choices.

One of my favourite tactics with the big tanks and one that is often overlooked is the tank assault.  Tank assaulting a heavily pinned enemy can be a good way of removing them from the table.  Artillery units (howitzers and anti-tank guns) are automatically destroyed if assaulted by a tank, even if their crew survives.  So if you really need that gun dead, why bother rolling to hit when you can crush them under your treads?  Heavy and Super-heavy tanks can also assault buildings which is an amazing way to remove a bunch of enemy units if your opponent forgets this and loads up a building.  Lastly you can tank assault other smaller vehicles.  I fondly remember my Tiger II driving over the top of a French Char B-1 and destroying it in one go at last year's Australian GT.

So lets look at some of the good choices.  For the Germans the StuG 33B is a great choice, as I'm sure you've all heard Old Man Morin discuss.  With a heavy howitzer it can liquidate infantry squads and even has a slim chance of being able to hurt even Super-heavy vehicles with indirect fire.  It is a Heavy tank itself, so has a 10+ damage value and is only 310 points for a regular.  It's only secondary weapons is a hull mounted MMG, so it can't engage too many enemy units each turn and it can't come as a Veteran but it's still a great choice.  German tanks like the Tiger I, Tiger II, Elephant and Jadgtiger are going to need good supporting units and a good general to get the most out of them as their main armaments are primarily for killing enemy tanks.  The Sturmtiger is like the StuG 33B on steroids.  It's 4d6 howitzer is kind of overkill and it costs a bucket load more points, but we can still dream of the day that Old Man Morin will actually roll his Sturmtiger out for battle.

The Brits have choices like the Churchill VII and Churchill VIII.  As the VII has a dual-purpose 75mm gun that does 1d6 HE and the VIII has a light howitzer. They each have their own positives and are on par.  Both are Super-heavies but also pushing 435 points for a regular.  The Churchill VI also has a 75mm gun but is only a Heavy tank and only 275 points for a regular.  It can also take a medium howitzer among other choices and can be a quite effective choice.

The Churchill AVRE is a decent choice, coming in at 290 points for a regular.  It has a heavy howitzer that is limited to a 36" range but that is usually enough on a standard table especially when it can move 6" (it's Slow) and still fire.  It's also a Heavy tank.  Lastly for the Brits is the Churchill Crocodile.  It's a boat load of points at 485 for a regular, but it sports a flamethrower in the hull and a 75mm gun in the turret doing 1d6 HE.  The Crocodile like all of these Churchills is Slow, but it's a Super-heavy and more than capable of killing it's points value if used wisely.  The cons are if its flamethrower runs out of fuel early or if the enemy is able to use mobility to keep away from your Croc.

The US has few choices for Heavy/Super-heavies.  They are the Sherman Jumbo and the Pershing.  The Jumbo is a Slow Heavy armour Sherman, with choices of a 75mm dual-purpose gun or a 76mm heavy anti-tank gun.  As with most American vehicles it can have a pintle HMG and comes with co-axial and hull MMGs.  At 265 points for a regular (290 points if you're Dano who refuses to leave home without the HMG) it's a good deal in my mind.  The Pershing suffers from the same problems as the Tiger I, being a Heavy tank with a super-heavy AT gun, it's 395 points for a regular and quite hard to make back your points unless killing enemy armour.

The Soviets on the other hand have a multitude of choices for Heavy tanks.  Firstly, my favourite Heavy tank for efficiency, the IS-2.  It has a dual purpose heavy anti-tank gun that does 2d6 HE, a hull MMG, a co-axial MMG (although I'd probably always try and hit with that amazing main gun), a rear facing MMG in the turret and it can take a pintle HMG.  It can spread pins out over multiple units and remove squads with that main gun, all at a base cost of 320 points for regular.  It has the Slow Load rule, meaning it can't use the first order dice you draw, but I am very keen to try it as a veteran at the next tournament I attend and see if anyone can bring it down.  The ISU-122 is a similar vehicle but lacks all the supporting MMGs and is only 20 points cheaper.  The IS-1, KV-85 and KV-1S are also similar vehicles but with weaker main guns and at not much of a discount.  The KV-1 has Armoured All Round which adds to it's durability, but I'm not sure it has the offensive capacity to make it a great choice.  The KV-8 and KV-8S have light AT guns and hull flamethrowers but the KV-2 is the real monster if you want to take flamethrowers, with a turret heavy howitzer and an optional hull flamethrower, they can really create disgust amongst your opponents.  Prepare to lose friends.  Lastly is the SU-152 which is a Heavy tank with a heavy howitzer.  Alright at 290 points for regular, it lacks secondary weapons other then an optional pintle HMG so relies on that one die roll to hit and do damage.

An honourable mention goes to the French with the Char 2C Command.  A Heavy tank with a light howitzer and 4 MMGs with the Command Vehicle ability at only 295 points, it's actually not a terrible choice.  It is Slow but it can really spread out the pins.

So did I forget any big tanks?  What is your favourite and how do you get the most out of these big point investments?

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