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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bolt Action - Cold Wars 2015

Cold Wars '15! It's over, and hopefully everyone made it home safely after a convention that could be remembered both its for interesting travel conditions and for its amazing game play!

This will be equal parts photo dump article and shop talk editorial, so click on in no matter what your article preference is!

Huge thanks to NWS Online Gaming Store for their generous support of the event!

Many of us drove in Thursday throughout the afternoon and evening. Depending on which direction you were heading in from, and what sort of driving conditions you were used to, the weather conditions ranged from "normal early March driving" or "sweet Poseidon's trident this is the end times".

In a great show of Poseidon's sense of irony, people like me coming from the frozen north ran into no snowfall until almost arriving, rendering our usual dog sled and plow tank transportation useless, while treating the southerners on their scooters and roller blades to a couple inches of frozen, white, highway entertainment.

Arriving at The Host at about 00:15 due to a late departure more than the weather - it took us about thirty extra minutes to make the trip - we were greeted by a semi-frozen, slush-filled waterslide of an entrance to the parking area. Fortunately, this was not my first reindeer rodeo, so I left the accelerator on the floor and we gradually crested the final summit to reach a history nerd's paradise.

Apparently snow weighs a lot contrary to the laws of Hollywood magic and "how it feels when I shovel it"
In true Dano fashion, he promptly recruited a player who'd never played Bolt Action before to play in the next day's tournament. In case you'd forgotten, it was after midnight less than nine hours before the tournament. In short order - we called it around 02:30 that night - Eric "The New" had played his first demo game with the American Shermans he would be using in the next day's tournament!

This sort of recruiting is what makes the Danos and David Bruggermans - and many, many more - of the world so important to the hobby. I have spent many hours of my life driving to demos; not to mention painting the miniatures, lugging the terrain, making the calls, and everything else involved in recruiting players; only to have that player never play the game again. I can't stand that sort of payoff in a position where I'm not being paid for the effort. I don't know how you all do it, but thank you for your outreach. I thank you on behalf of all the model makers who don't thank you, but benefit from your effort more than anyone else.

Speaking of which, I'd like to get my one big negative of the convention out of the way early in the hope that it doesn't color the article so much that it comes across as the theme. If my quick reckoning is correct, I've been involved in eight HMGS conventions, each consisting of at least two tournaments. At each and every one of these, Warlord Games has been contacted and promised us support. At none of these events has the support arrived before the event. At best, someone involved in the tournament had to do a lot of last minute running around to get a hold of someone from Warlord Games who would have tell the tournament organizer to go to the vendor hall and convince a vendor to give them stuff.


"Listen, I know you don't know me, but So And So from Warlord Games has instructed me to come to your booth and ask you to give me some free Warlord Games product so that I have some prize support for a big event which basically amounts to a twelve table advertisement for their product so would you mind terribly just giving me some stuff and then settling it with them?" That's roughly how it would go, and the most amazing thing is the vendor would do it. This hobby, I tell ya', it's filled with amazing people.

Back to the point: That was the best case scenario. More often, no one is able to get a hold of anyone. The tournament organizer is forced to decide whether he's now going to shell out a couple hundred to buy prizes after spending hundred of his own money beforehand to manage a twenty-four player event which ends up looking like an amazing commercial for Warlord Games because of all the spectacular terrain the TO provided and all the time and money the players spent painting and modeling their figures.

Of course, it always seems easy from the organizer's side of things, right? All the event organizer has to do is purchase, model, and transport a ton of material to a location after coordinating the dozens of players involved before setting it all up and managing the event. No big deal. Right?

At the last six of our tournaments, WWPD money (read: advertiser and subscription money) has been used for hundreds of dollars of prize support. I think it's worse than a waste of money, because it's just subsidizing more advertising for a company with paid employees who can't even get the prize support where it's needed after promising it. I think it's great that the prize support is offered, because not every company does that. I think it's embarrassing for tournament organizers to have to explain that their event doesn't have prize support, though, after it was promised.

My first of six fantastic games was against Rob. I didn't ask him about posting his full name, so, Rob, if you're out there and want to take credit, post on the forum or FB about it.

Rob had a beautifully painted French early war list featuring three Char Bis, a big veteran cavalry unit, a Laffly portee - all sorts of tasty French units. For those that don't remember, I was bringing an early war Panzer II armored platoon with some Panzerjager I and SS panzerschutzen support. What a perfect matchup!

We played a Maximum Attrition game. His right (my left) looked like the picture above, but I only threatened it with one Hanomag filled with SS panzerschutzen. People are generally used to either lining up and thrusting forward across their entire line, or reacting to the other person doing so by remaining static and firing at the oncoming enemy.

I decided immediately, seeing that Rob's Char Bis were all but immune to the 20mm cannons of my Panzer II tanks, to thrust at his free medium howitzer with those armored vehicles. The Panzerjager I could remain at standoff range with the Char Bis while the Panzer II attempted to drive inches from them. Being tentative with the IIs would provide me with nothing.

Plus, there's always, "roll your six, bro," or more accurately in this game, "roll your four."

The above is a shot of two of his three Char Bis squaring off against two Panzer II, two Panzerjager I, and a half track full of SS. Rob gamely advanced on the same side (his left, my right) as if the armored formations were heavy horse and not heavy (for the era) tanks.

At the center, a Panzer II moved into Rob's table quickly. A veteran FT-17 smokes from 20mm perforations above, but not before the vehicle had survived being set on fire and immobilized in previous turns - that thing was a little beast! And the veteran rating came into play more than once!

Rob's amazing cavalry rushes around the hill in an attempt to address the lone Hanomag on my left, cruising by the light panzer in beautiful formation. I'm fairly certain I could hear guidons snapping in the breeze.

One of the Panzerjager I tanks burn, but so does one of the Char Bis. The above shows Panzer II tanks after advancing to help destroy the medium howitzer, as well as the halftrack in the distance, pushing on Rob's table edge. The Panzer IIs were taking Char Bis fire, but not being destroyed.

In case it's still a revelation to any of you out there, hitting a tank is only a third of the dice battle before it's destroyed! This point kept landing home, over and over again.

After machine-gunning the Laffly and assaulting off the French infantry, the remaining SS panzerschutzen faced down the French veteran cavalrymen.

The remaining Panzerjager I squares off against the Char Bis as Panzer IIs scurry past.

With a showing of great French verve the Char Bis swings around and destroyed the final tank hunter as the German medic looks on.

What escaped my camera attention for the entire game was taking shots of his trucks. The area in the middle, above, behind the house, formerly contained a couple trucks which are no longer there. Their removal would ultimately mean the difference between a draw and victory for the Germans. Trucks can be a tremendous boon in any objective-grabbing scenario but a huge Achilles heel in Maximum Attrition.

Smoldering early hulls scatter the landscape. The German push up the right was costly, but the two sides link in the middle near the house and bridge.

The game ends with the Char Bis failing for the first time all game to pass the "One Man Turret" rule. Passing this test could have presumably provided the Char Bis with at least one more kill from the aggressive Panzer troops, if not two. Unfortunately for Rob, Bolt Action Happened. This was only the first of many fantastic games I would have all weekend. Almost every one was perfectly themed given the forces on the table, which I admit added a lot to my enjoyment.

One more quick thing: The Germans were historically outmatched on a tank-by-tank basis, and this scenario proved that pretty well, I thought. However, it also proved that attention on the objective can overcome shortcomings. We can get distracted by bad situations, "I can't possibly kill his three Char Bis with these Panzer IIs, so I guess I should just resign myself to a loss." Resist this temptation. There were things I knew I could address with the Panzer II tanks, namely his infantry and his artillery, and I focused on aggressively moving the otherwise useless Panzer II tanks. It's an unsettling feeling for your opponent, even when he or she knows the tanks can't harm the Char Bis, to have them driving past the tank line and into the back row.

At any rate, I squeaked by for a lucky win against Rob, and sincerely declared this my new favorite game of Bolt Action. The matchup was just so interesting, and his models looked so amazing. Unfortunately, I ran out of photography gas as the event wore on, and took less and less shots. This probably serves our purpose, however, as the article might be a record breaker for size if I had taken as many shots in every game.

During round two, I played a game next to Dano, who'd lucked into a matchup against the same Rob I'd just skirmished. I could not resist but snap a quick picture as I noticed his brave little FT-17 once again charging into the battle out of the corner of my eye on the table next to me. My matchup was against MikePWithTheMasterPlan, though! This was good news, because he was one of the regulars I'd somehow managed to avoid in twenty-some tournaments.

A failed push on the left at the end of the game with MikeP.

MikeP and I played in a Point Defense. I'd like to say again, MikeP and I ended up with Point Defense. One final time, please note, we gamed Point Defense.

Why do I say this three times? Because Point Defense is the scenario where the defender tries to hold onto three objectives. It is not the scenario where the attacker tries to exit the defender's table edge!

A failed push on the right at the end of the game with MikeP.

Confident in my experience and only vaguely paying attention to the game while celebrating the fact that I'd finally get to mark MikeP off my list, I won the die roll and boldly exclaimed I wanted to attack in this scenario. It seemed to me that my highly mobile vehicle list would have no trouble getting off the table or at least ending on his side of the table in Envelopment. You know, the scenario we weren't actually playing.

What made this even more amusing for my opponent, Dan, and I, is just a few weeks before at a local tournament I had explained to a player that they should always attack in Point Defense sense it is nearly impossible to win as the defender. To MikeP, who had attended that tournament as well, I can only imagine he thought I knew exactly what I was doing as I quickly selected attacker, then quickly put both halftracks in outflank, laden with troops.

The failed push on the center at the end of the game MikeP. Fail!
I quickly ran all of my armor directly up the gut, which was defended by two absolutely beastly Sherman tanks as MikeP was playing British. They blew holes in all sorts of panzer grey painted vehicles. By the end of the second turn, after listening to the talk at nearby tables, and taking note of Dan's nearby jeers, I figured out that I was playing the wrong scenario. Ouch.

To be completely fair, I think MikeP had everything on lockdown whether I appropriately addressed the objectives or not. Normally in Point Defense I'll go from Right to Center or Left to Center with an outflank and an armored thrust. In this game the armored thrust up the middle was there, but the outflankers were only planning on running off the table. Mike is of course as fantastic an opponent as he is a forum poster and community member and I'm happy I can cross him off the opponent bucket list. A big congrats on a deserved victory MikeP - I'm not sure any single unit survived your masterful defense!

Lesson: Know the scenario. (So says the guy who always preaches paying absolute attention to the objectives. Jeeze. Embarassing!)

Game three of the day's rounds was against Miles who has quickly become another Nemesis. Sorry, Nemesis A. Let me take the opportunity, though, to congratulate the Bolt Action players at-large for being so good at the game. We had multiple ah-ha moments over the weekend, and I'm not ashamed to admit that several of them came from players formerly and unofficially classified as "new".

The picture above shows off the finery that is Miles' dice bag. We used it, because - well, because how can you not? It has now survived six tournaments without wearing out, although the thing barely holds its shape any longer and has taken on a velvety feel after so much wear and tear. I anticipate a Viking funeral for this bag when it finally goes, since it's really become a part of my games with Miles.

Miles and I played in a Domination scenario. This was definitely not a historical matchup as the Panzer III J tanks were everywhere, but was a fun game as always against Miles. The walled enclosure above - it was some sort of cemetery - proved to be the bane of many infantry units of mine in both of the games I played on it. As a Matter of fact, I can see now that the terrain piece rotated over the course of the weekend, because the firing ports definitely moved around!

With another great game against Miles in the books, the night ended relatively and surprisingly early, with Dano disappearing into the night like a ninja somewhere around 22:30. I'm not sure any of us stayed around past MikeP and Mustache, who kept it real with their zombie Bolt Action participation game after the tournament into the wee hours. All reports were that it was quite a hit.

But of course the cameras have to be put away at some point during a night!

Day two saw my list "improved" by taking away the only units I had who possessed a chance at penetrating armor. The Panzerjager I tanks left and some infantry was improved before seeing that I was playing against Paul's stupendous early war Soviet tank force! This was not boding well from a game play standpoint, but as far as the history and "cool" factor of the forces arrayed, I couldn't have asked for anything more.

At some point I also played the legendary Mustache with a completely historical Soviet infantry list. This game was Hold Until Relieved, and while I did in fact know what the scenario entailed, the German little tanks and infantry were stomped all over the table. Mustache played masterfully as usual and my little tanks could not hold on after the arrival of a brutal artillery barrage.

Of note: It had never occurred to me before this game that the Soviet artillery ability could be used to "shrink" the artillery bubble rather than expand it. In other words, we tend to only consider making explosions more humongified when we consider rerolling on artillery, but please remember that their reroll allows them to attempt to get a low number as well as a high. I may start trying to lay down Soviet barrages close to their own lines with the knowledge that I can reroll away from a 12 trying to get a 7 rather than only ever making the radius larger with that reroll.

Matt didn't end up trying to do this, as he never needed to in order to crush my hopes and dreams for a tiny, unified, plastic and resin Europe. It was still a cool little eureka moment, though! I guess I could add now that the other significant eureka of the convention was the fact that an Immobilized result on the vehicle damage chart does not require that you remove a die from the bag in order to "down" the vehicle. If it has an order on it, change it to down, but if a vehicle gets immobilized it may still be ordered that turn. Both of the other non-destroyed results - shaken-not-stirred and on-fire - do require you to lose their order for the turn. Weird! We're not sure whether that was intentional or not, but so be it!

Back to my game against Paul - we were playing Demolition, and I knew that my forces would be severely outmatched as my only anti-tank came in the form of light auto cannons. He did, fortunately, have some tiny early war tanks with Damage Value 7+, which greatly increased my chances of causing an effect on them with 20mm fire. Unfortunately, he had several - I believe four or five - light anti-tank guns. There were also some howitzers and a vehicle flame thrower included for good measure. He had a lot of vehicles!

Paul and I had squared-off at a couple of these events in the past, so I knew an old hat like him was going to be more than a handful for the panzerschutzen.

Paul wisely knew he had the advantage early, since he had more hulls with more guns, but since both sides deployed hidden in this scenario, I decided to go against my usual tendencies and sit back while things developed. There was a road more or less directly to Paul's objective but not my own, and I had a shot at getting the loaded hanomags onto his objective if things went reasonably well. So for a couple turns, the Panzer II tanks sat in their starting hidden positions and took fire from the more or less stationary Soviet line.

Eventually, Paul decided to come towards the objective with his tanks. Some memorable moments like the one above occurred, as the land battleship trundled down the road and promptly drove a round through the front of the Panzer II threatening the objective. A flaming Soviet tank burns in the back ground. I can't remember what those little guys with 7+ DV were called, but light auto cannons did a decent job on them.

By the end, Paul had decided to keep a few tanks back to defend his objective, and he believed that it cost him. On the other hand, the tanks left behind on ambush did make sure that the halftrack with two veteran squads aboard did not make it to his objective. Unfortunately the "assault medic" coming from my far left did. His inexperienced squad valiantly defended it, but proved not enough in the end.

The final game of the weekend was against John, whom I'd never met before let alone played. Turns out, John was also playing early war French, so I got to face another great historical matchup. He had assorted - and cool looking - French armor. A Char Bis, a Somua, a Panhard, some gigantic monstrosity you can see towards the top left of the picture below, he had quite an assortment!

John and I played a three objective Domination scenario, which I'd not had much luck at previously. However, by this time, I'd played with the list five times, so I was getting much better at handling the infantry, in my opinion at least. As you can see above, the Panhard was a real crusader for France, destroying everything it could lay its gun on with a panzer grey paintjob.

Due to the order dice coming out of the bag in a manner friendly to the Germans, the seven-man SS squad inside the halftrack were able to move into the ruins where an objective was located early on. Another squad previously occupied the ruins, but were brought down to the last man in a couple turns.

In a flash of accidental (and on the lame side) brilliance, the Germans left the last man alive without continuing to fire at him, as his French comrade tanks could not fire past him to damage the nearby squad. The French tanks continued to wreak havoc on the Panzer II and Hanomags, however.

These 20mm can't penetrate anything!

But whatever the Panhard is packing can!

French armor tries to uproot the German objective-holders, but cannot.

And finally a Panzer II kills something! This moral victory also cleared the way for the infantry squad and panzer to move to the objective on the far right, locking in a victory for the panzer grey.

If you couldn't already tell, the tournaments were fantastic. These were my most favorite two events I've attended so far, and I can't stress enough that the reason is because I took the list I did, not in spite of it. I'd suggest to anyone looking for something new in Bolt Action to try and shake things up a bit in their list making. We all know you can beat your buddy down with that favored unit, but what about a French tank with One Man Turret? What about an early war tank with essentially no anti-tank capability, much less infantry!

Speaking of which, I've got one last note to make regarding the 20mm cannons on those tanks. If you didn't already notice, I'm not a big fan of them, and I found another reason to hate them during the tournament: HE hits can be halved when a unit drops down in response to the shots. Light auto cannons can do D2 hits per shot.

I'll let that sink in while you come post on the forum by clicking below!

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