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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bolt Action - Tactical Applications of Rocket Propelled Ordnance

Bryan preferred the title "How to multi-launcher someone's face off" which may be more appropriate because we are after-all talking about often one of the most feared weapon systems in the game of Bolt Action. Anyone who has listened to the Bolt Action Alliance podcasts may have heard the guys refer to me as, 'Rocket Man' due to the fact that I own 11 such weapons over 3 Bolt Action armies, and have just finished converting another for my brother's US army. Regardless of the love I have for them everyone would agree that the multi-launcher can be an incredible valuable tool on the Bolt Action battlefield.
While primarily used by the Soviets and the Germans, many of the participants in World War II dabbled with rocket-propelled ordnance. From the British Land Mattresses and US Calliope launcher to the Japanese Type 4 20mm rocket and the experimental Hungarian Buzogányvető, there were plenty of rocket programs during the conflict and many of them are available for us in your games of Bolt Action. Easily the most iconic rocket artillery that you will see on the tabletop is the German 15cm Nebelwerfer 41 being the first mass produced rocket artillery for the Germans with over 6000 pieces made.

Most of these rocket weaponry fall under the Multi-launcher special rule. The Multi-launcher in Bolt Action is a valuable asset. It fires as a heavy mortar, which means a 18-72" range and 2D6 HE on a hit. You also have a chance to hit any other units within 6" of your target. You roll a separate to hit roll on the target and each potential secondary target in the 6" bubble. The downside to the Multi-launcher is that it can only fire indirect like a mortar and it never ranges in, meaning it always requires a 6 to hit, even if it hit the previous turn and the target hasn't moved since.

This makes the Multi-launcher very hit or miss (literally?) and hard to rely on. The benefit is that you can threaten multiple enemy units with one shot. This can be a massive psychological weapon when used correctly. The mere fact that if your opponent bunches his units up, you'll get to roll multiple chances to hit something which often makes them spread out. This can ruin their game plans, making things like officers and medics, who must be within 6" of friendly units to benefit, a lot less effective. You can enhance this area of threat considerable if you target large units that are spread out, as the 6" radius is measure from the unit as a whole, not a specific point. This is doubly so if you target a unit in a building, where the unit's footprint is suddenly the building's footprint!

Another downside to the Nebelwerfer and other ground-based rocket artillery, is that they lack gunshields and spotters. This means they can be vulnerable, as you need line of sight to the target and has no built-in protection. They do have 4 crewmen and it is often a bad idea to take your Multi-launcher as inexperienced, and often worth it to bump them up to veteran to help ensure their survival. Another trick I like to use is to have another artillery piece with a gunshield nearby and use the crew from that gun to recrew the Multi-launcher, as they often become prime targets for the enemy. Otherwise, makes sure to keep the Multi-launcher in as much cover as you can to help it's endurance. Another consideration is the movement of your Multi-launcher. The Bolt Action FAQ lists Multi-launchers as being like light howitzers for towing purposes. This would suggest they follow the same rules for movement, meaning they can move 6" with a Run move if they have wheels. If they lack a wheel carriage, then like all artillery that do so, they require a tow to move.

Of special mention is the Soviet M-30 and the German Howling Cow. The Howling Cow is a discounted Nebelwerfer that only has 2 crewmen and is not worth the saved points in my opinion. Since it is an artillery piece it isn't a small team and thus, very easy to kill. The M-30 is a heavy Multi-launcher. It does 3D6 HE on a hit instead of 2D6, but when it fires, it immediately suffers D3 pins and must be given a successful Rally order before it can fire again. Because a Multi-launcher needs 6s to hit, I don't think the M-30 is a good choice. Your lucky to get 3 chances to fire it in a regular game if it stays alive, which doesn't give you great odds of killing anything against an opponent who doesn't cluster everything together for you. It is slightly cheaper then a standard ground-based Multi-launcher and can get a Spotter, but these still don't make up for the downsides for me.

Another option for a more durable Multi-launcher is the vehicle mounted version. The Germans have the Stuka Zu Fuss and the Panzerwerfer 42, the Soviets, the Katyusha and the US the Calliope. The Stuka Zu Fuss and the Panzerwerfer 42 are essentially the same vehicle with two minor differences. The Panzerwerfer is cheaper unless you buy the optional MMG and then they are the same cost. The main difference and what always swings me to choose the Panzerwerfer over the Stuka Zu Fuss, is the Panzerwerfer mounts it's Multi-launcher in a turret with 360 degree arc, where-as the Stuka Zu Fuss is forward facing. Both are 7+ armoured carriers so have a bit of protection against light weapons.

Meanwhile the Soviets have the Katyusha, which is a softskin with a forward facing Multi-launcher. It is cheap enough to be a good buy. Because while it can die to a single well placed shot (compared to having to kill all the crew on a ground-mounted artillery), it has the benefit of all vehicle mounted weapons. Being able to move and fire. They also have the BM-31-12 Heavy Katyusha, which is a Katyusha with the same heavy Multi-launcher as the M-30. This suffers all the same drawbacks as the M-30 and isn't a great choice, playing second fiddle to the regular Katyusha in my books.

The US has the choice of the Calliope, which is a Multi-launcher mounted on a 75mm Sherman. While this makes it the most durable platform for the Multi-launcher (not counting the Soviet Bronekater as it's a bit of a situational choice!) I personally am not a fan of the Calliope due to the higher cost of it. As it has both a medium AT gun and the Multi-launcher it pays for them in points, but it can only fire one or the other in any given turn. This feels like you are wasting points on a gun you never fire to me, which is not great economy.

If your a regular reader here, you may have also noticed some of the unofficial units we have released, like the T27 Xylophone and Rocket Jeep for the US and the Sorozatveto for the Hungarians. The T27 is similar to the Katyusha but has the Multi-launcher side-mounted. This is a even better choice, as it means you can usually be firing it as you cut across the table trying to keep as much space between you and the enemy. The Rocket Jeep is also a soft-skin, but it takes pins when it fires it's Multi-launcher, to account for it's light frame not being able to handle the stress. The Sorozatveta is just the Hungarian made Nebelwerfer and so plays the same.

Now another strategy I sometimes use, is to combine the Multi-launcher with one or two hard-hitting mobile assault units. German veterans or pioneers in a truck or hanomag, tooled up with SMGs, assault rifles and flamethrowers are favourite choices. I will then outflank with these units and refer to them often. The threat of these units coming in from the side and unloading a can of whoop ass usually makes opponents keep a buffer zone on their flanks. This forces them to bunch up more in the middle, creating a perfect environment for your Multi-launcher. I've also done this with a horde of 50 outflanking Ostruppen.

Being creative with special weapons like Multi-launchers can lead to great results, but the deciding factor often is your ability to roll 6s. Despite my love for Multi-launchers, I never seem to do better then average with them, but I am still hoping for that game when they destroy half my opponents army in one volley, just as my opponent predicts at the start when I roll them out onto the table!

"Anf" is a long-time gamer from Down Under, who currently focuses his hobby time on Bolt Action.
With an equal love of  rockets and Ice Hockey, he constantly explores weird and wonderful army lists in his 
never-ending quest to collect them all.

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