Bolt Action Second Edition Rules

Roughly 4 years after the first edition, Warlord Games treats the Bolt Action community with an updated, second edition of the rules in late 2016. Along with the already available english version of the Bolt Action rules, now in early 2017 translated copies in german, french, spanish and italian are ready to be shipped.

Bolt Action - Second Edition

The game grew incredibly over the last years, a lot of supplements were added – covering army and campaign books – and it was taken care of with FAQ and erratas. This review is based upon the english hardcover rule book, that is sold individually for 30 GBP.

What is it about?
For those of you not familiar with Bolt Action, it is a world war 2 rule set by Warlord Games with its own 28mm scale miniature range. Back in the day, Bolt Action Miniatures was a company on its own and sold world war 2 miniatures, sculpted by Paul Hicks. Warlord Games bought Bolt Action miniatures to extend their range of historic miniatures and added new products to it. A few years later the first edition of Bolt Action was released.
Bolt Action covers platoon sized battles, with roughly 40 miniatures on each side, supported by a small number of vehicles. Supplements like Tank War added more variety and options for vehicles to the game. But Bolt Action still is focused on matches between 30-50 infantry models and 1-2 armoured vehicles / tanks (excluding transports) for 4' by 4' to 4 by 6' tables. By the games rules that is a 1,000 points game.

Bolt Action is intended to be a fast and uncomplicated rule set, and has no intention to be historic correct or a strategic simulator.

Bolt Action - Second Edition Bolt Action - Second Edition

First Impression
Due to the collaboration of Osprey and Warlord Games this product range has a proper base for a high level of quality. Osprey Games, daughter company of the well known Osprey Publishing (a large publisher for military books of all kinds), has their own range of (war)game rulebooks. So the experience of Warlord Games in writing and developing wargames is put together with Ospreys experience with layout, editing and publishing. This creates a solid hardcover with proper and appealing layout, along with lots of illustrations, dioramas and pictures. The text is surrounded with artwork by Peter Dennis, painted miniatures and charts, to loosen up the information.

There are a lot of world war 2 rule sets on the market and to stand out from the competition, you have to go the extra mile, and Warlord/Osprey surely did that.

In the 228 pages, full colour hard cover you'll find all the rules you'll need to play a proper game of Bolt Action, including the rules for vehicles, artillery and buildings. But that is not all, you'll find 12 scenarios as well and five army lists (US American, Great Britain, Soviet Union, Third Reich and Imperial Japan). In the last few pages is a summary of the rules, along with an appendix covering some optional special rules.

Bolt Action - Second Edition

How do you play Bolt Action?
So Bolt Action has "lured" you in with great artwork and stunning pictures, does it keep up its promises on the table? First of all, like mentioned above Bolt Action is not a historic simulation, it is a game. This gives you a lot of options and variability, but keeps it uncomplicated. But more on that later. Bolt Action uses an dice powered activation system instead of a classic I-GO-YOU-GO. The units from your army generate Bolt Action dice, so you and your opponent put these dice in a bag and you start drawing. Depending on which dice are drawn (for example player A uses grey dice and player B uses green dice), that player is allowed to activate an unit and give it an order. An elite army will have less dice than a horde of green troops, so you want to keep an eye on that while building your army list. The players can choose from 6 different orders, among them fire, advance or rally. A turn in Bolt Action is completed when all dice are drawn from the bag and all units were activated.

Bolt Action has a template for armies, that is usually the reinforced platoon and consists of a minimum of a single officer and two squads of infantry. Further units can be added with 0-X choices each, so for example further 0-3 infantry squads, 0-1 sniper teams or 0-1 tanks. For example, the core of your army is going to be regular infantry, those might be your US Army infantry or Wehrmacht troops, but all the Airborne, Rangers and Commandos are veterans, that may have access to more assault rifles and maybe a special rule - but that's it. Units in Bolt Action don't have a classic stat line with values and role charts, they have a troop quality that is on one of three levels, inexperience, regular or veteran. This quality covers the modifiers for combat, how the react to morale and so on. And there are only three different unit types as well, infantry, artillery and vehicles. Weapons and gear are categorized into a list fitting on a single sheet, so it doesn't matter if it is a K98 or M1 Garand, it is a rifle, and same goes for machine guns etc. Still, this currently covers 7 different small arms (pistols to medium machine guns) and 20 heavy weapons (heavy machine guns, anti tank guns and howitzers). This keeps the game mechanics lean and even with all the supplements that are currently available, it does not "bloat" the game. If you are afraid, that this might lead to very generic "mirror" matches, don't be. Every army has their own army wide special rules. Germans for example have superior machine guns and fire an extra shot with LMG and MMG, Americans have air superiority and may call for two instead of one airstrikes per game with their forward air observer and russians receive a free 12-man squad of inexperience infantry.

Combat for example is kept straight forward as well. Shooting is a two step process, hitting on 3+ and modifiers are added. Wounding is the second role, covering the quality / armour of the hit unit. Close quarters are even faster, as the loser is instantly destroyed. No hassle over multiple turns like a large moshpit. Morale is a topic covered in Bolt Action as well. If a unit is hit and takes a casualty, it receives pin markers (depending on what hit them and how hard it was hit). These pin markers make it for the pinned unit harder to execute orders and interact with the enemy.

Bolt Action - Second Edition Bolt Action - Second Edition

What has changed?
From the first impression, not that much. The rule book is slightly thicker (grown from 216 to 228 pages) and the new second edition artworks moves the soldiers from the right to the left (keep an eye on that on Battle of the Bulge and 2nd Edition Armies of Germany. The quality of the layout has improved little bit to an even higher level. The second edition is not a revamp or complete redesign, it is more an updated version of the rules with the errata, community feedback and FAQ topics worked into it. So most changes are minor tweaks, like updated weapon profiles and more clear written special rules and explanations.

A bigger change is the role of the officers in the game, as they now have the ability to give orders to other units nearby. If an officer successfully executes an order, he has the option to directly pull dice from the bag and give them to nearby units, the amount of dice / units is depending on his rank. This brings out the role of the leader even more and includes the officers more into the battle. Good choice from my point of view.

Another big change is the introduction of templates to the game. HE-Shells (High Explosives), that are known for their shrapnels, now are subject to templates and "area damage" instead of the former rule of D3/D6 hits. For this rule new 1 - 4 inch templates were introduced and are available as part of the new starter box or individually.

A few rules covering morale / pinning were modified. So for example, in close quarters do not result in the lost of pin markers and if you're going to rally your troops, the pin markers do not affect the order test anymore, making it more attractive to take this order and making being pinned more of a temporary effect. And if you order your unit to go down, it is less likely to be shot as the modifier is now -2 instead of -1, and you can drop a D3 of pin markers at the end of the turn, if you decide to keep that order for the next turn.

And Flak is more interesting. Annoyed by the air superiority of your american opponents? Well, the amount of damage an enemy bomber can take was halfed and the effects of using flak were toned down, so for example units that are in ambush are still in ambush after their flak action, or units that are down can still fire at flyers.

These are just some major changes that I wanted to share with you. You'll find online detailled overviews with a more precise change report on the rules. Community feedback on the changes are overall positive and I can only confirm, it is still Bolt Action, but plays a bit smoother.

Bolt Action - Second Edition

What's next?
The first 2nd edition supplement of Battle of the Bulge is already available, covering the late war winter battles in europe, as well as the updated 2nd edition Armies of Germany book. So far the information, that the german army book is currently the only one getting an update in the near future, as it was the first one to be written and most in need of an update. Beyond that we will see a "what-if" Operation Sea Lion in mid may, covering the plans of a German invasion of Britain in 1940. In August we will see the supplement for the New Guineau campaign, that lasted from 1942 to the end of the war and will include Japanese, US Americans and Australians. Later that year, around November, the Road to Berlin will be released and go into more detail to the late war than Battleground Europe and Ostfront did (and as I know Bolt Action, maybe a bit beyond covering 1946).

Bolt Action - Upcoming supplements

Why is Bolt Action a considerable choice as a system? With Warlord Games it has one of the largest companies in wargaming covering it, so it has a very high availability world wide and is sustainably. It already has a lot of supplement and official miniatures to offer incl. plastic kits. If you're new to historical wargaming, Bolt Action might be a good choice to start with. The rules are easy to learn and you can go from a generic force and expand to a very specific army, researched background and elaborate camo colours later on. The generic set up of the units gives you easy access to a lot of options for your own projects and along with the supplements you have a incredibly broad and rich variety to choose from.

This update of the popular world war 2 rule set was done with caution. As most of the changes were touch ups, minor tweaks and clarification, it is good to see that they were taken care of instead of simply doing ignoring them and going for a reboot. The changes to officers and the use of templates are interesting and I'm looking forward how they develope in the long run. It still is Bolt Action and the aspects, that make the game fun are still working. It is still lean and fast paced. An army doesn't cost that much and is not that big of a project (30-40 Miniatures + 1-3 vehicles), so you can easily have two or more of them in case you might lack players.

With the supplements available, you have a lot of material that you can interact with. Scenarios, special rules for winter or desert, campaigns and such. So if aside from tournament play, you can do very cinematic and story driven campaigns or league, if you want to.

Bolt Action is a brand of Warlord Games.

Posted by Dennis B.

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