Friday, 17 October 2014

The Final Banzai - Bolt Action Review

I didn't get to play this game, but instead got 2 other players to play while I was the rule informant. I figured i'd rather wait a bit more before I get to play and hopefully have some people excited about it then play and have one less person give it a shot. Over all I would say the game was a success. 

Unfortunately I forgot to charge my camera! So this will be more a brief review of the game and how much I enjoyed it (despite not playing directly). However enjoy random pics that fit the topic instead...

Game Highlights

The fight was for a small village in light forest. The forces lined up along their sides. In the first turn Japan had used most of his dice before the Soviet player finally got to use his. A few models died and many pin markers got distributed. The situation became more and more tense as it became a cat and mouse game between the tanks. By turn 3 both players had to be careful because they started to realize how important getting your turn dice in your favour can be as well as how much more important pin markers are than casualties at times. 

The height of the game was when a brave Japanese soldier carrying an anti tank explosive charged out into the village whilst the Soviet and Japanese infantry exchanged fire. He managed to hit the tank killing himself instantly and igniting the tank into flames. It was a tense moment when the crew managed to put out the flames and carry on. The second suicide soldier never got his chance to finish the job. 

Another part that was pretty intense was the tank combat. The Japanese Chi-Ha tank (as always) was vastly outclassed. It was more effective against enemy soldiers but the Soviet T-34 made sure to force the poor Japanese tank to play cat and mouse. The Japanese player knew he had to get a shot into the rear armour of the Soviet tank to even have a chance at hurting it. Finally the moment came and the Japanese tank charged into the open to take the shot, only to miss completely. Next unit to activate was the T-34 who turned its turret to the exposed Japanese tank and finished it off with ease. This left the Japanese player with one chance to eliminate the pesky T-34, but the chance never came. 

Both players were cautious and as a result they both slowly advanced and fired upon each other on the way. Naturally this gave the Soviets the advantage as the Japanese infantry never got to assault and prove their worth. Ultimately the Japanese became bogged down and slowly got shot to pieces. They did take many Soviets with them to hell though. 

All in all, this was my favourite game so far. It had the historical aspect I love but also was very gamey which the players enjoyed. 

I play Flames of War which is a very cool game (also as the Japanese) but I think Bolt Action is a bit better. The turn sequence is superior and the rules are definitely easier to learn. So below are the highlights of Bolt Action as I saw it. 

Turn Sequence

  1. The turn sequence in Bolt Action works as follows.
  2. Put one dice per unit of your force in a bag. The enemy does the same with different colour dice. 
  3. Shake the bag then remove one dice.
  4. If the dice is your colour, then you may choose one unit in your force to activate. 
  5. When you activate there are a set of orders you may issue. Such as ambush (overwatch), run and advance to down and so on. 
  6. You simply keep drawing dice until there are no dice let in the bag. 
  7. Once this is done the turn is over and you put the dice of your surviving units back into the bag. 
  8. Repeat.
This means you have some really cinematic moments. Like the Tank cat and mouse chase, which would not have happened in a game like 40k. It was all dependent on who got to move where first. It adds a new layer of planning to the game. Its not always beneficial to go first for example. It turns into a game of reaction planning. 

Pinning and Leadership

Pinning was a huge part of this game. In Bolt Action the more you are shot at, the harder it is for your units to do their job. This does 2 major things. Firstly it ensures all shooting is effective provided you hit and secondly it puts a huge importance on the leaders to do their job. 

The Soviet player in the game used his commander very wisely and had him follow a huge push of infantry up field. His leadership negated a lot of the pinning effect while the Japanese player suffered because his leader supported very few units. The Soviet player had one unit fail to activate, the Japanese player had many who remained pinned. 

Leaders are vital in how they effect the battlefield and in this game they certainly determined the outcome. I imagined the leaders running around the field issuing orders personally to the men and constantly working on making sure his troops did their job. 

The cool thing is the Leader can be upgraded or downgraded depending on how much you value his role. The leaders in this game had a bonus of 3, negating 3 pin marker effects. It usually takes 3 units worth of shooting to gather that many pin markers. He can also support the troops by adding his firepower (he can usually have buddies follow him around) and throwing out an extra pin marker here and there. 

This was, to me the best part of the game. I felt my commander was more useful for his role as a leader than his ability to take big guns or use magic etc. 

Tank Domination

Tanks do not dominate this game, but they also are far from useless. They can and will mess up your enemies plans and can prove vital at keeping the enemy pinned and more importantly are (as I saw it) one of the best tools to take on other tanks. Suicide men just dont cut it. 

The Tanks in the game we had managed to be a huge part of the game simply because of their potential. But they did very little actual damage to their enemies. The main role of the tank was making sure the other tank couldnt cause too much havoc among your men. 

As many put it this is truly an infantry game, but the importance of armoured vehicles cannot be denied. 

Customization and room to grow

The game we played contained the basics of any 1000 point game. It included a vehicle, some teams and a lot of infantry. As im sure they are designed they gave us enough to get kick started into this game whilst leaving us with a lot of room to grow. 

Take the Imperial Japanese book as an example. I used a fraction of the units available. I could take bamboo spear equipped infantry, naval landing troops, artillery observers, medics, a host of vehicles and then there are options for themed lists. Our game didnt include airstrikes, cavalry or light vehicles, snipers didnt strike fear into the enemy commanders and im sure there are a lot more to add than that. 

All these additions can (bar vehicles and crewed weapons) be made with the basic infantry kit. My medic, sniper, artillery observer and Kempeitai Officer have all been made from the standard infantry kit. Bamboo soldiers could easily be converted and there are even some cool sites that show how to make cavalry for the period. Making this hobby cheap but also meaning that your men can and will look different to other peoples armies of the same faction provided you put have an imagination. When my workshop is complete ill put up pictures of my units that I have made from the simple infantry kit. 

Lastly, the game gives you the choice of historical accuracy or not. Personally I prefer to be more historically accurate in my army. So I will not be taking Tank Destroyers in my Japanese army nor will I take many SMGs or any Flame Throwers. But since this game caters to many, you can have tanks or formations that arent quite right or saw extremely limited to no use in any battle historically. This means there is not only more room to grow, but plenty of what of scenarios to take into account. 

So in my tiny Japanese book I feel I have a lot of options. I will count them when I get home. The bigger books that contain the minor nations and major nations have a lot more options. 

Streamlined Play

Lastly I thought I would put streamlined play on the list. Now this one may not suit everyone, but I think its important for getting people into the game and keeping them there. Most rifles are the same, most SMGs are the same, most LMGs are the same, most Medium Mortars are the same, well you get the picture. Although historically many of these weapons had different draw backs, rate of fire and practicality all are generalized into categories not only for ease of memory and learning but I feel it keeps the game balanced. 

At times this is annoying. My Chi-Ha for example should not be able to do serious damage to a T-34 as its outclassed in every way. It may knock the tracks off or temporarily deafen the crew, but largely the T-34 would have had a turkey shoot. However in this game, provided I can get behind the T-34 I can actually blow it to smithereens (well small chance but still). The game somewhat represents these historically bad match ups, but in a way that keeps the gamey feel going. 

Nations have special rules which give each army a bit of flavour without tipping the balance (I found) too much. In Flames of War my Japanese are scary. They have a host of rules and abilities that many people in my experience question. But in Bolt Action its just enough to make you know your men are Japanese or German without it going over the top. 

All of this combined meant that the players learned the rules fast and both felt like they had a chance at winning, when in reality my poor Japanese would have been crushed pretty quickly. 


Overall this has been my favourite game to play out of the many games I have going on at the moment. Its also incredibly cheap. Modeling them was also a lot of fun, simply using the basic infantry kit gets me a lot of options and with some work you can build an army with just a few of these boxes. Although you can pay more to get specific models if you preffer that option too. 

The rules are great. I convinced one player to start planning an army and another player is thinking about it. It helps that I have all the books so they can look at their options as well. 

I hope to play a game (with pictures) next week and start keeping track of my armies progress. I will start from the 1930's in the fights against Soviet Russia and work my way to the end. Hopefully we get some more players better suited to fighting the Japanese soon, or I will be stuck fighting Germans (will pretend they are Chinese when against me I guess).

Overall verdict, buy this game. The new D-day starter set is available for you and a friend to go halves on and get into it. Its one of the more easy to get into historical games out there if you enjoy the period.  


Rule Books - I think this is a great deal f you wanna get your friends playing. 

Starter Set

Early German Starter Army
German Starter Army

Soviet Starter Army

US Marine Starter Army
US Army Starter Army

British Starter Army

Imperial Japan Starter Army

There are more armies such as Polish etc, and there are plenty of boxed sets and so on if you have a particular army in mind. But the links above I think are pretty easy to use to get started. The figures are cool, the customization is great (even in these starter sets) and the rules are great fun. 

More Bolt Action to come soon. 


  1. Thanks for the post. I trying to get a few players in my group to pick up Bolt Action but they all keep answering, "When I finish my 40k army." Same thing with fantasy. I keep leaning on them though.

    1. I feel your pain mate. The issue I found was there was never and end goal for their 40k armies (or even mine). there was always something else to buy. So I had to bite the bullet and either buy starter sets or 2 armies to get people playing games.

      If you really want to play this I suggest buying 2 themed armies new or second hand and having a demo game. Or simply buying the starter set and selling half of it to the first player interested in the game.

      Its well worth it in my opinion.

  2. Two Armies is the way to go. I lost interest in 40k for numerous reasons but I wanted to get into bolt action and did not know anyone that played. I bought the Assault on Normandy set and surprisingly my wife became very interested. She won our first game but I plan to completely blast her forces off the table next time.

    1. How do you rate that set? It looks small but at least gets 2 people playing. I was contemplating getting it but went for 2 1000 point armies instead.

      I noticed (assuming your wife doesn't play war-games very often) that sometimes new players will simply wipe out older players because they have a new perspective compared to veteran players who tend to get stuck in their ways over time.

      Hopefully next time you manage to secure victory haha.

    2. It's a good set. 20 guys on each side makes for small but playable forces. I think starting small is a good way to learn a new game and for the wife who had never played a wargame before it was a necessity. The models are good though I don't really care for assembling WWII plastic guys as much as I did in 40k. Their a bit fiddle for my fat fingers and tired eyes. I'll probably go with metal figures in the future. The ruined farmhouse is pretty good and the rulebook is fantastic. Well worth the money. I've bought Starter sets from other companies and purchasing AoN was a much more satisfying experience.

    3. Awesome man thanks for that. I too found them a bit fiddly at times even with my young nimble hands haha. But I think they look very nice overall. Looks like a cool set though.

  3. I really like the way this plays. Reminds me of the best parts of the old Specialist games GW axed. Can't wait to see some Battle Reports :)

    1. I honestly cant wait to paint them. I will be working on these guys next so hopefully I can get them painted to make some truly nice reports. These rules would work awesomely for 40k with a bit of work too.

    2. That has been my primary interest in the ruleset for sure. I love the 40k setting and aesthetic but the battles are definitely not helping me "forge the narrative" these days.

    3. To my knowledge of the game, you would need to simplify it all into categories and then add roughly 3 or 4 special rules per faction then you are a go. Its a fair bit of work, but once you have done one codex of converting, then the others will just need to be categorized in a like fashion. But definitely really possible.