Adventures in Bolt Action – Starting Out

I’m just starting my adventures in the world that is Bolt Action, a massively popular and well supported WWII miniatures wargame. I thought I’d keep a sort of diary, tracking my progress in the game from my decision to jump on board, through my first purchases, assembly, painting, and on to battle reports. Throughout the process I’ll be giving my thoughts on how the game plays, scenarios, campaigns, history, and more, as well as how I hope to develop it as a solo experience.

So, as this is the first one, I’d best start at the beginning and what made me decide on Bolt Action.

I had no real intention of getting back into WWII wargames at all. When it comes to wargaming, my heart really lies with Napoleonic, then Ancient, and finally WWII, so what happened?

Well, I’d already dipped a very small toe into Warlords ‘Hail Caesar‘ ancient rules, to the point where I’d bought the rulebook and a small Roman army. The thing is, I went wrong. I like the rules, no problem there, but I really wanted to play large scale battles and to that end I opted for 10mm miniatures. The ones I got were from Pendraken and I was impressed with them, as 10mm figures have come a long way since the last time I had my hands on some. I was more than happy with them, that is until I started painting. After the first couple of dozen, I realised I just wasn’t enjoying the experience, and with the prospect of a couple of hundred still to do, let alone having to paint up an adversary army, I did what I usually do when I get bored, which is move on to something else.

The issue wasn’t really the figures but more my painting style. The simple basecoat, wash, and single highlight, whilst it worked on such small figures, wasn’t giving me any satisfaction, especially knowing I was a long way off having enough forces to actually play the game. It just wasn’t for me – I had other, much more interesting, miniatures to paint.

And so, whilst every now and again I’d paint a small batch up, the Romans became history, and along with it my thoughts of playing a wargame again diminished.

However, there are a couple of people who have to take the credit/blame for me coming back to it – John (Just Needs Varnish!) and Azazel (Azazel’s Bitz Box). Reading John’s Blog, his battle reports, and his painting progress, was a real inspiration. I love the way he paints and presents his miniatures, as well as the historical side he covers in his posts – he often takes paths that lead to forgotten, less popular areas of Wargaming, such as the Russo-Polish war, and armies from countries such as Paraguay. Fascinating stuff and it gave me the itch to want to play again.

Azazel has recently been banging posts out about Flames of War, lots of painting and unboxing. Again, his painting is superb, and it was seeing all the tanks he’d done that finally made me want to commit to something similar.

Flames of War was of interest. Its predominantly tank based with infantry support and is 15mm scale. The other ruleset that I was interested in was Bolt Action from Warlord Games. This one is the reverse, centring on infantry, but there is an alternative ‘Tank Wars’ rulebook that gives you the chance to recreate larger armoured battles.

I did a fair bit of on-line research regarding these two rulesets (there were others, but these were my main focus), and in the end I opted for Bolt Action. Why? Well, there were several reasons but the main was flexibility.

Flames of War was too tank orientated for me, though it did have an appeal, and I wasn’t keen on the unit activation – I activate all mine, then you activate all your – it felt a little outdated. There were lots of plus points, though, such as the scale, which for tanks is ideal but falls down a little when adding infantry – I prefer to see WWII infantry units individually based, but that’s a personal thing and no detriment to the game. Support for the game is also excellent, with lots of units readily available as well as pre-painted terrain.

Bolt Action, whilst intended for 28mm, can be simply adapted to fit most scales, this was a draw, as I’d yet to decide on scale – more of this shortly. The unit activation was also a big plus – drawing a unit die from a bag to see who activated next opens up a lot of avenues in regard to strategy, it also gave me a few ideas on adapting things for solo play, but that’s just something at the back of my mind at the moment. I liked the options available to build a ‘reinforced platoon,’ as they call it, with each country having their own special skills, which on the whole are representative to their history during the war. It isn’t a perfect system, but then what is, and there are a few things that in my mind (as I haven’t actually played the game yet) might grate a bit. Mechanised units, for example, are quite general especially in terms of movement speed; the same could be said for weapons and their abilities, but there is a bit more variance here. Once I get a game or two under my belt – some way off yet – I’ll be able to elaborate on things.

Bolt Action - Rulebook

Once I’d made up mind which system, I had to think about the best way to get into the game. The obvious starting point was, well, a starter set, such as Band of Brothers, which comes with everything to get you going, though only for a small skirmish. I could go for a starter army that gives you around 1500points, more than enough to tailor your own platoon from – standard games are 1000-1500pts – and of course, I’d need an opposing army too. The latter of these doesn’t come with extra stuff you need, such as army dice, pin markers, and templates, so these would need to be obtained separately.

The above options are from Warlord Games and are 28mm, but I thought what about a smaller scale? I swapped a few e-mails with John and he convinced me of the virtues of 20mm, which, to name but a few, are lower cost and great availability. In fact, he had me hook, line, sinker, and copy of the angling times, and I was sure it was right for me. Large enough to make painting interesting and small enough to gather large forces on my battlefield – my table in the garage is 6’6″x3’6″.

I also had to consider what theatre and forces I’d like to play. My first thoughts were along the lines of the Pacific, the Normandy landings, or the African campaign. I ruled out the Eastern front, as I knew next to nothing about it. The Japanese and American battles in the Pacific areas have always been an interest; it was an ugly, hard-fought part of the war; I was also drawn to the Burma campaign. This one I put to top of my list, for now. The Normandy landings and the battles that followed, whilst having a lot going for it, I ruled out because it was a little too familiar. I’ve read a fair amount on the subject and will quite happily read more, but I wanted something a little different, something I could learn about as I build up my armies (can you see where this is going yet?). Finally, there was the African Campaign. I used to have the Airfix Africa Korps and 8th Army sets when I was a kid and, using some rudimentary rules, played many a game on the living room floor, you know, using books as hills and such like… Happy days! Whilst I knew quite a bit, it was mostly limited to the LRDG (Long Range Desert Group) and the SAS (Special Air Service), and their harassment of the Axis forces – I know next to nothing of the Italian’s involvement in the campaign and so this one, I decided, was for me.

So, I ordered the Western Desert Campaign book to get a feel for the forces, scenarios, and special rules. The book, I thought, was really good, well laid out, full of history, and looked to offer some great experiences. However, something niggled. It started whilst looking at all the wonderful photographs that appear throughout the book. Photos of superbly painted miniatures and scenery. That was the niggle right there, once painted up the forces were pretty much limited to desert warfare – putting them in a European setting for example, would look down-right odd. And the scenery, it too would be limiting, at least for me. Nice green trees and hills, with European hedgerows, walls, and buildings, I had other uses for, whereas desert-based stuff I hadn’t, it would only be used for this, I wanted more flexibility, more bang for my buck so to speak.

Bolt Action - Western Desert Campaign Book

Meanwhile, I’d been looking at where I could buy my units from, as well as scenery and such like, and this caused me to reconsider scale. Again, it came partially down to flexibility and use across other games I play. By now I’d familiarised myself with the BA rules and how Warlord’s own miniatures, with their customisable load outs, fit army building perfectly. So, at this point I decided I needed to rewind, sit down, and actually think about what it was I wanted from this game.

I came up with the following…

  • Miniatures that would be interesting to paint but could still be done quickly.
  • They ideally needed to be configurable in order to get the most from army building lists.
  • Scenery that could be used with other games I play, so it would have to be 28-32mm. Desert setting wouldn’t work with my Star Wars: Legion figures, as they’re based for fields/woodlands, or my plans for The Walking Dead.
  • I wanted a theatre setting that would be historically interesting to learn and recreate.
  • I wanted something to get me started rather than building up armies from scratch, as I knew I’d never get going otherwise. I was happy to buy unit dice/templates, etc. separately if a set didn’t include them.

With all that in mind I concluded that Warlord’s own miniatures range for the game would be the best place to start. They were 28mm so the right scale to meet my other requirements. As for theatre, I surprised myself by settling on the Eastern Front. It seemed obvious now. Here was an area of the war I knew little about, so I could learn as I go and that would make it interesting.

After looking at what was available it came down to two sets – The Stalingrad Battle-Set and The Battle for Berlin. The latter was my favourite, as I preferred the scenery it came with, but at the time it was sold out everywhere. I kept an eye out, as I’d decided my wife could get it me for Christmas, and on Black Friday Warlord announced new stock with a great discount, and so I grabbed it, wrapped it, and gave it to Sue to give me back on X-mas day – result!

Bolt Action - Battle for Berlin
The Battle for Berlin contains plenty to get me up and running

And that’s where I’m at now. It’s still in the box, all I’ve done is lift the lid and had a quick shufty inside. I’ve been holding back to do an unboxing post, which I can now do as I was waiting until I’d written this post. from there I can start putting things together and work out how I’m going to paint it all. In the meantime, I’ll be grabbing a bit more scenery and a few more books to back up my knowledge.

Bolt Action - Battle for Berlin
And this is as far as I’ve got with it!

So, that’s the first instalment of Adventures in Bolt Action. The next one should be the unboxing and after that I’ll report in whenever I have something interesting to share, hopefully sooner rather than later!

21 thoughts on “Adventures in Bolt Action – Starting Out

  1. I’m looking forward to following this adventure, Justin (and thanks for the mention)! 🙂 I must admit, I tend to follow your thinking with my scenery and try and plan to use it across multiple periods and locations.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Thanks John.
      Yeah, it makes sense really, especially the amount of space the stuff takes up, that and the time and resources that go into it, the more use you can get out of a single piece the better in my opinion.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. A great read Justin, was interesting to follow along with your thoughts, and how they altered over time, and had to be rethought. Have to agree that John, and Azazel put out some awesome historical postings, and can make that theatre of war very appealing, so far have resisted the temptation, as I already have too many projects on the go ! LOL So I shall enjoy reading your posts on the subject, along with theirs

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Thank you Dave.
      I amazed myself when I ended up with the Eastern front as a focus, but in the end it made a lot of sense.
      I know what you mean. I have too many things on the go but just can’t help myself. I like to bounce around things, that way I never get bored – equally, though, I never get anything finished either!

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Peter Holland Jan 21, 2022 — 17:49

    A great read thank you! I’ve been a die hard Games Workshop fan since 1993 but have recently branched out into Historics. You’ve inspired me to write a similar series on my upcoming adventures in Napoleonics. I’ve pre-ordered the French starter set from Warlord Games for their Epic Battles: Waterloo series. Looking forward to reading your unboxing post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Peter.
      I’ve been sorely tempted by their Waterloo Epic Battles release, and it’s something I might consider in the future. I’ve just followed your site, Clausewitz looks interesting, I’ll be interested to read all about it, thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Peter Holland Jan 24, 2022 — 00:43

        Thanks for the follow! Struggling to keep Clausewitz up to date at the moment. But once I have more time…..

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Welcome aboard! BA has some fun features as a game, especially the dice bag activation. On variation between weapons and vehicles, I find the flat structure a strength, leading to fewer gotcha! moments because you overlooked an opponent’s (or your own) special rules.
    I’m looking forward to seeing how you go.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks mate, the activation mechanism was a big draw for me.
      On the weapons and vehicles, I can see what you mean, and it leads to a more open community than some, more complicated, rulesets, but I wonder how it makes one heavy tank feel different from another, something I will no doubt find out in my own time!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting read, thanks Justin. I can see why you ended up where you did, and I’m looking forward to hearing your further adventures. Not sure I’d have gone for the Battle for Berlin though, it’s a bit of a grim scenario for my liking! BTW Those Berlin mansions look identical to the ‘Berlin House’ that Italeri sells, but the scale is supposedly 1:72…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks mate.
      I went with The Battle for Berlin set, as it gave me a good mix of troop types, four vehicles, and a reasonable amount of scenery to get me going.
      Eventually, I want to explore the earlier period of the war and feature some of the more unusual armies and troop types hat took part. I’ve been listening to a Podcast talking about the Finnish involvement, which really sparked my interest, so we shall see where it leads me… just don’t expect it to be anytime soon, lol! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The Berlin Houses included are by Italeri, as they work with Warlord producing plastic kits, so there’s a fair chance they will look similar, but hopefully they’ve increased the scale!


  6. I have thought about Bolt Action in the past, ran into many of the stumbling blocks you wrote about, add to that, that I don’t have any gaming group to play with/against and I just tucked the idea of actually playing a game away. I’ve often thought about just pick-up a set and just painting them up out of historical interest!
    I will be playing particular attention to your foray into solo options, as that has much interest for me!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I only intend to play on my own. I don’t mind playing both sides and I want to develop some sort of Solo mode, which I think the dice activation lends itself to as a starting point. If nothing else, the historical side will keep me interested.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I saw this post and immediately thought, John is going to like this one. Little did I know, he had a hand in leading you to Bolt Action 🙂

    I don’t know much about Flames of War but my impression is that Bolt Action is more solo friendly so I think you made a good choice. I found what you said about painting smaller scale minis to be interesting too. I can definitely see where the repetitive and simplified nature would be tedious. I’d rather paint something larger and more interesting even if it took longer myself.

    It is too bad that Ancients didn’t stick for you. That is my preferred historical setting, though I did give some thought to WWII because of how many miniatures are available and how much terrain there is as well. I’m looking forward to reading more and will be curious to see how you balance Bolt Action with your other games. I’m struggling to make satisfactory progress with Fallout and Hellboy currently myself!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ha, Ha! Yes, John’s battle reports stirred the pot inside and made me spend more money – he has a lot to answer for, lol!

      Yeah, painting all those 10mm Romans just didn’t do it for me. Maybe If I started basing them and putting the units together it might give me enough satisfaction to continue. The problem with ancients, and it goes for Napoleonic forces and pretty much everything else in between, is that they used massed units and formations, meaning you have to have a fair number of minis just to play a small action, and it takes a certain mind set to bang them all out in quick succession, something I just don’t have.

      As for balancing things, well, you know me, I’ll just continue to flit from one thing to another and never achieve anything!😁

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’d say the shoe is on the other foot now, mate! It isn’t you costing me money (for once), its John costing you money and I love to see it 😉

        You and me both on that painting mindset. I’ve contemplated getting SPQR which is not a mass battle system to get some Roman action on the tabletop. Perhaps one day I’ll get around to trying it out. I think there is another game with rules for around that amount of minis called Clash of Spears but I’m not super familiar with it. So all hope is not lost on that front for us! We just need to make time for them among many other projects which is already our strong suit 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m sure your new project will be a blast. Very much looking forward to see how this develops! Got to love Bolt action!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks pal, I’m sure it will be a fun adventure.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The Battle for Berlin set looks amazing and I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with it!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Cheers mate. I’m not even sure what I will be doing with it yet, in terms of painting that is. I need to do some research into uniforms for the later period of the war and then take it from there – I’m just about to take a good look at what’s in the box and write up an unboxing; so far, I’ve literally just lifted the lid and nothing more.


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