Getting started in Bolt Action Part 1: Army selection

(Prices in Australian dollars and based on RRP)
This is a work in progress, if you have suggestions please let me know.

Army selection is very much a personal thing, it's commonly influenced by what stories, movies, books and tales strike your fancy or what you grew up with.

If you want to play WWII Allies and love the movie "Saving private Ryan", then perhaps consider US rangers or GI's, if its "Band of brothers" then US airborne, if its "enemy at the gates" then soviets if it’s "a bridge to far then British airborne", if its "Kokoda" or "The pacific" then Australians (or Japanese to appose them), the list goes on and on.

Obviously on the flip side to the Allies the Germans have some fantastic technology, the fear inspiring tiger I or tiger II 60 plus ton tanks, modern weaponry including very high rate of fire machine guns and inexpensive (and therefore prolific) anti-tank weapons. They come in a number of flavours, early war "Heer", late war grenadiers, specialist units like Fallschirmjäger (parachute troops). There are the minor axis powers as well if you are after something different.

Each of the armies have one or more special rules that reflect their specific strengths typical for their historical performance, for example:

Soviets: Quantity has a quality of its own
Free 12 man squad when building your army list

USA: Move and fire.
No negative modifier for infantry shooting while on the move

German:
Special bonuses around leadership
Extra firepower for machine guns

Buying your army:

Cost wise a box of about 30 plastic guys will set you back up to $65 depending on where you buy them

You will also need a *version 2* rulebook there are mini ones, eBook (tablet) or PDF (print your own) but most people go for the more expensive but beautiful hard cover rules, up to $75, again depending on where you get it from

  • You will need a set of bolt action "order dice" in a colour to suit for your army about $30
  • Also a tape measure (with inches) some normal 6 sided dice, glue and other basic modelling stuff
  • That’s all you need to start playing. The main rulebook has army lists for the main 4 armies of WWII so a total of up to $200 (based on RRP).

Paint will be the next item on the list, you will need primer, various coloured paints, a wash and probably a matt varnish for final protective layer. Look for an internet painting guide that uses the paint brand that you will be able to get easily. Vallejo or Army painter are good choices.

Your local store should do a deal if you if you are starting out and buying a whole army. The "local store" can be a huge part of promoting wargaming, giving people a social hub. Its great to support your local store. 

The major armies normally have at least one plastic boxed set allowing you to get lots of guys relatively inexpensively. Supplement the plastic boxed set with metal special units or command units. If you wanted to go with one of the minor powers (like Finish for example) then you may need to get all metal miniatures which are typically more expensive than plastic. There are plusses and minuses for both plastic and metal.

Two player box sets are available to start especially if you want both sides to play at home, the Band of Brothers boxed set has Germans and US airborne plus a mini rulebook and order dice etc, there is a desert war boxed set as well; mini rulebook 8th army (British and commonwealth) and desert Germans.

Another thing to consider is the theatre/season/time of the army. Some armies have winter troops and summer troop options or for example British in the desert or the main Europe conflict.

Bolt action is pretty well balanced over all so in theory you could take an early war (1939) German list and pit it against a very late war (1945) US list event though they never met in real life. The requestion points total should reflect the strength of troops for example your 1000 point early war Germans will probably significantly outnumber the 1000 point late war US to make up for the fact that the US list from 5 years later will be more powerful. Theoretically you will still have a balanced game but I draw the line at Finnish with skis on fighting Japanese in the desert if you get my meaning.

There are also armies that are considered a bit over or under powered and some tournament players favour those over others, examples of armies that can be over powered are Finnish, Gurkhas, Japanese. There are also some specific weapons, vehicles and support squads that are not well liked. Bolt action are generally a friendly bunch of guys and you won't typically encounter 4 snipers and 4 flame throwers in a game. Don’t be that guy that tries to bring an overpowered silly list.

Those three items above are enough to get started but realistically you would probably want a couple of extra mini "blister" packs $13-$20 each

  • An HQ (headquarters) pack normally three minis, that’s your officer and his (or her) aides
  • An anti-tank squad to make a serious dent in those pesky tanks, some of the plastic boxed sets come with anti-tank resources some don’t.

Hint: putting together our miniatures

Although this article isn’t about putting together our miniatures I'll give you one hint here. Don’t just cut them all of the plastic frame and starting putting them together however it looks good. Firstly not all arms and legs with match with each body, consider building them one at a time, DRY FIT before gluing. Secondly your army needs to be made to a list. The rule book and the army list books will say something like this:

US REGULAR INFANTRY SQUAD

  • Regular Infantry 50pts
  •  1 NCO (non-commissioned officer) and 4 men Rifles
  • - Add up to 7 additional men with rifles at +10pts each
  • - The NCO and up to 1 man can have a submachine gun instead of rifles for +3pts each
  • - Up to 1 man can have a BAR automatic rifle instead of a rifle for +5pts

As you can see if you make up more than 2 men with submachine guns or more than 1 with a "BAR" in your you may run into problems. Having said that, don’t obsess over it, plan as best you can and get on with it have fun the hobby side is a big part of wargaming as well as actually playing. You can always buy a couple of extra guys to fill out as needed.

Resources for planning your army are the main rulebook, your "army book" and http://boltaction.easyarmy.com/

Where to from here?

At some point you will want the specific "army" book for your army which has more detailed army lists and units. You will eventually like a tank and perhaps truck to move the guys round in, or an artillery piece but that’s for another day.

Having said that a lot of the fun of wargaming has to do with collection modelling and painting so don’t blame me if you start out planning just to by a single French army and end up with every army that fought in WWII, every tank, artillery piece and multiples of every support squad.

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