Saga Plastic Byzantine Builds

The Byzantines feature in both of the new Saga army books.  In ‘Age of Vikings’ they appear as the ‘Last Romans’ .  Each book has a different battle board and list options.  The ‘Age of the Crusades’ book also features the Cilician Armenians who use the ‘Last Romans’ board from the ‘Age of Vikings’ book.  The Roman dice from Aetius and Arthur are used, these are workable Roman dice labels (10 instead of 8 in case some smudge or mess up).

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Choosing a Saga army depends not only on the list restrictions but on the battle board abilities.   These often depend on a specific troop so not optimising that within the army build will affect what the army can do during the game.  The 2 army books do overlap in dates towards the end of the 11th century so for want of a definition the ‘Last Romans’ might be before Manzikert (1071) and the Byzantines just after.  This would allow the same model represenations to be used for both books.  Saga is not especially strong on history but it is nice to make some effort to match up.

From a thifty viewpoint a good starting build are the plastic boxes ‘Byzantine Spearmen’ and ‘Mongol Cavalary’ from Fireforge together with ‘Arab Heavy Cavalry’ from Gripping Beast.  For the period where the books overlap the spearmen would want kite shields not oval shields, both are in the Fireforge box.

The infantry are good to go as spearmen. With 25 bodies and 40 heads, 15 heads are spare for mounted figures.

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Warriors or levy straight from the box

The ‘Arab Heavy Cavalry’ have a wapping 20 bows to go round. Plenty to run up to 8 cavalry as bow armed, leaving 12 more to be glued to half the infantry.  Cut the bows at the wrist and swap with the shield hand of the infantry.  The best bows are those without armour on the shoulder as the armoured bow arms match with the cavalry armoured torsos.  To get the infantry shoulder armour to match would require surgery on the left and right arms of the foot soldiers.

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Hand transpants to make bowmen

Since 12 of the infantry are now bowmen they will not need their shields and those 12 kite shields can go on the cavalry.

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Gripping Beast Arab Heavy Cavalry

The ‘Last Romans’ list has warrior infantry so 24 foot warriors would be some with bows and others without.  The Byzantine list only has mounted warriors so the 24 infantry would need to be levy.  These could be spear or bow (or crossbow if the bits are to hand) but the Byzantine ability ‘mixed formation’ allows levy to shoot as if they had bows so sticking some bows into the spear levy unit and calling it all spear is not unreasonable.

The Arab Heavy Cavalry have the correct body armour and enough heads with helmets to work as Byzantines. There is a sticking point with the Arabs all having long robes. Traditional Byzantine dress would be slightly shorter coats with leggings more visible. This can be fixed by swapping the Arab Heavy Cavalry tops with the bottom parts of the ‘Mongol Cavalry’ box (who show more knee) and using the left over bits as Eastern light cavalry.  The ‘Arab Heavy Cavalry’ box art shows warriors with long mail coats.  Unfortunately this option is not available on the sprues, all the armour is for chest and shoulder only.

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Heathguard, Gripping Beast uppers, Fireforge legs and horses

The ‘Mongol Cavalry’ sprue is also to be used for bow armed mounted warriors.

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The models come as torso and legs so the Arab armoured torsos can be swapped onto these figures.

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Gripping Beast on Mongol horses

8 figures can be used as 1 point of warriors leaving the other 4 as more warriors, hearthguard (using armoured torsos) or as a warlord and standard bearer.

The Mongol horses are in 3 parts compared to the Arab 2 part horses. Both need some care in lining up and filling. The Mongol horse heads need to be correctly positioned and the Arab horse sides can slide out of alignment. The Arab rider legs fit well onto the Mongol horses but the Mongol rider fit onto Arab horses is not so good. The riders appear to be standing in the saddle rather than comfortably seated.

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Mongol bodies, Gripping Beast legs, Mongol horses

Adding up the numbers we have 7 points of ‘Last Romans’ (3 mounted hearthguard, 1 mounted warrior, 3 foot warrior) or 6 points of Byzantines (2 levy rather than 3 foot warrior units) allowing for building a warlord.  The Armenians have yet another load out but can get by with 12 mounted hearthguard, 1 mounted warrior, 8 foot warriors and 12 bow armed levy.  They need the bows to make best use of the ‘Last Romans’ board but this list does leave 4 foot spearmen unused.

Factoring in the cost of a warlord the price of 3 plastic boxes is about £10 more than the cost of the Gripping Beast 4-point Byzantine starter box for a net gain of 2 or 3 units.  Being a set of metal figures all the assembling work would be considerably reduced compared to the work needed on the plastics.  The oval shields in the starter box would be better as kite shaped for our historical slot but that is not a major issue.

The ‘Last Romans’ list notes recommend the army go large on missile troops and the 4 point starter box includes 1 warrior archer, 1 spear warrior a bow and a lance armed hearthguard unit as well as the warlord.  One of their board abilities (massed volley) is to use 2 common dice to have all foot missile units shoot.  This is of no use if the army only fields 1 such unit and of limited benefit if it has 2.  The 2 warrior archer units could shoot individually on a common or rare die each, a more likely combination. A 3rd shooting unit, perhaps levy slingers, might make this option more attractive but even if enough eligible units are in the list the odds on getting them all in range at the same time are not good.  Shooters are best in fewer, larger units due to their low chance of doing any good.  Only half of warrior and levy models shoot needing a 4 followed by a 4 against warriors (1 in 4) or a 5 then a 4 (1 in 6) against heathguard.  The odds get worse against targets in hard cover and improve against those with poorer armour such as other shooters.  The Last Romans ‘indirect fire’ ability allows 1 shooting unit to fire without line of sight. The ‘disordering volley’ ability gives a bonus to large missile units in defence. Otherwise the board is not particularly rich in shooting benefits.

The Byzantine board has a number of options for units supporting each other. ‘Mixed formation’ allows 1 levy unit to shoot as bows it maintains the relatively high armour (4+) and melee ability (1/2 figures fight) of vanilla levy with some ranged fire. ‘Our comrades’ shields’ gives a defense bonus to foot units being close to friendly units without ranged weapons further encouraging the avoidance of giving foot levy bows.   The ‘acolythus’ ability allows nearby 2 levy units to be activated on 1 dice giving some hope of moving that levy about.  ‘Domestikos’ allows the Byzantines to change their dice roll results on alternate turns so getting those key combinations will not be as tricky as it might first appear.

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Saga Age of Crusades

Age of Crusades is the second period book for Saga 2 coming out 2 months after Age of Vikings.  The Saga Universe plan is that armies will work against other armies within the same period but playing against armies from different books is at your own risk.  The Age of Vikings book covered roughly the 8th to 11th centuries and at a pinch many figures could be used for more than 1 army.  Age of Crusades spans the late 11th through 14th century and due to more rapid changes in armour and shield shape there is less wiggle room in what figures can be used where.  Normans could certainly be used in Western Christian lists and sundry Vikings or Saxons might step into the Pagan Peoples list.  At another end of the spectrum is the presence of different Byzantine lists and boards in the 2 books.  A probable dividing line being the battle of Manzikert (1071) where the Byzantine defeat led to a loss of recruiting grounds and some re-working of the overall army structure.  The Ordenstaat list represents a force that came into being in the early 13th century.  It would look out of place againt a 1st Crusade force from the same book. Eastern Princes and Polish troops would doubtless change over the book time span but unlike Western armour the changes are less well known by the average gamer.

The book introduces 2 new sets of dice.  One solely for the Ordenstaat.  The other ‘Eastern’ set is for the Pagan People, Eastern Princes and Mongol boards.  The new board structure makes it easy to work out which pip is for each symbol but it does seem unnecessary to bring in new dice symbols.  The Welsh dice are currently only used for the Welsh board and neither are the Irish dice in use in this book so why not bring them back into play?   There are no new scenarios in the book, play still relies on the single main rulebook game.   There are, however, independent 2nd edition scenarios on boardgamegeek.  The book blurb does puff the ability to play a battle of faiths.  This section could do better as it consists of a set of pre-game options for the various religeons.  These provide some action or objective that will give a bonus in slaughter points if it is achieved and a penalty if it is not.  If a game is to be played that does not depend on slaughter points then the battle of faith options as written will not be relevant.

The 6 original boards from the old crusades book have been replaced.  As in the Age of Vikings supplement these are sufficiently different to the originals to merit keeping hold of the old boards for more gaming variety.  The Crusader ability to build up more dice actions as the game progresses has gone.  They can use all their abilities from the off.  The Milites Christii power to build up powers through prayer is also gone.  The Mutatawwia still gain some benefits from sacrificing their own models but the procedure is not as formalised being used in only 2 abilities.

To try out the boards we have a Crusader and Mutatawwia match up.  Despite 3 club games of the new rules there are no shocking tactical insights here. The Mutatawwia have no levies and will rely on actions that weaken their own force in order to improve their inherant abilities.  The Crusaders have 2 abilities that considerably benefit their levy (‘happy are the humble’ and ‘the peasants crusade’) but these are both 2 dice powers (1-3 together with 6 face).  With units of 6+ levy generating dice it makes sense to start with a good few levy but putting them into the maximum number of units will still bind the army by the 8 dice limit.  Having too many dice in combat abilities restricts the number left to move the army into battle so big unit count armies cannot make full use of their numbers.  The Crusader list will take 24 levy (as 2 units of 12), 8 crossbow armed warriors, 12 hearthguard (as 2 mounted units of 6) with the warlord.  There is an alternate ‘fanatical pilgrim’ levy in the mercenaries section that has all the abilities of the regular levy but with some extra bonuses as they get wiped out. To keep things simple this line up will stick with the factory standard load out. The Mutatawwia field 24 warriors (2 units of 12), 12 heathguard (2 mounted units of 6) and the warlord.   The Mutatawwia could take bows for their warriors but they have no useful offensive shooting ability beyond a simple combat bonus so will get stuck in.

The 2 sides line up with the Christians at bottom and Moslems above. There is a 6-man Christian hearthguard together with their warlord just on the left side of the image.

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The Christians move up and shoot with their crossbows while pulling the levy back. The buffed crossbow shooting (‘find chinks in their armour’) does well but pulling the levy back is a mistake (all 3 activations done without fatigue on 1 order ‘the peasants’ crusade’). On their own the levy are unarmed so are +1 to enemy defense rolls. When buffed (‘happy are the humble’)they fight as warriors (melee fighting as 1 not 1/3 figures, so 12 dice not 4 for a full unit) and lose the unarmed but this only works in their own turn. To make use of the ability will take 2 dice to activate it and at least 1 more or the warlord’s ‘follow me’ to charge in. This assumes the enemy is standing around within charge, ‘M’, range. Burning another die to move twice will help closing in although they will pick up a fatigue before combat. If they move a 3rd time they will have 2 fatigue and any sensible enemy will burn 1 of those to drop their final move to ‘S’ and leave them short of contact.

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The Moslems do not hang about and smash into the levy units (‘hijrah’ burn a figure for 3 single activations without fatigue). Neither levy is wiped out but both are now below 6 figures so won’t be generating any dice and even if buffed up to warrior are no longer a serious threat.

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The Christians divert a hearthguard unit to sort out the Moslem successes in front of the levy. Predictably the results are about even. The other Christian hearthguard and warlord are making slow going around the palm groves.

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Juggling and fatigue removal as the Moslems line up for the next action.   Hearthguard against heathguard action in the centre is inconclusive.  Some warriors are fired off as single unit attacks with limited success.  ‘Allahu Akhbar’ throws out Moslem figures at ‘M’ range who kill 1-3 target figures if they beat their armour. This is a better prospect against warriors than the better armoured hearthguard. It is a useful option for very small warrior units who no longer generate dice and would not last long in hand to hand.

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The Christians slam into the Moslem hearthguard at top left. Crossbow fire is ineffectual. With only 4 dice generated a turn the Christian options are limited.

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The Moslems activate 1 unit of infantry to charge ‘L’ and smash into the crossbows (‘like djinns), down to 3 men the crossbows no longer generate dice.

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Another predictable draw with the heartguard battle at the top of the image. Only the Christian warlord is left. The unit of Moslem warriors in the middle has been swapped out for different figures due to a combat error and rollback.

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There is not a lot left on the table and fatigues are all over the shop. Final call a draw but neither side covered themselves in tactical glory.

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Beers of War (Kings of War Tourney)

Off to chilly Wakefield on the last Saturday in April for the Beers of War (5) doubles Kings of War tournament.  I had signed up for the Bolt Action event but that and the 40K games had been dropped due to a lack of players.  I do have Kings of War Orc, Human and Lizardmen forces but these are all loosely magnetised to movement trays.  They would not have done well on the 5km walk to the railway station.   Instead I was generously offered the loan of a 1000 point Undead list, local sources informed me this was a pretty good line up but I would not have known.  Chris Christopherson was lined up as my partner with a 1,000 point Forces of Nature list.  There were some nicely painted models in that list although a Forces of Nature army could possibly be made up from bits of twig, moss and stones from the garden.  We played 3 games each taking about 2 hours with an hour’s break mid-afternoon.

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Starting positions for game 1, my lads are in grey with most of the tree huggers hiding in the woods.  We are playing against Ogres and Basileans (or possibly goblins).  Victory was judged on destroying the 3 most valuable units (not individuals) on each side.  For us that was the big skeleton horde and 2 nature units.  I took the task of going for the 2 regiments of green things at right below.  The opposition had unsportingly lined up these key victory units behind 2 hordes of rubbish Goblins.

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Our lads managed to hack through the goblins but took some damage in the process and went down to the Ogres behind.  An eventual loss for our team but the final ‘death count’ was very similar on both sides.

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Game 2 against Brotherhood and (another) Forces of Nature.  The aim is to control the 2 hills through having more and bigger units close to each than the opposition.

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Our boys surge over the victory hill and push the unpainted humans out of the way.  The red flame thing caused our undead a lot of pain but we eventually saw him off.

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Things went pretty well on my partner’s side of the table although that horde in the centre below could regenerate losses and caused considerable trouble.

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End game sees a clearly held hill.

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And the same story on the other flank for a win.

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The last game depends on controlling 5 loot tokens (that cannot be moved).  These are the brown cicular markers on the table.

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We are fighting Dwarfs and Brotherhood and learn that Dwarfs are tough.  My horde made little impact against the dwarf horde it was facing.  We caught the green rocky things in the front of the image below in front and flank and still failed to drive them off.

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End game shows the sole surviving undead unit, its commander.  My partner also took a drubbing for a clear loss overall.

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The Beers of War name does give some clue to the event and may have driven off some prospective players.  Although some teams were clearly gunning for the most alcohol drunk award other players were sticking to coffee and soft drinks.  Winning a game gave each team member a drinks token.  Our game 3 opponents were really putting it away and I was hoping for a default win when they both passed out but they clearly knew how to play and gave us a good game.  Only 1 player in the tournament seemed slightly worse for wear and the day passed in a quiet and civilised manner not requiring either police or medical intervention.

The Kings of War rules proved robust.  Some of the scenarios and minor rules came from supplements that I had not seen but these were small changes and easily picked up.  There are some key points to note that are not immediately obvious in the Kings of War rules.  These are mainly concerned with who can see what.  Everything has a height, models and terrain.  You can’t see over an equal height obstacle or unit.  To charge you need line of sight and a unit to your front.  Careful rotating can decide if a unit can be in the 45 degree charge arc and that the target is close enough of the charger’s centre point to be contacted.  No examples cropped up of obscure rules or strict grammatical rules interpretations that allowed events to take place that might not be immediately obvious.  I brought along a copy of the rules but did not need to open the book let alone run a tooth-comb through each line to find a reference and interpret what it meant.  A clear win for Kings of War as a gaming platform.

Bolt Action Soviets vs. Chinese Warlord

Here we have a Soviet, Chinese Warlord clash inspired by the conflicts of 1934 in Xinjiang.  At the time control of this province was swinging between Warlord and autonomous elements looking to break away from China.  The Soviets seemed satisfied to settle for a KMT Warlord who was friendly to the USSR.  The forces deployed in the game make some historical sense although the Soviets are wearing a later pattern helmet.  The Warlord uniforms are in theory correct, in practice it is unlikely that the local forces were so well clothed.

The Warlord army is not the best choice in Bolt Action as the cost of the Warlord and his retinue does not justify the benefits of his +4 morale bonus.   The Warlord army has 2 big regular squads and the free conscript squad.  A unit of 8 cavalry, heavy mortar, light howitzer and a FT17.  The Soviet force is from the Trans Baikal list and has to take 2 inexperienced squads (on top of the free squad).  There were still enough points for 2 regular squads, a BA6, quad maxim truck and small anti-tank gun.

This is a 750 point key positions battle with 2 Soviet and 2 Warlord objectives.  These are represented by the small rocky areas and the Carden Loyd carrier.  None of the objectives confer any cover.  Turn 1 sees both armies runnimg on with no combat.  The Soviet vehicles stay in reserve.  The FT17 can only make 6″ even at the run.  It needs to pass an order test to move and fire but with the +4 morale from the Warlord that was never a major issue.

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On turn 2 the Chinese conscripts run into the closest building.  These buildings are the excellent Pegasus 1/72 sculpts but to keep the structures solid the roofs need to be glued on so the models hug the outside walls.  The FT17 tries to hide from the Soviet gun (just out of shot behind the Carden Loyd).  The Warlord cavalry were shot at and reacted into the woods.

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Turn 3 the cavalry advance out of the woods hoping to get a charge in next turn.  A Soviet inexperienced squad has occupied the building opposite the one full of Chinese conscripts.

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The Soviet gun takes out the FT17 the quad maxim then moves up and shoots at the Chinese infantry in the woods (bottom left) but they go down and suffer minimal damage.

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Turn 4, the Chinese cavalry hoped for an early dice, did not get one and reacted back to Soviet shooting.  An infantry unit moves forward to whittle down the Soviet fire.  The Chinese conscripts charge out of the building at the quad maxim (which has already shot) and easily take it out.  The morale being always keep softskins more than 12″ from infantry.

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The BA6 has been immobilised by the Chinese artillery and with turret jam can only cover part of the battlefield.  The heavy mortar is raining shells on the Soviet unit in the building.  Soon after the Chinese gun is taken out and Soviet infantry advance to fire on the Chinese heavy mortar (top of image below)

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We officially call the game at the end of turn 5 as the Soviet player needs to catch a bus and we have been playing for 2 1/2 hours.  The Chinese cavalry finally get a charge in.  Going against inexperienced infantry with 2 pins (6 to hit) still take enough losses for the few cavalry that make it in to be easily overwhelmed.  The Chinese control 1 objective, the Soviets 2 and the objective in the centre of the table is un-contested.

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Not wishing to waste the oportunity of having the toys out another club player steps up to take over the Soviets.  The game eventually runs to 7 turns.  The Soviets assault the Chinese infantry closest to the Carden Loyd objective.  The Soviets lose and the Chinese (still unactivated) consolidate 5″.  They are now close enough to assault the Soviet gun controlling that objective and succeed with 3 figures still on the table.  The Chinese conscripts assaulted the Soviet inexperienced infantry in their house (within 6″ so no defensive fire) and overwhelmed them due to sheer weight of numbers (defended obstacle so simultanious assualt rolls).

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The Chinese now control 3 objectives to the Soviet 1.  Two intact Soviet squads are off shot here, 1 guarding an objective the other moving in on the Chinese heavy mortar.  Unit of the game would be the Soviet gun, mostly firing 1″ HE it rarely missed.  The FT17 only got off 1 volley all game, targeting the quad maxim but failing to scratch the paintwork.  The Warlord did sterling service bumping up the Chinese morale.  The Chinese cavalry scarcely got off from the starting stalls.  It may have been better to run them somewhere harmless, dismount and make a nuicance of themselves.  By the time they got a god charge target there were too few of them to make an impression.

Bolt Action: Assault Tactics

A discussion and maybe some maths on when to assault in Bolt Action v2.  Infantry assault is a zero sum gambit in Bolt Action.  With some exceptions such as the Japanese who keep rolling until they are all gone an infantry assault involves both sides rolling to kill and the unit with the most losses being removed.  In v1 there was a bonus to assault as the assaulting unit shed all its pins.  Tough fighter has now been reduced from rolling double dice to rolling dice that hit as additional attacks.  Both of these changes have reduced the overall appeal of assualt.  The short answer should be don’t; unless your unit acts like the Japanese or key ground has to be taken to win or contest the game.

The maths behind assualt is important but the situation where it all goes belly up has to be considered.  In a recent game a British flamethrower team had run up to within 6″ of a German squad.  The Germans had already activated and the flamethrowers having a big order dice advantage in the dice bag were hoping to pick first dice next turn.  Jerry got the first dice, assaulted in (target within 6″, no defensive fire), scored zero hits, the flamethrower scored 1.  This was so unexpected that I let the German redo the action (having suggested it as a no brainer in the first place) as a fire order, close range, small team, down (5s to hit), hit for a pin but no damage.

Here are the key rules to consider for assault.  As well as line of sight, 1 figure must be within 12″ of the target in the open.  The whole unit can then move in (page 76 last paragraph) but will take defensive fire if the target has no order dice.  This will be at 12″ or maximum range of any defending weapons (page 76 3rd paragraph). Some attackers could end up moving more than 12″(page 79 1st paragraph).  If the target has an ambush dice then shooting will be at point blank range.  In the case of a target wholly in cover the charge range will be 6″.  A target at the very edge of cover will be assaulted at 12″ (page 57 ‘shooting from cover’).  The other crucial effect of cover or a defended obstacle is that both sides roll to hit simultaniously, an attack in the open has the defender take assault losses before they roll.  The 6″ and 12″ ranges are so important that they are best checked with a measuring stick rather than waving a tape measure about.

The latest errata is some help on the subject of going through cover:   ‘Note also that, if the target unit is more than 6″ away, and the assaulting unit could move up to 12″ and reach its target by going around rough ground or an obstacle, the assault is allowed (though the defensive positions bonus still applies as the defenders have time
to see the enemy running around the rough ground or obstacle)’.

The simplest scenario is an assault in the open but taking defensive fire.  The attacker is hoping to have sufficient figures left after defensive fire to hit enough defenders to render any remaining defensive rolls insignificant.  For regulars vs regulars in the open hits will be on 3’s with subsequent kills on 4’s that is a 1/3 loss ratio based on the defender’s numbers coming in.  The surviving attackers will kill regulars on 4’s then take any defensive assault losses.  So take the attacker’s initial strength and reduce by 1/3 of the defenders to work out the hits. To cut the amount of data to a reasonable level units of 1-10 men are used in these examples.  A LMG and its loader is 2 men in assault but 4 shots on incoming fire so would skew the numbers again.

AttackerHits = (attacker-(defender/3))/2

DefenderHits = (defender-AttackerHits)/2

This data shows that with equal numbers it is equal losses even considering the attacker rolling first

Attacker Hits Defender Hits
1 0.33 1 0.33
2 0.67 2 0.67
3 1 3 1
4 1.33 4 1.33
5 1.67 5 1.67
6 2 6 2
7 2.33 7 2.33
8 2.67 8 2.67
9 3 9 3
10 3.33 10 3.33

If the defender were on ambush they would be hitting on 2s (5/6), killing on subsequent 4s (5/12 combined) so there are less attackers and more defenders left to fight back:

AttackerHits = (attacker-(defender*5/12))/2

Attacker Hits Defender Hits
1 0.29 1 0.35
2 0.58 2 0.71
3 0.88 3 1.06
4 1.17 4 1.42
5 1.46 5 1.77
6 1.75 6 2.13
7 2.04 7 2.48
8 2.33 8 2.83
9 2.63 9 3.19
10 2.92 10 3.54

In the case of an assault into rough ground both sides will assault at the same time.  The attacker will take the same losses on the way in but defender hits (if regular) will be half their starting number.  No need for a separate table for that.  It is most likely that an assault into cover will start within 6″ so no defensive fire and both sides rolling at the same time based on their starting strength.

When assaulting inexperienced troops in the open they are + 1 on shooting to hit (4 to hit, still 4s to kill; 1/4 kill ratio) and are killed on 3s.  With regulars coming in at over 6″ and no ambush

AttackerHits = (attacker-((defender/4))2/3)

DefenderHits = (defender-AttackerHits)/2

Attacker Hits Defender Hits
1 0.83 1 0.08
2 1.66 2 0.17
3 2.5 3 0.25
4 3.33 4 0.33
5 4.17 5 0.42
6 5 6 0.5
7 5.83 7 0.58
8 6.67 8 0.67
9 7.5 9 0.75
10 8.33 10 0.83

Assualting veterans is risky as they need 5s to kill:

AttackerHits = (attacker-(defender/3))/3

DefenderHits = (defender-AttackerHits)/2

Attacker Hits Defender Hits
1 0.22 1 0.39
2 0.44 2 0.78
3 0.67 3 1.17
4 0.89 4 1.56
5 1.11 5 1.94
6 1.33 6 2.33
7 1.56 7 2.72
8 1.78 8 3.11
9 2 9 3.5
10 2.22 10 3.89

So what can be gathered beyond the fact that the author likes maths?  A Spread-sheet helps but these figures are not hard to work out in your head during a game.  Assault is a big risk and needs something to skew the odds.  Having the defender pinned to reduce incoming defensive fire is good.  Having them spend their dice on something other than ambush before you come in is better.  Don’t let inexperienced troops anywhere near an assault on either side unless the game depends on it.  Relying on some fraction of a whole to win an assault is not going to work out.  If the numbers predict a 2:1 kill ratio it is worth considering going in but do think of the consequences if it all goes wrong.  Having said that Bolt Action is only a game and it is more fun to ‘go for it’ and take risks than to sit back and hope for a draw.

Saga v2: An Overview

What follows is a run through of the 2nd edition of Saga.  Your author is probably and possibly one of the worst Saga players on the planet but some attempt will be made to emphasise what makes this different to 1st edition.

Second edition Saga is published as a rules book with no battle boards or army guidelines included.  There is an image of the Viking board, so although lacking the berserker rules a Viking army could be played out of the book.  The separate Age of Vikings book contains force rules and battle boards for 12 forces based on the previous dark age books.  Some old armies have been absorbed, together with just about all of their old rules and tactics.  The Strathclyde Welsh for example are now just a Welsh army with all units except levies mounted, they do not have their own board.  There are currently no rules for off-board units so all the old Strathclyde abilities of shooting from off-board and moving on units during the game are lost.  Although the 12 new boards replace existing boards any serious Saga gamer should consider picking up the old expansion boards while these are still around for some potential game variety.

The existing Cross and Crescent and Aetius and Arthur boards are still valid.  Cross and Crescent is being discontinued but the new core rules do include an image of part of a Crusader era board so something must be in the works.  The Studio Tomahawk Saga 2 launch day publicity included a Tuetonic Knight against Prussian game.  These could be new factions or existing forces re-worked.   The final clue is that the ‘Age of Vikings’ supplement includes rules to use the Moors board from ‘Age of Crusades’.  Aetius and Arthur is not sold with rules so might remain in print as it is.  There is, however, a change in the way that dice work which could force the remaining original boards to the sidelines.

Each nation still has 8 dice, so no need to buy or sticker any more.  Dice can now be kept on a board between activation rolls and these do not count against the dice generation cap.  So if 2 dice are kept on a battle board and the army generates 6 dice in a turn, it can keep the 2 and roll the remaining 6 dice.  One caveat is for abilties that require 2 dice, both dice must be placed and kept on the ability.  It is not possible to place 1 die down and hope for the other to come up later.  All of the 12 new boards except Carolingians have a basic Saga ability to take a 6 face score, discard this and roll 2 more unused dice.   A similar ability does exist on some of the old boards but it is now specifically clarified.  The 6 face is put to 1 side, it will not be rolled again that orders phase.  The 2 replacement dice come from amongst those not originally generated by units on the board.   The Carolignians have other dice re-roll powers and will not be bothered about lacking this ability.  Some nations’ abilities do allow a rolled dice to be specifically rolled again or set to another face without rolling.  Note there is no 6 order dice rolling cap.   A force can roll all 8 dice, if it can generate them.  A levy unit of at least 6 figures or a warrior of at least  4 generates an order dice, hearthguard units and warlords another 1 die each so generating 8 or more dice from an army is quite possible but no more than 8 dice will be rolled.   The effect of these dice generation and re-rolling factors on the existing boards will be hard to judge.  The aim seems to be to keep the dice moving around.  A force generating a small number of dice can build up powers by keeping dice on the board, assuming the opposition gives them a chance to do that.

All units become exhausted after 3 fatigues, any fatigue in excess of 3 is ignored.  Fatigue can be spent to aid or hinder movement or combat.  In combat it can be used to increase or decrease armour multiple times within a minimum of 2 and maximum of 6.  Fatigue and abilities are spent in strict IGO, YUGO sequence each player in turn.   An example consequence would be the Viking Loki ability.  This can only be triggered once but forces a hefty penalty on the opponent if they use enemy fatigue or their own abilities in a combat.  It can make even an exhausted unit hard to beat but should be triggered at the beginning of combat as it will not retroactively effect any fatigue spent or abilities already activated.  Exhaustion is not a massive deal, -1 on attacking to hit rolls and being unable to activate except to rest.  So activate to rest, lose 1 fatigue and lose exhaustion.  Then activate to move, as the 1st non-rest activation this will not generate another fatigue.

The Saga book contains only a basic scenario with none in the Age of Vikings book.   A battle book is promised.  It can only be hoped that the scenarios in that are more than the usual, ‘kill the warlord’, ‘rescue the captives’, ‘escort the baggage’ affairs.  All games are better where some thought beyond ‘fastest with the mostest’ needs to go into winning.  The single scenario provided has some variety in terrain set up and starting areas but otherwise is a simple ‘line them up and go for it’ appraoch.

Here the Vikings take on the Anglo-Saxons, a relatively historical match up, some of the clothing and shield designs may be off-piste.  These are probably 2 of the simplest factions to play the aim being to get into the rules rather than explore sophisticated ability interactions.  The Vikings have some good combat abilities.  The Saxons rely on bonuses they receive from large units.  The Viking plan is to build up a bank of good combat effects then roll forward and use them.  The Saxon plan being to get in quick while their own units are still big and before the Viking can optimise their battle board.  The terrain is the minimum allowed by the scenario set up rules.  The rear 1′ section is out of play as this is a 4’x3′ game on a 4’x4′ mat.  The Vikings have deployed well back except for a big levy unit in the woods, hoping to buy time to optimise their stored dice.  The Saxons are as far forward as they can be aiming to get stuck in.  The house is a ruin, the official rules for houses have yet to be published.  The tiny blocks of woods are the required ‘small’ size, 6 figures might squish in, 8 at a push.  The effect of these small terrain pieces is not their inherant cover but to slow units by forcing them to go round.  All moves are in straight lines in Saga, no bending round the edge of poor terrain.

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The Vikings are starting with a hefy 7 dice pool, hoping to get some good combat combinations.  The downside of having a lot of units is that it is hard to move them all.  The Saxons have 5 activation dice, relying in part on the occasional 6 score to roll additional dice into the activation pool.  Having a small unit count did not prove a major problem.  An army gets 2 free activations, the warlord and 1 unit within short of the warlord.  A clarification to the Viking board says that a warlord is always within short of himself so until someone erratas it the warlord could activate twice without spending dice.  The second could cause fatigue so that would not always be the best plan.

The Vikings start the show, throwing just 3 dice as first player.  All rubbish but put on combat abilities just in case.  The Saxons manage to get a unit of 12 warriors into the Viking levy in the woods hoping to eliminate them and have the Viking drop a dice.  The maths was not thought through.  All things being equal the warriors will hit levy on a 4, rolling 12 dice they might expect to hit 6.  The levy close ranks, dropping half their own attacks but saving hits on a 4 (3 if missile armed), so half the hits get through, the levy lose 3 figures.  It will take 4 turns at this rate to plough through a unit of levy which itself has a limited offensive ability.  These calculations proved true in practice the 12 warriors (1 1/2 points) took all game to plough through a 1 point levy unit that was itself a limited offensive threat.

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The centre saw the Viking berserkers plough into the 8 strong Saxon hearthgaurd but were unable to wipe them out, 1 figure remained throughout the game (and stayed out of the way after that).  The Saxon warlord finished off the berserker unit.  The Viking warlord then tried to finish off the Saxon warlord.  Warlords do generate 8 attacks but have good armour, can take hits as fatigue (until they are exhausted) and pass another to a friendly hearthguard unit within short.  This means that the average warlord on warlord combat is not going to be conclusive unless significant activation or fatigue effects are in play.

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The second unit of Saxon warriors charge in and are able to remove the Viking warlord who is not within short of a friendly unit.  Losing the 2 free activations for the warlord and the die for the warlord himself severley hampers the Viking player.  For the rest of the game the Vikings try to shuffle forward but do not have the activation dice to get into combat.  The Saxons finally destroy the pesky levy they have been hunting all game.  A clear Saxon win.  Note that several Viking warrior units took no part in the battle beyond generating activation dice.  The Saxon levy was also left out of battle but as a levy unit that would be the best place for it.

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Bolt Action: Sino Japanese Conflict

First a big thank you to Battlefront UK who provided this Flames of War battlemat to our club (Blackshaw Gaming Club) at no cost.  It is a double sided, fertile/desert rubber mat.  Here it is standing in as rolling flatlands in Northern China for a Bolt Action game and  showcasing the Chinese deployment.   The brown hills are dense soft cover, the ruins dense hard cover.  The craters (marshy dips) are soft cover, the railway line has no effect on the game apart from marking the 4 quarters of the table.  The train is not going anywhere soon but rates as hard cover.

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The scenario here is sectors.  The table is divided into 4 with the armies deploying in opposite quarters.  3 points are awarded per unit in the enemy sector at game end, 1 point per unit in a neutral sector and 1 for a destroyed enemy unit.

The Chinese list was very similar to the 8th Army list from the blog’s Chinese army post.   It would have been identical if I had not forgotten to pack it and instead had to re-point it from memory.  With 3 units of guerillas and 3 of tank hunters all able to forward deploy the Chinese have the abilty to deploy in their own half of the table including the neutral sector opposite the Japanese home sector.   The free sparrow tactics move after deploymemt also allows the Chinese to really dominate the board early on.  On the minus side getting close up to full strength Japanese squads is not always a good thing and the Chinese have precious little anti-tank in their list.  As this is an early war match up the Zis2 and captured Japanese tank units are not going to be available.

The Japanese list is from the Manchuria setting, unlike many Japanese lists there are no spearmen or tank hunters but fear not there is still a pile of infantry.  The Japanese have a light tank and armoured car that wisely stay out of the way of the pre-game bombardment.  The Japanese have deployed 2 squads well up front hoping for some easy assaults and blocking some of the avenues of possible sparrow tactic advances.

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2 Chinese guerilla units get some early shots off on the Japanese but are rolled over by banzai attacks.  With 3 squads coming in (the 4th is on the hill) there is no stopping all of them.  Japanese big squads can be beaten but need to be ground down first.  Getting units on ambush in cover will ensure point blank shots on the way in and both sides rolling for assault at the same time.  The Japanese will probably still win but should be sufficiently weakened to stop a squad rolling over a fresh enemy unit each turn.  Another tactic is to move back shooting while keeping out of assault range.

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The Japanese squad by the train is looking puny but the one to the front of the shot below is still good and yes, there is another squad behind it.  The die ‘5’ shows a mortar trying to range in.

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Turn 2 and the Japanese vehicles show up.  The Crossley is from the  Honourable Lead Boiler Suit Company.  It has factory issue solid tyres which might have been replaced by pneumatic tyres, the British certainly did so in India.  With 2 MMGs it is good value bang for bucks.   The date and theatre vehicle optimal choice would probably be a Wolseley Armoured Car.

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Period postcard ‘our tank group in Manchuria’

The Ha-Go has a 1 man turret so needs an order test to advance (not fire or run).  The only advance it did this game was when it came on when it thankfully managed to take out the Chinese light gun.  The Chinese best, but still slight, chance of harming the Japanese armour.

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The Chinese move up regardless.  If that infantry squad at the left of the line had anti-tank grenades they would not have whiffed their attempt to assault the Crossley.

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A late turn dice pull puts a Chinese anti-tank guy within 6″ of the Crossley.  A first die pull of the next turn would give him a chance to assault it if he passed tank fear (at -3) but the Crossley took the 1st dice.

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With plenty of points to be had for being in the Japanese quarter the remaining Chinese go for it.

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The Crossley is diverted to thin them out a bit.  Off-camera the Ha-Go deals with the Chinese heavy mortar.

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Removing the Chinese commander from the Japanese home quarter would cost the Chinese 3 points.  The Japanese failed to do this not that it would overly dint their victory point lead.  The Japanese medium howitzer (proxied here by a 75mm field gun) moves from behind cover to fire over open sights.  With a minimum range of 30″ firing indirect the remaining Chinese are too close.

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The isolated Chinese unit scores 1 point for being in a neutral sector but would be unlikely to get an assault in on the Japanese armour.

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The big peasant unit goes down from withering fire and a failed morale check caused by the last remaining Japanese infantry squad, seen in the foreground below.

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The game ends as a massive Japanese victory, although there are precious few units left on either side.  Losing infantry squads on game turn 1 to banzai assaults knocked the Chinese advantage in numbers.  By late game both sides were pulling the same total of dice each turn.  The 2 vehicles could almost guarantee 6 Japanese victory points by sauntering into the Chinese home quarter and staying there.  Dealing with vehicles uisng a force that has no anti-tank on board will always be filed under ‘advanced Bolt Action tactics’.

Bolt Action Chinese Armies

The WW2 Chinese armies do not have their own book but they take up a hefty slice of the Empires in Flames campaign book.  There are 3 variants of Chinese, KMT, Communist and Warlord but the same figures could be worked up into any of these.  The chance of encountering a historical opponent is slim.  There are Japanese in China lists in the Armies of Japan, Ostfront and Empires in Flames book.  The Soviet Nomohan army could be faced in a border skirmish battle and possibly late Free French or Commonwealth as incidents between local guerillas and returning colonial forces, Korean War actions are alson on the cards.  To be fair the chance of a historical match up (both dates and campaigns) in any Bolt Action pick-up game is unlikely.

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Eight Route Army in Shanxi (Public Domain, copyright expired, China 50 year rule)

The first obstacle is finding a manufacturer of the right stuff in the right scale.  As the period covered could go from at least the Japanese annexation of Manchuria in 1931 to the Chinese Civil War hotting up in 1946 there is some variation in what fits in where.  Reiver Castings do a dedicated range of large 28mms.

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The second figure from left is a Copplestone.  The other 3 are Reiver.  All much the same size but the Reiver slightly less detailed.  Painting the eyes and eyebrows on a Copplestone is relatively easy but it is difficult to achieve much above a slit on the Reiver.   The Reiver arms also are a little awkward.

Copplestone are another option also of large 28mms although their Back of Beyond range is more properly set in the 1920s.  This Copplestone towers above a plastic Warlord figure.

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The major uniform update for the 1930s on the Copplestones being a replacement of the peaked flat hat with with a simpler cap like a German ski cap.  Failing these options any figure with long puttees such as Japanese, Dutch or French would do for the bottom part of the figure.  Replacement heads would need to be made or swapped with the Chinese cap,  Brodie helmet (think WW1 UK) or German WW2 M35 helmet. One of the closest not-Chinese nations would be Finns, even the grey uniform colour could work.  The major sticking point would be the long boots worn by the Finns, not unknown in China but unlikely to be worn by the whole of their rank and file. A workable get by is to use Warlord plastic Japanese bodies but German rifles and heads.  This requires 1 German early war sprue to 2 Japanese sprues.  The parts match is reasonably good.  Some filler may be needed but the arms, heads and bodies all stay in proportion.  A cheaper approach is to stick with eary war Germans alone and convert the boots to puttees.  This could be achieved by winding thin strips of tape or modeling putty around the boots.  These are German-Japanese plastic hybrids gunning for the Chinese army.

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At this scale rifles all look much the same.  The common LMG would be a Czech design similar to the British (Czech) Bren, not the German MG the guys above are carrying. Copplestone only have Lewis gunners in their back of beyond range ruling out any simple LMG conversions.  Reiver do several LMGs, MMGs and mortars in their range.  Unfortunately they do not do a Boys ATG.

Artizan designs do French Foreign Legion with the correct sort of LMG.  They are a close match to the Copplestone figure in the middle below.  The Artizan pack comes with 3 LMG men and a rifleman.   The jacket and hat are OK for Chinese,  3 of the Artizan figures have long scarves.  These could be tricky to file off so have been painted in the same pale brown as their puttees here to pick up some contrast.

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Mortars and smaller field guns are also similar between nations, just the crews need to be sourced.  Interestingly the Copplestone Chinese generic gun does seem to be the same  leFK16 field gun as in the Warlord list.  The model and real gun do have a gun shield but the list IeFK16 does not, a saving of 5 points.

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The heavy mortar is going to need a mover.  This mule limber should do the job.

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There is no Copplestone medium or light mortar.  Japanese knee mortars can be assigned as lights.  Crusader have 2 Dragon Portes medium mortars (60 and 80mm).  The Adrian helmet here is unusual in China but not unknown.  The jackets are also rather fancy especially around the cuff but this pack is a servicable stand in.  A major bonus is that Copplestone, Crusader and Artizan are all supplied by North Star so only 1 set of postage is charged.

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This Zis2 may not have shown up in China but is the only decent anti-tank the 8th Route  Army has.  It should only be used as a late war or Chinese Civil War piece.  It is a Butlers 3D printed model with a Reiver crew.  The MMG alongside is a Copplestone.

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Armour and heavy weapons supply is tricky as between the invastion of Manchuria in 1931, the capture of Shanghai in 1937 and Pearl Harbour in 1941 the Japanese gradually nailed down all routes of external supply to China.  German and Italian vehicle supply and other miltary aid stopped in 1937.  The Soviet Union shipped tanks to China, the railway being in the hands of the Japanese, but this source dried up in 1939 after the Soviet-Japanese non-agression pact.  Any supply from French Indo China stopped in 1941 and the Burma Road was only active between 1940 and 1942.  That would leave the caravan trails from Russia East of Mongolia to Xinjiang province; itself under the control of the Warlord Sheng Shicai.  A possibility as the Soviets invaded Xinjiang with tanks in 1934 and although technically losing maintaining an influence in the region.

At the scale of Bolt Action the KMT have access to a few vehicles representing early war forces or old stock still running, coincidentally also matching up well with the Finnish early war list.  The Communists only have use of captured Japanese tanks, an option that is probably not worth taking up.  Warlord armies are basically a cut down KMT force but requiring a captain or major as a compulsory choice.

The Ba10 is hard to source but this Ba6 will have to do the job.  The major difference being that the Ba10 has a rounded turret not the same as the T26 turret here.  The T26 is cheaper than the Ba10 but loses recce and only has a single MMG in the co-ax position so it cannot be fired alongside the main gun.  The Ba10 has an additional LMG in the bow.  The T26 could be a Vickers 6-Ton tank, almost identical in size and function at this scale but available to the KMT a few years earlier than the Soviet supplied T26s.   No insignia here as these vehicles might get drafted back to serve with a Soviet Bolt Action force.

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Reiver do a Carden-Loyd carrier, here next to a Reiver trumpeter.  The scale matches up to true 1/56.  Compared to the Empress Carden Loyd there is a noticeble lack of detail, the inside view of the tracks for example is not carved but the top does come off and there are seats modelled inside.  On the plus side the Reiver model is just over half the price and as a viable Bolt Action vehicle the Carden Loyd would never be first choice to put on the table.

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Having sourced figures there is the issue of what colour to paint them.   Hues of pale blue touching on pure grey is the colour choice that really shouts Chinese (who else could they be?).  It would be the best choice for earlier KMT forces, Warlords and for the poorly supplied Communists up until late in the war.   Greeny yellow is the best match for loyal KMT especially the German equipped units who should also be issued with German helmets.  A choice that would be unlikely to be common in Communist units and preventing any hope of using the same German influenced models for KMT, Communist and Warlord lists. Buff or khaki could be used anywhere but in particular those forces supplied from India and Burma or indirectly by deserters from Japanese collaboration troops.   Communist guerillas in Malaya were in the majority Chinese and a khaki paint scheme would cover them with the interesting option of fighting Indian collaborationist troops under Japanese command.  Late in the war KMT troops will look very similar to USA infantry because of the stocks of surplus equipment received from Uncle Sam.  There are a great many Chinese films and TV series set in the period and the stock solution is grey Communists, green KMT and brown Japanese, easy for the viewer to tell apart.

These Copplestone flat caps have been ground down with a Dremel.  Results are mixed but only really show up when painted.  In retrospect a little more rounding of the top of the cap would be in order.

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Here are the Copplestone infantry in fur hats.  A good to go choice as the issue Winter hat did have fur flaps that drop down plus some non-issue Winter wear would not be unreasonable.  Having 2 sorts of headwear allows easy distinguishing between regular and Guerilla squads.  In this theatre Guerillas would derive no benefit from being in military or civilian attire, no hiding from reprisals nor expectation of ‘honours of war’.

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Assault troops with SMGs are useful as NCOs or in the dedicated scout unit.  The head swap at the end looks a bit of a pin head in ‘real’ life but in this photo shows up OK.

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Both the KMT and Communists can field a 3-man scout unit and Guerilla squads of up to 9.  Both options have forward set up and outflanking bonuses making the scout option less flexcible at the same equivalent points cost.  A 3-man unit is OK for taking out small teams but bigger squad is much more survivable with better tactical options.  Considering the lack of anti-tank all round the Communists would do well to give Guerilla units anti-tank grenades.

Copplestone big sword lads, a genuine option for the period.  The KMT and Warlord lists allow a full squad of these at Veteran status but a horrific points sting.  They act like a Japanese squad in homing into close combat.  They should be armed with rifles as well, there were 3 separate sheathed swords in the pack of 10 infantry that can be used to give riflemen a big sword and help mark the big swords as all having rifles.  Another use for the unit is as pistol armed guerillas.

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The guy at the end has been given an additional pack to act as an anti-tank suicide guy.  The Chinese armies have 3 of these just like the Japanese.  They are a cheap dice source but of limited use.  They need to pass a tank terror test to attack enclosed armoured vehicles and then have to survive any fire on the way in.  To have good odds of passing the tank test at morale -3 they want to be Veteran (7 up to go in). Regulars might do it and inexperienced would need to be very lucky.   Having 2 or 3 of these ready to go ensures that when the 1st takes an early bath the target has pulled its die in defensive fire giving the 2nd man in a better chance of success.  Open topped vehicles are easy meat for them especially those tracked contraptions with a big gun on the top that sit out on the back field and pound away.

A Chinese army includes a free unit of 14 inexperienced infantry.  The Copplestone packs of 10 bandits and 4 bandit command set fit the bill, unlike the other Copplestone infantry packs every single figure is different.  These could be seen as criminal bandits hoovered up to support the cause.  The only drawback is that some are barefoot in army that is broadly Winter themed.

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A less successful endeavour is this attempt to convert Perry ACW cavalry to become mounted Chinese.  The Warlord arms fit the Perry bodies and bits of WW2 kit have been added.  The real problem was the faces look too European and converting the ACW kepis to Chinese hats had mixed success.  These figures are not finished, the next stage would be a wash then highlights and basing.

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Rather than reinforce failure they went for lengthening of the jackets with  modelling putty and head swaps to Japanese.

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An improvement but still not even close to proper models such as the Copplestone cavalry that are almost zero effort to put together and only twice the price.

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This 1,000 point 1938 KMT list is a vanilla early war army.  The big sword figures are working as pistol armed guerillas to cut back on points and fit in as much infantry as possible while running the 2 vehicles.   The Shanghai list options are similar but with a few more variations.  The only Chinese special rule made use of being the free levy squad although the guerillas can foward deploy and ignore terrain on turn 1.  Adding a 2nd platoon with 2 more light vehicles but dropping some infantry would make a viable 1,250 list.

This Commmunist 8th Route Army 1000 point list relies on a pile of infantry as its anti-tank options are severely limited. Indirect fire units sit at the back and hope to range in.  There is no place for a sniper here.  With a forward deploy strategy putting guerilla units to the fore he would be lucky to get enough useful clear targets to pay back his cost.  The tank hunters are veteran in the hope that they will survive and get into contact.  Expanding this list to 1,250 would be challenging as adding more infantry might lead to bunching and units blocking each others’ line of sight.  Upgrading part of the army to veteran might be an option.  China Fights Back is a1938 account of the 8th Route Army by an American observer.

Communist infantry (including their small teams and cavalry) have a 9″ move after deployment but before the 1st turn.  This is in addition to the forward deployment of guerillas and tank hunters plus the ability of guerilla units to treat terrain and obstacles as open on the first turn.  In theory a guerilla unit could set up adjacent to the table centre line, deploy a further 9″ then move another 12″ on its first turn.  Both these moves have no terrain penalty so the unit could end up 3″ from the enemy board edge.  This would be a particular threat to units at risk from infantry assault such as snipers and artillery.  Sending a single unit in like that might knock out a 50 point unit but leave the 100+ point guerilla unit vulnerable to enemy units moving to point blank and hosing it down.   Consider threatening to do the same with 3 or more guerilla units or sending 1 in to assault while others remain nearby on ambush to protect it.  This type of action would not be recommended against units that want to get into close combat such as big Japanese squads.  Another option is to deploy up front forcing the enemy to stay well to their rear then infiltrate back to the friendly board edge having had the enemy waste their first move by deploying defensively and spending early dice on ambush orders.  With 2 armies both having a large number of forward deploy units, options available to Chinese, Japanese and Australian Papuan units the whole deployment system starts to break down.  These tactics only work if there are troops on the table at the start of the game.  There are 12 scenarios in the basic book, 3 begin with no units from one side on the table and 3 more with no units of either force in play as the game begins.

Pulp Terrain: Playing with Dolls

This mini dollhouse furniture is relatively easy to track down.  It has no exact scale but is often marketed as quarter scale dollhouse miniatures.  There may be a slight discount if buying all 5 packs although that does result in a possible surplus of chairs.  These are destined as props for Pulp type games or general scatter terrain.  Prices vary but are about what would be expected for a similar haul of resin scatter terrain; doubtless the factory knocks them out for next to nothing.

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The models are cheap plastic and detailed on one side only, the backs are crude at best.

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Tables and chairs are the best to use as scale exemplars.  Something like a clock could be a model of a big or small clock.  A tiny or huge chair would look wrong.  Here we see a Copplestone ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ agent (largish 28mm) and Warlord plastic Japanese soldier.

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Hasslefree Fred Jones from Scooby Doo and Black Tree 3rd Doctor.

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More tea vicar?  Wargames Foundry Home Guard knock the scale on the head.

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These Mantic Walking Dead dudes are a little on the large side for the furniture but their built up bases are partly to blame.

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Another use is as stowage.  A grandfather clock and kitchen sink is a step above some old tarp and stowage boxes.

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Getting Started In Bolt Action

A brief guide for those thinking of taking the plunge.  This is not a review of the rules but a discussion of what would be needed to start gaming with them.

The only absolutely essential buy is the rules.  Make sure that these are 2nd Edition.  2nd is not a major change to 1st but there have been improvements that are generally for the better.  The move from multiple dice hits on area effect weapons to templates at a time when 40K went the other way, dropping templates, being the significant backward step.  The early printings of 2nd edition had some errors which have been corrected in later runs.  There are still several errors and changes making getting hold of the FAQ from Warlord essential.  Chancing on a new copy of the 1st printing of 2nd edition is unlikely as it quickly sold out.  The edition within the most recent starter sets(Band of Brothers and Tank Wars) has the same content as the stand alone rules but is soft backed, slightly smaller and as such harder to read.

Konflikt 47 shares many of the same rules as Bolt Action 2nd but not all of them.  It can be best described at Bolt Action 1.5.  The army lists included can be used against regular Bolt Action armies.  The forces add some bigger, stronger options but are not wildly out of the way from standard WW2 fare.  There is no magic for example and ‘monsters’ are relatively minor mutations.  Beyond the Gates of Antares is the full science fiction variant that is based on Bolt Action.  There is quite a diversion from the base rules and D10s are used for the chance element instead of D6s.  This does offer more finesse in the roll of a single die but lacks the bell curve of 2D6.  A Bolt Action army could just about be jammed into Antares as Freeborn but apart from that only the order dice are of any use in WW2 games, even the templates are different.  Amongst the unofficial, probably v1 specific but could still work are Cthulhu, Mars Attacks, Spanish Civil War and Modern variants.

Order dice are needed to play Bolt Action and the official dice come in packs of 12, enough for the average 1,000 point army.  The current dice have rounded corners but the original production runs had hard corners making it easy to tell the 2 formats apart by feel.  As picking dice blind is a key part of game play any new player needs to stick with the more common rounded corner dice.  It is not necessary to buy the official dice. Any 2 sets of dice of the same size and shape but different colour will do.  The dice faces represent the orders given to units but only the ‘Ambush’ and ‘Down’ conditions matter once an order has been enacted.  This can be shown by D6s left on their 1 or 6 side.  Just make sure that D6s used as orders are quite distinct from those used for chance rolls.

The basic Bolt Action rules include lists for Germany, USA, Britain, Russia and Japan but only with statistics for a limited number of models.  There is quite a collection of force books, none of which are required.  Almost everything in the books is available electronically at Easy Army.   What is missing are the special rules for each nation which will need to be hunted down on the Internet.  There is nothing wrong with getting the force books but there are so many of them, they overlap and much of the content is Osprey filler.  Consider a Soviet army, 1st choice would be the Armies of the Soviet Union.  Some units are missing but are in Ostfront.  There are a few more Russians in Empires in Flames and although no new units Road to Berlin has some Soviet based scenarios.  All the major armies are thus spread over several books making them an all or nothing choice.  Even buying a campaign book will not give all options for the specific campaign but references back other volumes.  For Japanese in New Guinea the campaign book and Armies of Japan are needed.  It is all on Easy Army which builds lists from all the books.

A good start is to work out 2 historically opposing 1,000 point lists, regardless of any intention of actually buying any models.  Depending on the units chosen and how the game goes that would be 2-3 hours playing.  Cut down each list to 750 points for a shorter (1 1/2 – 2 hour) game but using the same troops.  A vanilla Bolt Action army would be 40 infantry (4 squads of 10 or 5 of 8), a mortar, field gun, armoured car and a small tank.  Another 5 ‘fancy’ infantry to use as officers, spotters, snipers or whatever would be useful.  The Warlord build an army deals all fall into this pattern to some degree.  It is not a good starting plan to buy big tanks.  They are a points sink and will be lucky to destroy enough enemy units in an average game to earn their points back.  In tank terms a Panzer III is OK, IV pushing it and a Panther over the top. Small. light and historically useless tanks such as the Panzer II, punch above their weight in Bolt Action as heavy armour is rare.  There is even some benefit to outclassed designs such as the T28 and A9 as these mount a stack of machine guns and pose a significant threat to infantry, against a real tank they are as mutton.  A force can get by without any tanks but still needs some way to deal with them.  Even if none are destroyed the threat of losing perhaps 1/4 of an army in a single model to 1 attack will make armoured units cautious.  Without that threat they will drive up to close range and make a real mess of any targets that they come across. Most infantry can be bought anti-tank grenades at 2 points a model.  Cheap enough to do a whole army for less than the price of a tank.  The grenades are only of minimal use as the squad with them has to pass a moral test to start, avoid any lead from the tank on the way in and if the tank is going slow enough to catch it, hope to inflict enough hits to damage it.

A basic Bolt Action army has a single platoon and this restricts it to 1 armoured car and 1 tank.  The rules allow more than 1 platoon in any army.  An additional tax of a new HQ unit has to be bought for each platoon and no new bonus unit (such as the free Soviet conscript squad) is received.  This allows another armoured car and tank per platoon.  At higher points, 1250 plus, some very competitive armies can be built from multiple platoons.  At lower points a single platoon is a safer option to begin with as fewer mistakes can be made when buying stuff.  Another building route is the tank platoon.  This relies on the Tank Wars book.  A slim volume that in essence says buy all the tanks you like.  A force such as that can make a real mess of a standard 1 platoon infantry force.  For all armies there is a generic ‘reinforced platoon’ list and various theatre lists covering most major engagements of the war.  The generic list allows everything to be thrown in regardless of date and can result in an overpowered list.  On the other hand the theatre lists are an approximation and sometimes cover a wide geographical area and time span.  It is possible to create a more realistic list with the generic force than with the theatre specific choices.   A classic case of abuse of the list system would be the 6 Katyushka list that ran at Britcon 2017, a strategy based on hoping to roll lots of 6s before the opponent gets close up.

Some thoughts on which force to go for.  The Germans are the original baddies and will match up with most nations.  They boast some cool toys but at a price making German armies small or relying on rubbish to bulk them out.  Unfortunately they moved from a basic grey vehicle colour to yellow and then cammo in 42/43 meaning that a vehicle might be in service for most of the war but be in the wrong colour for part of it.  The infantry also moved from long to short boots although the long boots can be used late war as 2nd line troops.  The late Panzer IV with side skirts is the cheapest tank that grants the Panzer fear rule making it a worthwhile buy.  With Panzer fear any enemy unit that sees if and does not shoot at it must pass a morale test at -1 to do anything else.  If it fails it goes down and ends its activation.

Soviets are popular not only because they are quite good in the game but the uniforms and armour colours are much the same throughout the war.  Helmet styles should subtly change and rank badges move from collar to shoulder but at 28mm no one will care.  The Soviets get a free infantry squad of 12 so buy plenty of infantry and make sure that one squad is obviously distinct models from the others.

The British and their empire are not helpful on the uniform front.  For BEF and Home Guard the helmet is relatively flat and the gas mask bag prominent.   These early forces can be accompanied by various civilian types including the famous Warmington on Sea platoon.  They will also stretch to Very British Civil War games.  In other climes the 8th Army can stand in for early Burma and Malaya.  Later Far East forces will be in Jungle Green, in 44/45 Europe the helmet is more bowl shaped and Denison smocks come in.

Japanese are another army that can be used for most of the war with very few changes.  Getting the right one out of a confusing array of tanks all with similar names can be a problem.  Many of these tanks and tankettes are not readily available in 1/56 scale but thankfully the Japanese can get by without any tanks.  They are experts in close combat and their most useful unit is the maximum strength spear armed inexperienced squad.  Spamming these in a generic list can give a powerful army but is in reality poor form, the opposition needs to be given an even chance to win.

Americans come in various flavours but the main choice is Pacific or Europe.  Early war Pacific is not easy to source infantry for but Marines will do for Army or Marine troops throughout the mid to late Pacific period except in the Aleutians or as KMT in Manchuria where it is a trifle cold to go round in a flimsy shirt.  One of the American special rules is allowing an air observer to call in 2 air strikes per game compared to the 1 of every other nation.  They do however have to pay for the air observer (75 points) but the British get an artillery observer for free.

The Chinese do not come with a national army book but are in the Empires in Flames book, in brief they do what the Japanese do but not quite so well.  They are in 3 flavours, the Warlords require an expensive Warlord unit so are a poor choice.  The KMT are a fairly standard early war army with access to light tanks and armoured cars.  The communists are critically short of any anti- armour but their infantry have a turn 1 bonus move of 8″ that will give them some early game flexibility.

The game can be tried out without buying any models using the VASSAL engine.  The choice of model manufacturer is not too important, Warlord and the gaming community are only bothered that the models are a reasonable depiction of what they should be. Basing is also flexible, 2p coins weigh the model down and are magnetic.  Multiple bases do work but get a little squiffy when deciding who can get hit when under a template.  This is all in contrast to official Workshop, Warmachine, Batman and so foth games where only official miniatures may be used.  For the infantry the common scale is 28mm, the big choice is plastic or metal.  The plastic gives more variety in pose and is cheaper but it takes time to assemble a decent pose.  There are often ‘last turkey on the shelf’ figures made up of all the bits after the best ones have gone.  The earlier Warlord plastic sets including Soviets and US infantry had all the weapons separate to the arms.  Later sets such as US Marines have some loose weapons and others glued to pairs of arms considerably reducing the time required to put them together. Compare gluing a single part of 2 arms attached to a gun onto 2 shoulders to gluing 2 separate arms and a separate weapon all to the 2 shoulders and making a natural pose of it.

Perry plastics are a little smaller than Warlord so parts cannot be mixed between the 2.  They do however mix with the Perry metals and spare heads.  Possibly the cheapest plastics are from Plastic Soldier Company.  They only do Soviets and some of the poses are less than ideal.  They are also larger than the Warlord and have very few parts to assemble so are harder to convert.  Still the price is good as are the matching scale 45mm guns and infantry support weapons boxes.  Metal figures are usually a case of cleaning off the flash, undercoating then painting with minimal prior assembly.  Having different sized figures in different units looks OK at a distance but mixing within the same unit can look odd.  People do come in different sizes but infantry small arms do not.  Even head swaps between manufacturers can result in models with massively swollen or undersized pin heads.

For vehicles the true scale should be 1/56.  The major plastic suppliers are Warlord and Rubicon (from the Pastic Soldier Company amongst others).  The early Warlord plastics were Italieri sculpts and a nightmare to build.  The Warlord Puma has separate suspension for all of its 8 road wheels, none of which will be seen in a game.  The early Rubicon models like the Stug were simple kits that were easy to put on the table.  More recent Warlord models have become easier to build but Rubicon have moved to multiple variants and additional detail making them harder to put together.  Also note that more recent Rubicon kits are not in the usual modelling plastic meaning that regular polystyrene cement has a hard time gluing them.  Resin kits offer less detail but are easy to assemble and a wider choice of models is available.  Other possible scales for WW2 models inlcude 1/60, 1/50 and 1/48.  There is a noticable size difference between these and 1/43 are way too big.  If going for a different scale, keep to it or the difference will be immediately obvious.  Moving from 1/56 is most obvious for the smaller vehicles.  If tanks are big that is because they are tanks, a 1/48 jeep is worryingly large compared to infantry and 1/56 tanks.

Terrain is a no-brainer if moving from something like 40K.  Even the intensely Gothic stuff is better than using sheets of paper or felt.  The cheapest starter for terrain is trees.  There are plenty of eBay sellers that market cheap trees that often start to fall apart even before they are unpacked.  Buildings did drop off in use when 2nd edition came out as a HE hit on a building meant curtains for most models inside.  So no one went into them and there was little point putting buildings on the table.  The latest FAQ allows penalties for small team and down to be applied to buildings making it worth going in them again.  There is a limited choice in plastic buildings all of which are pretty robust.  If trashed they can be glued back together.  The Berlin city apartments from Warlord are actually Italieri 1/72s, these and some other smaller scale buildings are good enough for 28mm.  MDF is the big growth area.  They are relatively cheap and can be built to come apart to put models inside.  On the downside they soak up paint like a sponge.  A cheap spray enamel can give fair results but it can take a lot of water based acrylic to get a good surface cover.  Bolt Action is usually fought on a 6′ x 4′ mat but other sizes will work.  If there is money in the budget and space to roll it out the mouse mat rubber backed ones are best.  Most of the photo reports on this site are on Tablewar mats.