Bolt Action Battle of Tempe Gorge

The enjoyment of a game probably depends more on the set up and the scenario than the system itself.  It helps to have a vanilla ‘throw it all down’ game format available when time is limited but the option to do more than get there ‘fastest with the mostest’ does enhance a game.  Bolt Action has 12 scenarios in the v2 rulebook and the various campaign books offer more.  To be honest none of these scenarios are especially inspiring, I would cite the Flames Of War scenarios as a better set of game play options.

Tempe Gorge is in the Duel in the Sun book, 1 of 5 in the book that feature British against Germans.  I dare not repeat the entire scenario here as that would conflict with copyright issues but will describe enough to make some sense of it.  The Germans have twice the points of the British (New Zealanders if you want to be picky).  The board is played lengthwise with a river half way across (roughly 36″ in).  A road follows the length of the table with a bridge and 2 fords where tracked vehicles can cross but wheeled vehicles cannot cross the river anywhere. Infantry can wade across counting as in hard cover but picking up a pin in crossing.  The British can set the terrain, rough rocky ground is recommended although on looking at modern photos of the area small farms, shrubs and trees abound.  The clue is in the river.  If you have a flowing river in Southern Europe you are going to get undergrowth.  The British set up first, all on table but have no vehicles.  They can be hidden (double any terrain bonuses so no point being hidden in the open).  Any units within 3″ of the river also begin dug in, offering the benefits of down without needing a down order.  So the British will be taking at least -4 to hit (-2 down, -2 hard cover) up to -6 for hidden.  The effect will be that most incoming will be hitting on a 6 followed by a 6, 1/36 the worst you can get in Bolt Action.  If the Germans get close enough (12″ for infantry) or the British shoot the hidden status goes just leaving the dug in.  To hit with a 6 needs a base of 2 on 4+, only possible at within 6″ so until the Germans get within 6″ of the British they will be unlikely to get any hits.

The Germans get a free air observer but that can only target units that are not hidden as well as  a pre-game bombardment.  In version 2 the bombardment is most likely to only produce 1 or 2 pins per British unit, easily shaken off.  The British do not get their off -board artillery observer and can’t buy a new one either nor do they get any vehicles or MMGs.  They do get doubled range for their light mortar but are not allowed to use indirect fire.  As mortars can only use indirect fire someone has not thought this through.  Considering that the Germans need to move forward the British might as well be allowed indirect fire as there will be few stationary targets to zoom in on.

The Germans get 1 point per British unit destroyed, 1 for crossing the river and 3 for getting off the far table edge.  The British get 4 points per German unit destroyed.  The game will probably last 7 turns (50% chance of an 8th), time to turn the maths on.  Most of the table is rough and infantry move 6″ in rough.  Plodding that way will take 6 turns to get the 36″ where they are in a position to cross the river.  Running up the road is 12″ a pop so 3 turns to the river (with no cover from British units firing to their front).  So breakout some vehicles, in this scenario a wheeled unit can only double (to 48″) its run rate on the road if it rolls a 4+ so that cannot be relied upon.  In a truck we can go 24″ on turn 1, then drop the passengers for an additional 6″ and maybe a hit on a 6 on the enemy but at least a good position for turn 3 (the truck turns and goes back down the road).  The truck could run on turn 1 (24″) advance on turn 2 (6″) then drop the passenger (36″ in) but that is putting it in harms way  for longer.  It would be very tempting for the British to open up on the truck on turn 1 or 2 with a fair chance of knocking it out (hit then roll a 6 for rifles, heavier weapons are better still) and banking 4 victory points.  One alternative is the Hanomag, much better under v2 as it can fire one MMG without any passengers.  In that case the distances are based on a run of 18″ and an advance of 9″ with another 6″ to deploy the passengers.  Hanomags cost more than trucks but are immune to small arms fire (89 vs 39 but they still stack up pins).  The German needs enough transport to slide up most of his force close to the river and has to hope that he can get the flimsy stuff back to the rear when empty.  There is space for a tank in the German list and it would be a shame not to take it.  This is the only vehicle that has a realistic chance of getting off the far table edge but may be better employed giving close range fire support close to the river.

The British get far fewer options, less points to spend and less units to choose.  A big choice is where to set the terrain.  A nice open area to the front for a good field of fire with perhaps some blocking terrain close up to the German entry edge so they cannot get any artillery set up on turn 1 ready to fire on turn 2.  Hidden only works on cover so you cannot hide on the road but you could dig in, I imagine sandbags here rather than heavy mechanical diggers.  An anti-tank asset could cover the road but for how long?  The dug in bonus only applies close to the river but putting one unit further back could prevent a breakthrough to the board edge.  After deployment the only real choices are to open up on further away transports or not, target within half range is a good point to start. So sit still, shoot only when you have to or on the chance of an easy kill.

I have a pile of German stuff, early and late war but do not have all the toys I should really like for this scenario.  Lots of infantry everyone in Hanomags and a light tank would do the business and be suitably in period.  I have 1 Hanomag and chanced a truck for the additional lift, 1 squad will still have to run on behind.  The squads are built up to fit in the transport.  Small squads gets 2 in a vehicle.  With veteran troops I expect to take losses but pass morale tests.  1 sole survivor pinned into the ground is good enough to deny the British 4 points.  I do have a motorcycle squad and that will be up front.  There may be only limited fields of fire for artillery but I am taking a medium mortar.  Hoping for an indirect fire line on at least 1 target and losing 1 or 2 turns to set up still leaves 5 or 6 to home in then fire for effect.  A flamethrower will come in handy to weedle out the dug in squads, I have buried it into a pioneer squad.

Here is the German force.  All veteran infantry except for the mortar.  The vehicles and bike riders are regular. The FOO in this game is free.

The British set up after the pre-game bombardment.  No kills and only a smattering of pins.  An all regular force with a first lt in command.  The red markers are pins.  The terrain is largely open although it counts as rough for movement. There is an implied road right up the centre and across the bridge.

On turn 1 the Germans go straight up the road.  The truck gets hit and is immobilised.  There was a unit of bike riders in front of the truck but they took an early bath.

Turn 2 the bike riders are joined by one of the units from the truck in the dead pile, 4 points down already.  The Panzer 38 took a hit and was pinned.  It spends several turns failing morale checks and going back 6″.

Some good news, the air strike comes in. With the British so closely packed there are quite a few pins to go around.  My opponent forgot his order dice so we used red and green regular dice for orders.  Here the target of the air attack has pulled a down dice to 1/4 casualties (down + dug in).

The Hanomag throws out a pioneer squad, the commander and a MMG team.

In the back field. Another squad gets out of the truck but starts to rack up pins.  The squad just behind the truck got left out of the game so we warped it into play where it should have ended up.

At last the pioneers get in.  A Britsh squad is destroyed. The flamethrower with the pioneers was hit by a sniper while crossing the river.  The MMG is down to 1 man. Off camera the Britsh 25 pounder is finally knocked out by the German mortar.

Back field the Geman support are racking up pins.

The ATR goes down to the pioneers.

Not wanting to go down so they can assault more British squads the pioneers fall to intense rifle fire.  Having stopped running and found the forward gear the tank is across the river.  It is pin city in the rear echelons.  The Hanomag should be a little further back so as not to withdraw but that would not affect the game.

The infantry assault the tank and the tank tries to roll over the infantry all with no effect. It may have better to shoot all 12 MMG dice at point blank range.

The game ran to turn 8 but with 6 German units destroyed they had no hope of a win.  From a maths point of view when the German takes 3 units lost, 12 points they have little chance of a win. At that point the Game can be reset and tried again.  The keen eyed viewer will note the lack of movement of the British units. There is no incentive to leave the cosy dug in positions.  The 3 points for getting a German unit off table is too low for a very high odds chance of success.  Wheeled units cannot cross the bridge.  A half track could run up 36″ in 2 turns, cross (rough going) in 3 then run off table (<36″) in 2 more.  The half track could hold 3 units at best (infantry + small team + command/medic/observer) for 4*3 = 12 points of victory.  Try that with 2 half tracks and you might pull it off.  Only the British gun and ATR can knock them out but the Hanomags are open topped so they are going to rack up pins making such an end run unlikely.

Man of the match would be the British commander.  He regularly drew 2 snap to action dice and gave out some serious shooting dice.  The German commander was hit by a sniper before he got going.

Looking at some way to balance this game, the dug in rules seem to need attention. They date from version 1 of Bolt Action.  Although some additional rules are in the new appendix the dug in rules have not been addressed.   Our next use will be with a +1 only for dug in but this will stack with terrain and down. To hit at normal range will then be +3 when dug in in hard cover so hitting on a 6.  This is 6 times better than hitting on a +4 on a base to hit number of 3.  Allowing more cover for the Germans would be good but the scenario does state the British get to set up the terrain, a rocky bowling pitch out front is the obvious choice for them.  The 3 points for getting Germans off board is too hard to get except with a lone tank that would be better used on board.  2 points for getting each German unit over the river is an improvement over the 1 given by the scenario rules.  My overall impression is that this scenario is playable but Warlord have not thought it through.

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