Machine guns are scary

Or, at least they should be. Alas! In Bolt Action, medium machine guns are somewhat underwhelming. They can be nasty, but it also feels like they can be neutralised far too easily. Snipers often seem to be a better choice, and moreover also seem to be an effective tactic against MMG teams. I’m not really sure what can be done about this. Perhaps nothing has to be. There are certainly a lot of opinions about.

Members of the People’s Volunteer Army lay down support with a Chinese built Maxim

The basic economics make sense. For 50 points you get a regular MMG team that has 5 shots (6 for the Germans) and a max range of 36″. A regular infantry squad with rifles has 5 shots with a range of 24″, but has two more bodies and can move and shoot. If you can manoeuvre an infantry squad to within assault range, they will probably win. Getting to a place to charge an effectively dug-in machine gun team, that is dangerous work. This describes pretty much every squad level engagement since machines guns were widely adopted in the early 20th century. Yet, this is not part of the Bolt Action vibe, and the game is a little less than it could be because of it.

Fallschirmjäger crew an MG42 on a fixed mount

In the recent campaign book, Italy- Soft Underbelly, there are scenarios where the defender gets multiple MMG. So the designers at least have faith, and it does reflect history, which is at least part of the point. Perhaps this is all that is needed. Allow 0-2 MMG in a standard list, use terrain, hidden set-up and ambush. Job done!

An MMG holds up the Soviet advance into Stalingrad

One of the most successful tweaks has been the introduction in Konflikt ’47 of the ability to perform suppression fire. Trading accuracy for weight of fire allows additional pins. A neat mechanism and one that would port into Bolt Action well and present players with additional tactical decisions.

Built by the Italian military, the machine gun pits formed a key part of the strong defenses of Tobruk

Extra shots, cheaper points. Some wonky equivalent of tiger fear. Solutions that likely come with a bunch of unintended consequences. I keep coming back to some form of extra pins as an attractive way to increase the power of MMG.

A light mortar gets d2 pins, so additional pins is a simple extension that is probably not overpowered. I wonder if making MMG d2 and light mortars 1 pin + 1 additional pin on a 5+ might give the right feel? Or vice versa. Simply doing extra pins also avoids a new mechanism to remember, which has a merit of its own.

MMG were used in all theatres and climates

I would restrict MMG buffs to infantry teams and pintel mounts. Most gun ports on vehicles have such restricted views that the big sweeping shots, and even prepared fire lanes are rarely an option. And they will still throw out 5 shots in most situations, which is still dangerous. Adding a small benefit to infantry-crewed MMG will help tip the balance back the other way a little. I include pintel mounted MMG since most vehicles will become open-topped as the brave soul operates the gun. Maybe too complicated already. This does illustrate the point that trying to fix one thing might (will!) cause a new problem.

The role of many riflemen is often restricted to carrying extra ammunition for the squad MG

Here is another thought. Only provide additional pins to MMG that are deployed at the start of the game. A special rule like “fixed lanes, or prepared positions” where because crews have had time to prepare fire lanes and ensure enough ammunition, they get the additional effect of extra pins. Once you move (other than rotate as part of an advance order), you loose extra benefits. Depending on the mission this will tend to benefit the defender, which is perhaps as it should be.

Great War British MMG team, 15mm, Plastic Soldier Company
Many MMG designs, like this water cooled Vickers, were largely unchanged from the first world war.

Lots of ideas on MMG here. What do you think?

Do MMG need a tweak or are they fine as they are?

10 thoughts on “Machine guns are scary

  1. Your potential tweaks sound sensible to me, particularly pinning, but I’m not a Bolt Action player so you’ll have a better idea than me! 🙂 I don’t think I’d be inclined to consider vehicle pintle mounts as MMGs since they are not usually equipped with sustained fire mounts (as an example, I think the Sdkfz 251/1 carries essentially what is a shielded LMG up front, whereas vehicles in machine gun platoons could be fitted with the same weapon on its sustained fire mount). Vehicle co-axial MGs have more in common with MMGs I think, but I don’t know how Bolt Action treats them.

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  2. Interesting post. Operation research says that an MG has the firepower of 9 rifles. On that basis I think they need a bit of a tweak upwards.

    Part of their ultility is situational as the more open the board the more powerful they will seem.



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  3. Great post Dave – I’m just starting out out in Bolt Action so I’m not 100% up on the rules yet, but I can call on my own military experience, though having being in the RAF it’s a bit limited when it comes down to tactics.
    If we had time to prepare a defensive MG position/sangar/pit, call it what you will, we ensured it covered a good stretch of open field and could thus cut down the enemy if they tried to approach the position. If we set up several, they would have interlocking arcs of fire, covering each other and would prove deadly.
    MGs used in the field, though, carried forward with a squad, they were used more for suppression, allowing us to advance towards the enemy whilst their heads were down.
    This is the limit of my training as a CIT (Combined Incident Team) commander, but I’m sure it could be related to how they were used in WWII.
    So, thinking aloud here, could a prepared MG nest have a bonus against troops not in cover? Otherwise as you said, extra pins sound relevant?

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  4. Pingback: Pack more ammo | Faith&Steel

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