lessons were learned

In the summer of 1944, German and fascist forces conducted many operations across Northern Italy. The sweeps and armed security-patrols into the rugged mountains were designed to break up the growing partisan companies and restrict their ability to operate.

Many of the rule book missions could be used to re-fight aspects of a security operation. But I want to create a mission where partisans are making a desperate bid to break through a security cordon to escape. With this in mind I played a couple of solo games to get a feel for how squads might interact on wooded table, with one side attempting to exit and the other to stop them.

I went with infantry heavy forces with around 450 to 500 points. A bit smaller than even a small game, but large enough to try out some ideas. For the partisans I tried one game with a small number of squads and another with the same number of fighters, but split into groups of 3 to 5.

I opposed the partisans with a more structured German force: several 5 man squads with rifles, a medium mortar, a 3 man LMG squad, and an officer. Thematically, I think matching the partisans against an inexperienced or green security force could be a lot of fun, but for this experiment I went with regular squads.

In the first game I deployed the partisans randomly, using the paratroop drop rules from Market Garden. Then the Germans entered the board from random board edges. The double randomness was too much and would likely lead to very swingy games- even more swingy than BA is usually!

For the second game I dialed back the random deployment. The Germans deployed up to half of their units on the board, but their reserves came on randomly in from turn 2. The partisans started off board, with at least half coming on as first wave.

The dynamic of using squads of 3 to 5 was interesting. It gave the partisans plenty of dice, but limited fire power, and forced moral checks more frequently. Another idea might be forcing the fleeing partisans to start with 0 to 2 pins on each squad.

I need to sort out scoring yet, and I think the points need to be balanced a bit. A higher number of points for the partisans, perhaps 50% more might even the sides up a bit, given the partisans need to advance into the Axis deployment zone and move off the board in order to win.

Also victory points need to be worked out. I think something like 2 victory points per exited unit for the partisans and 1 victory point per partisan squad eliminated by the Axis force.

More experiments are clearly required.

Mission Rules

There are heaps of missions in Bolt Action including a dozen in the main rule book. Despite this choice missions can start to feel a bit stale. Tournaments especially carry this risk as organizers seem to focus on the most balanced of the missions. I understand why, but it can make things start to feel a bit same same.

A simple way to mix this up is to add a mission special rule. Some players hate this, as some random rule messes with their carefully crafted list. I’m not one of them. I like adding a little twist. Not too many. I don’t want too much extra to remember during a game. Here are a few ideas on adding a little something new to existing Bolt Action missions.

New officer: A new officer has arrived; he seems OK but he doesn’t know anyone’s name yet and it is causing some confusion.

The commanding officer begins the game with a pin.

O-Group: There is an O-Group meeting, and the old man is back at company HQ when the battle starts.

All officers (lieutenants, captains, etc.) must start the game in reserve and cannot be deployed on the table or come on as part of a first wave.

Supply problems: Supplies have been delayed causing fuel shortages.

After deployment but before turn one, roll for each vehicle in your list. On a 1 it gains the Fuel Shortage rule. Vehicles that start in reserve may re-roll the supply problem check.

Last day of the war. The war is nearly over, and nobody wants to be the last person to die. Even experienced troops are reluctant to press home attacks.

After deployment but before the first die is drawn roll for each unit in your list. On a 4+ it gains a pin. Vet and/or fanatics may re-roll. Units in reserve roll when they first move onto the table.

Dutch Courage A cache of liquor has been discovered and drunk. The unit is still under the influence when the battle starts.

To represent their drunk condition, a single unit receives both the Shirker and Fanatic special rules.

New Orders Local commanders can’t always see the big picture. Assets must be redeployed to a more critical mission.

A support asset is being reassigned. Randomly (and secretly) select one unit in your list from the following: tank, armoured car, or artillery. Following from turn 4 onwards it must be withdrawn from the battle by moving off the board from your table edge. If successfully withdrawn this unit is worth 1VP at the end of the game to the owning player.

What do you think? Are extra rules the road to tears and unnecessary complexity or can they help build a fun narrative?

The Kessel Run: Last Stand

The breakout failed, succour is not coming.

The only thing left is to inflict as terrible a toll as possible before annihilation.


Game 3. Last Stand. To be played if the attacker losses game one, Breakout.
If the Breakout was successful instead play Rearguard

Deployment: Dawn of War.

Set up three objectives, one in the centre of the table and take turns placing the remaining two somewhere in the defender’s half of the table.

The defender sets up first anywhere in their deployment zone; units may be placed in reserve, make scout moves or infiltrate as normal.  The Attacker then deploys anywhere in their deployment zone. The Attacker goes first unless the initiative is seized.

Mission Special Rules:  Night Fight, Slay the Warlord, Variable Turns, Last Stand, Final Push

Last Stand: The defender may nominate one location as their bastion, increasing its cover save by one.  Defenders within 6” of the bastion gain the Stubborn special rule

Final Push: Attacking infantry units (but not any dedicated transports) that are destroyed or are falling back are not eliminated but instead may be placed in ongoing reserve. Units arriving from ongoing reserve will enter the table along their long table edge.

Victory: 3VP for each objective.  The winner is the player with the most VP.

Recycling units can be a bit underwhelming, as units returning to the table often have little impact on the game. Alternatively the attacking force could have more points than the defenders, say 2000 to 1500. In this case I would be tempted to force the attacker to keep at least half their army in reserve and not recycle troops.

There is no opening barrage for two reasons: the other two missions have them and I want to reflect the fragmentation and confusion in the kessel after the breakout has failed. I assume that the barrage has allowed the attacking units to get to their start lines relatively unmolested and must now go in for the final assault.


Now to the play tests.


The Kessel Run: Rearguard

Here is the next mission in my mini-campaign, The Kessel Run.  Play this one if the attacker in the first mission (Breakout) wins and opens a corridor back to their lines.

Game 2: Rear Guard.  To be played if attacker wins game 1.

Piercing through the ring surrounding your forces is only half the battle. Now you must effect a withdrawal under fire to get as many units as possible free from the trap.


In this game the defender must withdraw units before they are destroyed by the enemy.

Deployment: Hammer and Anvil.

The defender must set up all their units on the table unless a unit special rule states that they must start in reserve (e.g. flyers).  At least half of the defender’s units must be more than 12” from their short table edge and less than half way.  Other units can be set up anywhere in their table half.

The attacker sets up normally, anywhere within 24” of their table edge. The attacker may place units in reserve if they choose.

Mission special rules: Night Fight, Slay the Warlord, Reserves, Variable Turns,
Fire Support Mission, Fighting Withdrawal. In your face

Fire Support Mission: the attacking player receives one fire support mission. After deployment but before turn one the attacking player gets 3 S8 AP3, ordinance, barrage, large blast attacks. Due to the fluid and confusing situation in the kessel these shots are subject to mishap. Roll scatter: hit= hit; otherwise scatter 2d6” but on doubles the opposing player gets to move the target up to 24” and roll scatter again (to hit or scatter 2d6″). This second result is final  .

Fighting Withdrawal:  the defender can choose to withdraw units along the short table edge. These units do not count as destroyed but may not return to the battle.

In your face: the usual restriction on charging during the first turn is not in play. Units that use a scout move or infiltrate may not charge on the first turn as normal. Nor may units charge from outflanking as normal (unless they have a special rule that allows this).

Victory: the defender gets 1VP for each scoring unit withdrawn. Scoring units for the defender are all units except dedicated transports or flyers. Units that flee because they are falling back count as destroyed rather than withdrawn.
The attacker gets 1VP for each scoring unit destroyed.

Note: Sudden death victory (40K rules pg 133) is still in play until the end of Turn 4. While the rear guard must successfully withdraw, it must also buy sufficient time for the rest of the army to escape. For this reason they cannot fully withdraw until at least turn 5.


Rather than repeat the opening barrage mission special rule from Breakout, I wanted to reflect the chaotic and fluid situation in the kessel as the breakout occurs and both sides scramble to respond to the new situation.

Unlike Breakout, I think 1VP for a successful withdrawal is right, as moving away from the enemy is generally easier than going forward. Sudden death victory forces the defender to keep units on the board, allowing the attacker time to accrue victory points.  The task of the defender is made harder by forcing them to deploy some units forward, with added complications from In your face allowing assaults from the first turn.

I’m not so sure about In your face, I would love to hear your thoughts on whether it should be included or not.

Either way, nobody said life in a kessel was easy.


Kessel Run: Breakout

So this is the first mission for my Kessel Run mini-campaign. In this game the trapped force are the attackers. To win, they must try to get forces into the enemy deployment zone.  The defenders must stop them.

I’ve written this as 40K, but the idea would work for just about any modern or sci-fi system. The actual points don’t matter much, I think something around the 1,750 mark makes a nice game. Also, in the grim dark future pretty much any two factions will work.


Some of Joe’s lovely 30K Death Guard get ready to bust a move

Game 1: Breakout

Attacker: You have found yourself encircled and trapped. Supplies are low and you must breakout or face annihilation.

Defender: You have managed to trap a sizable battle group of your enemy. You must keep them from breaking out while a final assault to destroy your enemy is planned.

Deployment is dawn of war.

Defenders set up to half of their force in their deployment zone, the rest must go in reserve.  The attacker can set up normally. This represents the element of surprise. The attacking force may not outflank.

Mission special rules: Night Fight, Slay the Warlord, Reserves, Variable Turns,
Opening Bombardment, Limited Fuel.

Opening Bombardment: after deployment but before turn one the attacking player gets 3 S8 AP3, ordinance, barrage, large blast attacks. These shots are considered indirect fire (full 2d6” scatter).

Limited Fuel:  Fuel stocks are critical for the breakout (attacking) force.  All vehicle units, except flyers which are assumed to operate from a base beyond the kessel, are subject to Limited Fuel.  All terrain is considered difficult to vehicles and on a roll of one run out of fuel and become immobilised.  Dozer blades and similar do not confer re-rolls for running out of fuel. Note: vehicles do not need to roll twice for actual difficult terrain.

Victory: the attacker gets 2VP for each scoring unit in the attackers deployment zone at the end of the game. Scoring units for the attacker are all units except flyers and dedicated transports.  The defender gets 1VP per destroyed scoring enemy unit.


Khorne defend the only way they know how: launching a counter-attack

Hoping to test this mission in a couple of weeks.  My main concern is around the victory conditions. I think the goals are right but I’m not sure that the victory point balance is right. 1VP for reaching the deployment zone doesn’t seem enough, so I think it is OK.


The Kessel Run: Genesis

Ever since Xenophon got stuck in the middle of Persia with 10,000 buddies and had to fight their way out, envelopment and pockets have been a feature of wars. Some the largest, most fluid and destructive pockets occurred on the Russian front during the second world war. In one, attacking Russians found themselves surrounded by German forces who were in turn trapped in a pocket! Only parts of India and Bangladesh may be more confusing to cartographers

Initially the Russians were being trapped by the invading Germans. Increasingly, from Stalingrad onwards, the Germans were pursued by Russians. Units of all sizes, from handfuls of soldiers up to entire armies, suffered being cut-off and surrounded in this vast and confusing war.


My gaming spidie-senses tingled as I was reading Eastern Front: Encirclement and Escape by German Forces, a Pen and Sword volume I picked on spec from the rather excellent Hyland’s Bookshop (the web-site is rubbish just head into the bonzer shop).
I thought, there is some good gaming to be had here.

Now WWII would the obvious choice to game some of these situations. But, while I have German forces for both Bolt Action and Flames of War, I don’t have any Russians and – I hope you’re sitting down – I don’t actually need a new project just now. But, I do have lots of 40K, so the seeds of the Kessel Run were sown.

My vision is a series of games that will capture some of the flavour of pocket-warfare. The reality of getting my gaming buddies together gives a useful constraint to keep things focused and contained.  I’ve settled on two linked games that will be able to be played in a day, creating a mini campaign inspired by a trapped army attempting to breakout or be annihilated.

Game one: Breakout. Can the trapped forces succeed in escaping?

Game two will be either Rearguard, as those forces still in the pocket seek to exploit the gap and return to their lines, or Last Stand as the trapped forces make peace with their gods and seek to exact a terrible price for their death.

I’ve got some thoughts for each of these missions. I will post these separately. Ultimately I hope to have some game reports too.


See you on the battlefields.


A question of balance

With the arrival of the (so far) points-free Age of Sigmar, game balance is popping up in forums, pod-casts and facebook as well as at clubs and shops. It is the topic du jour.

demon and dude

The demon is blind-folded, so surely that is fair. And the guy has a feather as well as a chain-saw …

The focus of discussion is often on points and lists, which are the by far the most common way to bring balance, but I think these overlook several other ways that people can bring balance to games. Also, as we have all experienced, points don’t necessarily bring balance even if we allow that a consistent scheme is possible.

Points do have advantages. One is about setting expectations on the size of the game, which I think is at the heart of the AoS discussion. Another is that finessing an army list is enjoyed by a lot of people. It is almost a game in itself. Regular readers will know this is not how I approach armies, but I acknowledge many seem to get real enjoyment from this, and list-optimising has the advantage of being an aspect of the hobby that you can do by yourself between games.  Players who like this aspect simply cannot do it with AoS. Nor can they can’t really do it with Black Powder, Hail Caesar, or Force on Force.  There are plenty of systems where points optimising remains: Bolt Action, Flames of War, 40K, etc.
It is a diverse hobby, that is part of the attraction.

Army lists bring several dimensions to a game. Restrictions on building lists are most often used to bring a particular flavour to a game, mostly historical, e.g. restricting the number of units of cavalry for Romans or not giving Parthians access to armoured infantry.  40K does the same with variant lists that highlight various aspects of the background. That this can interact with points may cause angst but it definitely allows players to “forge da narrative”. List restriction that is integral to the rules is another way of achieving balance (and I guess is an almost hidden part of many points systems).

Missions can generate balance.  Too many missions are mirror images. Not just meeting engagements for kill points, but missions where the mission objective is the same for both players. This can be fun, but by changing the mission, different challenges and armies can be tried out.  All the factors of the game can be considered when designing a mission: list restrictions, terrain, deployment and victory conditions. I’m sure there are others.

Terrain is a factor in creating or upsetting balance.  An extreme case is an amphibious assault, where the defender waits in bunkers and the attackers face a stretch of sand to the dubious safety of a sea wall.  Tables do not need to be this extreme to create a challenge but a smaller, dug in defender facing a larger attacking force is more common than most games reflect.

Deployment. Who is on the board?  Who has access to reserves? How safe are your flanks or rear area.  Mix it up, and again it doesn’t have to be symmetric.

Objectives. This is the big one. How do you win?  I like scenarios where there is a clear attacker and defender. This is something that has to be given up at most tournaments, and I’m OK with that. The trade-off is a guaranteed number of games with generally great opponents on often good-looking tables. All wins in my book. But I love it when there is a good story that goes with a game. Ancient enemies facing off in a battle that is plausibly part of a wider engagement.  We don’t play for sheep stations but I like the illusion that we are.

All of this can be fitted into an ordinary game, but does require a bit of planning. I reckon it is well worth it.

In some ways a campaign is the natural habitat for these sort of ideas. But even without that sort of committment there is a lot of dimensions that can be explored.

Saint Celestine's finest moment: purging the heretics with fire and sword

Saint Celestine’s finest moment: purging the heretics with fire and sword

For pick-up games in stores or clubs the simplicity of: “What have you got? How many points? Cool – I’ll leave this unit out or make these dudes veteran, let’s go … ” is attractive and leads to games. This is a good thing. Of course, even without points this conversation can happen and I guess is for those playing AoS.

None of this will necessarily bring balance. One problem that points don’t solve is the dick-factor. I feel that underlying a lot of the passion about balance is not just a desire to have a reasonable chance (in some undefined sense) of winning but having a high probability of having a good game. Feeling competitive is part but not all of this story. Judging a winner is only part of balance.  Wheaton’s Law and its derivatives is an attempt to solve this, but this is changing the topic.

Happy gaming.

River Assault

Three things have come together in a rather nice sort of way.

The first thing was some months ago while helping my Dad move. Lurking in the back of a cupboard was a Bailey Bridge, one of the old Airfix kits. The paint job clearly dated it to my early teens, so I gave it a quick make over:


Second, I picked up an Osprey release about River Assault Tactics in WW2. It is kind of obvious when you think about it, but there are a lot of rivers that need crossing and this seems to be an opportunity for gaming.

Lastly, I have a game coming up next weekend. Well, no doubt there are rivers in the grim dark future and they will need assaulting and defending.

So, I’ve written a mission. Starting with the planet strike rules, the attacker starts off the board and uses a dawn of war (5th ed) type arrival in turn one. The defender can set up anywhere on the board, gets a bastion and some aegis lines for free but has to sit through an initial bombardment.

Just to make things a bit more grim dark the river will be toxic waste, released from a chemical works upstream. This will make the river both difficult and dangerous to cross.

Damn! Send word for the old Rhinos- the new ones won't fit in the bridge.

Damn! Send word for the old Rhinos- the new ones won’t fit in the bridge.

I let you know how it goes (and write up the mission in a bit more detail).


Bellum Honoris

Sometimes just putting all your models on the table is just not enough. Then it is time to get together with around 20 of your gaming buddies and battle it out.  Which is just what we have been doing these last few years on the Saturday night of Arcanacon and plan to do so again in 2014.

Our experience is that as the number of players grows, so can the complexity.  To get around this, a lot of the planning suggestions in the Apocalypse rule book can be put to good use.  One other thing I think is useful is to not be too fancy with the mission. Given I tend to forget about any special rules anyway (I can do that?), sometimes less in the mission the better.  For regular games this could quickly become dull, but for something that happens once a year, then simplicity can be a good thing.  Bellum Honoris is my draft mission for a big Apocalypse match.

Bellum Honoris – Apocalypse Mission Briefing

The long campaign has come down to this moment – the forces are concentrated, negotiation is not possible with such anathema. Battle will be joined and to the victors go the bragging rights.

The Armies

Use a theme, it looks awesome, we have a tradition of Imperial versus Chaos, with15,000 points per side shared among a recommended 10 players.
Players do not have to have equal points and apocalypse formations cannot be shared across players.  Super-heavies (including flyers and gargantuan creatures) cannot exceed 3,000 points.

Imperial to be selected from any combination of Space Marines, Blood Angles, Space Wolves, Dark Angles, Grey Knights, Sisters of Battle, or Imperial Guard.

Chaos must be selected from Chaos Space Marines, Chaos Daemons, or Imperial (Rebel) Guard.

Individual players are free to mix and match from any of the listed codices for their side.

Apocalypse formations and vehicles may be selected from the Apocalypse rule book as well as the apocalypse war zone books Damnos and Pandorax.

Special characters are unique and only one of each may be fielded per side. If duplicates are discovered, they must challenge each other – if not within charge range, roll to see which one teleports to within charge range of the other.

Each side must select one of their Warlords to be their force’s Warmaster.


Roll-off. The winner decides which table half each side will deploy in.

Take turns to place Strategic Objectives, roll-off to see who places the first objective.

Roll-off. The winner of the roll-off deploys first. They may deploy anywhere on their half of the table that is more than 9” away from the border between the two table halves, or may be kept in Strategic Reserve. Deployment is restricted to 20 minutes. Any models not deployed within this time are deemed to be part of the Strategic Reserve.

The opposing side then deploys. They may deploy anywhere on their half of the table that is more than 9” away from the border between the two table halves, or may be kept in Strategic Reserve. Deployment is restricted to 15 minutes for the side deploying second.  Any models not deployed within this time are deemed to be part of the Strategic Reserve.

After both sides have deployed, Infiltrators may deploy and Scouts redeploy using their special rules. Each side has a maximum of 3 minutes to perform Infiltrate or Scout actions. 

First Turn

Roll a die. On a roll of 1 to 4 the side that deployed first has the first turn. On a roll of 5 or 6 the side that deployed second has the first turn.

Game Length

The battle will continue until the time limit is reached. We must be out of the venue by XX (we have to find this out), and this must include pack-up, clean-up and post match bragging.

Each turn has a specified period of time that will be agreed prior to the start of the game. Unfinished business remains unfinished and play moves on.

Victory conditions

The side that has the most Strategic Victory Points at the end of the game wins the Bellum Honoris. If both sides have an equal number of points then the battle is a draw.

Mission special rules

Divine Intervention, Finest Hour, Strategic Assets, Strategic Objectives, Strategic Reserves, Strategic Victory Points (modified as below)

The BattlefieldPicture1

Set up the terrain for the battle in any mutually agreeable manner.

Mission Special Rules

Divine Intervention and Finest Hour are as per Apocalypse rule book

Strategic Assets As per the Apocalypse rule book, except each side is allocated 5 strategic assets at the start of the game.   Victory points can be used to purchase additional assets during breaks as normal.

Strategic Assets selected at the start of the game cannot be the same as any Strategic Assets selected at the start of the prior year’s match. This does not apply to 2014, nor to Assets purchased during a game.

Strategic Objectives Each side must place three strategic objectives. Roll a die to see which side places the first objective. Each side must place one objective in each zone: one in their deployment zone, one in the enemy deployment zone and one in no-man’s land.  A strategic objective must not be placed within 12” of another objective or within 12” of any table edge.

Mysterious objectives are not used in Bellum Honoris.

Contesting Objectives.  Any unit can contest an objective with the exception of dedicated transports.  A unit embarked on a transport may contest an objective.  To hold or contest an objective a unit must have a model within 3” of the objective. A given unit can only hold a single objective -no conga lines!- specify which objective is being held if this situation arises.

Strategic Reserves, Strategic Victory Points are as per Apocalypse rule book

Vehicle Damage Damage results other than “Explodes!” are ignored for all vehicles, not just super-heavy vehicles. Hull Points will still need to be tracked.

Other special rules:

Any global effect from a Codex which applies to the opposing player will only affect a single nominated player, not the entire side.

The Warp Storm table from Codex Daemons will not be used.

With a few tweaks, this is basically the Apoc. mission we played most recently, which seemed to go OK.  It is kind of a stripped down Exterminatas, with a few other restrictions designed to keep play flowing.


Eastern Front Battle Looms

It looks like after an extended period of relative calm that war is returning to the east.  A massive build up of war material has occurred and battle appears to be near.

WATT meets Sunday.

With four players we have decided to go just a little short of an Apocalypse battle, with two per side and a bit of a narrative using this mission I’ve cooked up (inspired by the battle missions book):

The mission is an assault on prepared positions. It will be bloody.

Set-up is on a double table, joined along a short edge, with two players per side and 1,750 or thereabouts per general (3,500 per side).

The tables are set up so there is a clear defenders’ side with bunkers, aegis, etc. along one long edge and the other with more limited cover (craters and similar, perhaps some ruins) that will be the start line for the attackers:

big push table 1

Sort out who will attack or defend – I propose that high roll will attack. This could be driven by narrative to allow more planning. I like the idea that company commander doesn’t always get to optimise their assets – you might elite, but the situation is such that you’re now stuck in a trench system waiting for the enemy. Deal with it.


Objectives: there are four objectives. One in the middle of each table and one 12” behind that in the middle of the defence zone (see map)

Defenders deploy as many units as they want in their half of the table and gets the following special mission rules:  heavy metal, we ain’t leavin’.

Attackers deploy second. Their deployment zone is 12” deep on opposite long table edge.  The attackers get the following special rules:  fast recon, meat grinder, take that!

Attackers go first unless Defenders seize the initiative.

In addition the following mission special rules are used: reserves, night fight, slay the warlord, variable game length

Special rules:

Heavy metal pg 128 = heavy support are scoring

We ain’t leavin’ = the defender may fortify up to 200 points of terrain into fortifications (pg 114-6). This is in addition to any points that may have been allocated in the armies.  Specify this during  deployment

Fast recon pg 129 = fast attack are scoring

Meat grinder. The big push is on. There are plenty of reserves and the generals are not afraid to use them. Destroyed troops choices may come back as reserves. The complete unit returns except for any transports. They may enter from any table edge, short or long, on the attackers’ half.  Units that normally get deep strike or outflank or similar don’t get to use this mode of deployment if they arrive from reserves after being destroyed.

Take that! After deployment but before the initiative is rolled, the attacker gets to fire an artillery bombardment.
The bombardment is 1d6+3 S9 AP3 ordinance 1, barrage, large blast shots.

Winning the game: Each objective is worth 3 points for the controlling side at the end of the game. The winner is the side with the most VP at the end.

With four players we would normally make all four warlords subject to Slay the Warlord, but we have a plot running with some Eldar allies so it makes sense for us to just have one nominated target per side. More on that later, if it turns out to be interesting.

I’ll let you know how we go.