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How To Play Bolt Action – A Step By Step Guide

21 October 2021 - 0 comments
Pete McLaurin

Bolt Action is a game with many mechanics that will be very familiar to tabletop gamers, and many that are quite distinctive. So, whether you’re new to bolt action or tabletop gaming in general, we thought it would be a great idea to show you how an example turn plays out. We’ll use the contents of the Bolt Action starter set, Band Of Brothers to show you how quickly and easily you can get a game up and running.

A Beginners Guide To Bolt Action - The World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games

The following forces can be built using the contents of the Band of Brothers box. They’re not totally balanced, (or totally historically accurate) but are guaranteed to give you a great first experience of the Bolt Action, straight out of the box.

US Forces

  • 1 regular infantry squad (12 men including 1 Automatic Rifle)
  • 1 regular infantry squad (8 men)
  • 1 regular lieutenant
  • 1 Medium Machine Gun team (3 men)

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - The Us Forces From The Band Of Brothers Starter Set

(EXPERT’S NOTE: Strictly speaking, the models in the Band of Brothers set are airborne troops and should be fielded as veteran. But we’re going to treat them as regulars to contrast with the Germans)

German Forces

  • 1 SdKfz 251/1 half-track with Medium Machine Gun
  • 1 Veteran infantry squad (11 men including 1 Light Machine Gun)
  • 1 Lieutenant

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - The German Forces From The Band Of Brothers Starter Set

(EXPERT’S NOTE: The Band of Brothers starter box contains parts to build the half-track as a 251/10 with a 3.7cm Anti Tank gun (in game terms a light AT gun). This is a weapon of limited utility in the context of the set, there being nothing armoured for it to shoot at, so it’s been built as a 251/1 with an MMG)

With the introductions all done let’s crack on with war.


The Americans deploy to the north, behind a stone wall. The Germans to the south behind a hedge.

The first dice is drawn…

A Beginners Guide To Bolt Action - The Dice Bag Full Of Bolt Action Order Dice.

It’s for the Americans.

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - The Us Order Dice Is Drawn

The American player decides to fire with his machine gun team, which can see the infantry squad. The range is 24 inches and the Germans are unsportingly behind a hedge, which counts as soft cover. The MMG has a max range of 36 inches and fires 5 shots. Shots over half the range of the weapon count as long range and have a -1 penalty to hit so, combined with the -1 for soft cover, the American player needs to roll a 5 to score a hit. They roll 5,5,3,3,2. So, two hits – not bad. Slightly above average.

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - Checking Whether The Us Machine Gun Unit Is In Range

The German infantry unit takes a pin marker for being hit. The American player now needs to roll to see if the attack damages the target, so they roll the dice of the two shots that hit. Result, a 4 and a 5.

A Beginners Guide To Bolt Action - The Us Army Take Cover

Had these been regular troops, that would be two casualties, but these are veterans who require a roll of 5 to damage, so one German infantry model is removed from play. The activation ends, and another die is drawn…

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - The German Order Dice Is Drawn

This time it’s a German dice. The German player decides to retaliate in kind, by activating the half-track (his tank). It receives an advance order, to close the range. It crashes through the hedge and moves 9 inches closer to the American line, then opens fire at the smaller American infantry squad. It’s an MMG, so 5 shots, plus a bonus one for being German. The range is 15 inches, so short. But the Americans are behind a stone wall, which is hard cover with a -2 modifier, and the vehicle moved, so that’s another -1. Sixes will be needed on the dice. 6 dice are rolled and 6,6,6,4,4,2.

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - The Germans Fire On The Us Unit Behind Cover

Amazing shooting! The American unit takes a pin marker. The damage dice are rolled – just 4s needed as the Americans are regulars. 3,5,3. One casualty is removed. Another dice is drawn from the bag.

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - 2 More Hits For The Germans

It’s for the Americans. Still feeling cagey, they decide to use the large infantry squad to shoot at the German infantry. A fire order is given. Of the 12 men, 11 have rifles and one has a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)- a rapid fire weapon with longer range and an extra shot than a rifle, but not a true Light Machine Gun. The longer range of the BAR isn’t enough to bring this shot into close range so it’s the same 5s required as the Machine Gun team. 13 shots yield 2 hits, which places a second pin marker on the veteran infantry.

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - The Us Infantry Roll Their Attack Dice

They’re really beginning to feel under fire. Rolling for damage, a 3 and 4 sees no casualties.

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - Two Pin Markers For The German Infantry Unit

The next die drawn is for the Germans. The German player decides to activate his veteran infantry squad before they take any more pins. An advance order is given, but because the unit has taken pins, an order test must be taken to see if the unit does as they’re told. This is done by rolling two dice, adding the result to the number of pins the unit has, and comparing this total to the unit’s morale rating. For a Veteran unit, this is 10, so a roll of 8 will see the unit obey the order. The German player rolled a 3 and a 4, so, with the 2 pins a total of 9. Success!

Bolt Action - The German Army From The Band Of Brother Starter Set Are Pinned

The unit removes a pin marker for succeeding the test and advances. Moving 6 inches, the small US squad is at 18 inches range. Long for their rifles, but short range for the squad Light Machine Gun. So, in the 11-man squad 10 carry rifles and one carries the LMG, but one rifleman has to act as loader for the machine gun. The LMG fires 4 shots normally, but again, German engineering is characterised via an extra die for 5. Because these will have different to-hit values they’ll need to be rolled separately, the LMG is a short range, but moved, and is firing at a target behind hard cover. That’s a total modifier of 3 so 6s required. Two are scored, and the US unit takes another pin.

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - Shots Ring Out From The German Troops

The 9 remaining riflemen have even harder shots. Long range, move, and hard cover takes the required roll to 7. Shots that need a 7 or 8 can still hit if the shooting player rolls a 6, then re-rolls that die to another 6. Miraculously, the German player succeeds in this, generating an extra hit. Note that this doesn’t cause an extra pin marker to be applied as this is still the same unit attacking the Americans, we just had to split out the guns. The three hits are rolled for damage, 6,6,4. That’s 3 dead GIs and each 6 rolled for damage is the chance to do “exceptional” damage, where the attacker can choose the casualty. The two 6s are re-rolled and one is a 6, so the German player decides to remove the Americans’ NCO, which will give an additional penalty to activating the unit.

And so, we’ll leave it there. The above example gives a good flavour of how a turn of Bolt Action can play out and you can probably imagine how things might have gone differently had the activations happened in a different order. The decisions you need to make, about whether to move, try and close range, or take objectives, can become really nerve-wracking. You’re wondering if you’ll be able to support your units, or if you’ll leave a squad or tank critically exposed when the initiative of the battle shifts. There’s a real ebb and flow of battle and the tension, then chaos and confusion, seen in things like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, or even Fury (for tank fans) really comes through.

Bolt Action World War 2 Tabletop Game From Warlord Games - The German Infantry Suffer A Casualty

If you’d like to read more about this subject please check out our other Bolt Action articles coming soon:

  • If you’re wondering which one is for you, we have our Guide To Choosing A Bolt Action Army.
  • If you’ve got the Band of Brothers set and are looking to expand, check out our “Beyond Band of Brothers” article.
  • If you’re interested in the subject, but feel a little lost with some of the specialist terminology, check out our WW2 war game jargon buster.
  • And if you’re ready to get set into painting, then we’ve got lots of tips for painting Bolt Action uniforms…
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