Over the last few months I have been putting together a campaign system for Bolt Action. It started out as a 1v1 system inspired by the official campaign system for Chain of Command, but has since changed and expanded a great deal. In its current version it is a many v many, map based campaign system with a number of custom scenarios and rules. It is also highly experimental.
I know there are problems with this system, which is why a group of us are playtesting it currently. The first version was play tested fairly thoroughly about six months ago, but this version is so different from the original that it needs a lot more testing.
In these posts I’m going to provide something of a chronicle of our campaign as we go. The campaign is set in Normandy in the area around Arromanches-les-Bains immediately after the Overlord landings. The Allies need to push inland and the Germans need to drive them back to the beaches.
We are fortunate enough to have 2 Allied and 2 Axis players as our main testers. We have an additional Allied player who will be dropping in from time to time, something which is both useful and somewhat headache inducing for the poor sap who has to keep everything organised (i.e. me).
The first task for all our players was to make a list. We decided on 1000 points as the base size for our lists. The idea is that you make a standard list and then split it into two parts – your platoon and your support. The platoon is supposed to be the core of your force which will stay with you for the entire campaign, while you can swap support in and out as needed.
Here we ran into our first problem. My teammate, the intrepid Victor playing his Germans, asked me whether he could count some infantry squads as support. Thinking of things like pioneer squads which were assigned as needed, I said yes. He promptly decided that almost all of his list was support – a move which, not so incidentally, meant that their casualties would not be tracked. First bug found.
Our next task was to roll some dice to put some character into our platoons. Each officer and NCO gets a characteristic – some useful, some not so useful. For example, I ended up with an Officer Commanding who is more interested in his career than his platoon. He has a better reputation with high command thanks to his connections, which will eventually lead to being able to requisition additional support, but is not trusted by his men and so has a reduced bonus on the table.
Once we had our forces sorted out we worked out our first game. We decided to do a 2v2 fight rather than two separate standard games. The Allies started with the initiative and decided to attempt to take the bridge over the La Gronde River. This meant that we were going to try my Bridge Assault scenario.
We set up a table appropriate to the map and got started. The game was very close and went well, though the scenario didn’t quite work the way I intended. Because of the terrain and the deployment rules I had written, the Allies started the game practically on the bridge which the Germans then had to try and take back. It was supposed to be the opposite situation, but even though the defending Germans got to set up first, neither of us wanted to deploy on the bridge as there was no cover – this left the Allies free to deploy only a few inches from the bridge, in the cover that was on their side of the river.
Both sides inflicted a lot of casualties on the other and the bridge was hotly contested. At the end of the game neither side managed to take control of the bridge, so we went down to casualties inflicted – a minor victory for the Allies. At the beginning of the next campaign turn the Germans will have had to fall back from that location and the Allies have a good chance, though not a certainty (thanks to bug testing again), of maintaining the strategic initiative.
This was not the end of the first campaign turn however, as now we had to determine what had happened to our troops. Just because a soldier is counted as “dead” in a game doesn’t mean he is actually gone for the campaign. He may have been wounded lightly enough to return to combat, he may have been detailed to take a casualty back to base or otherwise been knocked out of the fight without actually being killed. To work this out we keep track of what kind of result each man had on the field (killed, run off or surrendered after assault) and then roll dice for each category.
The overall results of these casualty rolls in my system are extremely generous compared to reality (for example a soldier killed on the table has only a 1 in 6 chance of being truly killed), but in previous testing I have found this makes for a better game. When I started with this campaign system I initially tried a rather realistic casualty system. This lasted for precisely one game, as after it the losing side had been reduced to less than 50% of their platoon remaining and the campaign was effectively over. Realistic perhaps, but not very enjoyable for the players.
Our game resulted in each force having only a handful of true casualties and a few more men who were deemed wounded or scattered and unable to return to play until the game after next. We also checked to see if the surviving troops had gained experience. My experience system is completely new and untested and it will honestly need a few games to see if it is working, but for now it seems reasonable if a little annoying on the bookkeeping.
At our next meeting we will be continuing the testing of this campaign system. Likely we will have to redo our lists somewhat. Victor’s list is actually no longer valid as I have had to adjust the requirements of what you can count as support, and other players may wish to take fewer veterans as they cannot advance further through experience in my system. Technically you are not supposed to change lists during the campaign like that, but testing is testing.
With luck after a few more tests I will be able to put a copy of the system up here for others to try. Looking at the photo of the table I put at the top of the page also reminds me that I really need to get my Germans painted. Busy, busy…