Wednesday, December 23, 2015

40K With Bolt Action Rules

I like 40k. I hate the rules. I like Bolt Action. I like the rules. The natural conclusion here is to try and bring the tactical game play of Bolt Action to 40k. With this intent, Cheatin Steve and I  played two games where we experimented mapping bolt action rules onto 40k units. Both games would pit Steve's Orks against my Death Korps. The first game turned out to be a blow out, as we pitted a highly mobile ork force against an entrenched Death Korps forces. (the DKoK also had flame throwers in each squad) We also gave the Orks an 8 foot drive before the trenches. That game was interesting, but not terribly fun to play. I think the problem was that we had too many special rules. Realizing our mistake, we decided to pit two Bolt Action style platoons against each other. We gave the Orks SMGS and LMGS. The Death Korps had rifles and LMGS. Additionally we let the DKoK move and fire without penalty.

One of the surprising things about mixing and matching game systems, is how difficult it was for me to use 40k and play BA. I got the hang of it at the end, but spoilers here, the Death Korp suffered horrific casualties.

Our mission was to secure the town from an ork attack. The DKoK had not faced Orks before, so they had no firm understanding of ork capabilities.  The Korps took the high ground, in preparation for a dash into the two main buildings directly in front of them. The left squad planned to setup a base of fire from the white building on the far left, while the three middle squads advanced along the right flank, taking the tan building and the white building to the left. This would not go well, despite my attempts to follow the plan despite actual battlefield conditions.

Orks setup primary in the central alley. Their rules favored assaults, making it virtually impossible for the DKoK to win an assault, or survive a 12" SMG volley. Had I been facing Russians, I may have remembered this, however as we were playing Bolt 40k, I left tactics at the door, and blindly moved my forced into one giant kill zone.

Lieutenant Court Martial, CM from this point on, ordered his squads to advance. First squad took the left building as planned. Third squad advanced into the courtyard of the yellow building. CM failed to appreciate how difficult it would be for the squad to climb down from the cliff face.

Loud grunting was heard on the left flank. It sounded dangerous.

Orks quickly took up position directly opposite the first squad's building.

Second squad took some fire, and when ordered to advance in support of third squad, they foobar'd their moral check and retreated. LT CM was surprised, however this would not deter him from following his plan.

With some coaxing the second squad moved back into position.

Third squad continued their advance into the far right building. LT CM assured them that they would be supported by second squad.

The cunning of the Orks on display. The Ork in Charge (OiC) pulled in one of his squads and assaulted the building brutally killing all of the occupants.

LT CM realized his mistake, and immediately ordered all forces to withdrawal. This fight could not be won in the city where close range ork assault weapons ruled the day. Remnants of first and second squad were to pull back to the edge of the embankment and fire from cover.

LT CM decided that prayer might help, and ordered his squads to pray to the space marine statue for deliverance.

Deliverance came in the form of a hail of bullets from the Ork marauders.

Cleverly, LT CM positioned his command squad as far back as possible from the front lines.

While my maneuvering was terrible in the game, I think the mash-up worked pretty well. Steve even came up with a whole campaign for us to play. Rather than rebalance the rules, we are going to let the game play out with all imbalances in place. That will allow me to reorganize my forces into units capable of dealing with the Ork invasion. More of a story will evolve over time. The Orks want territory and slaves. The DKoK want to regroup until they can come up with some workable strategies. We plan to play a variety of different games of different sizes, highlighting various aspects of the Ork invasion. 


  1. Interesting experiment! I think there is a rule set out here called "bolter action" that does the same thing.

    I also dislike some of the 40k rules, and have been building some forces with the idea of playing Star Grunt 2 with Tau and Guard infantry.

    1. Mike Brandt, of NOVA Open fame, forwarded me those rules a while back. We wanted to keep the simplicity of regular old Bolt Action, with the minimum number of changes. We might give those a shot at some point. I can't find the link to the PDF mike sent, but if you have it please post it up so others can use it.

    2. I have what is called version 0.04, and it purports to come from One Page Rules; however I can not find it there, and I think I actually got it somewhere else.

  2. Awesome! I have been dabbling with a similar concept with Infinity rules for a necromunda-esque skirmish game using 40k minis. I totally agree that over time the 40k rules have gotten more and more difficult to enjoy, and love seeing this sort of crossover experimentation!

  3. This is an awesome idea, great read! Look forward to seeing more!

  4. Personally i don't find the rules for 40k to bad, but I do really like the activation/unit dice system and would love to try using it with 40k but keeping the standard rules. I might have to have a look for "bolter action" rules and see what their like.

  5. See that you are getting some gaming done for the holiday period. Speaking of which, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. :)

    1. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you as well!

  6. It's great to see you guys attempt this. I was texting with Steve, and I told him about the time my old gaming group attempted to play 40K with alternating activation. We couldn't agree on how to fit Deep Strike into that structure (I forget the specifics). My takeaway from the experience is that a ruleset needs to be built from the ground up, in order for all the rules to be coherent with each other. For a bloated ruleset like 40K, rebuilding it or substantially tweaking it is nigh impossible.

    Another thing I'm discovering is that there is a surprising amount of cohesion between a rule system and its setting. I find it hard to swap out a rule system and experience the same "flavor" of the setting. Like, trying to imagine I'm playing Warhammer when I use Kings of War rules. I suspect the same holds true playing 40K with Bolt Action rules, just by looking at the pictures here. I still think it's worth a shot, though. Maybe the Bolter Action rules will work better, if those rules port in more of the traditional traits of the units than skinning on more generic weapons and gear.

    1. Another option is to pick forces collaboratively for each game, setting up the scenario we want to play. We can then customize the board and the forces to make it work better for one specific game. We do it again on the next one.

    2. Collaborating on the scenario and forces sounds like a good idea.

      Here's another one, from a totally different angle. Another option for playing Bolt Action in Space is to try out 'Beyond the Gates of Antares'.

      I almost bought the discounted starter set, when it was released, because I *so* wanted to use the Bolt Action system in a sci-fi setting. Two things enabled me to resist the temptation to buy it. One, it would be almost impossible to fit in another rules system within my very limited gaming circle (although my extended gaming circle does play a lot of Bolt Action). Two, I couldn't buy into the fluff. However, I just listened to the review with Rick Priestley on the latest D6 Generation podcast, and that always motivates me for a new game. They mentioned the Freeborn faction, which is one I could get into, aesthetically. Worth a look!

    3. An update. I'm listening to them describe the rules mechanics, and they just mentioned two of my nits: 1) no pre-measuring, and 2) rolling lower is better.

      That's too bad. It puts a taint on a game that I would otherwise rave about. I will probably continue to favor the rules for Dust Warfare over these rules.

    4. Gates of Antares feels like they bolted on a cumbersome 40k-like system onto the random activation/orders system from Bolt Action. It feels forced. Rolling low is just weird. I can live with it, but it still feels weird to me.

    5. I'd give them more benefit-of-the-doubt, based on what I heard on the podcast. It doesn't smell like 40K at all to me. Granted, I've never played it, so I'm really blowing it out my butt here.

      Rolling low is the only hang-up I have with regards to playing Dark Age. Yeah, it's "bleah".

    6. I gotta admit, Shades, I don't agree that rule sets are inviolable. I can't imagine you and I coming to an impasse over that deep strike question.

      As John said, It's all about cooperation (community) when it comes to good wargaming (any play for that matter). No rule set is too cumbersome, bloated, elegant, or perfect to be tweaked to meet the desires of a gaming community--it is the tweaks that make super enjoyable wargaming possible. If a game collapses when we tweak the rules, it is because we were not tweaking the rules correctly (with sufficient discipline and understanding) or we did not do so cooperatively with the aim of making play more enjoyable for everyone in the gaming community. Or both. Read Bernie DeKoven's discussion of "the well-timed cheat," it is illuminating.

      To be fair, we have broken our share of eggs in search of great games, but that does not mean we should stop trying. When we get it right, the results have been spectacular games.

      We must never be hesitant, as a gaming community, to bend rules to our collective will, lest we join the vast "victim culture" of unimaginative wargamers wailing that they can no longer enjoy their favorite games when game companies change directions. Game companies own development and production. Gamers own gaming.

      Carpe Ludum!

  7. The latest issue of WSS has a Gates of Antares review. Sounds like it is "hard Sci-Fi" instead of the goofy gothic Sci-Fi of 40k.

    The review is by an admitted 40k fan who expected it to be BA+40k (per John's comment) and was thrilled to learn that he was incorrect. He also says the models look better in real life than they do in the marketing photos, which is a good sign.

    Might be easier to play this using 40k models than it would to build a BA-based system for 40k.