Monday, 16 May 2016

Operation Cobra: 28mm Bolt Action

© Golf Alpha Zulu 2016. All rights reserved.
First line of defence: Heer veterans make the Allies pay for every yard of their advance.

Here are some images from a recent large Bolt Action game played by members of the Peninsula Wargames Group. Based on broadly on Operation Cobra - the American breakout from St Lo in 1944 - the game involved two tables of 12ft x 4ft, and six distinct commands. Each command had a separate objective and distinct VPs: Two American forces, one on each table, had to race each other to break through along the length of the table - scoring VPs only for exiting the board. On each table, a limited Heer force had to maximise US casualties, while conducting a fighting withdrawal off the length of the table. There were also two SS forces, that had to cross the width of both tables, securing VPs only for exiting units off board. About 10 players were involved, in addition to a game umpire. Players were given their orders and list restrictions in the days ahead of the game, so their forces were optimised for the terrain and the objectives. I have no idea as to how many points were on each table, but I know my Heer force was 1500pts and felt outnumbered by at least three to one...

© Golf Alpha Zulu 2016. All rights reserved.
Table One. Round "dunkelgelb" markers indicate deployment positions of one Heer force, while paper markers indicate positions of their second line of defence. Some SS elements have arrived on the left flank.
© Golf Alpha Zulu 2016. All rights reserved.
Table Two. Again, round "dunkelgelb" markers indicate deployment positions of forward Heer force, while paper markers indicate positions of the regimental HQ. Red dice identify map zones for USAAF attacks.
Bolt Action can be open to criticism that in its attempts to be a "fast-play" ruleset it errs on the side of simplicity, and omits a lot of the nuance required to represent historical situations accurately. For example, its representation of troop quality, makes no distinction between morale and training, and conflates both to a single number. While I understand the criticism, my experience has been that despite the simplicity and speed of play, Bolt Action returns historically plausible results whenever it is used for scenario-based play. This game was no exception.

What really added value to this game were layer upon layer of scenario special rules applied to the core rules. Line of sight rules were adapted to emphasise the difficulties of advancing through bocage country. The use of blind markers and dummy blind markers - in addition to the standard hidden and dug in rules - helped to increase the fog of war for the US players, and better represent ambush-based fighting. Panzerfaust-equipped small tank-hunter teams were allowed. Bazookas integrated into mechanised infantry squads were allowed. To represent US air superiority airstrikes arrived at the start of every turn, not just when called by FOAs. Spotters were allowed to call in strikes from within vehicles. The umpire made sure that civilians clogged some roads. And that partisans ambushed SS forces. It was a mess.

What I loved was the in-game effect of giving different commanders wildly different objectives. Pre-game discussions of strategy between the Heer players and SS players resulted in no agreement - a satisfying representation of conflict between the various service branches. From turn to turn the German players agreed on tactical approaches, to ensure overall victory, but only co-operated while it was mutually beneficial... And all the while the Americans were in a race through difficult country, populated with Heer units that had no hope of defeating the US, but well equipped to slow them down.

It was a huge, multi-faceted, chaotic, wonderful game, and was Bolt Action at its best.

© Golf Alpha Zulu 2016. All rights reserved.
The difficulties of advancing through bocage country... and the arrival of the SS complicates the allied picture. (Pic courtesy of Anthony van Dijk.)

© Golf Alpha Zulu 2016. All rights reserved.
GIs prepare to discourage panzerfaust attacks on the advancing armour.

© Golf Alpha Zulu 2016. All rights reserved.
Civilians - possibly with partisans amongst them - prepare to leave their village ahead of the allied advance.

© Golf Alpha Zulu 2016. All rights reserved.

Heer Regimental HQ retreat in the face of the US advance. (Pic courtesy of Anthony van Dijk.)


  1. Great report GAZ I too have thought BA would give satisfing scenario based games despite all the negative criticism. I especially enjoyed the fact that you had the SS force crossing the tables and the civilian\partisan factor.

  2. Thanks for the pictures and report. Where did you find the Scenario special rules? Or did you make them up yourself?

    1. One of our club members worked up the scenario rules, and play tested them in the weeks preceding the game. Some of them (but not a full list of VPS, objectives and lists) were emailed to players ahead of the game - I will ask him if he is happy for them to be published.

  3. Here be the scenario rules:

    Target \ spotting unit Vehicle Infantry unit Recce
    Small unit 1.5” 3” 6”
    Infantry, support weapons and small vehicles 3” 6” 12”
    Vehicle 6” 12” 24”
    NOTE: units can never be spotted if there is no line of sight to them.

    All the German Infantry & support weapons start the game dug-in (ie in hard cover) and may be in ambush.
    All German vehicles may start the game in ambush.

    All German units start the game off-board and are represented on board by blind markers.
    These markers are spotted automatically when in range (per the above chart)
    If, however, the German unit opens fire and destroys the spotter, it is not placed on board (as the unit spotting it is now dead).
    If a German unit moves out of line of sight, it may be replaced with a blind marker.
    All blind counters move 6”.

    The USAAF (and RAF) enjoyed overwhelming air superiority during operation Cobra.
    To represent this, at the start of every turn, a random field/area of terrain is targeted by an American aircraft per table.
    Standard FlaK rules apply.
    To determine the aircraft type, roll on the chart per the rulebook. The fighters are providing CAP, so replace the fighter with a fighter bomber dropping napalm. Napalm counts as a double vehicle flamethrower attack (ie, roll for two flame attacks)
    The American FAC is allowed to “reset” the areas of terrain that the planes hit by issuing a fire order. This may be done from within his vehicle. If he has LOS to a specific target, he may call in an airstrike as per the rules. If this is done, the random attack is replaced with a normal request for air support.

    The US forces score 3 VPs for every non-transport unit exiting the second table (ie, crossing all 12 feet of table).
    The US forces additionally score 1VP for every SS unit they destroy.

    The Heer score 1 VP for every US unit destroyed.
    They score 1 further VP for every Heer unit that exits the table it was initially deployed on.
    Units falling back from the first table onto the second can score 2 VP’s if they exit that table as well.

    The SS units score 2 VP’s for every unit crossing both tables.

    All the roads are only one (armoured) vehicle wide. If an armoured is KO’d on the road, it will block said road for all other vehicles.
    A destroyed soft skin vehicle can be shunted off the road by an armoured vehicle by issuing the armoured vehicle an advance order.
    A destroyed 7+ armoured vehicle destroyed can be shunted off the road by a 9+ armoured vehicle by issuing the armoured vehicle an advance order.

    There will be some French civilian units on board near their homes.
    These units will move randomly and may even end up being a hinderance.
    They act as a friendly unit for blocking firing LOS for Heer and US forces.
    The SS are free to shoot them or tank shock them if they get in the way.