It’s been a little while since it came out but I’ve finally picked up the 2nd edition rulebook for Bolt Action, in preparation for taking another army to the student nationals. The update hasn’t actually changed that much, but the subtle changes affect the game in a big way. In particular I think it has toned down some overpowered elements, and encouraged taking units that might have been overlooked. But this is still recognisably Bolt Action.
Most of what has been changed is weapon balancing, but these small changes will affect what people decide to put in their lists and hence have a knock on effect on players’ decisions on the table.
The biggest of these is the change to High Explosives (HE), moving from a random number of hits to using a template changes a lot. Firstly it reduces the overall amount of damage HE shots will do, HE (2D6) from a medium howitzer gives an average of 7 hits but with the new 3″ template you’ll never get that many hits, let alone 10 or 12 like you could before. On balance I’d say that’s a good thing, a hit from HE(2D6) or even HE(D6) could be a death sentence for infantry units, and with Howitzers and mortars being so cheap, regular infantry units felt a bit devalued by this in my opinion. Also since they share a force organisation slot with anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, howitzers tend to crowd out these units with their efficiency. One thing that I don’t like about this change is it adding another level of busywork to make sure your units are spread out. I’ve played way too many games of 40k where an opponent asks “Do you have any blast weapons” to know if they need to care or not, I don’t find this to cause interesting decisions just slow down games.
Some other weapons have been changed to make them more sensible, LMGs and MMGs get an extra shot to try and make them worth their cost, and shaped charge weapons like bazookas might actually get played now since they lost their additional -1 accuracy penalty.
Also flamethrowers have been toned down which was very necessary. Previously vehicle mounted flamethrowers were ungodly killing machines, but now they have to roll to hit, and do less damage when they do. This is definitely a good change, vehicle flamethrowers were so deadly to all types of units that they necessitated an immediate alpha strike to eliminate them. For my Italian army for example I leaned heavily on the forward air observer and my own flamethrower tank, and these kinds of list choices eat up points and leave you fewer points to spend on experimentation.
Outside of weapon balancing there have been a few more interesting updates. In particular changing the role of officers and other headquarters elements. Now when you successfully order your officer you can assign additional order dice to nearby units based on that officer’s rank without an order test. This makes officers massively more relevant. Because of the way the platoons are structured the only officer you will likely have is a 1st or 2nd lieutenant and the morale boost they provide is +2 and +1 respectively, and the difference between these is negligible. So I would usually take an inexperienced 2nd lieutenant, not expecting him to do anything and he was just there because he had to be. Now with the ability to accelerate your orders and potentially have 3 units acting (including the officer) if you get the first order die of the turn, you care about your officers and want them to be an important part of your platoons. Despite this being very powerful it is still fair, since taking 3 dice out at the start will massively increase your opponent’s order dice density so balance in activation will re-assert itself.
Another slight change to the headquarters units comes in with the change to HE, the forward observers (artillery and air) use blast templates as well. This reduces their damage output in the same way as artillery and mortars, and, particularly for artillery observers, makes them seriously over costed in my opinion. The air observers take the biggest hit from this, no longer able to smash tanks in a flurry of rocket fire as reliably.
The last major change that I think will affect the game in a big way is the gutting of assault options. Previously either veteran troops with SMGs or cavalry, if carefully handled to avoid artillery or tanks, could rush through rifle fire and deliver a shock charge to break through even other veterans. Now, there are no real ways to build up buckets of close combat attacks. The tough fighters rule still exists but now only grants additional attacks after successful hits. Assaults will still favour larger units of higher quality troops but it’s much harder to have situations where the attackers wipe out the defenders before they can strike, assaults will take a more casualties out of attackers. There will be edge cases where charges are useful, but these will typically be large units attacking against rifle squads or other units that don’t have strong reaction fire, and will be targets of opportunity rather than a strategy you can actively work towards.
This is one change I’m very torn on. On the one hand in a world war 2 game close combat shouldn’t be that viable and with these changes spotting good chances for assault is more skillful. However this change does take some of the flair and elan out of dedicated assault units like Polish cavalry or the French Foreign Legion.
The kinds of changes I expect to see in lists after the update are focused around more infantry rather than going heavy on firepower, with the overall reduced damage output in the game. This would add incentive to splash out on veteran infantry as they aren’t going to be splatted out of existence by a howitzer. And the increased power of officers makes the game about having your units work together, focusing down threats with many pin markers. An all infantry list also looks a lot more viable with howitzers no longer being an auto include, freeing up slots for either an anti tank or anti aircraft gun and the improved usability of bazookas and panzershrecks. Something like an American airborne list I can see doing very well. That’s not to say tanks can be entirely counted out, especially with them gaining more shots from their many machine guns.
Ultimately I don’t play enough to make any accurate predictions, but expect to see some more road to the nationals and a report on what I see there.