Bolt Action: Your next steps

So you’ve read Getting Started with Bolt Action. You checked out Bolt Action at Adepticon, then you salivated over gorgeous models in our reviews of Panthers and Stukas.

How do you go from all that to a fully functioning Bolt Action army? This week we’re looking at how the Goonhammer Historicals team have made, themed and painted their own forces and the steps you can take to get going with Warlord Games’ premier WW2 game.

There are a lot of different ways to play Bolt Action, but we can start with the basics. You’ll always have an Officer (a First or Second Lieutenant) leading your force and two Infantry squads. After this you can include a variety of things to get to your point size- usually 450 points for a very small Combat Patrol, or 1,000 to 1,250 points for a regular sized Bolt Action game.

There are some limits:

  • Up to one tank or self-propelled gun
  • Up to one armored car or MMG motorcycle
  • Up to 5-7 squads of infantry (depends on country)
  • Up to one of each weapon team (flamethrower, sniper, MMG, mortar, etc)
  • Up to one of each artillery type (anti-tank or traditional artillery) [some forces have more]
  • A number of tows/trucks (varies by force)

Each country in the game has a ‘Reinforced Platoon’ that allows you to build a bog standard generic platoon. The limits for these are mostly listed above. This is what you’d bring to a tournament or a regular store night. It allows you to use infantry, vehicles, equipment, etc. from any time period in the war.

Going further

There are also Theatre Selectors – the lists that are built specifically for a certain place and time. In general, I don’t advise building to these specifically unless everything in it is available in a reinforced platoon selector. For example, some Theatre Selectors allow you to bring more than one weapon team, more than one artillery piece, etc. They might allow you to bring a vehicle from another country in your list. If you go to a tournament that doesn’t allow Theatre Selectors (that was the norm back when I was going to BA tourneys all the time) then you would be in trouble. 

In general, a good way to start the game is as follows:

  • Officer
  • Three infantry squads, at least 7 men but preferably 8+
    • Using small squads might allow you to bring more cool weapons like SMGs or LMGs or assault rifles but they can get chewed up pretty quickly.
    • Veterans are pricier but a LOT more forgiving.
  • Medium mortar
    • Mortars allow you to hit dug in troops in buildings easier and makes your opponent shift their forces so they can’t just sit around. 
  • Sniper team
    • Snipers help you pull out enemy teams that are really annoying you. They’re useful as a beginner.
  • Medium tank of some sort
    • I love light tanks and the big guys but medium tanks are more affordable and usually are well armed and armored to keep you in the game longer

Other considerations:

  • Armored cars are great but can be loaded with special rules like Recce and Open Topped that might confuse you at first. 
  • Anti-tank guns are so cool looking but get very few shots and if there is any minus to hit they can be a bad time.
  • Artillery is another great way to move enemy infantry out of buildings.
  • MMGs generally aren’t well regarded as they just aren’t great value for the points in terms of shots / points.
  • Try to avoid vehicles with negative special rules like Slow, One Man Turret, Riveted Construction, etc. They’re annoying.

One final consideration for infantry: pretty much all infantry squads have rifles, and rifles hurt all infantry well enough. You don’t have to worry about not having enough punch to get through armored infantry, or something like that. While there are some real concerns with taking a lot of inexperienced infantry (they get -1 to hit enemies built in), regulars and veterans of all types (paratroopers to the regular GI) will do well vs other infantry. Choose something you like and that you want to paint and run with it.

Our Example forces

We asked the Goonhammer Historicals crew to come up with quick, basic and (preferably) easy to collect, and maybe even cheap lists that they’ve built. Bolt Action works at a variety of points levels, but these lists aim to build towards 1000 points, a default level for small-to-medium game. 1000 points is certainly enough for squads and some toys, but you’re unlikely to see a massive heavy tank or some of the weirder and wilder units the Bolt Action lists offer.

Ilor’s Afrika Korps and 8th Army

I’m going to talk about two forces today, because I ordered miniatures for both at the same time and painted them in tandem. It is a truism among historical gamers that if you want to hook your friends, you need to have two forces so you can introduce them to the game. I was the first member of my gaming group to go whole-hog into historicals, and this has proven to be good advice.

When perusing the (nearly limitless) options for models, I came across a number of recommendations for the Perry kits for North Africa. At the time, this was limited to the Deutches Afrika Korps (DAK from here on out) and the British 8th Army, though they have since released a US Infantry kit as well for those who want to do something with Operation Torch. I decided to take the plunge with these kits because they were well regarded and ludicrously cheap – each kit ran me I think 20 GBP and had enough figures to do an entire platoon. With exchange rate and shipping I had pretty much 2 complete infantry forces for less than $60.00.

For my DAK force, I wanted to model things a little later, when supply lines were starting to be an issue and the uniforms were changing over from the original tropical green (with pith helmets!) to brown and tan with cloth caps and stahlhelms. As such, I painted them with a varied, rag-tag appearance using a method that I wrote about here. I used the 1942 Light Afrika Division as my list selector. Given that the Germans pressed nearly 2000 former members of the French Foreign Legion into service in this division (specifically in what would become the 361st Infantry Regiment), many of the men comprising this division were both a) not actually German, and b) seasoned veterans.

Pictured here are two NCOs with MP40, an artillery forward observer, a Lieutenant, a couple of guys toting MG-34s (two prone and one standing), loaders for the MGs (again two prone and one standing) and a couple of generic riflemen. Varied colors on the DAK “uniforms” became the norm due to supply-chain issues, and this “mix-and-match” approach is exactly the look I wanted to capture. (credit: Ilor)

As such, the core of this list is built around a second Lieutenant leading 3 fully kitted out Veteran Schützen squads. These consist of an SMG-toting NCO and a total of 7 extra men, two of which are carrying LMGs. The squads are a little small, but throw out a surprising amount of firepower for their size (especially at range), and being veterans makes them a little sturdier in a firefight. Added to this is a Veteran artillery forward observer team of 2 men, as well as a Regular light mortar and anti-tank rifle team (this last is largely just for kicks and because the kit provides the pieces to build one). The force is rounded out with a Veteran SdKfz 222 Armored car and a Veteran Pz III Ausf J for mobility and some extra anti-tank ability. The Perry kit easily handles all of your infantry needs, which leaves just the tank and armored car to purchase, both of which I obtained during one of Warlord Games’ frequent sales. I wrote up an article about how I painted the vehicles here. All told this list clocks in at 993 points and cost me maybe $75.

For the 8th Army, I went with the 1940-1942 Commonwealth list, as much of the 8th army at that time was made up of Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, and South Africans. The Perry box again gives you enough to do an officer and 3 full squads each with an NCO plus 9 men (one of which is carrying a Bren). Additionally, you have the parts to do a 2” mortar team, a Boys anti-tank rifle team, and a radio operator that makes for a great Artillery Forward Observer (the latter of which the Commonwealth list gets for free!). Perry also makes a great 2-pound anti-tank gun, so I added one of those to my list as well. The 2-pounder is very much a light AT gun, so don’t expect it to tear up enemy armor with reckless abandon, but it is very fluffy to the period. The 8th Army was highly mechanized in North Africa and had oodles of transport capacity. You can put this force in any combination of various trucks or Bren Carriers. Carriers can only take 5 men but come with a front-facing LMG and can be fitted with an extra pintle mounted LMG for another 10 points. If you want to zoom all over the board and blast people with machineguns, this kind of force can be good for that. Better still, a friend 3-d printed my carriers for me from a pattern he found on Thingiverse, so they cost me something like $0.74 cents each in resin.

Desert Rats
Perry Desert Rats (British 8th Army) Box. This kit contains a complete British Infantry platoon, perfect for use in Chain of Command or Bolt Action. (credit: Perry Miniatures)

Painting the 8th Army was even easier than my DAK troops, as this force was much more well-equipped and uniform. I started by airbrushing everything with a base coat of Iraqi Sand. Then boots and bayonet scabbards were done in black, socks and canteens in English Uniform, and web gear in Khaki. I once again used Flat Flesh for skin and Mahogany Brown for gun stocks. The boots were given a drybrush of dark gray and everything except the boots was given the same MinWax treatment as my DAK troops. Metal details and matte sealer finished everything off. These guys came together remarkably quickly once I got started and look great on the tabletop. And you just can’t argue with the price.

8th Army soldiers, including a Bren gunner (left rear), a Boys AT Rifle team (center), and an NCO armed with a Thompson SMG (center rear). These could be Brits or just as easily Australians, New Zealanders, or South Africans. And if you want to use Commonwealth forces from even farther afield, Perry sell separate sets of Sikh heads you can easily swap in. (credit: Ilor)

Lenoon’s Soviet Defence Force

My force is themed around a last ditch defence of Moscow, when the Red Army threw absolutely everything into the grinder to stop Barbarossa in its tracks. It’s not a high tech or a particularly well equipped army, and uses early and mid war selections. The weather is starting to close in, and it looks like the Wehrmacht might be stopped after all – but only if every rifle at the front is held firm, every chance is seized and not a single step backwards is taken!

At a small points level, Soviets still put a huge amount of squads on the field. Helped by the (sigh) “Quantity has a Quality all of it’s own” rule, Soviet armies get a free inexperienced rifle squad added onto the list. Inexperienced, rifle-armed squads don’t do much on the field, but it’s an extra dice for the bag. The army is basically three big squads, a small squad of tank riders, some fire support and a T-34. It’s unsubtle, inflexible and tends to get pushed off the board quickly. The SMG squads can be very aggressive, but are brittle as hell. I like to put LMGs in my squads wherever I can. Those inexperienced rifles do a lot of moving around, and occasionally some shooting, but wherever possible I like to put those all-powerful pinning markers on units that the T34 then harasses while the riders get up close and personal to finish them off.

I was pulling the basing off as I was writing this article, I dislike it that much. A work in progress.

As with any bolt action force, you can scale the points up and down by changing veterancy – this could be a force scraped up to throw infront of the panzer advance, or the grizzled survivors of the great retreat.

The main advantage of this force is that it was VERY cheap to put together. It’s nearly all based on a single Warlord games plastic summer Soviets box, including the officers. Added into that is some of Bad Squiddo’s rifle soldiers and smgs. The mortar and sniper team are both Bad Squiddo too – everyone to the front, regardless of gender! The tank is the early/mid war version of the T34, using the Rubicon T34 kit and some extra tank riders. 

We have an officer and forward observer (for that slightly more powerful barrage), then three big squads – two with rifles and one with SMGs. A light mortar team and a sniper team provide some longer range support, and the T34, with an accompanying squad of tank riders, does most of the heavy lifting.

Small squads aren’t great, but a small squad on a tank? Still not that great

These models were painted brutally quickly in order to get them onto the table. After a basecoat of wraithbone spray, they are a variety of washes, block colours with nuln oil shading and the quickest, dirtiest gravel basing. I will – I promise – go back to them as we continue our bolt action coverage! 

Expanding this force to take on some of the better thought through and better painted armies in this article will mean looking at taking a Heavy Machine Gun and probably some artillery/anti-tank in the form of a Zis-3 field gun. I’ve been on the receiving end of a PAK-40 or 88 a couple of times and it’s been a harrowing experience. Time to even the field.

Zuul the Cat’s German “Operation Citadel” Force

My German force ranges from 1940 all the way to 1945, but the meat of the force is based around Operation Citadel on the Eastern Front, when the Germans attempted to launch an offensive against the Soviets centered around the area of Kursk. The operation failed and the Germans suffered massive casualties, but I find it to be an excellent theater selector because it pairs up well against my two friends that also play Bolt Action and both have Soviet armies. 

This is the army I took to the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society – Pacific South West Bolt Action Tournament on October 9, 2021, where I came in nearly dead last in points, but came out on top with the best painted army. When I built this army, I wanted it to be thematic, but I also wanted it to have some teeth to be able to take on my opponents. 

Zuul the Cats (gorgeous) Germans

The force includes the best of both worlds for the Germans – a highlight of Armor including a Panzer IV (Rubicon Games), a 222 Light Armored Car & a SdKfz 251 Halftrack (both Warlord Games) and a four infantry squads, supported by a heavy mortar team, a flamethrower team and a light artillery piece. 

For the armor, I took the Panzer IV because you can’t talk about the Eastern Front without talking about the Panzer IV. It was the workhorse of the German war machine, plus it looks cool and I wanted to show off the paint job. Coming in at 235 points for Regular and armed with a heavy AT gun & 2 MMG’s, it’s a great tool for taking on whatever it happens to be in front of. I did take the Schürzen armor skirts for an additional 10 points, which saved my hide in my 2nd game when a partisan unit managed to get a shot in on it with a panzerfaust. 

The 222 is a great little mobile support platform, and cheap! At just 95 points you get a Light Armored Car with a light autocannon that fires 2 1” HE template shots and has Recce, letting it get out of Dodge while the gettin’ is good. 

The last vehicle, the SdKfz 251 halftrack is a great example of why I am not a competitive player. Almost every competitive player of Bolt Action will tell you that halftracks are not worth the points because they’re too easily destroyed and cost too much. While that may be true, I counter that with the fact that the halftrack is super cool looking. They’re fun vehicles! They automatically come with a forward facing MG42 and can add on more covering the rear arc. But for this list specifically, I wanted to take something that could get my Pioneers and Flamethrower team into thick of it exactly when it was needed. 

For my infantry, this force has 4 squads. Two Regular Heer Grenadier squads armed with LMGS & Panzerfausts, one Veteran squad armed with 2 LMGs and 2 Panzerfausts and one Veteran Pioneer Squad armed with Submachine Guns. Bolt Action is a game of objectives, and to take objectives you have to have infantry. That means my force needed something with staying power, clearing power and something that could punch holes through armor. My only AT in this list being the Panzer IV meant that Panzerfausts would be paramount to take out any enemy armor that my tank couldn’t. In addition, I knew that I wanted to take light machine guns to take advantage of the Hitler’s Buzzsaw special rule, giving German machine guns an extra shot. Having two veteran squads would make it especially hard to shift them while in cover and holding an objective. The pioneers all being armed with SMGs meant that they would be able to clear out buildings in bloody close-quarters combat. 

Now THAT is a background – Zuul’s Germans in action

The remaining aspects of the list are the support weapons. I took a veteran flamethrower team to roll around in the halftrack with the Pioneers (who would benefit from being Veteran plus Small Team) to help clear out buildings and keep would-be heroes from charging. The Heavy Mortar and Light Artillery were both taken to help keep enemy forces out of buildings, clear them off objectives and for counter battery operations. 

Overall I think I did a good job staying with the theme of the Eastern Front, especially Operation Citadel. What started as a mobile, offensive operation turned into a desperate defense, and that is captured here with the units taken. 

My next plan for my German force is to create a “Germans in Italy” force, centered on the Luftwaffe Field Divisions. I want to take a  couple of AA units – maybe a flakvierling mounted on the back of a truck and at least one 8.8 Flak Cannon! 

Mike’s mid-war British

I’m still early in journey with Bolt Action, and the eventual goal is to have a couple of straight forward forces for my club to use. With that in mind the core of my mid-war British force is a pair of seven man infantry squads each led by an SMG armed NCO, backed up by a Churchill AVRE. Talking to the more experienced members of the GH Bolt Action team, and looking at what else I have in my backlog it’ll likely be a third infantry section, sniper team and medium mortar to expand the force. I’m keenly aware I lack any dedicated anti-tank options so getting a PIAT Team added to the roster is a priority too.

Once I’ve got the essentials on the roster I’d like to add some extra options, I’ve always had a soft spot for Shermans so it’s likely one will make it’s way to the table, along with some transports to give the force a little more mobility.

Keep your eye out for more Bolt Action content in the near future! In the meantime if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at