The first Bolt Action supplement, Battleground Europe: D-Day to Germany was released on Nov. 20, 2014. Since then, 18 more supplement books have been published to further enhance our beloved game. January 2020 sees the release of the twentieth Bolt Action supplement – Campaign: D-Day: British & Canadian Sectors. To celebrate this milestone, I looked back at all the previous releases to create the definitive Bolt Action Book Ranking in a four part series.
Each book was rated across five categories; Units, Theater Selectors, Scenarios, Production and Layout. There was a max of five points in each category giving a possible score between 5 and 25. In the case of ties, I adjusted the overall rank to award the better book with a higher overall position.
Please note: only the Theater and Campaign books were ranked. No Armies of… books were considered for this Ranking.
19 – Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin
Published Feb. 20, 2015
Written by Andy Chambers
Following Battleground Europe, Ostfront was the second Theater book published. Sadly there were no improvements made to either the layout or formatting and the scenarios lack the unique charm of Battleground Europe. Compounded by the cumbersome way the scenarios are written and presented, this leaves the player without anything to really dive into. There are a few specialized units and Theater Selectors like the Red Army Winter War Reinforced Platoon and the OT-130 Teletank. In an attempt to cover what the book calls “fighting that raged virtually without pause for four years across thousands of miles of territory” players are only provided with the high level. There is simply too much ground to cover. A supplement for the entire Eastern Front is just too much.
18 – Duel in the Sun: The African and Italian Campaigns
Published Feb. 25, 2016
Written by Dylan Owen & Alessio Cavatore
Duel in the Sun will always have a special place in my heart as the first Theater book I owned and I fond true hobby inspiration in its pages. However, that cannot save it from a host of issues. Like all the Theater books, the layout is unforgivable. Mixing the profiles for new units and Selectors within the scenarios and historical background makes it impossible to quickly reference the book for information. On the plus side, the inclusion of the Indian Army was both welcome and overdue. Although the rules are a bit light, a player now had the means to create and play a purely Indian Army for Commonwealth. These rules would later be expanded on in Campaign: Western Desert but that is still years away.
The production took a major step forward with the inclusion of models outside of the Warlord line, mainly Perry. To my knowledge, this is the first Bolt Action book to showcase models not produced by Warlord. It would not be the last. Standing at the fifth and final Theater book, Duel deserves a place in Bolt Action history, but not at the top of our ranking.
17 – Battleground Europe: D-Day to Germany
Published Nov. 20, 2014
Written by Ryan Miller, Rick Priestly & Alessio Cavatore
The first “Theater Book” published, Battleground Europe set the tone for the next four books. Sadly, some poor choices made during this first publication carried over for years. The main offender (and why the Layout rating is set to 1) is the strange choice to include new units and Selectors scattered throughout the book. There is no way to get an overview of what new units have been added in any of the Theater books. Thankfully, later publications would correct this.
In this book, unit rules scattered throughout the scenarios and sometimes game rules are in green call out boxes (usually those boxes are reserved for historical background). The scenario special rules scattered throughout and referenced in later missions (Minefields see p.36, Amphibious Assault see p.31), why not include all the special rules in one section? Where this book shines is the scenarios. They are excellent. The scenarios are simple, unique and to the point.
16 – Campaign: Mariana & Palua Islands
Published Sept 3, 2020
Written by Mark Gallear
Although Mariana & Palau Islands is the most recent (as of publishing) book it fails to capitalize on the years of hard lessons learned. The formatting for the Selectors uses this two-column style in an effort to get multiple Selectors onto one page and the result is a mess. The Selectors are also not collected into one section, they are spread through out the book creating a frustrating and confusing reading experience. And I must mention the Selectors are just not interesting or unique. There are some high points. The new units introduced are fun and fantastic.
You do have to give props for a book that highlights a lesser know and lesser played part of the war, but why did this book not follow the example set from previous publications its layout? A missed opportunity. You can read more in our Campaign: Mariana & Palau Islands Hot Take.
15 – Campaign: Battle of the Bulge
Published Feb. 23, 2017
Written by Mark Barber
The first supplement for Second Edition and first of many Campaign books, Bulge breaks the mold in many ways. For starters, this book is concerned with only one battle. Not entire front or theater of operations. It is from here onward that all Bolt Action supplements will focus. The sweeping scope of the Theater books is gone – we are now zooming into specific engagements.
Included in the pages is a fully army list for Late War Free France and there are some truly unique and exciting options for an army. A force of Free French SAS and/or French North African Troops would be something else! But for as fun as the French lists looks, the books is bogged down by just bizarre and unclear rules for Panzerbrigade 150. And for some reason the choice was made not to breakout the new unit profiles and Selectors into one section. The new Selectors are pretty fantastic and the AT Platoon was introduced (one of Ben’s favorites).
That’s the first five down, fourteen more to go! What book will come at the top of the Ranking? We will have to wait and see!
Thanks for joining me for Part I. Let me know your thoughts on the Ranking so far. Was I unjust? Unfair? Good points? Bad points? I look forward to your comments.
|19||Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin||9|
|18||Duel in the Sun: The African and Italian Campaigns||11|
|17||Battleground Europe: D-Day to Germany||11|
|16||Campaign: Mariana & Palua Islands||12|
|15||Campaign: Battle of the Bulge||12|