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.
9 – Tank War
Published Sept. 20, 2014
Written by Ryan Miller, Rick Priestly & Alessio Cavatore
Outside of the Armies of…books, Tank War is the first published supplement for Bolt Action. Although a bit long in the tooth (it’s almost as old as the game itself) Tank War has stood the test of time with its contents enshrined in the hallowed halls of Bolt Action legacy. Tank War introduced the current 2nd Edition rules for Pinning armored vehicles years before 2nd Edition arrived. And the Tank Battle Scenario is a stone cold classic (why it’s formatted across five pages, I’ll never know).
Beyond these highlights there are a host of extra bonus rules like Vehicle Crew Experience, Tank Ace, linked games and Legendary Crew. The new Command Vehicles are all pretty samey and have been almost entirely replaced by more recent books. But at the time, they were needed and I’ve even used a couple of the Command Vehicles in 2nd Edition armies.
But let us never forget, Tank War gave us the Armored Platoon Selector. For that alone, this book deserves a spot in the Top 10. Thank you Tank War, for giving us a new way to play our beloved Bolt Action.
8 – Korea
Published Aug. 22, 2019
Written by John Russell & Steven L. Urquhart Smith
This is a massive tome. Korea weighs in at 240 pages. For context, the 2nd Edition Rulebook is 228 pages… Following the example of most supplements published in late 2018-2020, the production is fantastic. A fantastic, if limited, new model range was released along with the book (still waiting on plastic greatcoat US). The ability to leverage many of the existing Bolt Action kits (especially Late-War Soviet and US tanks) means many players may already have a collection to use for a Korea game.
Where Korea falters is scope. This is an attempt to put the history of an entire multi-year, multi-nation conflict into one book. It also tries to adapt the Bolt Action rules one for one into a fight that did not take place during WWII and unfortunately, it fails to do so. The Bolt Action rules need to be recalibrated at a foundational level to account for the change in weapons, technology and tactics for post-1945. Playing a game of Korea feels like any game of Bolt Action.
The layout of the book is almost perfect. Only missing a point for the two-column layout for the Selectors. The Selectors themselves are pretty bog standard. Majority of the units are straight from Bolt Action with a few exceptions. The production is excellent, with the new model range captured in top level photos.
This is a tricky one to grade against the other Bolt Action supplement books. Party because it’s not meant to be Bolt Action. It’s meant to be something that one step further. I hope Korea does not stop Warlord from pushing the boundaries of what Bolt Action can be. If Bolt Action: Vietnam is ever released (and I hope it is) it will need to tweak the base Bolt Action rules from the ground up.
7 – Campaign:
Published June 27, 2019
Written by Robert Vella
Another huge Campaign book at 216 pages, D-Day tries it’s best to add variety to a series of airborne drops and beach landing scenarios. Sadly the scenarios overall are all the same vibe. The units however, are quite interesting. You’ve got all kinds of specialized units like Beach Assault Squads, DD Shermans and various French tanks converted to German service. We do also have the dreaded Forward Naval Observer. This guy remains one of the most insane units added to the game. With a blast radius of d6+9″, all effected units take Pins on a 1-4, a 2″ HE template on a 5″ and 4″ HE template on a 6, it’s pretty over the top. Not to mention the chance that vehicles are ‘flipped over’ and count as destroyed hit they take the 5 or 6 hit. Oh, units in buildings take 3d6+2 hits…
The book itself follow the preferred layout of Scenarios – Units – Selectors – Special Rules – but the formatting on the pages themselves is subpar. Overall, D-Day is a sold book. If you are looking to play games during the Normandy landings, you can’t go wrong. Full marks for specificity, but outside of the landings there is not much for you.
6 – Campaign: Market Garden
Published Feb. 22, 2018
Written by Chris Brown
Power, absolute power. Market Garden contains some of the most competitive offerings in Bolt Action. You’ve got the British XXX Corp, the American Parachute Platoon and the British Airborne Recon Troop – all of these Sectors are hard as nails and a difficult force to face on the table. On the other side of the coin, a handful of the scenarios are far too prescriptive and force the players to take a force from an exact list of units. The more open scenarios are great and provide a host of interesting deployment rules for combat jumps, reserves, outflanks and drop zones. Sadly the way the book is formatted prevents it from achieving greatness with annoying layouts and unit rules buried within flavor text.
Market Garden is a book of high highs and low lows. The Germans really don’t get much to work with here. The Alarm Patrols are a joke outside of very specific scenarios and the Flak Battalion Support look amazing until you realize you can’t move within 18″ of the enemy. German players looking for top tier Selectors should look elsewhere.
5 – Sea Lion
Published May 18, 2017
Written by John Lambshead
The first ‘what if’ campaign book. I am a massive fan of Sea Lion and was thrilled to see Warlord take a risk with this release. The entire premise of this book is out of the ordinary and I feel it really opened up the author to just go wild with the units and Selectors. Honestly the only reason the units and Selectors didn’t score 5s is because of how bananas they are. Let’s see here, longbows with fire arrows? Obsolete artillery? An improvised mortar with the Dangerous special rule that has a chance to kill its own crew? Roller skates? I mean, I’m all about these wild rules but it’s not for everyone. Ben has had the Shire Patrol on his list of “maybe someday” hobby projects for years.
Sea Lion also delivers on a solid and easy to follow layout. Nations – Selectors – Units – Special Rules, that’s how it’s done. The scenarios are also off the rails. There is a mission to kill or capture Churchill! There is another one that takes place entirely on back-country waterways with small boat action. Sea Lion includes full rules for playing Patrol games, small combat engagements and they are excellent. Oh, linked scenarios rules are also included if you wanted to play out the fate of the invasion. There is always a certain romance to creating ‘last stand’ armies and now you can do that with an old men and boys British theme.
A lovey produced book that Warlord clearly had fun creating. Again, it’s not for everyone but you cannot deny that Sea Lion delivers.
Wow. Fifteen books down and only four to go! We are down to the Final Four – how will the top the Ranking shake out?
Thanks for joining me for Part III. I appreciate the thoughts on Parts I and II. Let me know what you think of the Ranking so far.
|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|
|14||Germany Strikes! Early War in Europe||13|
|13||Campaign: The Western Desert||13|
|11||Empires in Flames: The Pacific and Far East||14|
|10||Campaign: The Road to Berlin||15|
|7||Campaign: D-Day: Overlord||16|
|6||Campaign: Market Garden||18|
|5||Campaign: Sea Lion||20|