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.
And here we go, da Big Boys.
4 – Campaign: Battle of France
Published Nov. 29, 2018
Written by Mark Barber
Battle of France is a welcome addition that fills the Early War content gap. Since the publication of Germany Strikes! there had not been another truly Early War book. France is crammed to the gills with Early War content and you love to see it. There are options for a Generic Anti-Tank Platoon that is usable by all Nations, motorbike platoons, and multiple Early War platoons for the UK, France, Germany and Italy. There are new Early War specific units for the UK, France and Germany as well. And, one of the best parts, the book is formatted in just a perfect way. They really should all be like this.
One of the additional items tucked away in the back of the book are the rules for Company Commander. This is a system to play a series of linked games where you lead a dynamic force that takes losses that you have to replenish along with growing your force through the recruitment of new units. Your units also gain experience from battle to battle and gain new skills / abilities. We played a massive campaign using modified Company Commander rules a few summers back and it really was just the best of times. Company Commander is not theater or period specific. You can use these rules to fight any battles across any operation. Sure, it’s more fun if all the players are building a force that ‘fits’ with the others, but that’s just a bonus.
The only area that France drops the ball is the few areas of typos / confusion. The Dragoons VB Group being the prime example – how many men? how many VB launchers? – but the issues have been mostly corrected in the FAQ & Errata. Battle of France is one of the best Bolt Action books around and it’s a worthy addition to any collection.
3 – Campaign: Stalingrad
Published April 30, 2020
Written by Alexander Smith
Another hefty tome, Campaign: Stalingrad is a book as titanic as the battle itself. Although it’s almost completely focused on Soviet and German forces, there is fantastic variety in the units and Selectors. There are wonderful and unique options for the Soviets including changes to the free Inexp. Rifle Squad that allow you to bring free AT guns, tanks and other options. This small tweak to the Soviet National rules really gives some character to these Selectors. A personal favorite of mine – The Tractor Factory Reinforced Platoon – includes the options for multiple Tractor Factory T-34s that must be Inexp. and must have a defect. It’s just wondrous.
Also included are rules for a campaign that lets you determine the fate of Stalingrad by playing a series of linked multi-player games. A campaign map is including along with Victory Point trackers, rules for major multi-player games and adjustments to the scenarios depending on who is winning and where the battle is being fought. The new units as a whole are excellent, but the overall score takes a hit due to a couple of useless units (Alarm Unit and the Zaichata Squad) but rest of the options are great. Especially the new Commissar options.
The scenario special rules fit the scale and brutality of the struggle (fuel shortage, ammo shortage, supply drops) and the Constant Bombardment rules really are the stuff of nightmares. Stalingrad has you covered no matter if you want to play engagements in the summer at the early days of the battle or slug it out in the deep winter as these two hardened armies both refuse to give in. There was a lot of pressure to deliver with this book, as it focuses on one of the most pivotal battles in the entire war, and Warlord did not disappoint.
2 – Campaign: New Guinea
Published Aug. 24, 2017
Written by Mark Barber
Australia was supported via a free PDF Army List for years. But with the release of New Guinea, those ‘unofficial’ days were over – the fighting forces of the ANZAC had arrived. New Guinea provides a full Army List for Australia that’s chalk full of character and unique units. The units and Selectors provided are not only focused on the battles in the South Pacific. There are rules for using ANZAC forces in North Africa as well. If you are looking to play this characterful army, this is the book for you. The Australian Jungle Tank Platoon is particularly inspired.
The South Pacific Theater wasn’t well represented in Bolt Action and I’m always excited to see a new release that brings the spotlight to these largely forgotten battles. Australia being added as a fully playable and realized force is just bonus. Plus, it was an easy pivot for me to use my Chindits as Australians in New Guinea, it’s like I got a whole new army!
The book itself uses the format we all know and love. History and Scenarios up front, followed by the units and Selectors in their own separate sections with the special rules in the back. No complaints there. The production level is also top tier. The photos are spectacular and the models shown are painted and presented at a level above the standard Warlord fare. Honestly the production of New Guinea is second only to one.
1 – Campaign: Fortress Budapest
Published March 21, 2019
Written by Bryan Cook
Where do we begin? Simply put, Fortress Budapest is the best Bolt Action supplement ever written. This book contains the best minis, the best terrain, the best photography (New Guinea in close second) the most unique and interesting Selectors and the best scenarios. It’s the only book to score five across all categories and come in with a perfect overall score. I remember the first time I flipped through this book and I was immediately stuck by how different it felt. It felt different in a good way. You can just feel the care and thought that was put into this creation. It’s a clear labor of love. Everything about this book is just one level above everything else that has been produced before or after. Fortress Budapest is the gold standard.
To get a better idea of what I’m talking about, just take a look at this photo included in The Breakout Attempt section:
The photos in other Bolt Action books do not look like this. The detail, the staging, the pop on the paint jobs, it’s all next level. And the whole book is like this! Well, most of the book, there are some stock Warlord images scattered throughout. This is just one photo that I’ve selected to try and convey the overall level Fortress is at.
The book also shines at a technical level. The Selectors introduce fun new rules for your armies. There is nothing boilerplate here. You want to run mechanized Soviet scouts? Do it. How about a combined German and Hungarian defense force? Yep. German heavy armor? No problem. It’s all in here! Plus the major boost to the Hungarian force with a ton of new units and some truly unique Soviet and German mechanized infantry options. It’s. All. So. Good.
The scenarios, fantastic. Supply Drop is a straight classic. I’ve used a variation of it as a mission for several of the events I’ve run. These scenarios, unlike most books, are actually built to be played by matched opposing forces. Not just historical match ups.
I could go on, I really could. All the props to Mark and Bryan for bringing this project to life. They have set the bar for what a Bolt Action supplement can be and after almost two years, everyone else is still playing catch up.
Thank you for reading along! I had an absolute blast creating this ranking and doing a little write up for each book. I want to give a special shout out to all the folks on the Bolt Action subreddit for the words of encouragement and their insight into the Ranking. This has been a full little project and I want to start another series of Bolt Action articles / content soon. Let me know if you have any ideas on where I could take this next.
I also want to make note of how these supplement books have expanded my already vast interest in World War II. I’ve always been an amateur historian, especially for the Word Wars, but these books have sparked renewed passion for lesser known battles and theaters of war. Almost without fail when I get a new Campaign book I’ll have multiple websites open diving deeper into the campaign to find more inspiration for my next project.
Even after all these years and all these books, Bolt Action remains my favorite tabletop game. Going back through all the books has only made me love the game even more. It really was an exercise in discovery. I felt like an explorer looking for ancient treasure and I feel like I found a few gems tucked away in the pages of these books. I hope that Warlord continues to publish more exciting and unique content for this game.
|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|
|4||Campaign: Battle of France||21|
|2||Campaign: New Guinea||22|
|1||Campaign: Fortress Budapest||25|