Bolt Action Basics: A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide

Ready for some World War II wargaming? Bolt Action brings the epic scale of historical battles right to your tabletop. This game is designed to be simple and fun, perfect for both veterans of tabletop gaming and newcomers alike.

Before you jump into your first game, you’ll want to have a good grasp of the basics. You'll need to familiarize yourself with the core rules, understand unit capabilities, and get a handle on the unique game mechanics. This knowledge sets you up for an engaging and immersive gameplay experience.

Below, we’ll outline everything you need to kickstart your Bolt Action game. From setting up your first game to mastering the strategies of wartime tactics, we've got you covered.


The Bolt Action rulebook is essential as it contains basic army lists and the core rules of the game. Alongside the rulebook, you'll need general gaming tools like a tape measure, a handful of six-sided dice (D6), a dice bag, and blast markers of various sizes. Specific tools for Bolt Action include pin markers and order dice, which are critical for gameplay.

Basic Mechanics and Set-Up

In Bolt Action, each player controls a set of units. For every unit on the battlefield, a corresponding dice is added to a bag. These dice determine the activation order, ensuring each game round is unpredictable. The game is set up with players choosing sides—like U.S. Airborne and German Grenadiers—and adding their unit dice to the mix.

Table Size and Force Composition

Bolt Action is ideal for a standard 4x6 foot table but is flexible enough for smaller spaces. An average force consists of 30-50 men and a couple of vehicles. The game accommodates various sizes, from small skirmishes to large battles, by adjusting the points value.

Understanding Matched-Play and Points

Bolt Action requires players to create a balanced force within a set points limit, typically between 1000 and 1250 points. This system allows for a fair and competitive setup. The focus is on a ‘reinforced platoon’—a core infantry platoon supplemented with various units like machine guns, sniper teams, flamethrowers, and even a tank or armored car.

The Six Orders

You can issue six different orders to your units:

  1. Fire: Shoot without moving.
  2. Advance: Move and then fire.
  3. Run: Move double speed without firing or assault in close-quarters combat.
  4. Ambush: Stay put and wait to shoot at something in range.
  5. Rally: Remove D6+1 pin markers without moving or firing.
  6. Down: Harder to hit in ranged fire, without moving or firing.

Pinning and Morale

Pinning and morale significantly influence how your units behave on the battlefield. When a unit is hit by enemy fire, it receives pin markers, simulating combat suppression. These markers affect the unit's ability to follow orders and its combat effectiveness. To activate a pinned unit, you roll against its morale, subtracting the number of pin markers it has.

Choosing Your Troops

Players often choose between veteran and regular troops, affecting the size and composition of their squads. Veterans cost more points but are more effective. Regulars are cheaper but allow for larger squads. The game's flexibility in army building caters to different play styles and preferences.

Unique Army Special Rules

While Bolt Action standardizes many aspects of gameplay, each army has unique special rules that add flavor and tactical variety. For example, in the Band of Brothers starter set, the American forces can move and fire without penalty and have additional machine gun teams. The German forces benefit from extra shots with their machine guns and can ignore the effects of losing NCOs.

Expanding Your Forces

The beauty of Bolt Action lies in its scalable nature. You can gradually increase the size of your games by exploring different armies or engaging in larger battles. The game offers a wide range of expansion sets, including specific armies like the Bolt Action Soviet Starter army or terrain sets to enhance your gaming table. Each expansion offers new strategies and historical contexts, keeping the game fresh and engaging.

Model Recommendations and Painting Tips

Deciding on a nationality and era is the first step in building your army. Manufacturers like Warlord Games, Perry Miniatures, and Wargames Atlantic offer a vast selection of miniatures. For painting, resources like Osprey books and online guides provide valuable insights.

Starting Your Terrain

Your terrain setup can vary greatly depending on the chosen theater of war. Starting with a European setting is common, offering a mix of trees, small towns, and roads. However, themes like desert or jungle can also create visually striking and strategically different games.

Expanding Your Collection

Once you're committed to the game, expanding your forces is straightforward. Combining your beginner set with a starter army can quickly result in a well-rounded and competitive army. This approach offers a seamless transition from a basic setup to a more comprehensive collection.

On to Victory

You're now equipped to lead your World War II armies into battle, making strategic decisions and experiencing the excitement of history-inspired gameplay. All that's left is to roll out the map, position your units, and let the thrilling battles of Bolt Action unfold.



Bolt Action brings historical battles to your tabletop, designed to be simple and fun for veterans and newcomers. Before your first game, grasp the core rules and understand unit capabilities and unique game mechanics for an immersive experience. Read on to learn more in this infographic.

13 Bolt Action Basics Infographic

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