Book Review – Bolt Action: The Western Desert!

Confession time: I really only play four armies for Bolt Action; a German army (the Deutsches Afrikakorps, commonly abbreviated as DAK), two Italian armies (one Allied and one Axis), and an American army based around the Mediterranean. Basically, what I am trying to say is that this is the book I have been wanting for a very long time.

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When Warlord Games announced this campaign book, I began to constantly harass anyone and everyone until I was able to get my hands on this book. About a week ago, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to review it (thanks Osprey for sending it along)!

You may be wondering why, then, I have been sitting on this review for about a week now. If I was so excited to get it, why wait? Well mainly because I have been having a hard time finding the right words. I guess here are two of them: SO AWESOME.

I may have a bias.

Let’s talk about what this book does do and then we can talk about what it lacks, but why that is a good thing.

For starters, The Western Desert states that it is a campaign book. This is clear from the onset, as following the historical background of the region during World War II, the fighting, the forces, and so on, most of the first half of the book is dedicated to historical scenario recreations. That is, you get a series of mini-campaigns which closely relate to their historical namesakes with multiple scenarios per mini-campaign. Some of these campaigns follow along with those which we are already familiar, but there are a few brand new scenario types that we haven’t seen yet.

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Most of these scenarios have brand new rules especially created for desert warfare in the harsh north-African climate. But there are also new campaigns which center around specialist action.

You know what I am talking about. Don’t play coy! This book is packed full of LRDG and SAS, Italian, and German special forces raids galore! It’s a veritable smörgåsbord of fun, rich, creative gameplay.

What is the best part for me, personally? This is all basically early and mid-war stuff. No King Tigers or other heavy tanks; no super destructive weapons (just destructive ones–which I suppose are terrible on their own), no German infantry squads with anti-tank superpowers; there is no late-war craziness. I like that. It makes the gameplay more challenging because you can’t just assume spending a quadrillion points on a mobile anti-everything platform (I am looking at you, Mr. Maus) will win you the game.

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And raiding forces aren’t going to do well against an organized and well-defended position, especially in weather conditions aren’t in your favor. A mobile panzergrenadier force isn’t going to sweep in and take objectives without difficulty because the scenario rules incorporate some very rough ground and impassable terrain. The games are going to be challenging. And I like that.

But this book has more than campaigns. Like every supplement we have seen, The Western desert introduces new units, new unit types, new theater selectors, and new ways to use your current forces. Here’s a taste. I did edit a few of these–if you are interested, you definitely need to get this book.

Mixed in those images are also special platoon selectors. You might have caught on to a few of them. Admittedly, this is my favorite part of the book. What I think I am excited about the most is how these new units, vehicles, and lists challenge me personally (and I am sure quite a number of you as well) to go out and create a whole new army based off of them.

A special forces Italian army?

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Absolutely.

Yes please.

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That sounds like a fun idea and I already have a few conversions in mind. And there is plenty of room for creating narrative scenarios based upon these lists along between you and your friends.

For those of you out there looking for some Free French action (you know who you are)? Desert War takes care of you. Here’s a screen capture of that section’s opening page:

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Yup. Uh huh. You know you are intrigued!

The point here is that there is a lot of value to this book. It is more than just a campaign book; it’s inspiration for a brand new style of play for a game we’re all pretty familiar with by now. It takes existing rules and, without changing them or complicating them, makes them more interesting. And that is difficult to do.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is available now, so be sure to go grab it and dive it!

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