This article was written by Leo, son of one of the foremost Bolt Action writers, Mark Barber.

It all started when my dad showed me his incredible models. I didn’t focus on the big details such as the colours, but more the stones on the bases and small black dots in the eyes. I was about 4 and I didn’t know much. I couldn’t tell the difference between a bazooka and a pistol! But it was the detail I was interested in and as I got older I started to tell differences between different types of tanks and aircraft, and eventually even guns. But when it all started when I was 4, my dad played a game with me where I would pretend to be a tank gunner and he would show me a model Bolt Action tank and if it was friendly I would say ‘Not boom!’, but if it was an enemy tank I would shout ‘BOOM!’ then name the tank. My dad was just telling me easy things like the different colours but I actually started to recognise different shapes, and could soon shout out ‘Sherman Firefly!’ or ‘Panzer Four!’ Soon after I wanted to play the game properly.

My Sherman. My daddy says that a Sherman can give you a really nice ‘edge’. I’ve used it once and it got blown up instantly.

At the age of seven I chose my army to start playing Bolt Action. I picked U.S Airborne for two reasons. Reason one – I like planes so I thought the closest I could get was soldiers who jump out of planes. Reason two – they looked easier to paint than some armies for my unskilled little paws. I first made two units of six soldiers, and an officer. Not because I wanted to but because the rules said I have to! I wasn’t very focused so it took me a long time to finish painting these thirteen guys. By that I mean I finished them when I was nine! And for those who have the US Airborne boxed set, I know what you’re thinking: “I hope you gave at least one of your soldiers a decorative pigeon.” Don’t worry, I did!

I played a game against my dad to learn the rules, and I won – I learnt that veterans are really good because that higher dice roll you need to beat them can really make a difference. The next game did not go well for me. My dad’s German sniper shot my dudes to bits! But not literally. Luckily. After seeing that I decided that I wanted a sniper, but after I had a bazooka. Why did I want a bazooka? Well, bazookas go BOOM. I didn’t think much past that. After another game and another loss, I began to think “Is my dad one of those guys who beats his son because he can’t beat anyone else?”

It was about this time I got a letter from the NHS specialists, who told me that I was autistic. This was after a lot of tests and talks. That made me think about a lot of things, especially after the letter told me that I was different from a lot of other children. It left me wondering if it was this interest I have in tiny details that made me able to recognise all these different tanks when I was only four, and if it was my difficulty with concentrating that made me take two years to paint 13 models. Or maybe that’s just every kid my age with a Playstation, I don’t know…anyhow, that’s my introduction to how I started, so here’s my thoughts on the hobby side first, for any kid my age thinking of getting started. I hope it helps.

The Hobby

The first thing is that as a kid, you really do need help from a grown-up. When it came to building models from the sprues, I just wanted lots of big guns that go boom. But my dad explained that there needs to be some rifles and things for the units to follow the rules. So, once you’ve got some models planned out, you’ve then got to build them. This is actually the most fun part of it all for me because it’s far more simple than the painting, and you see results really fast. It only takes a few seconds to clip parts off the sprues, file them and then glue them so you really see your soldiers coming to life right before you, really quickly. But you should have a grown-up with you if you are messing around with glue! I did want some real historical accuracy, but fun has to come first. I think that if you buy a kit with pigeons in it, and you want to glue a pigeon to some of your soldiers even if there weren’t that many in real life, then go for it! It should be your army the way you want it to be.

Pigeon Guy. The true hero of my Bolt Action army.

Then there’s the painting. This takes a LOT longer than building it, but in the end you definitely won’t regret the time spent. Although the models look good, adding the colour brings them to life even more. I was shown to start off by just painting the normal colours. Then you can dry brush lighter shades of those colours and add dark ink washes into the cracks. My dad showed me how to do this and I couldn’t believe how much difference it made. For kids my age, you might really want to just finish the model so you can use it but it’s really worth that bit of extra time to make it look cooler.

It’s also really worth putting time into the bases. I slightly prefer doing the bases to the actual model painting because again it’s quite quick and easy to get really cool looking results. I glue on some basing grass and some little stones which I dry brush white, and then finish with some tiny bushes. The cool thing is that you can make your army look like it’s in any part of the world by doing the bases – you can use modelling snow for the Battle of the Bulge, or sand for the desert. I do find it difficult to keep patient and finish a model fully, but when they’re done I can then look at them and feel proud that that’s my handy work.

This is most of my soldiers.

The Game

When you first start your first game, it can seem slow and complicated. Once you get the hang of it, it gets a lot faster and becomes really fun! It’s not as simple as kid’s board games, but it’s just complicated enough to really get you thinking. You even have to think about setting up your army – I’ve learned now that you set up your different units depending on what terrain and buildings are on the table – some units need lots of space for shooting long range guns, whilst others will be better having lots of cover to use to run towards the enemy and still be in one piece when they get there!

My sniper team. These guys must do better!

One really cool thing I’ve learned from Bolt Action is how different types of weapons actually get used. When I watch documentaries or war movies, or even play video games, I can recognise different weapons now. Because I play Bolt Action, I can maybe imagine just a little bit better what soldiers were trying to do on battlefields, and how. It wasn’t just about running around on your own and shooting a big machine gun! It was about tactics and who needs to be where at what time, and what they need to do. And that’s exactly the same with Bolt Action – you can’t win by just running at the enemy and shooting; you have to use the right guys in the right way and that makes it very different from video games where you just win by getting the best gun.
Sometimes to work out line of sight, I get down over the table and look to see what the models can see. That started me imagining what soldiers could really see, and that’s sometimes quite emotional. A plastic tank all of a sudden transforms into something really terrifying, and it gets me really thinking about history and what actually happened. At the end of a game, when you look at the removed models and imagine that was dead and injured soldiers in reality, I realise how difficult it was for my great grandad’s generation. It is just a game and it is great fun, but it also really gets me thinking a lot and respecting what real people actually went through.

And in Conclusion!

Overall, I love this game and it’s really interesting, but it’s a fun challenge and that’s the main part for me. I’ve tried a few wargames now and sometimes I’m really in the mood for historical stuff instead of sci-fi or fantasy, and Bolt Action is my favourite historical wargame. World War 2 is for me the most interesting era of history, and the rules of Bolt Action feel to me faster and easier to follow than some of the other games my dad has played with me, so we always come back to Bolt Action. I really would recommend it to other nine-year-olds because it really is good fun, but please remember that you’ll still need a lot of help, both with the hobby and with the rules!

  1. Fantastic article! As a 48 year old, I came away with some tips for myself! No kidding! AND you, Leo, have more games under your belt than I do! I’ve yet to play, although I want to!

    Thank you for taking the time to share this and may your future be as bright as you!

    1. Excellent article written far better than most articles written by adults. Sometimes it takes a kid’s fresh perspective to remind you that fun is the most important thing.

  2. Bravo, Leo!

    And of course, bravo Mark Barber – for educating your son in the ways of our fine hobby.
    I myself am probably autistic – I havent been thoroughly examined and at my age its far too late to do something about it. My autism comes in the form that I am unable to learn anything that does not pique my interest.
    Furthermore both my kids are also autistic and show a wide variety of the autism spectrum syndrome. Albeit both are interested in my hobbies in Wargaming and Tabletop Role-playing, neither can exercise enough patience to actually do someting with their interests. I have tried and tried again to get them involved but too little avail.
    I was deemed a strange kid at school in the 60’s and 70’s (yes, I’m that old at 64) because I could tell one tank from another and one armoured car from another armoured car without ever have studied these things. I could also recognise several handguns and rifles – which was deemed dangerous in my annual rapports, go figure.
    I play Bolt Action and have several large armies – I will not go into any detail here because that would make you and your dad deem mye insane. Some are still in the early stages of painting and while I am nowhere near your level of detailed painting, my models look very good on the table, mainly because I concentrate really hard on their bases. I receive compliments all the time my club and I present our figurines at a convention.
    I do enjoy bringing new people into the hobby (and away from the computergames…).
    Long story short (too late?) Congratulations and go for it, Leo. There is someting other than your parental basement in your future…

  3. Well done Leo. This is a terrific article and I particularly like how it has made you think more of history and real wars. That is often a problem that people think wargamers must love war but the opposite is often true as I think we understand it better than most from our studies and constantly striving to avoid the mistakes of real generals. I am a lifetime wargamer aged 69 and only recently got “cleared” by the NHS as NOT being autistic, but my attention to detail has brought me much praise in the past but also lost me friends. I have 7 and 9 year old grandsons and play occasional wargames with them so I shall pass on your wise advice and thank you for taking the trouble to write so clearly.

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