So you’ve just picked up a brand-new Bolt Action army. You’ve built the tank, painted the officer and weapons teams (we all paint the ‘cool’ stuff first, don’t worry!), and now you’ve just got the infantry to do. The question is – how many squads should you build? How many NCOs will you need? Most importantly, how many men should each squad have? There are a few schools of thought here, so let’s go over them to help you decide what’s right for your army!

Infantry squad sizes varied historically from nation to nation and unit to unit, although the traditional wargaming ‘standard’ tends to be ten blokes. For those of us going for a purely historical force, it couldn’t be simpler – a quick bit of online research for your chosen army’s organisational charts will tell you how many models, and exactly what weapons they should have, and away you go! However, if we want to dip our toe into the competitive arena, some further consideration is needed to ensure we end up with squads that are just right for our style of play and army composition!

British Airborne on patrol.

The most crucial part of deciding how many models to have in a squad (at least in a competitive sense) is identifying exactly what you want that unit to do on the tabletop. This also ties into exactly what kit you give them, but that’s a debate for another article! Some people will advocate maximum-sized units for survivability at all times, while others are in favour of multiple small units to increase both tactical flexibility and the number of Order Dice granted to the army. Both have their place, but there are a few constants which I’ve always found work well for me. As always, these are merely my tactical suggestions, so feel free to modify or ignore them as you see fit (and/or tell me how wrong I am in the comments section).

The first (and probably most controversial) of my maxims is that, wherever possible, you should have an odd number of models in each squad. The reason for this is simple – casualties and morale checks. As we know, if a unit suffers 50% or greater casualties from the shooting of a single enemy unit, it must take a morale check. This means an odd-numbered squad is slightly more survivable in terms of that 50% figure (isn’t maths wonderful!). It also means you’re likely to have a surprisingly large number of points left over (all those 10-point regular chaps add up) to spend on more units or more upgrades. The only time it’s really worth ignoring this rule is if you’re going for maximum-size units (more on them in a second) for assault duties, or if you really have nothing else left to spend a few points on.

Next up, if you’re going to buy any kind of expensive weapon for a squad (a flamethrower is the absolute classic here), make sure you’ve got some ‘ablative wounds’ in the squad. It may sound brutal, but these chaps (ideally with just a rifle) are there to get in the way of bullets so that your shiny expensive toy can live to fight another day. There’s nothing worse than having your tooled-up ‘death squad’ massacred on turn one, so make sure to keep the special weapons operators hidden behind a few warm bodies. For expensive veteran units like Engineers, this can be slightly less important, but you can never be too careful!

Soviets unleash a deadly torrent of flame.

Also of particular importance to those flamethrower-toting units (but also vital for ‘normal’ squads) is the available transport capacity in your army list. Mobile units are fantastically useful in Bolt Action, being able to get to wherever they’re needed in a hurry, without having to spend turns slogging across the board on foot, under enemy fire all the way. It’s always important to make sure, however, that the squads you want to stick in your transport vehicles… actually fit in them! It’s no good having a nice seven-man Assault Engineer squad (conforming nicely to the odd-numbers rule and having spare bodies to protect the obligatory flamethrower) if all you’ve got is a Komsomolets Armoured Artillery Tractor (Transport Capacity: 6) for them to ride on! It may sound obvious, but always make sure that your transports line up with the squads that you actually want to be mobile. If in doubt, get a truck or two!

This seven-man Soviet Assault Engineers Squad (complete with flamethower) has been paired with a dependable GAZ AA truck.

Finally, when it comes to squads designed for close-in firefights or hand-to-hand savagery – go big, or go home! This is the one time where you should seriously consider breaking the ‘odd numbers’ rule, as you just want the absolute maximum bodies possible. Close-quarters shooting can be absolutely evil, especially when the SMGs and assault rifles start opening up needing only twos and threes to hit, and we all know just how deadly Assaults are – two squads enter… one squad leaves! You’ll want to maximise both the number of attacks you can get and the squad’s ability to soak up casualties on the way in and still remain combat-effective.

Banzai! Japanese troops make a determined charge at an American position.

The final piece of advice I have for you isn’t so much about list-building as it is a hobby tip. If you ever find yourself at a loss for something to do… build and paint some more generic ‘bods’ with rifles. As my best mate is fond of saying – you can never have too many basic riflemen in your collection! They’ll give you the flexibility you need to tailor your force to any eventuality, and who doesn’t like having a whacking great horde of models in their display cabinet?

  1. Great advice for getting started in competitive games ..I think making more smgs aswell as rifles helps you cover force timelines

  2. Good advice for the gameplay side of the hobby. Eventually when you have a big enough mix of infantry you can really do whatever you want with your army composition, so more infantry is almost always the answer. Now I say that as someone who mainly plays tank war so maybe take that with a pinch of salt.

  3. The only correct answer is to follow historical TO&E and then do some small adjustments to account for attrition. None of this metagaming “Well the most optimal squad size is…” rubbish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like