There are some debates as old as time itself. Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Does pineapple belong on pizza? Should you give your Bolt Action infantry squads light machine guns (LMGs)? While there some of these have definitive answers (pineapple on pizza is questionable at best), in the case of the LMG question there are valid points on both sides of the argument. Let’s look at them here, so you can decide what’s best for your force!

British Infantryman with Bren gun

We’ll start off by looking at exactly what you’re getting when you buy an LMG. For 20 points, you get four shots at 36″ (or five, if you play Germans thanks to Hitler’s Buzzsaw special rule). One chap in the squad becomes the loader, so you lose his shooting services, and most infantry squads can take either one or two LMGs, depending on the period and theatre. As a general rule, later war means more LMGs! Historically, the light machine gun really made its debut en masse during the Second World War, having evolved from the heavier emplaced weapons of the Great War. Intended to provide squad-level automatic fire, LMG doctrine varied from army to army, as did the exact specifics of the weapons themselves. Many nations favoured a detachable box magazine, as with the Anglo-Czech Bren, while the Germans developed the belt-fed MG34/42 family, arguably the finest machine gun ever developed, with descendants still in widespread use to this day. In Bolt Action, we treat them all the same (except for the MG34/42, due to the aforementioned extra shot – they’re just that good!) – 20 points, four shots. Germans are of course the outlier here, along with things like Vickers K guns, so we’ll look at the ‘average’ four-shot LMG for the purpose of our discussion.

Now we know what we get for our 20 points, we need to decide whether we want to spend those points or not. For those of us playing strictly historical games, or with heavily-themed lists, it’s of course a no-brainer – they were in the squad in real life, so into the army they go! For those of us stepping into the crucible of competitive play, where every point matters, it’s a little different. There’s two main schools of thought, which we’ll explore now.

Bersaglieri with Breda M30 LMG

The first is that LMGs are well worth the points. For the price of two Regular soldiers with rifles (20 points) you add a net two shots to the squad (plus four from the LMG, minus one from the loader who doesn’t shoot, and minus one from the gunner who would otherwise have a rifle), and extend the unit’s engagement range from 24″ to 36″ inches. This allows your infantry to ‘reach out and touch’ enemy units earlier in the game, and start piling on the pins – as we all know, Pins Mean Wins. When the fighting gets inside 24″, a squad with an LMG has the advantage of being able to throw more dice at an opposing unit without one, giving you a better chance of winning the firefight early on, and so long as the gunner and loader remain alive, you’ll still have those four shots, even as the riflemen around them start falling. Another tactic which seems to see less use than it did when I started playing Bolt Action, but remains viable, is that of five or six-man late-war or Veteran squads with a pair of LMGs, with the NCO and any spare bods simply there to absorb incoming fire. With two chaps putting out eight shots a turn between them, with some handy dice rolling they can mow through infantry foolish enough to get caught in range and out of cover, and as smaller units can more easily be squeezed into small patches of cover for protection.

All of this sounds excellent – surely, everyone should take as many LMGs as possible, right? Well, there is a dissenting opinion, which I just so happen to hold. As always, this is what I’ve found works best for me, so your mileage will likely vary! As previously stated, an LMG is 20 points, the equivalent to two Regular soldiers with rifles. There’s an old wargaming adage which I heartily subscribe to – The best upgrade you can buy a model is another model to stand next to him. The extra shots and range are nice, sure, but in almost all situations I’d much rather have the extra bodies, as they mean that the squad will stick around for longer, which is especially useful when objectives come into play. Additionally, putting LMGs in squads can ‘lock’ that squad into the role of long-range fire support. You’ve spent 20 points on that LMG, so you’re going to want to make sure the rest of the unit synergises around it – that means no SMGs or assault rifles, no anti-tank grenades, really nothing fun at all! Without the LMG, your unit can be far more flexible in what you want it to do. The final argument against the LMG is simply the cost itself – if you have, say, four infantry squads, and each has an LMG, that’s 80 points! I always like to consider what I could get instead of a particular upgrade I want to purchase for a unit, and 80 points can get you plenty of extra dice, or alternative firepower – if in doubt, add a howitzer!

A North Korean KPA Infantryman with DP LMG accompanied by a loader.

Thankfully, our plastic Infantry boxed sets are highly customisable and stuffed with weapons options, so you’ll easily be able to come down on the fence on whichever side you prefer. I’m sure an issue this divisive will provoke plenty of… ahem… robust discussion, so please feel free to share your experiences and strategies (or just tell me how wrong I am!) in the comments below. Until then – praise the dice gods, and pass the ammunition!

18 comments
  1. “For the price of two Regular soldiers with rifles (20 points) you add a net three shots to the squad (plus four from the LMG, minus one from the loader who doesn’t shoot)”

    Actually it should be:

    “For the price of two Regular soldiers with rifles (20 points) you add a net TWO shots to the squad (plus four from the LMG, minus one each from the loader and gunner who both lose their rifle shots)”

    So it is basically exactly the same as just adding two more riflemen, except for the additional range. Unless you’re German.

    1. Spot on – I promise I can do maths really!

      Doesn’t help that my main army is Germans so I’ve got 5 shots pretty much seared into my brain at this point!

  2. I would love to see Warlord offer the LMG Teams as separate blisters in their metal packs. So, for those of us who don’t want to run with LMGs and want those “2 extra rifle guys” we can have that. Or. Also offer a separate blister of 2-3 rifle guys in addition to a separate pack of LMGs. Let us have the option to customize our squad as we want to play it as and still give Warlord our money.

  3. Competitive gameplay v historical accuracy ignores another very important rule, the “rule of cool”..

    I would advocate that the inclusion (or exclusion) of the LMG is also determined by how cook it makes your unit look.

    One can only paint so many rifles before the desire to paint a LMG becomes all consuming…

    1. Excellent point Mark…. LMGs r cool for your squad and in real life.
      A Worst point… adding a MMG to a truck or jeep for very little cost. 🙁

  4. I must agree with the illustrious Mr. Coleman. The 20pt cost for an LMG is simply too high. But I suspect it will never change, so the discussion is moot.

    1. Interesting. What point cost would you feel to be more equitable in your opinion?

      I’ve never felt ripped off when paying for the LMG. I like to have one platoon stand off and apply fire, applying pins to units that can’t touch mine while another advances to engage.

      Also, on the defence, the LMG’s can provide that extra pinning power as enemy units advance toward you. However, as I mentioned elsewhere, we don’t yet do competitive at our table. Nor do we have some of the neat units available as options, mostly just the basics.

  5. I think you explained both sides clearly and fairly and, like all things wargaming, it depends on how you want to play. I’m a “historical” player myself, so my Canadian platoons get their Bren! I tend to not min/max as it brings back memories of a future grim and dark (wink), but I suppose if I was to enter competitive play I would definitely look at dropping the LMG’s as you described. 80 more points? Yes please!

  6. An interesting side note for the German players: A volksgrenadier platoon had the platoon HQ, 2 Sturm Gruppen (with assault rifles), and the MG Gruppe with 2 LMGs. With the LMGs grouped in one section the other two were free to assault to their heart’s content while the machinegunners poured it on from their overwatch position.

  7. I’m of the 2 extra men opinion. Same number of shots.
    – 2 more dice in close combat, almost 3 with inexperienced squad
    – 2 more casualties that can be taken
    – another way to look at this that 20 points buys almost 7 SMGs or 4 Assault Rifles
    Exception for German Veteran Squads where 2 more men is 26 points and they get 5 shots for 20 points. They get the LMG.

  8. I think if you look at the LMG cost in comparison with a mounted MMGs at 15 points extra the cost is high in comparison. A Regular French FT tank is just 35 points which is far more cost effective than than the Regular MMG and makes the 40 points for 2 men and a LMG even more out of kilter. I would also say that comparing the Vickers/Hotchkiss/Maxim 08 MMG with the heavy .50CAL/13.2mm HMGs the rates of fire are pretty much the same at around 450-600 rpm. Other than rule of cool – and I recently took a Belgian HMG to a tournament – why would you take a 70pt HMG rather than a 50pt MMG for just 3 shots as opposed to 5 and the same range? We know that changing points is unlikely so maybe change the rate of fire of the HMG to 5 shots? Also I would suggest that making the LMGs cause D2 pins, the MMG & HMG D3 pins would make all of these weapons far more enticing. I would also not apply this pin change to vehicle mounted weapons or just make all vehicle mounted machine guns D2 pins. While we are on MMGs I also really do not like the gunner rule for the Weapon Teams. All members of the crew would be trained in the use of the weapon so why should the whole crew go if the lose the gunner, especially when veteran? I would change that to Inexperienced teams only.

  9. I would argue that if you see any mini being used in games more or less than they were in real life, then the points cost needs adjusting. LMGs were a no-brainer during WW2, the fact that they’re not in BA tells me they should either cost less or be more effective, for instance dishing out more pins.

  10. Historically LMGs were used en masse in sections in the First World War from 1916 onwards. British platoons had at least two in an LMG section in 1918, sometimes more.

  11. I tend to have a selection of weapon squads I can choose from to build a unit. It means I have the versatility to customise my unit to the terrain and objectives set out. It is good to have thatbversatility for all sorts of reasons. So I would model an LMG but maybe not use it every time.

  12. Absolutely agree Marcus.

    It’s doubly frustrating when you consider that a BAR is only 5pts, and with the USA’s special rules is arguably a more reliable killer of infantry for one quarter the cost.

    Of the two obvious solutions, namely:
    -Make LMGs cheaper.
    -Make LMGs better.
    I favour the former.

    -Sheffy

  13. An german squads ,shoots about 900 RPM , and british squad about 400 RPM , an US squad 550 RPM , and Russian 430 RPM .
    So that is well Balanced in BA , I think

  14. I generally play historical (sic!) games, and we generally include LMGs in the squads- as that is what historical armies did. The general idea was that the LMG group provided firepower, while the rifle provided manoeuvre. I’d also argue that comparing rates of firepower does not give an accurate idea of effect at the receiving end. What has more impact- a full belt from an MG42 spraying the area, or very accurate bursts from a Bren hitting very close to you? I would argue that in BA terms it’s much the same, while accepting the Hitler’s buzz saw rule! That’s balanced by the British Rapid Fire rule, and the US fire and manoeuvre.

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