The 25th Anniversary Edition of Silver Bayonet is a substantially updated version of the original game that first appeared in 1990. Designer Gene Billingsley calls Silver Bayonet “my first published game” even though it appeared alongside two sister titles, Air Bridge to Victory and Operations Shoestring (which I talk previously talked about here).
According to GMT Game ads, Silver Bayonet is an operational game that features, “innovative combat resolution, integrating maneuver combat, close assault, artillery bombardment, gunship rocket and air support into one easy to use system.” All that certainly sounds like alot. So just how does it work?
To explore this question and learn the game I followed the advice in the Standard Scenarios portion of the Rule Book. The part I focused in on was this passage:
The scenarios are numbered in chronological order. To play them in an order that gradually adds size and/or complexity, use the following order: 6a, 6b, 3, 5, 4, 1, 2, 7. These scenarios all use the Standard Sequence of Play.
Scenarios 3, 4, 5, 6a & 6b are intended to be played directly on the scenario cards provided.
In general, Standard Scenarios do not use Helicopters, Patrols, Observation, Ambush, or Hidden Movement, although they may use a form of these concepts (Rule Book, p. 29)
The “innovative combat resolution” system is the heart of the game design and models the interaction of Bombardment, Maneuver Combat, and Assault Combat. Although I had exposure to this system in Operation Shoestring I did not fully understand how it works until the far easier to understand rules and player aids in Silver Bayonet taught me.
Maneuver & Assault Combat
In a typical turn, following the placement of reinforcements and movement the active player must declare his combats. This phase involves more than just pointing to a stack of units. The type of combat (Maneuver or Assault) must be declared. Maneuver Combat can be thought of in terms of levering a unit out of a position. In game terms the possible combat results are fatigue, retreat, step loss, and elimination. Assault Combat is in many ways a frontal assault; possible combat results are step losses and elimination. Both combats use a different CRT. Maneuver Combat uses an odds-based CRT with the attacker resolving the combat with a single die roll. Assault Combat rolls on a different CRT using straight combat strength with defender, then attacker, both getting rolls.
In Silver Bayonet, Bombardment is performed by artillery, some helicopters, and abstracted air points (air support). Bombardment can happen at three different points in a turn. Regardless of the firing platform, or when in the turn the bombardment happens, all use the same Bombardment/Support Table. While the table is the same the results are interpreted differently depending on the type (Offensive, Defensive, or Maneuver Support). This is a very interesting model of how artillery and air support work in combat. Although at first glance one might think that resolving bombardment at three different points in the turn is cumbersome, the use of a single table with common DRMs but different interpretation of results actually makes resolution quick and (mostly) painless.
Rule 2.4.5 defines Efficiency Rating as:
The efficiency rating (ER) of each unit represents that unit’s level of training, effectiveness, and cohesion. The higher the ER, the better.
ER is used at several points in a turn, most importantly during Combat Refusal, Attack Coordination, and Maneuver Combat. ER is what makes units really distinguishable; a Attack Strength 3 units with an ER of 5 is a much different animal than Attack Strength 3 with and ER of 3.
Hidden Movement is actually a Campaign Scenario rule and admittedly much harder for me to fully explore as I am learning the game by playing against my evil twin, “Mr. Solo.”
Creating a Battle Narrative
The combination of the Bombardment-Maneuver-Assault and Efficiency Rating mechanics creates a “battle narrative” that feels thematically correct. It is possible in Silver Bayonet for that 100-man US infantry company to hold off that NVA regiment given enough artillery and air support. It is equally possible for the NVA or PAVN to ambush the US or ARVN and then fade away into the jungle. For a great example of a how Silver Bayonet builds a “battle narrative” look at the original COIN game designer Volko Ruhnke’s (@Volko26) Operation Silver Bayonet (Part 1) AAR on the InsideGMT Blog.
The more I play Silver Bayonet the more the game is growing on me. I am pretty sure I am going to place this game in my personal Top 10 wargames. In this case, the innovative mechanics just “fit” the campaign and make the game come alive for me like few cardboard simulations have before.