#Wargame Wednesday – 2019 CSR Wargame Challenge – Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 (25th Anniversary Edition, @gmtgames, 2016)

PLAYING SILVER BAYONET FOR MY 2019 CSR CHALLENGE is not really a challenge. I rate Silver Bayonet in the top 4% of all my games on BGG. The original 1990 version of Silver Bayonet won the CSR that year but in 2016 GMT Games reissued a revised 25th Anniversary Edition. I never played the 1990 version but really enjoy the new edition. I think it is rules like 7.0 Attack Coordination that really set this game apart.

One criticism often leveled at wargamers from outside the hobby niche is that wargames are too perfect in terms of information and the ability for a player/commander to control their units. The critics claim that rarely is it the case where a commander simply orders a unit and the unit receives the orders and executes flawlessly. In Silver Bayonet, designer’s Gene Billingsley and Mitchell Land introduce a bit of uncertainly through rule 7.0 Attack Coordination.

Rule 7.0 Attack Coordination is simple in its mechanics but very realistic in its impacts on combat. Basically, after all pre-combat actions, the Combat Resolution Phase begins by resolving Attack Coordination when attacks are coming from multiple hexes against a defender’s hex. There are a few times when coordination is automatic, but in most cases a d10 die roll will be made against an Efficiency Rating or Nominal Command Value; roll UNDER this coordination value (CV) and the attack is coordinated and all proceeds as normal. But, if the roll is not under the CV then how the combat develops depends on how much the CV was missed:

  • If the Attack Coordination roll is EQUAL to the CV, then the attack is Partially Coordinated with the biggest drawback being no Maneuver Combat Support Fire (air and artillery) allowed
  • If the Attack Coordination roll is GREATER than the CV by one (1), it is an Uncoordinated Attack which has the same penalties as the Partially Coordinated attack and more (unfavorable column shifts or die roll modifiers – DRMs – in combat)
  • The worst case is when the Attack Coordination roll is TWO OR MORE GREATER THAN the CV; in that case the Assault or Maneuver Combat is automatically changed to an Uncoordinated Frontal Assault where only one hex can be used to attack (with unfavorable DRMs) while the others stand idly by.

This simple rule helps recreate realistic combat situations. US only attacks by units in the same battalion are automatically coordinated (7.2.1) while Lt. Col. Hal Moore can automatically coordinate attacks between battalions (12.1.1). ARVN attacks with Col Truong are automatically coordinated, but without the Colonel the ARVN default to a Nominal Command Value of 5 meaning there is only a 40% chance of a Fully Coordinated Attack. NVA units within command range of their HQ are probably going to do OK as most have an Efficiency Rating of 6 meaning there is a 50% chance of a Fully Coordinated Attack. The worst is the PAVN with a Nominal Command Value of 3; meaning there is only a 20% chance of a Fully Coordinated Attack but a 60% chance of an Uncoordinated Frontal Assault.

It’s a simple rule. It helps explain how PAVN attacks so easily devolve into that classic, World War II Banzai charge. The rule creates realistic narratives that the players would avoid if they could…but they can’t.

Every time I play Silver Bayonet I find a new reason to respect the design. There are many ways to try and reflect command limits in wargames, and often the mechanics of the rules are cumbersome or feel artificial. Rule 7.0 Attack Coordination in Silver Bayonet is an elegant, simple solution to a complex modeling challenge of command in combat that is both mechanically smooth while retaining a realistic, natural feel.

My CSR #Wargame Challenge for 2019

This is the time of the year that many in the boardgame community start their “challenges” for the coming year. The classic is the 10 x 10 – pick 10 different games and play each ten times during the year. As a wargamer, I sort of like that thought but want something more applicable to my niche of the hobby.

The other night I was messing around with the Advanced Search function of BoardGameGeek and sorting my collection in different ways. For some reason I noticed certain games of mine are Charles S. Roberts Award winners. This drew my attention because wargamers know that Mr. Roberts is the father of modern wargaming:

Charles S. Roberts…invented the modern wargame industry virtually single-handedly. As a designer and original owner-operator of Avalon Hill, he was responsible for the creation of the first modern wargame, including many of the developments, such as the Combat Results Table (CRT), which were later to become commonplace. (grognard.com)

According to Wikipedia, the Charles S. Roberts Awards are:

The Charles S. Roberts Awards (or CSR Awards) was an annual award for excellence in the historical wargaming hobby. It was named in honor of Charles S. Roberts the “Father of Wargaming” who founded Avalon Hill. The award was informally called a “Charlie” and officially called a “Charles S. Roberts Award”….Created at the first Origins Game Convention in 1975….The last year the awards were given was 2012.

After sorting my game collection, I discovered I own 20 CSR Awards winners. The challenge I am giving myself is to play all 20 games at least once by the end of calendar year 2019.

CSRAward
Courtesy consimgames.com

My 2019 CSR Challenge games are:

  1. Squad Leader – 1977 Best Tactical Game
  2. Victory in the Pacific – 1977 Best Strategic Game
  3. Mayday – 1978 Best Science-Fiction Board Game
  4. The Ironclads – 1979 Best Initial Release Wargame
  5. Azhanti High Lightning – 1980 Best Science-Fiction Board Game
  6. Wings – 1981 Best Twentieth Century Game
  7. Car Wars – 1981 Best Science-Fiction Board Game
  8. Ironbottom Sound – 1981 Best Initial Release Wargame
  9. Illuminati – 1982 Best Science-Fiction Board Game*
  10. World in Flames – 1985 Best Twentieth Century Game
  11. 7th Fleet – 1987 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  12. Tokyo Express – 1988 Best World War II Boardgame
  13. Tac Air – 1988 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  14. Operation Shoestring: The Guadalcanal Campaign – 1990 Best World War II Board Game
  15. For the People – 1998 Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  16. Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 1990 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  17. Crisis: Korea 1995 – 1993 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  18. Paths of Glory – 1999 Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  19. Downtown: The Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 – 2004 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  20. Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear – 2008 Best World War II Boardgame

A nice perk of making my own challenge is that I get to make the rules. For instance, since I don’t always own the edition that won substituting a later edition or version that I own is acceptable. For instance, I own Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 (25th Anniversary Edition) – that is a legal substitute.

I will keep this blog and a GeekList over on BoardGameGeek updated with my progress throughout the year.

So, what is your 2019 Wargame Challenge? 


*  Yes, I know Illuminati is NOT a wargame, but it is the only non-wargame CSR winner on my list. Besides, the RockyMountainNavy Boys may like it, so it stays!

Feature image courtesy BoardGameGeek. Afrika Korps was a 1964 design by Charles S. Roberts.

October ends with a Silver Bayonet charge from @gmtgames & Dad is the real King(domino) (@BlueOrangeGames)

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October 2018

My October gaming featured 20 plays of 11 different games. Actually, I played 19 times with 10 games and one expansion. Or two expansions? Confusing. The ability to tie an expansion to a game is a needed upgrade to BoardGameStats to avoid this very confusion.

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GMT Games

The top game of the month was Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 (25th Anniversary Edition) (GMT Games, 2016). I played this game six times in the one week it was in the house this month making it currently tied for my second-most played wargame of 2018. I like the game so much I wrote about my out-of-the-box impressions, theme, and game mechanics.

DFILK233QhiVw9QZAigEhAThere was one special game this month, Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017). My father, aged 88 years and a veteran of the Korean War, visited our area as part of an Honor Flight group. After dinner one night the RockyMountainNavy Boys got to sit down and play a single game of Kingdomino with him. When we lived closer to him we played many games togther. I remember one early game where he sat down and played Blokus with the kids. As the kids racked up the points Dad sat there pondering the board until he finally asked, “How do you win?” To him a game is always a puzzle to be solved; it was supposed to have a “key” to unlock it. He never did figure out the key to Blokus, though over the years he did play several games of Ticket to Ride with the kids (and often held his own). Given my dad’s age and general health, and the fact he lives on the opposite side of the country, this very well could be the last game the RockyMountainNavy Boys play with him. Thanks to boardgaming we have several good memories of times with him.

How’d it suddenly get so dusty in here?

 

Game of the Week – Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition (GMT Games, 2016) – Game Mechanics

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?

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Courtesy GMT Games

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

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Courtesy GMT Games

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.

Bombardment

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.

Efficiency Rating

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

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.

 

Game of the Week – Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition (GMT Games, 2016) – Theme

I have very few Vietnam-topic wargames in my collection. As sorted by BoardGameGeek, the three wargames beside Silver Bayonet that I own are Firepower (Avalon Hill Games, 1984), The Speed of Heat (Clash of Arms Games, 1992), and Downtown: The Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 (GMT Games, 2004). Nor do I have many operational-level ground combat games having focused more on the tactical or strategic level of war, and then mostly on naval/maritime or air campaigns. Thus, Silver Bayonet occupies a rare part of my collection.

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Courtesy BGG

When I first started wargaming in 1979, the Vietnam War was still fresh in the public’s memory. That memory was also a bit raw given how divided the country was over the war. Thus, I encountered very few wargames on the topic; the only one I remember playing was Operation Pegasus (Task Force Games, 1980**). Even come the 1990s there still were few games making the first edition of Silver Bayonet published in 1990 special even then.

In 2015, when designer Gene Billingsley went to update Silver Bayonet, he wrote in the Inside GMT Blog:

A recommended book. The “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” book came out in late 1992, and the movie a decade later, and Americans began to learn about the bitter struggle ofPleikuBook Hal Moore’s troopers in the shadow of the Chu Pong at LZ X-Ray. But even now, little has been written on the broader campaign in October and November of 1965, a campaign that stopped, attritted, and later routed a tough North Vietnamese Division poised to overrun the Special Forces camps and meager fortifications around Pleiku in just over a month of campaigning. Considering that airmobility was mostly “an idea” at that point, and that the unblooded 1st Cavalry troopers that implemented new strategies and tactics were about as familiar with the area of operations as they were the face of the moon, what they achieved was quite remarkable. And, of course, terribly costly. To this day, I know of no better book – if you want to read up on this campaign – that dissects the entire campaign, than J.D. Coleman’s “Pleiku,” a book that was my primary source for constructing the game’s scenarios way back in 1990. To be sure, we have more information today, and some of that will make its way into the updated edition of the game, but this book remains a tremendous resource, written by a gifted writer, with enough precise detail that it almost reads like an after action report (though much more interesting.) If you’re interested in the topic, read (or re-read) this book.

Having both read the book and watched the movie, the game Silver Bayonet is extremely evocative of the topic. This is GMT Games at its finest; a respectful treatment of the subject with little oh-rah and a very fair representation of the capabilities and motivations of both combatants.

Featured image courtesy GMT Games.

** Operation Pegasus is available as a digital download from the successor to Task Force Games, Amarillo Design Bureau, at wargamevault.com.

Game of the Week – Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition (GMT Games, 2016) – Out of the Box Impressions

My GMT Games 2018 Sale purchase was Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition by designers Gene Billingsley & Mitchell Land. According to the publisher’s blurb:

Silver Bayonet recreates the pivotal November 1965 battle between a full North Vietnamese Army Division and the US 1st Air Cavalry Division in the Ia Drang Valley. NVA expertise in lure and ambush tactics resulted in significant US casualties. US mobility and the ability to bring massive amounts of firepower to bear quickly virtually destroyed the attacking NVA division and forced a change in NVA tactics.

This re-issue of GMT Games’ 1990 CSR Award winning title that started it all keeps the original operational system, but streamlines to it to include innovative combat resolution integrating maneuver combat, close assault, artillery bombardment, and support from gunships and air sorties.

Increased accessibility to primary and secondary source material has made it possible to make changes to more accurately represent both sides’ unique capabilities without significantly altering or breaking the base game system. The major changes involve patrols, ambushes, landing zones, and the 1st Cav Brigade HQ, while minor changes tweak movement, combat, and coordination game mechanics to showcase radically different strengths and weaknesses the FWA and NVA force brought to the battles in the Ia Drang Valley.

I have a related game in my collection; Operations Shoestring: The Guadalcanal Campaign, 1942 (GMT Games, 1990). Although I recently played that title, the game mechanics in Silver Bayonet are significantly upgraded, enough to make the 25th Anniversary Edition a near-total new system.

Out of the Box Impressions

The component list for Silver Bayonet given on the GMT website does not inspire.

COMPONENTS

  • 1.5 countersheets with 9/16″ counters
  • 22×34 inch mounted map
  • Two 11×17 inch divider screens
  • Rules & Play Book
  • 15 Player Aid Cards
  • One 10-sided die

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Silver Bayonet unpacked (courtesy GMT Games)

Opening an actual box is a totally different, and very satisfying, experience. It starts even before you open the box with a famous picture of Lt. Rick Rescorla. [If you don’t recognize the name follow the link or google it; after you are done cleaning the dust out of your eyes you can continue reading here.]

Those “1.5 countersheets” works out to 351 counters with only 14 blanks. The reality is most scenarios use a subset of the counters. Scenario #1 – Breaking the Siege (Duc Co) uses only 31 counters. Nor is the entire nicely mounted map used every game; Scenario #3 – The Drang River Valley (LZ Mary) uses a 5×4 hex subset of the map (and nine counters). The map in the 25th Anniversary Edition is mounted making it look really nice on the table.

The Rules & Play Book is colorful, two column, and only 40 pages. The Standard rules cover 1.0 thru 12.0 and span 16 pages. The Campaign Scenario rules cover 13.0 thru 18.0 and are delivered in 10 pages. The balance is a short reference to the Scenarios, Designer’s Notes, and a very useful Example of Play. I really appreciate the use of color tone boxes throughout the rules; yellow for historical quotes, blue for Design Notes, and brown for Play Notes. The smart use of color certainly helps with deciphering the rules.

The 15 Player Aid Cards include eight for the 11 scenarios, a Standard Sequence of Play, a Campaign Sequence of Play, the Battle Board, two cards (one for each player) for holding units off map or in hiding, and two double-fold combat charts cards. As an added bonus, there are two player screens included. Both are nice but beyond the PAVN player using theirs to hide the Hidden Movement card I am not sure of the usefulness. Seems more like a Kickstarter stretch goal than a needed component. But the art is nice and inspirational so they will definitely stay!

New counters, a new map, a well laid out Rule Book, use of Player Aid cards and tables on the mounted map make this a very visually stunning game. Taken together, the 25th Anniversary Edition of Silver Bayonet is one of the best organized wargames in my collection.

Featured image courtesy GMT Games.