Last month we replayed the Battle of Hastenbeck (1757) with Volley and Bayonet. The scenario was the same as our last Hastenbeck game except that we allowed both sides a free set up. The scenario outcome was about the same, a Hanoverian victory. It seems like the free set up made a French victory even more difficult. I do like free set up scenarios as they allow the players to create their own overall plan. Historical set ups always seem like you were the second in command, the senior commander just dropped dead, and now you get to do what you can with the plan you didn’t devise. As the scenario was the same outside of the set up I’ll devote this post to talking more about Volley and Bayonet as a game and posting some pictures rather than a specific narrative of the game.
When I lived in Illinois for a year while teaching at a liberal arts college I had the honor of meeting Greg Novak (one of the original authors of Volley and Bayonet) in person and playing a few VnB American Revolution games at his home. When I asked him what was the design philosophy behind VnB he stated that the game was designed to play large battles in a reasonable amount of time at conventions with novice players. Given that mission statement, I can conclude that Volley and Bayonet lives up to its design goal. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that some games have, but it produces a solid game with historical outcomes in a reasonable amount of time.
In terms of scale, the basic Volley and Bayonet rules uses a time scale of 1 turn equals 1 hour and a ground scale of 1″ equals 100 years. That allows single day battles to be fought in 4-8 hours and most historical horse and musket battles will fit on a 6′ x 12′ (or smaller) table. There is no literal figure scale, but the game uses massed or linear infantry and cavalry bases. The massed infantry are 1500 to 3500 men, the massed cavalry are 1000-1500 men, while the linear infantry are 1000-1500 men. There are also skirmish infantry and cavalry bases of 500 men. Artillery stands can represent either 6 gun “batteries” or 12-18 gun battalions. The game uses strength points and each strength point equals 500 men or 6 guns.
The units are all single base stands. In general massed infantry and cavalry units represent a brigade, while linear infantry stands represent a two or three battalion regiment. Massed infantry and cavalry and skirmish cavalry are on 3″ x 3″ bases. Linear infantry are on 3″ wide x 1.5″ deep stands. Artillery is on 1.5″ wide x 3″ deep stands. You can put as many or as few figures on a base as you want. The number of figures per base often depends on the size of figures used. For example, a linear infantry base will hold 6-8 25mm figures and anywhere between 8 and 12 15mm infantry. Some players reduce the size of the bases when using 15mm and smaller figures, often using 2/3rds or 1/2 size bases with the same number of figures that 25mm stands have. Given the size of bases, master figure painters can turn the stands into mini-dioramas (search the Internet to see examples of that).
In terms of game play, command and control is very limited. If a stand is within 6″ of a higher commander it can move freely. If out of command, it can move less with significant penalties. A turn is divided into 2 player segments, basically side A completes a turn and then side B completes a turn (I go – You go). The turn sequence goes “Command Phase” in which you check which units are in command. Then comes the “Movement Phase” in which units move. The third phase is the “Rally Phase” in which you rally routed units. All of these phases are completed only by the active player. The next two phases are interactive in that both sides act to some degree. The fourth phase is the “Morale Phase” in which the units of both sides that are in contact with an enemy stand or in short range of an enemy unit make morale checks. Then comes the “Combat Phase” in which fire combat and melees are resolved. The active player can fire any unit or melee any unit in contact in the order he desires. The non-active player can fire at units that fire at his unit (only with the target unit), fire units that are in their short range of the enemy, and resolves melee attacks along with the active player. In the last phase, “Exhaustion Phase” both sides check to see if any of their commands have reached their exhaustion level and roll to see if they are simply exhausted or collapse. Then the other player repeats these phases and one turn is over.
In terms of game mechanics, command and control is limited, but the large movement rates for units avoids the game becoming too slow. For example, infantry can move 12 or 16″ and cavalry moves 20 or 24″ per movement phase. Thus a cavalry unit can move across a 6′ table in just three turns. Terrain can slow down the movement rates, but there is also a march column formation which allows units to move twice as fast off road or at triple speed while on roads, which allows for some major moves.
Combat is based on rolling several d6 dice. The number depends on the size of the unit (massed or linear) as well if the unit is firing or in melee combat. Most units have more dice if in melee than if using fire combat. Usually a 6 on a d6 is a hit but there are modifiers for shock infantry, cavalry against disordered troops, and artillery at close range. Morale is crucial for the melee combats as both sides roll a d6 against their modified morale before a melee combat. Most regular units are a 5 morale, so they have a 1/6 chance of morale failure, but morale ratings range from 7 for the most elite troops down to 4 for second rate troops. While the system seems to be lacking in troop differential (most fire the same), the morale differences really give better troops a clear advantage in melee. Morale failure will make a unit go disordered which is a very adverse effect as they fire at half effectiveness and are at an additional -1 to morale for morale checks. If an already disordered unit fails a morale check it routs, which causes additional casualties and makes that unit permanently disordered.
Instead of an overall Army Morale, VnB uses an exhaustion for each command, usually a division. Once a command suffers 40-60% losses, it suffers morale exhaustion. Exhausted commands can no longer go stationary and can no longer move into close combat/melee with an enemy unit. Exhausted commands can also collapse based on the number of casualties suffered in a turn and a die roll. Collapsed commands can no longer move into contact with an enemy unit and the units in that command are all permanently disordered. In most games, the battle will eventually end as commands become exhausted and the battle slowly dies out.
As a game, Volley and Bayonet has very weak points and many strong points. The great weakness is the lack of detailed command and control rules. Frank Chadwick has stated that his goal was to make the players the commanders and their ability would determine the game outcome rather than the qualities of the historical commanders. That works game-wise but often makes it difficult to represent armies with superior commanders. I also think that skirmishers in the 19th Century are poorly represented, especially in the second edition of the rules. Those are about the only major weaknesses in the game. The rest are clearly well thought out systems.
There are many game systems that I find very cleaver in terms of design and they do portray historical events well. First, the single size bases allows just about any historical order of battle to be adapted to the game; I know as I have made up many orders of battle for the game and they always worked out well. The skirmisher stands are especially good at allowing the smaller units to be represented in the game. During the game, infantry and artillery units can go “stationary” which provides them with more dice in both fire and melee combat, which does a good job of representing the deployment of units in positions suitable for defense. I also like the large movement rates, which as I stated, helps make the game very dynamic in terms of play and reduces the telegraphing of major movements. Finally, I really like the bigger bases for several reasons. First, they reduce the amount of time to physically move a single unit in the game (unlike the multibase systems which require a player to move 4+ stands per unit). You can also make the stands much more dioramic than you can with smaller bases. Lastly, by reducing the size of bases you can play large battles with 15mm or smaller figures with a reasonable amount of figures on a smaller table. Right now I’m experimenting with bases that are 40% the normal size for 6mm figures. That allows players to use centimeters instead of inches. Using the centimeter scale, the Battle of Borodino would fit on a 4.8’ x 2.4’ table, which is about the size of a smaller dinner table.
See the above post for pictures.