What On-Line Players Think of Volley & Bayonet

Eltjo Verweij (E.M.Verweij@let.rug.nl) writes:

I think it has been a while since there were comments about V&B, but I don't think the discussion is closed yet. I can underscribe Frank Chadwick's remarks, but Robert Smith has some points too. The rules aren't the most clearly written I've ever seen. It is not surprising that there were two errata sheets later. The game has been evolving ever since the beginning, which will lead to V&B 2nd edition later this year (October?). But on the positive side:

I have just started playing V&B. After a few games, the rules are much clearer. Any questions left can be directed towards the wonderful V&B mailing list, where Frank himself can supply you with answers.

The rules allow for a nice and quick game, where a lot can happen in a single turn. They are not as simple as they may seem though. For example the stationary rule. Any infantry unit which doesn't move during a full turn will be stationary and is supposed to be in the optimum combat formation. That is brilliant! Since YOU are the army commander, you don't want to spend time deploying infantry brigades. That is up to the Division commander. You do give up your mobility being stationary, so there's a disadvantage.

Cavalry charges on non-disordered infantry units are doomed, unless you are very lucky. You should use them to mop up disordered and routing infantry units. Sounds historical, right?

One of the good things about V&B is it's ablity to use any stands from other games. The bases are big enough to carry several smaller stands. For example, I play with 15mm (rather 19mm AB figures) against a 20mm plastic Napoleons Battles army, without any problems. Now that is easy if you don't want to rebase your army again.

Dave Klash (DKLASH@MAIL.NYSED.GOV) writes:

How do these rules compare with other brigade level games (such as Napoleon's Battles or Fire and Fury)? They don't :)

Although V&B, F&F, and NB can be considered "brigade level," V&B is still at an even "larger" scale. For instance:

There are several pages of designer notes that explain in detail his rationale for the way he did things. So, if you like the sight of lots of troops strung out in a column moving down the road and then expanding into a column, this isn't the game for you.

Other differences:

From experience, I've found that beginners tend to zip their units around like armored columns, trying to hit enemy units in the flank. One defense against these mobile units is to keep your units in a line with 3 inch gaps - thus keeping your flanks covered (hmm, kinda sounds like historical tactics...). Of course, if you do this, you won't be moving around at high rates of speed and so the high potential speed of the units is reduced.

The game is definitely beer & pretzels and can be played quickly. (My first time with all new players took about 2 hours for an entire battle, and that included time to explain the rules.)

Although a lot of chrome is layered on, one may not fully appreciate the real effect of a certain weapon or tactic if it only ends up as a +1 on a die roll. From my limited playing experience, fire against charges might not be effective enough. Because of the high movement rates, in our ACW battle we tended to charge with cavalry a lot and we did take out a flank - pretty ahistorical. Then again, the players were new and the units on the flank were separated from the main body of troops and were also not supporting each other, so then maybe it was to be expected.

Still, I like the fast playing time, the simple rule systems, etc. I'm not sinking a lot of money into miniatures for the game -- I'm using plastic 1815 Napoleonics (Airfix, ESCI, Revell, etc..) for V&B. It's definitely fun, would be good for a mini-campaign you might play in a single (long) day, and can be used to introduce newcomers to historical miniatures.

Rob Smith (resmith@donald.cc.utexas.edu) writes:

I've played three games of V&B so far: one Seven Years War and two Zulu War scenarios.

Initial Impressions:

The production quality is so poor I almost did not buy the game. The photos are completely uninspired and the troops are not even well painted.

Layout and organization of the rules suck. For example, the effects of disorder are not collected in any single place in the rules, but instead are spread out through various sections.

The charts are incomplete. I hate paying $14.00 for a set of rules and then having to make my own charts because those provided ar next to useless because they are incomplete.

Well, I decided to buy the rules anyway.

My experiences of the three games we played are:

GOOD THINGS

BAD THINGS

My biggest gripe really concerns assistance offered the players in creating their own scenarios. I would much rather have been provided with general guidelines than specific scenarios. Given the level of the game, OBs for the major battles, as well as maps, are fairly easy to come by. Unfortunately, some of the ways troops are represented in the scenarios are not obvious. For example, in the Napoleonic period (or any), when does one use brigade stands and when does one use regt. stands? I would have thought Brits would use the regt stands (representing their tendency to fight more in linear formations), but they use brigades. Even at Marengo the Austrians are represented by brigade stands! How would one rate 1806 Prussians?

While this game may at first seem a good game for beginners, it really is not. If one does not have an extensive knowledge of a period along with access to organizational resources, one cannot create an army, except for those provided in the scenarios.

However, having said that, I still think the game has some merit. But be prepared to do much of the work yourself.

On a later occasion, Robert Smith writes:

This weekend we decided to give the rules another chance by fighting a scenario from the book: Marengo.

We set up in less than an hour, and managed to fight the battle twice in four hours. I guess that's about it for the good part of the rules. Everyone agreed that it was very nice to be able to play a moderately sized scenario in less than two hours. The only other complement was that about half the participants did enjoy the level of the simulation. It was nice to play a corps commander and worry only about moving whole brigades (not fussing with skirmisher companies).

Other than that, the rules were universally reviled by nearly everyone present. The most positive comment was along the lines that with much modification, V&B might be OK. The criticisms flew fast and furious. I don't know that I can remember everything, but I'll give it a try, point by point:

  1. Cavalry pretty much munches up infantry in the Napoleonic era and before. No such thing as square, and stationary doesn't seem to cut it.
  2. No differentiation to speak of between the weights of cavalry. There is a negative morale modifier for fighting heavier cavalry, but everyone agreed that was not enough. In our battle, a brigade of Austrian hussars trashed the French Consular Guard cavalry and Kellerman's heavy brigade in even battles.
  3. Actually using skirmishers seems to be a very quick way to force your divi sion into exhaustion, since they have little ability to damage the enemy and are very fragile themselves and cannot flee from enemy infantry. Skirmisher infantry can shoot but is ineffective, while skirmisher cavalry is even more useless, since they cannot shoot.
  4. Saving Rolls. Need I say more? I thought we had done with these back in the 70s. Everyone hated this, possibly above all else. Why not use a d10 and modifiers?
  5. Battalion guns are the secret to success!! The French could not defend against the Austrian infantry with battalion guns. And while BGs beefed up the Austrian combat abilities, there was no cost to having them present (such as reduced movement).
  6. Artillery was ineffective. It may have been our use of the guns, but they were certainly inferior to battalion guns. In the two games we played, each of which endured for only four hours, artillery caused at most 2000 casualties all together. And they were shooting almost constantly.
  7. The 'graininess' of the game was also a complaint. In otherwords, brigades were very easily destroyed in a single turn (hour). There was no since of attrition of formations until they were no longer battle worthy. More often, they were there one turn and destroyed the next.
  8. Finally, these are among the worst written and organized rules I have ever tried to use. The effects of disorder, how one becomes disordered, and how one recovers are spread throughout the rules, for example. This is true of many aspects.

So, I cannot recommend this game. Beginners will not be able to use the rules because they lack the information necessary to create armies and are poorly written. More experienced players will find them unsatisfactory as a whole, even if they are looking for 'beer and pretzel' rules. These ain't them. We were all left unsatisfied at the end.

Frank Chadwick (the designer) responds:

In overview, I would say that V&B is certainly very different than most rules on the subject and so may not be for everyone. But I also think that Robert Smith has confused his own subjective tastes in rules for objective reality. That is, he doesn't care for the rules and so imagines that there are substantive problems with them.

Is "imagines" too strong a word? No. Consider his first and second points of criticism.

I'm sure that this sounds like damning criticism to readers who have not read or played the rules, but those who actually have read and played them must be scratching their heads and wondering what Mr. Smith was smoking :)

The only combat advantage cavalry has over infantry is that infantry checks morale at -1 when in melee against cavalry, and if it fails its morale and the cavalry passes, the cavalry receives a shock attack (hits on 5&6 instead of just 6). This is precisely the same advantage heavier cavalry has over lighter cavalry. How this advantage allows cavalry to "munch" infantry and mandates all sorts of additional rules mechanics on forming square to prevent this grievous imbalance, but then suddenly becomes insignificant when applied to cavalry vs cavalry contests is a genuine mystery.

The contradiction and wrong-headedness of these two points is compounded by the fact that infantry actually has a number of important advantages when facing cavalry which light cavalry does not have when facing heavies. Specifically:

  1. Given the small size of cavalry brigades, a lucky die roll by the infantry can destroy the brigade, automatically winning the melee; a lucky roll against the infantry by the cavalry cannot (unless the cavalry rolls all sixes, which happens only one time in every 1,296 occurances).
  2. Given the generally smaller size of cavalry divisions, a round or two of combat is likely to leave a cavalry divison exhausted, while the infantry can take that and more.
  3. Stationary infantry adds 50% to its fire power. Given that the average brigade size of cavalry is only 2, those extra 2 dice of fire can be absolutely devastating. Smith says this isn't enough. It is. Trust me.

Without going on too long, lst me just say that much of the rest of his criticism is best read with a translator at your elbow. For example...

"Skirmishers were ineffective."
Translation: All mine got killed and I haven't figured out how to use them right.
"Field artillery were ineffective."
Translation: I rolled bad.
"Battalion guns are the secret to success!!"
Translation: He rolled good.
"There is no cost to having them present" (such as reduced movement)
Translation: Except they can't cross marshy streams, which cover about a mile of the French front line at Marengo right in the middle of their position, but I forgot to tell you about that because the rules are so poorly written and organized and stuff.
"...the worst written and organized rules I have ever tried to use."
Translation: I skipped over a rule and got caught, but it's not my fault, honest, it's those dumb game designers.

The total main rules text for V&B is only about 8500 words, which is remarkably short. That would be about ten pages, tops, in most rules, and they take up fourteen pages here only because we use really big type, really big headers, and really big diagrams, all to make it easier to read, understand, and find a needed section when paging through. We have a big 2-page example in addition to this, and a page of commonly asked questions.

I think the rules are arranged logically and clearly, and that they are complete and clear, if read carefully and then re-read (which for 8500 words is not asking very much). Honestly, there's hardly enough word count here to get disorganized.

If you would like to add your opinion here, send email to the maintainer listed below.


Volley and Bayonet page written and maintained by: Allan Wright -- aew@unh. du
If you have additional information or corrections, please e-mail me.
Last update: 12 May 1995