Silver Bayonet (GMT)

Give me an F...


Playings, 2 (6 hours), 1 USA, 1 NVA win


Silver Bayonet is proving very hard to pull back off the games shelf. Having put it up, there is little incentive to pull it down again. The hidden movement system is partly to blame, the box does not make it clear that Silver Bayonet is not easy to play solitaire (rating it average suitability). US and ARVN units are not hidden but NVA and VC (very few of the latter are in play) suffer from the old hidden movement marker syndrom. Charlie has a set number of markers which may represent a full strength stack, a blank or some compromise. A single stack is not strong enough to take on the Yanks, to get anywhere several have to be in the same place. Any NVA offensive will be betrayed by a swathe of markers plodding across the map. Some of these may be empty but the USA will use patrols and helicopters to probe any such concentration and if 1 or 2 good stacks turn up he will know that there must be more close by. In the same way if a group of hidden markers is revealed to contain a blank and then another member of that group is also a blank, the USA could be right in thinking that the whole group is a fake and that the NVA focus lies elsewhere. The fixed number of hidden markers forces conservative use by Charlie. A whole wad of them together eats into the number remaining for use elsewhere, splitting a large force (reasonably) into single units which can swiftly re-combine may force some out of the way units to forfeit hidden movement markers. If the USA can see NVA units he can bomb them, an obvious but total cover of hidden markers is preferable to some cunning hiding but some out in the open. The USA cannot guarantee being able to remove a hidden movement marker (D10 roll), this is hardest in the jungle but NVA units must either slow up, detour or occasionally cross more open rivers and swamp. To hold a village Charlie has to sit in it and is not hard to spot when the choppers fly over. Just to make it a little harder the USA keeps all hidden markers that he reveals for 1 turn, the NVA cannot immediately close the covers back down, an active USA player will have a pretty good idea what is going on if not too certain of details.


This is hard enough for a 2 player game. Solitaire I reverted to idiot rules for the Yanks, assigning a random nearest stack for patrols to search and sending out the spotter choppers to cover regions that were apparently under threat. Although disadvantaged I felt that Charlie was too easy to find. Exact spotting did not always work but it is not hard to guess where he is going. NVA units plod across the map so there is plenty of time for the choppers to fly about and try out markers. The units revealed may move under other markers or several markers could combine then split up but he does not have the speed to shoot off and run all over the map. Charlie makes 3 hexes a turn in the jungle, imperialist lackeys 2 but with lightening speed between chopper landing zones. Isolated stacks will need to combine to cause serious damage so are only a threat when they approach others, which they will do slowly.


The whole situation is worsened by both sides having semi-secret victory conditions. Of the scenarios only the campaign and 3 longer games are worth playing. There is plenty of historical detail in the other scenarios but they use limited units and only part of the map. The 3 longer games split the campaign into 3 more manageable lumps. All 4 set ups use the same victory system, 5 objectives are given for each side. In the campaign 3 are chosen at random to win, the other set ups require 2. It is pretty hard to hide this from myself solitaire but even so the original list of 5 is open to inspection and actions should give some clue as to what some of the chosen conditions are. These conditions are chosen at random, some are harder to achieve than others. An odd USA condition is to eliminate the NVA hospital, this can only be found by attacking its hex, not by searching. It is only likely to be achieved by accident, as happened historically. Other conditions revolve around destroying units and capturing territory. The USA can hold villages with a small stack which if it survives the original assault can be reinforced by air (which is just dinky if the NVA is trying to kill Americans rather than capture the village). If the NVA is stuck with having to hold territory (villages or the single town) he will have to spread out to cover the territory, units in villages are easy to spot and if small will invite a chopper attack. Any reserves hidden in the jungle will be out of sight but in danger of being burnt up when having to re-take the village.


Silver Bayonet was released simultaneously with Air Bridge to Victory (Market Garden) and Operation Shoestring (Guadacanal) sharing some of the basic rules. Excepting helicopters it is reasonable to draw a parallel between jungle fighting during WWII and 20 years later. Less clear is the relationship with European tank warfare. The combat system chosen for all 3 games would fit better into Holland than S. E. Asia. Combat is divided into manoeuvre and assault, it is possible to attack the same units (but not with the same attackers) using both modes in a single turn. The Americans will do this a lot because only by declaring both options can Charlie be prevented from running away. It is not specified exactly what the 2 combat types represent. Assault is in-hex so could be hordes of pyjama clad types swarming into the compound ladder in 1 hand, coffin in the other (The Green Berets is recommended viewing here). Assault tends to kill units although the defender is helped by the attacker being unable to allocate more than 1 hex stacking value of units to the assault. Charlie never had this problem against John Wayne, he will still have to put up with shelling and airstrikes as he goes in. The game has not differentiated between supply driven stacking and the amount of troops that can be shoved into a hex for a short time. Turns are daily but do not account for Charlie going in at night to avoid defenders calling support. Even with new rules to help Charlie he would still have the historical problem of how to hold villages against counter-attacks during the day. Of course he slipped away when the Americans came back.


Manoeuvre combat is hard to understand. If over the top assaults and sweeps were 1 aspect of Vietnam fighting the other ought to be airstrikes, shelling and aggressive patrolling with the possibility of the odd ambush. Manoeuvre combat is between adjacent hexes, results are step losses, retreats and fatigues. Fatigue reduces combat ability and is reversed by Charlie plodding off to the map edges or under HQ units and imperialists choppering back to town. A Yankee sweep against guerrilla positions might look like this except that Charlie would break off after inflicting suitable losses. The US player will always declare an assault and manoeuvre if he intends to win the combat (even though he may lose in the end) to pin the NVA and guarantee success of the sweep. An end result of assault, so where is the manoeuvre? It is possible to merely shell the enemy in yet another combat step (bombardment). With manoeuvre and assault so closely linked in important combats there is cause for combining the systems. Assault always works better after a little manoevre softening up, manoeuvre is only of use where the outcome is not critical. Units can ignore retreat results, anything holding a critical village or road junction will need to be wiped out unless the defender wants to pull out.


Silver Bayonet shows the strengths of western forces but hides their weaknesses. Helicopters, artillery and air strikes are very powerful. Combined with a limited but adequate ability to find the enemy and Charlie being on the offensive the US has an easy time. This does not mean that it is easy for him to win, compared to his historical counterpart he has it easy. The hex grid and neat NVA stacks lines up the situation on the HQ wall. Hexes are 1 mile across, if a hidden stack is spotted the boys can fly off and have a very good chance of catching Charlie. If Charlie can only make 3 miles a day in the jungle he must be moving at night and be nigh on impossible to spot. Even if seen crossing open terrain, only airstrikes and limited forces can reach the area before he will move on. Naturally when Charlie attacks he is easy to spot but will have built up hefty odds. Hamburger Hill defenses may affect public opinion in the US but are sure to lead to a lot more dead VC than Yanks.


Villages, roads and landing zones may be significant giving both sides something to fight over. All other parts of the map are simply bad lands, some quicker to cross on foot than others but on the ground 1 tree is much the same as another. Broadly there are a number of boxes to be held, joined by roads or rivers or flown out to and a patchwork of areas to be patrolled but not held. The USSR in Afghanistan did not bother to control the badlands, abandoning some and turning others into free fire zones. Anyone really keen about Vietnam could divide the jungle and such into areas, smaller where it is denser. NVA stacks would move 1 area a turn (night moves) without being spotted or try for up to 3 with increased chances of discovery. Spotting would be based on the total number of units in the area and terrain and would reveal some % of those on the ground. Charlie could always reveal more than that % after bombardment, dissuading the US from reacting with small forces. Combat could also do with a rethink, at the very least the US (only) should not be able to pin Charlie by using manoeuvre and assault combat. He should have some chance of catching Charlie if he does so but none if does not. Silver Bayonet cannot be regarded as more than a source of information about 1 part of the Vietnam war. It should not be considered a combat simulation.