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Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Asymmetrical Fun rss

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Michael Headley
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Kansas
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Introduction

Silver Bayonet is a war game set in Vietnam published first in 1990. I think I picked up my copy in about 1998. It was my first "real" hex-and-counter game, and while it may not be the best of the genre, it provides an interesting and dynamic play experience that is notable for the asymmetry.

Components
This is a pretty hideously green maps sheet, and the counters aren't much to look at - mostly utilitarian green and reds. The map does, however, have player-aid tables for each player - surprisingly useful. It also comes with several sturdy-but-simple player aid cards.

The components aren't glamorous or sexy, but they are functional. Don't be turned off by that bad first impression.

Rules

The rules are written in your typical GMT-legalese, which means if you play lots of war-games you probably really like that style of rules, and if you aren't used to war-games or hate GMT rules, you'll get more of that in these rules here. It isn't terribly complicated for a war game, so it is suitable for a first foray into hex and counters or an easy game for experienced gamers to pick up.

The engine itself has three main types of combat: you have bombardment, maneuver combat, and assault combat. The crux of the game is really trying to determine when you should be engaging in each type of combat, and knowing how terrain impacts the situation.

If that was all, it would be pretty pedestrian, but the game adds a fascinating asymmetry: hidden movement. The way it works is the NVA player has 30 "hidden movement counters" (they are a flag with a number), and a corresponding player-aid card. They put the units under each counter they correspond to. What's interesting is the NVA player can move these hidden movement counters where-ever they want on the map, so long as the "real" units are moving fairly. They can put a wave of fake counters with nothing under them, or put three sets of counters with only one of them hiding a real force.

In contrast, the US player has helicopters. They can use these to deploy units across the map, they can try to observe the "hidden unit" counters, and they can also launch bombardments at exposed enemy units. These together create an interesting dynamic where the US player can get to places quickly, but their challenge is determining where they need to actually be.

Overall, the rules are straightforward and clear once you're used to the style.

Gameplay

Reading the rules, I wasn't sure how the game would actually play. Having played the campaign game multiple times now on both sides, in addition the smaller scenarios, I can tell you that it plays fantastic.

In my mind, the asymmetry is the heart of the game: the attempts at misdirection, the feints, and the attempts to outwit another PLAYER. It also creates for some exciting experiences: the US player is trying to hunt down where NVA forces are, to locate the main body of their force, and to figure out what they are prioritizing. The NVA gets the fun of trying to keep the US player off balance, setting up ambushes, and prepare strikes where the US player is weakest. This is enhanced in the campaign games with randomized, hidden victory conditions making both players even more paranoid,

There are a couple downsides to this asymmetry. First, it really rewards long-term decision making (especially for the NVA who's units, surprisingly, end up not being more mobile than the US). Especially the first couple of times you play while you aren't used to the ramifications of your decisions, you might find yourself on the receiving end of one big-bad beating where you feel outplayed the entire time. It happens, and it gets better.

The second downside is balance. In our experience the game is heavily tilted toward the US because they are just much more mobile. If they can survive the first couple of turns without heavy losses, they can stabilize pretty easily. As the NVA player it is just a lot harder setting up good ambushes to hurt the opponent, especially later in the scenario when the US can immediately drop a handful of powerful units right there in response. In all of our campaign games, the US has ultimately won and I don't think we've had a single game go more than halfway through the "official" length.

Even with that being said, when you get to explore this game with a friend and really start playing against them, learning their tendencies, and start trying to out-think them, it can be extremely rewarding. Yes, once both players get their feet under them it might be more biased toward the US, that's still several games of exploring a unique combat system that is really rewarding to players being clever.

Don't let the fact that it is starting to age or the fact that the graphics are, well, off-putting. This is a game worth exploring.
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Trent Garner
United States
Fayetteville
Arkansas
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Great review, I think you explained the crux of the game very well. While not for everyone, it is a pretty good game for the time. The subject matter is handled well and as you pointed out, the asymmetry really makes playing each side a different experience.

GMT is currently working on the Silver Bayonet 25th Anniversary Edition. Everything will be new in terms of graphics, including new map and new counters. The rules are being reworked and streamlined, as well. I'm really looking forward to this new version, once they get through with the development phase and actually print the darn thing. It's already at least a year behind schedule, IIRC.
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Cantatta wrote:


GMT is currently working on the Silver Bayonet 25th Anniversary Edition. Everything will be new in terms of graphics, including new map and new counters. The rules are being reworked and streamlined, as well. I'm really looking forward to this new version, once they get through with the development phase and actually print the darn thing. It's already at least a year behind schedule, IIRC.


It's set to ship this month!
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The 25th Anniversary Edition arrived today. The map and all pieces are beautiful and high quality.

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