I own and have read the book We Were Soldiers Once..and Young by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and was fascinated by the story he told of his brave soldiers who fought the first major battle of the Vietnam War. How they went into the Ia Drang Valley and ran into nearly 2,500 NVA regulars who were spoiling for a fight and who outnumbered them 2.5/1 and how that fight lasted 5 days from November 14th through November 18th. I was also amazed at the new tactics used by the 7th Cavalry in using helicopters to jump from landing zone to landing zone to remain maneuverable enough to fight a conventional war that we were comfortable with against a non-conventional enemy in the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army who didn’t want to fight our way. When the new 25th Anniversary Edition of Silver Bayonet was announced I was excited to experience this war and was glad when my friend Alexander P500’ed the game.
After opening the game and doing an unboxing video, we studied the rules and decided to start our exploration of the game by playing Scenario #4 Into the Valley.
November 14, 1965 – Game Turn 1
First off, I chose to play as the PAVN (People’s Army of Vietnam) and Alexander controlled the FWA and we decided to play on the scenario card itself rather than the game board.
As you can see from the OB for the scenario, the PAVN have the advantage in numbers and also have a steady stream of reinforcements over the first 3 days of the battle, with a whopping 6 units (although 3 are VC cadre (black chits) that don’t do much on the battle field) that deploy on Game Turn 3 or November 16th. The main goal of the PAVN is to force reductions on the American forces (in the scenario, each reduction earns each side a VP) and try their hardest to control LZ X-Ray at games end. If they can control the LZ at the end of November 17th, they will gain 5VP while if the FWA control it, they will only earn 2VP.
After setting up the scenario following the card instructions, the PAVN forces took the first turn and moved aggressively into assault combat to try and overrun the 2 units in LZ X-Ray and the 1 unit located just adjacent to. My goal was to try and control the LZ so that the Americans would have to bring their reinforcements into a “hot” LZ or force them to use LZ Albany located to the north. The Americans, while outnumbered on the ground, have significant artillery support from LZ Victor in the form of 2 Artillery companies and have air power points (10 in the 1st round, 15 each round thereafter) to use in air bombardment/support. The artillery and air support definitely even out the PAVN numerical superiority but the PAVN have the advantage of terrain as the mountains and forested hills provide good cover that is hard to overcome for the artillery.
Prior to the assaults reconciling, the PAVN mortar forces were able to fire a pretty significant barrage into both American hexes. After the smoke cleared, I was able to inflict one step reduction on one of the units in LZ X-Ray and gained 1 VP. I was hoping for at least 2 reductions but I was satisfied with at least one as this softened them up for the assault attack coming.
Prior to every attack, an HQ Coordination roll must be made to see if the attack is fully coordinated or not. In this case, the PAVN troops have an HQ (not pictured as there is a mortar unit stacked on top of the HQ chit) that has an efficiency rating of 6, which means I must roll less than 6 to have a fully coordinated attack with support. In the instance of my first assault combat, I rolled under the 6 required and as a result, could attack with all of my units. Had I failed by a result of 2 or greater, the attack would be considered uncoordinated, and as such, the defender is allowed to choose one of the stacks declared for that assault to continue and all others are cancelled. These rolls are critical, as you will read later in the AAR.
“[The North Vietnamese] did not appear to have radios themselves; they controlled their men by shouts, waves, pointing, whistles, and sometimes bugle calls.” – Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young
Prior to my assault, the Americans used 4 of their allotted air power points to call in defensive bombardment on my assaulting PAVN stacks, hoping to weaken them so the assault results would be in his favor. During this stage, the Americans consult the Bombardment/Support Table and with using 4 air power points, he would consult the 3-5 column, which meant on a roll of 7 or less, he would inflict casualties with possible fatigue. I was lucky though as he rolled high (9) and I took no reductions. This is a lesson he would learn for later that concentrated fire into one hex using max air power points is better than focusing on multiple hexes as the results on the table are more achievable, even with a high roll.
I then continued with my attacks and killed the unit located outside of LZ X-Ray but the assault was fairly costly as I suffered 3 reductions myself. This meant we were tied at 3VP each but I had gained my first objective of controlling the hex outside of the LZ and would now be able to force his air assault reinforcements to come into a “hot” LZ.
The Americans then moved on the offensive and decided to call in a significant offensive bombardment using their artillery as well as remaining air power points on my 2 stacks threatening LZ X-Ray. Fortunately for me, I rolled a 1 on my Air Defense Fire to Hit roll which caused him to lose 1 air power point shifting the column he would use to the left, which when combined with another high roll by him (8), resulted in no damage to me.
He had announced a maneuver attack on my smaller stack to force me to retreat but my units held the hex inflicting one reduction on his units and forcing him to retreat. Dice luck was going my way early in the game, but this would change later on!
So the situation at the end of Game Turn 1 or November 14th was 4VP for the PAVN and 3VP for the FWA. I had eliminated one of his units and pushed him back into LZ X-Ray. I appeared to have him right where I wanted him.
November 15, 1965 – Game Turn 2
The PAVN received 3 units as reinforcements including a 4th mortar unit as well as a 4-3-9 and a 3-2-9 unit which were placed in hex 1626 which allowed them to quickly get into the battle raging near LZ X-Ray. The FWA received a 3-4-6 unit in LZ X-Ray and three 3-4-6 units in LZ Victor which would take them a full turn to get into the combat as they had to move overland through jungle terrain.
The PAVN moved aggressively to assault the FWA troops in LZ X-Ray and opened the assault with an offensive bombardment. You can see from the above picture that I split my firepower between the LZ and the unit adjacent which was already reduced. My rolls were good as I eliminated the lone unit and forced a fatigue marker on the troops in the LZ.
After making my HQ Coordination roll (that is now 2 successful rolls!….Will there be a third?), the results of my assault were amazing as I eliminated 2 additional US units and reduced the final unit, but he continued to hold that LZ doggedly. I felt that my luck was starting to run its course and things were going to change very soon.
On the FWA turn, he brought a fairly significant artillery attack against the PAVN but they were dug in that jungled mountain terrain that made it very difficult for his units to hit and the PAVN took no reductions or fatigue markers.
After the failed artillery bombardment, he attempted to move his reinforcement units up from LZ Victor to attack my lone PAVN unit located south of LZ X-Ray in order to build a defensive position to attack the red wave from. My luck would continue as he rolled poorly and was forced to retreat and take reductions. I felt that now was my chance to run him off the mountain and win the day. But the fortunes of war were no longer with me and things began to change on November 16th. At the end of Game Turn 2, or November 15th, PAVN lead with 9VP to 6VP for the FWA.
November 16, 1965 – Game Turn 3
The PAVN received 6 units as reinforcements including a 5th mortar unit as well as a 2-1-9 and a 3-2-9 unit which were placed in hex 1626 which still allowed them to quickly get into the battle at LZ X-Ray. The PAVN also received 3 VC 2-3-9 VC units that were not very powerful but that I was planning to move in on LZ X-Ray to assist with keeping the pressure up there. The FWA received a lone 3-4-6 unit into LZ X-Ray which was desperately needed to avoid being overrun there as they only had 2 units, one of which was reduced.
As I geared up for my assaults into LZ X-Ray on Day 3 of the battle, I felt very confident. He only had 2 stacks to defend against my 4 good stacks and had no reinforcements coming! This was my chance and I was bound and determined to put the pressure on him and push him out of LZ X-Ray. I identified my attacking stacks, choosing to ignore the 2 US units located to my southeast and called in a full out assault on the LZ. My bombardment rolls were terrible and I did nothing to him with my 5 mortar teams (remember I talked about my luck running out earlier?) and then came to that all important HQ Coordination roll! I had to roll under a 6 to be fully coordinated and as long as I at least rolled a 7 or lower, I would have a partially coordinated attack and would be able to push him out! I grabbed that scariest die of them all, the 10-sider, rolled it and what came up, a 9! I had failed my HQ Coordination roll and I swear I heard a muffled squeal from Alexander! With that failed roll, Alexander would get to choose which lone stack of mine would participate in the battle. Scanning the stacks, the choice was very clear and he chose the stack with the 3 VC cadre units, of which one was reduced. This allowed me to bring a total fire power of 5 to bear on his units. I won’t go into the detail of the battle, but I rolled poorly and 2 of my VC units were reduced.
He then set up to push me back with several maneuver assaults, one against my VC stack, which I was able to roll well and avoid that combat retreating one hex back away from the combat (this saved me at least 3VP as he most likely would have slaughtered my units there!) and the other against my PAVN stack just south of LZ X-Ray.
As you can see from the picture above, his attack went extremely poorly as his units lost 3 steps and he was forced to retreat. I couldn’t believe that I was still in the game! I thought for sure he would simply wipe me out that round but that is one of things that is great about Silver Bayonet, rolls do matter and will come in waves of success and failure for each side. To me this simulates very well the difficulty of combat on unfamiliar jungle terrain, in a foreign land against an unconventional and tricky foe! So, I lived to see the final day of the combat and had renewed belief that I could win by driving the FWA out of the LZ!
November 17, 1965 – Game Turn 4
Neither side received any reinforcements this round but he was able to move up a unit to add to the stack at LZ X-Ray which would make my goal that much more difficult. My plan for the final day of combat was to focus all of my stacks on LZ X-Ray and drive him out! With hindsight, I maybe should have focused on maneuver attacks rather than assaults but felt that I had to eliminate him and assaults are the best way of doing that.
But, remember that tricky HQ Coordination roll. I had to roll under a 6 to be fully coordinated and hey, I had done that 2 out of 3 times already so I was confident in my chances. I once again grabbed that lone 10-sided die, rolled it on the board and then just froze…..it was almost as if time had stopped and I had been transported back to Game Turn 3 where I failed as I now rolled a 2! Another failure! And to make it worse, he would get to choose which stack would attack and my other 3 stacks surrounding the LZ would simply sit in confusion doing nothing. My attack was successful as I forced a reduction but unfortunately he had held the LZ with 3 reduced units. All I had to do was eliminate at least 2 of those and I would have won but the game ended with an FWA victory 13VP to 12VP! What a great game…I had lost but it was still a joy to play.
Observations on Silver Bayonet
Overall, a great and well made game! In fact, Alexander has done a write-up on Silver Bayonet and his impressions. I loved it and cannot wait to play again. Here are some of my quick observations from our lone play, that I am sure will change over time:
- The rules are not too daunting and after several turns, we felt like we had the steps down and understood the nuances. I am sure that we did several things incorrectly but these issues will be worked out after a few more plays. I am very excited to use the helicopters and the hidden movements markers as these elements are very thematic and can definitely change the feel of the combat.
- The US will be tough to beat. They have very good defense values for their troops and also their air power and artillery support can be devastating. In our play, the air power and artillery didn’t make that much of an impact because of the terrain but if the US can get the PAVN out in the open it will end badly for them.
- HQ Coordination rolls are brutal! Had I passed even one of my final 2 rolls I would have won that scenario. In looking back on it now, I should have tried to break up my forces by doing some maneuver attacks to lessen the chances of such catastrophic failure.
“The advantage the Americans had was an unending supply of firepower potential. Not only was the artillery support plentiful, but the skies were filled with warbirds, ranging from the F4Cs, F-100s and AIEs of the Air Force, to the aerial rocket gunships of the cavalry.” – Pleiku: The Dawn of Helicopter Warfare
I cannot wait for our next play and recommend that you get out and buy a copy of GMT’s first game.