Introduction to Volley & Bayonet

Volley & Bayonet is written by Frank Chadwick and Greg Novak and was first published in 1994. A second edition, “Volley & Bayonet: Road to Glory”, was released in 2008. Like the first edition Volley & Bayonet:Road to Glory is a miniatures rules system designed to model warfare in the period from 1700 to 1900.

The aim of the rules is to allow major battles to be re-fought, as such the troop and time scale allow the deployment of large bodies of troops on the wargames table. Further, in Volley and Bayonet the role of the player is defined as that of corps or army commander, thus the divisional, and to a greater extent brigade or regiment detail is generally below the level of player involvement. Having such a wide time span the rules also use specific period rules, which allow the flavour of these “sub periods” to be added in, or removed, as required. This allows one basic set of rules to be used for armies from several periods.

Volley & Bayonet is not aimed at competition play, and certainly not for play between armies from different sub periods. It is however ideal for re-fighting historical battles, scenarios and entire campaigns. Indeed with Volley & Bayonet battles such as Gettysburg, Ligny or even Waterloo, seen below, can all be fought on your wargames table, something not possible with many other rule sets.

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However, for those players wishing to play fictional scenarios a points system is available and we frequently use this for generating games with considerable success.

The Basic Unit

The basic units in a Volley & Bayonet game are called stands. These stands are of several general types:

  • Linear infantry stand – early formations that fought in line formations especially 18th Century armies. Usually 1000-1500 men per stand.
  • Massed infantry stand – denser formations which include French demi-brigades and later Napoleonic infantry stands as well as those from the American Civil War and other conflicts of the 19th Century. Usually these massed stands represent 1500-3000 men per stand.
  • Infantry Skirmish stands: 500 man ‘detachments’, often of light infantry used for specific tasks such as holding Le Haye Sainte.
  • Artillery stands, either batteries or brigades: 6-18 guns.
  • Cavalry stands: Mostly massed stands of around 1000-1500 men. On occasion skirmish or linear stands depending on the situation.
  • Command stands: Representing Divisional, Corps and Army commanders.

Massed infantry stands, often called “brigades” are mounted on a single base 3″ x 3″. Linear stands are 3″ wide x 1 1/2″ deep. A number of stands are gathered together to form a division under a divisional commander. Each stand has a morale value and a strength value. One strength point is equal to 500 men. Below, two early Napoleonic French artillery stands in 15mm.

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The units of the division generally operate together and must be within their commanders command radius or suffer penalties. In addition each division has an “exhaustion value” which is usually between 40-60% of the total number of strength points of the stands making up the division.

Time Scales, Formations and Movement

To achieve the aim of allowing battles to be fought where the player is an army commander the basic scale of the rules is that one turn represents an hour and 1″ represents 100 yards. When first reading the rules this time scale and resulting movement distances caused me some concern as the movement rates were understandably large. This was particularly the case for troops moving in road column. In actual play however, these movement rates work out to be less than expected. 

Formations a stand may take, or lack of them, will also likely surprise players. There are no squares, columns, or line formations. In Volley & Bayonet these being considered a brigade or regimental function rather than the detail a Corps or Army Commander need be concerned with. Instead, these functions are modelled by such game mechanics as stand morale, stationary status or not, and in the later periods, the prone status of a stand. The only game “formations” that are possible are “Field formation” or “March column”. The latter is usually on road, but can be also be across open terrain. These mechanics may sound to simple, but the actual effects are very well balanced and produce vey realistic results.

Movement is by single stands and is of course modified by terrain, as well as angles of movement, command limitations, and facing changes. There are no die rolls to determine the number of stands that may move in a turn. There are thus no group moves, and there is no aligning stands before combat resolution.

Alternate player turns are made up of several phases when both players have completed a full set of phases the next turn begins. Each player phase consists of:

  • Command Determination phase, where stands are confirmed to be in commands.
  • Movement phase, stands are moved.
  • Rally Phase, stands that have routed may be rallied by corps or army commanders.
  • Morale Phase, morale checks are made and resulting movement is made.
  • Combat Phase, combat is conducted.
  • Exhaustion & Collapse, the divisions exhaustion and morale collapse status is checked and or tested.

At this point it is the other player’s turn. Once both players have completed a turn an hour is considered to have elapsed.

Morale, Combat and Routs

When enemy stands enter close range they will need to test morale. Close range is determined by weapon or troop type. For instance musket and rifled musket armed infantry have a close range of 0″ and morale is checked when in physical contact with another such stand. Others stands, such as troops with more advanced small arms, as well as artillery have a close range of a several inches.

Each stand has a morale value, this value is adjusted due to tactical factors and a die is rolled. It is worth noting that Volley & Bayonet only uses six sided dice through out the game. If the die roll is higher than the modified value the stand becomes disordered. “Disorder” and “Rout” are key issues in Volley & Bayonet.

When stands are in range, either close or long, and after morale, attacks are conducted by the attacker and fire returned by the defender. This is done by the use of fire dice. The number of fire dice a stand gets is determined by the type of stand and the tactical position of the stand. Stationary massed infantry stands gain more fire dice than non stationary stands for example. Generally, hits are scored on stands when a six is rolled, and this usually produces a casualty. Some weapons hit on different scores, while some troops, or terrain conditions, result in saving throws. These casualties are recorded on the roster sheet. A stand that has all it’s strength points marked off is removed from the table.

Close range combats, often represented by base to base contacts, produce quicker more defined results than distance fire attacks, but carry more risk. Generally, American Civil War and 18th Century infantry combats see more long distant fire fights, while Napoleonic games see more close range assaults. The results of these these close range combats result in casualties as well as “disorder” & compulsory retreats or “rout”. However, base to base does not mean hand to hand contact.

When a division’s exhaustion value is reached, due to the accumulation of hits on it’s component stands, a division will be more reluctant to close with the enemy and it’s fighting ability is reduced. In addition it is liable to suffer a “morale collapse” immediately. 

Figure Scales

The scale of figure based on the stand, and the number of figures on each base is not important. Some gamers use 54mm figures, while others, such as myself, use 6mm figures. In our group we use a reduced stand size and ground scale. That is our stands are reduced in physical dimension by half and while the time scale remains the same the distances measured are increased so that 1″=200 yards. This allows us to fight very large battles Gettysburg or Waterloo on a smaller table.

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Above a Saxon Division, from 1809, in 6mm using this reduced scale basing where a stand measures 1 1/2 in width. A Saxon division in 1809 comprised both linear infantry, massed cavalry and artillery.

The Volley & Bayonet: Road to Glory Rule Book

Volley & Bayonet: Road to Glory is designed to refight complete battles. This is echoed in the format of the 120 page rules book. Therefore, in addition to the 35 pages of rules, eight historic battle scenarios are included in the rules package. These scenarios cover the complete battles of “Trebbia (1799), Marengo (1800), Austerlitz (1805), Auerstaedt (1806), Eylau (1807), Talavera (1809), Dennewitz (1813) and Quatre Bras (1815). To this are added several published scenario books covering many other battles of the period.

While refighting historic battles is the core of the system the rules package also includes the Road to Glory system. This easy to use but very sophisticated battle generation system uses cards to determine how a players army is deployed at the start of the battle and which parts arrive as reinforcements, and sometimes most importantly, where those reinforcements arrive. Echeloned attack, steady buildups, and sudden flanking attacks, all of which were features of historic battles, now become part of fictional battles as well.

Finally, as part of the Road to Glory system a section, some 16 pages of army lists are included covering the Napoleonic period. Additional army lists are available free at this site covering such things as the Seven Years War and American Civil War.

In Conclusion

Volley & Bayonet is an excellent rule systems if you wish to experience the role of an army commander. The rule mechanics are simple yet subtle while providing a solid historical reproduction of battle on during the black powder era. The rules allow large games with multiple corps on each side to be played out in reasonable amounts of time, but can also be used for smaller games. Period rules allow the same basic set of rules to be used to model warfare from 1700-1890 reducing complexity for those players interested in different wars of the Black Powder era. Finally, the basing system used in Volley & Bayonet ideally lends itself to trial using armies based for other rules set. Simply make sabot bases and deploy figures on these and your off.

Want to understand more about Volley & Bayonet: Road to Glory? Then I encourage you to read Frank Chadwick and Greg Novak’s design notes which can be found here. You will I am sure gain an even greater understanding of the rules by doing so.

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