Monday, August 22, 2022

Review: The Silver Bayonet - Osprey Games


Despite saying I was NOT going to get into Nappies this year, I ended up picking up this book in order to review it.  Plus, once I do start goofing around with Nappies I will have yet another set of rules to use them with!  Win, win.    

For those not familiar, this is a set of "Gothic Horror" rules set in the Napoleonic era, where bands of monster hunters go out and fight with each other and the supernatural.  There are ghosts, hobgoblins, vampires, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night.  Your investigators are soldiers and civilians from all walks of life, and could include all manner of adventurers; not just guys in big hats.    

They are written by Joseph McCullough who is pretty well known for writing Frostgrave, Ghost Archipelago, Rangers of Shadowdeep, and Stargrave.  That means this is a book from Osprey Games and it all ready has some built in popularity.  However, being by the author it is you probably also have some built in assumptions about how the game is played.      

Now, let's head into the dark woods of the unknown and see what is on the inside of this book.  

Things That I Liked

First off, the cover of this book and the interior really set the mood for the book.  The exterior looks like a leather bound journal, and the inside covers are a pinkish design that evokes the feel of flesh.  Creepy and cool.  Normally, I don't bother with these types of details in my reviews, but I really thought this was a great touch! 

This game moves away from the d20 mechanic that the 'Grave series is famous for.  Instead, they replace it with a 2d10 system, which allows a bell curve distribution of results and reduces swinginess but still allows for the small modifiers of +1 or +2 to impact the game.  In addition, you should use two different colored d10, as the different colored dice results are applied differently later in the game for things such as damage based on weapon type.  This is a very welcome change to the rules.     

In this game, every model is a distinct character with special abilities.  Unlike the 'Grave series, where you have 4 "specialists" to the warband of 8, every model can have their own specialties like sailor, soldiers, artillerists, occultists, etc.  This allows a player to modify and make unique characters of each model. 

Instead of loot, the game is driven more by finding clues via investigation.  These clue markers work similar to treasure tokens, but allow a lot more scope for the scenario's narrative.  The clue markers can be hidden doors, treasures, clues, or other details.  

The game has a reload mechanic.  I have seen some folks give it flak, but I think it is perfectly serviceable.  All guns start loaded.  Once you fire them, you have to use an action to reload it before you can fire again.  That means if you move, you can not reload and shoot the same turn.  However, you can also choose to not move and instead reload, so if you are stationary you can fire again.  This makes firing/reloading a choice with consequences.   

As usual, adding scenarios and campaign elements is where Joe McCollough excels.  This book is no exception.  There are 10 versus scenarios in the book.  There are four solo scenarios in the book with solo rules.  It is nice that solo rules are integrated into the main rules.  Another nice add to the Campaign elements is that models can go "mad" based on failures from Terror tests.  

Things I Did Not Like

Again, I don't normally call these things out in my reviews; but I was struck by the lack of painted models or "in-game" photos for this book.  The only ones were in an ad for Northstar Figures at the back of the book.  Northstar provides the "official" figures for the game.  Perhaps they were not ready by the time of print, but the only images are dark-toned drawings.  I liked the art we see, but I was surprised by how much I missed the imaged of actual minis on the table in this book!  Even actual photos with a black and white effect would have been welcome.  

Despite the dice mechanic changes, this is still primarily a "narrative" focused game.  It is not a tactically challenging game.  Models can see 360 degrees, they can move and perform an action in the same activation, the game still uses hit points, there are few restrictions on maneuver.  These are all signatures of the authors "model", and some people love it and others do not.  I am in the dislike side.

If you attack another model in Melee or even Shoot at them, you have the ability to counter-attack immediately by striking or shooting back.  I am not a fan, as it again reduces the tactical element of the game as anyone you shoot at can retaliate.  You have to kill them in one hit, which with Hit points is not likely.  Now, after both groups attack the models get fatigue tokens and face penalties if attacked again.  Therefore, you could try to use fatigue tactically.           

Meh and Other Uncertainties

The initiative process is a bit more convoluted than I was hoping for, as the player with initiative has to split the up their force and have some move first, then the Monsters, then the opponent, and then the last group of their party.  This seemed a bit contrived, and an alternate activation system seems like it would have been a lot easier, with the Monsters activating either before or after the players. 

The game also allows players to have a Fate Pool.  These are essentially re-rolls you can use for various elements of the game, like re-rolling one of your d10s or forcing a monster to re-roll a result.  They are a limited resource and adds a resource management element to the game.    

Monster actions are similar to what you would expect.  They are tried and true, and reliable in game.  

Like all of the Author's games there is a decent amount of equipment, beasties in the bestiary, spells, and artifacts to find to add some glitz to your warbands.  There are also rules for cavalry, co-op play, and Complications that can occur based on the initiative roll.    

I was also glad to see that there was some discussion about scenario design and also monster design.  Therefore, the rules are leaning into players building their own.  That is a nice add.  It is low on detail, but even giving players "permission" in the official rules goes a long way for some players.  I am not one of them, but have played with many that do not that "official" permission.  

Final Thoughts

The core mechanics do not differ that much from McCullough's other work in the 'Grave series of games.  Some of the main critiques I had for those apply, but I do appreciate the changes that he did make from his core game.  I understand as well as anyone the benefits of designing to "type".  So, to see him try to move away even incrementally from his type is great to see.  I may have preferred a larger jump, but I understand the danger in making that type of leap.  However, it adds a less swingy mechanic for resolution and a resource management element.  Those are big wins.    

It is further away from "Horrorgrave" than I expected, and I was pleasantly surprised by this!  I read the rules for Stargrave, and was not compelled to play it or pick up the expansions.  However, I feel very different about this game.  The game play mechanics were different enough and there were enough intriguing changes to make me really interested in this game.  I hope to see Joseph McCullough continue to develop his "model" and I think this was a very impressive improvement.  I hope this gets as much expansion attention as Frostgrave or Stargrave as this is my favorite system from the author yet!    

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  1. I know you co-wrote an article on deltavector a while back - do you know if the author is ok? His last article was about getting into long boarding with his kids, one of the readers warned him not to get hurt, and silence since.

    Just curious if he's ok.

    1. I am not 100% sure, BUT I do know he is a teacher in the Southern Hemisphere, When school gets going there, he can go radio silent as he has to put his focus with the students. It is not unusual for the blog to go off the grid for long periods of time during the school year.

  2. You mentioned you weren't a fan of the tactical challenge of the game. Just curious, what are some other skirmish wargames that you feel have better tactical options? Thanks.