Perhaps I set my expectations unrealistically high… for over a year I have been waiting for The Silver Bayonet… and sadly it has not matched my expectations.
A year ago, having just come across rumors of the upcoming Joseph McCullough game even as I was starting to develop my own idea for a Napoleonic Gothic Horror project using Sharp Practice that I was calling Tarnished Splendor… The Silver Bayonet sounded brilliant.
Researching it got me and Mrs. GG into Frostgrave. We grew so fond of Frostgrave we had increasing interest in all of Joe McCullough’s games. We bought all of the Ghost Archipelago and Rangers of Shadow Deep books to add to our complete Frostgrave library.
So you can imagine my fevered excitement as I started leafing through the rulebook for The Silver Bayonet when it arrived.
The rulebook looks great as do the miniatures.
The hardcover rule book is made with quality material and I love the artwork. Not as glossy and polished as some might prefer, yet I think it helps keep to the “in period” tone of the book… which I really like.
Saying that, now I am wishing the book leaned even more into that aesthetic. It may seem cheesy to some but if the rulebook came across even more as a “period journal” I think it would help lend more of what the game seems to lack for me right now… immersion.
I really like the two d10 mechanic with Skill and Power. The dice pool mechanic is also great. It feels like the player has more agency and can take some of the sting out of random dice results.
However the combat does not feel Napoleonic. Or at least not in the “Hollywood” sense anyway. The combat mechanics, largely down to the firearms, do not capture the feel of combat in say La Revolution, Master and Commander, Sharpe or Hornblower.
I think the weapon and armor table shows some of the problems.
Rifles are exactly the same as pistols and muskets except for range and using the Skill instead of Powder die. No overtly increased accuracy, no delayed loading.
The Nock Volley gun acts as just a more powerful blunderbuss. And with less range than a musket? That seems off. The weapon was design for shooting from the rigging on sailing ships. And would certainly take a long time to reload.
And the blunderbuss does not have the same area affect I would expect. The accuracy seems off as well, although I accept the -1 to hit is not necessarily a specific penalty to actually hitting but also doing damage if it does hit.
Rifles should take longer to reload than muskets. Perhaps allow rifles to do more damage as part of their increased accuracy?
In the various “let’s play” videos of The Silver Bayonet on Youtube there is a bit too much fire and manoeuvre done too quickly. It does not have that Last of the Mohican firefight feel. It is too much like the big gunfight in Heat, where magazines are quickly emptied and reloaded as the protagonists flee from the police.
Maybe this could be addressed with reloading blackpowder weapons taking two actions to reload? Or maybe on a musket the reload replacing the move action and rifles taking two actions to reload? Just throwing out some ideas. I would love to hear your suggestions.
Blunderbusses should have a two band 45 degree template… fiddly I know but I think that would more accurately replicate their combat function. Very short range but devastating up close then not as damaging further out but not needing much skill to aim.
There should be rules for bows and crossbows as well as interesting weapons such as the Girardoni repeating air rifle, used by the Austrian military and even as a demonstration weapon for the American Lewis and Clarke expedition.
I seem to recall Anno 1666 added things like that.
Then there is the issue of weapon ranges.
If we consider 28mm or 1/56 scale, 1 inch is roughly 5 feet. The range of 24 inches for muskets is common throughout Blackpowder 28mm gaming. However that is only 120 feet or 40 yards. Not the 100 yards commonly suggested for musket fire in research documents online.
And yet pistols can be used up to 45 feet or 15 yards, whereas I was taught as a law enforcement state certified firearms instructor that even with modern weapons most handgun gunfights are 7 meters or less. Many instructors quote 3 to 5 meters for average gunfights as more accurate.
As for rifles… British Light Infantry in the Napoleonic period were training to shoot 300 to 400 yards from what I have read.
Now I understand game design is a balance between fun and simulation but the current ranges for The Silver Bayonet seem off to me. This is something I may need to look at for Sharp Practice as well.
As for artillery, I understand the reasoning for his limited inclusion of such weapons in scenarios but then the rather random artillery strike event seems out of place unless your scenario is actually set during an ongoing battle.
The rules for terror, courage and madness are a great addition but they alone are not enough to give the game a sense of Horror for me.
I know… hard to believe I am saying something is not dark enough.
The Harvestmen background is too abstract, too far removed. There is not the same sense of dread that you get from the overarching plot of the Shadow Deep in Rangers of Shadow Deep. This may be in part to the scenarios in the book not appearing to be narratively linked.
There is no sense of discovery, of progress in a war against the Harvestmen.
For an arcane/occult game there is remarkably little detail on such things. Spells are few. Artifacts even more so. There is certainly not an abundance of supernatural in this Gothic Horror game.
Where is Dracula? The Mummy? Frankenstein?
I did not see any clearly detailed cults or organized evil factions. Maybe I missed them? Maybe we will see them in an expansion or supplement? I have heard no rumors of more books coming out… just more figures.
The title “The Silver Bayonet”, and its lore, seems to be too British focused. The player is left to guess/create similar organizations in other nations. Adding the other nations‘ special units or agencies could help establish lore for tense alliances and relationships.
Characters already begin as having experienced the supernatural before. This reduces the sense of wonder, of development, for the characters in early games. There is not enough “discovery” for the genre in my opinion.
Special equipment is on one hand too easy to get and on another too difficult. You can select some obscure, rare things from the general armoury but many of the interesting things you can find during games can only be used during the scenario in which you find them.
I was surprised, and disappointed, to see the game focus so much on confrontational competitive play. The Napoleonic era was a time of international war but it is also a time of uneasy peace and shifting alliances. And that is without the supernatural common threat of the Harvestmen or the various gribblies they have unleashed.
It just feels a bit with the emphasis on players fighting each other that the overarching plot message is that humans are the real monsters. I get it, “war and violence in general are bad things”… but I am not sure that is a lesson I need to hear in a game whilst trying to recreationally defeat evil supernatural monsters in order to save humanity.
It would have been interesting to see a specific Vatican presence. It would have been interesting to see an Ottoman presence. Americans I would have expected in a supplement but Ottomans would have fit in fine for the core game since they are so often included in Napoleonic wargaming.
I did like the inclusion of things like the Werebears and Dhampir. It would have been cool to have more such things.
Online interest has already shown a big Flintloque crowd wanting Shako wearing Goblins and Undead Fusiliers in their warbands.
Another interesting design decision was giving each unit member experience and development, similar to Battle Companies for Games Workshop’s Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game. It is not fast progression and not particularly powerful at first glance but it does encourage you to try to keep soldiers alive.
I am not sure if this a good thing or not.
One of the interesting aspects of Frostgrave is the “disposable” nature of the Wizards’ minions. It makes for less paperwork and gets folks “stuck in”. Perhaps caring more about developing characters will increase the Horror aspect when they inevitably fall but the progression is so slow I am not sure it will really scare players.
Moving on from the book, the Silver Bayonet miniatures from Northstar are brilliant. Having bought the pre-order bundle I was very pleased with just about every single figure.
The quality of the sculpting, the poses, details and character are great.
Only a few small things I would have done different otherwise I love the figures.
The first being less religious icons on the French, the French officer in particular. Folks can greenstuff details like that onto metal figures easier than trying to remove them. Having the Spanish sculpts festooned with religious icons seems in character, less so the Napoleonic French. As is the French officer figure will likely become an officer of a different nation for me.
The British Doctor looks a bit like me.
Another choice I am not keen on is the Hobgoblin sculpt. I am not sure what a Hobgoblin should look like but the sculpt looks too much like a Ghoul or feral Vampire to me. What do you think?
I did like getting the exclusive pre-order Veteran Hunter.
It is disappointing that there are no multi-part plastic kits announced for The Silver Bayonet. Napoleonic civilians would have been nice and could have sold to the broader Napoleonic wargaming community.
Maybe we will see Wargames Atlantic release a female Napoleonic civilian set as suggested in their 2021 April Fools’ Day post. But that would still lack the Mr. Darcy look-a-likes.
I would encourage folks to contact Wargames Atlantic by at the very least leaving a comment on that post to convince them of the need for that kit.
More Silver Bayonet figures are coming. French Ancien Regime vampires and the Russian national figures should be out soon.
The Vampires will be good for scenarios based on La Revolution.
The Russians also look the part.
All of these charming sculpts need to be added to our collection. When will I ever get to painting them is anyone’s guess.
So there you have it, my first impressions. I love the miniatures and like the game but it needs some work.
I am worried that it feels unfinished and will not immediately capture a big enough audience to ensure there are additional supplements.
Maybe folks can cross-pollinate between all the various Joe McCullough games and throw in some house rules to make something new.
But please leave a comment and tell me what you think!