Volley and Bayonet is Easy, Fun and Challenging

I asked my mate Roland why he likes Volley & Bayonet (V&B). The summary is:

If genius is defined as the ability to make the very complicated seem very simple then I am tempted to call V&B genius.

Roland then expanded on that. All the words are his. I’ve also dropped in some photos of Roland’s figures.

Some folks think that Volley & Bayonet (V&B) is simple because the writer sees things simplistically, but actually Chadwick started with much more complicated rules (originally called Blackpowder, I think, and based on his WW2 rules!) and then through clear thinking threw away all the complication to get at the heart of the matter. He realised that more complication does not make rules more realistic (many folks still believe that) but that it has the opposite affect. By bogging the player down with more and more spurious detail they get further and further from their proper role of making decisions.

The reasons why I like V&B:

a) It is written by a very clever chap, who knows how to write rules

In order to write rules, I think, the writer needs two things. One, they need to know the subject and two, they need to know how to write rules well enough to get the results they want. Chadwick meets both these criteria. He has been writing rules commercially since 1973, or something like that. Do you already own V&B? If so you could read the designers notes again, they are well worth it.

French Brigades

French Brigades

b) The rules are very elegant, at least I think so

Note from Steven

I like Roland’s definition of elegant and believe that is one of the reasons I’ve been obsessed with Crossfire for so long and still play DBA despite its limitations.

I have seen many gamers talk about rules being elegant without really defining what they mean, so that’s what I will do now. If you can play a set of rules about half a dozen times and then have another game of them without even taking the rules off your shelf, then that means they are probably elegant (or ridiculously simplistic). If the rules are smooth and intuitive, and have a few basic concepts that can be easily memorised after a few goes, so you can play a decent sized game that is exciting and challenging, without even needing to look at the rule book, then they are elegant. V&B is one of only three sets of rules that I know that deserve to be called elegant, the others are Crossfire and early DBA/DBM. Fire and Fury are close but rely too heavily on tables and charts to be truly elegant.



c) Being elegant means that the player focuses on their choices and the consequences of those, rather than on the rules themselves

Note from Steven

Easy to learn; hard to master.

You are much more in the role of the decision maker (the general, or colonel in CF) rather than the rule finder (the rule-lawyer or competition twat). In one set of rules, I can’t remember which one, Chadwick writes about the difference between complexity and complication. Many folks think they are the same but Chadwick shows how they are actually quite different. Sets of rules written for micro-tanks usually contain very simple ideas (roll to spot, then to hit, then to penetrate) but you have to do them so many times with so many different modifiers each time that they become quite complicated, and impossible to remember off by heart. Chadwick uses chess as an example of complex rules. The rules themselves are quite straight forward and an average 6 year old can learn them and remember them. But the 6 year old will not be a very good player because the possibilities are too complex. I think Chadwick has made V&B complex and not complicated, easy to learn but a lot trickier than it looks.

French Light Infantry

French Light Infantry

d) As a slight diversion, but an important one for me, V&B is totally unsuited to competition play

Note from Steven

This is a plus for me. I’ve never been interested in competitions and have found social games against competition players rather unpleasant.

This has two important consequences, 1, competition players don’t *use* V&B and 2, they therefore do not get to *misuse* them. I have found that having a set of rules used by the competition types is the fastest way to ruin that set of rules. In a competition all the players are, by definition, there to win, even though many of them might not admit it and all but one of them won’t manage it. Therefore they are not there to be fair, reasonable, realistic or historical. They might be those things but those thing are not why they are there. There might be a separate prize for best army or most sportsmanlike behaviour, but they are separate prizes from the ‘actual’ prize for ‘winning (and by implication, winning by any means, even if that means being unfair, unreasonable, unrealistic and unhistorical). Because V&B does not appeal to competition types it has remained largely the same since it was first published about 1994. It is great that it has stayed (mostly) the same for almost 20 years because that is how long it has taken me to get a ‘proper’ V&B Napoleonic army on the table.

Top View of Two Brigades

Top View of Two Brigades

e) I like V&B (they are my all-time favourite rules) because they are easy, fun, challenging

Note from Steven

Like Roland I’d far rather lose a good game than win a bad/boring one.

They do exactly what I want, which is allow me to refight big battles in a reasonable space in a reasonable time with a reasonable number of figures. I read on TMP just two days ago somebody saying that he does not do refights because it is a waste of time because everybody he knows already knows what happens in (apparently every) Napoleonic battle. To me, this is the standard competition way of thinking, ‘never mind what happened just tell me who won’. I don’t much care who ‘wins’, it is how you get there that counts. I mean, it makes no difference to me that the French loose at Waterloo, the important thing is how they loose. Or to put it even more simply, it is the journey that counts not the destination. I still want to refight Waterloo and I am happy to be the French, even though they have very little chance of ‘winning’.

Speaking of ‘winning’, I have for many years redefined winning, away from the standard wargaming definition and closer to the definition they use in ‘kiddie sports’. That is, never mind the final score, participating and trying your best and having fun are the things that matter, in that way everybody can be a ‘winner’. Sending waves and waves of cuirassiers up the hill to crash into British squares has to be great fun, regardless of the final score.

French Lancers

French Lancers

Just in case I have given you the wrong idea, V&B can quickly become ‘meh’ if not done right

V&B and CF are totally different in every way but their design philosophies have a lot in common (perhaps because of their American origins). Both make for ‘meh’ line-em-up games. Both are heavily reliant on the gamers coming up with their own scenarios, with challenging terrain or asymmetrical forces. Both need careful definition of what victory means, and ‘I killed more of you’ is not normally a good basis of judging success. Both are better suited to ‘capture the crossroads’ or ‘hold on for 6 turns’ types of victory conditions.

Note from Steven

Agree that Crossfire is not the complete picture. A case in point is victory conditions – the rules contain none and it is up to the person creating the scenario to make them up. People sometimes find that surprising. Personally it encourages me to write Crossfire Scenarios. I can see doing the same with V&B.

I remember a particularly good game of V&B I had with John using Franco-Prussian figures. I was the Prussians and had to attack down the length of a six foot table, at the end of which was a road along which the rest of the (pretend) French army was reatreating. John had a big Corps to stop me and I out numbered him. During the game I shot him to pieces and virtually wiped him out and by the end of the last turn was I still half a move from the road. I looked at the table and said I have annihilated you and you have won, well done! John, I think, was equally surprised by the scale of his losses and his victory.

Both V&B and CF seem to me to be a means to an end. They are not the complete picture by themselves, and the gamer is meant to provide most of the colour and challenge through thoughtful scenario design.

Dutch Cavalry

Dutch Cavalry


Note from Steven

Generally Roland bases with 18 infantry or 12 cavalry figures to a 3″ x 3″ brigade base. But there might be less figures. Roland always bases the cavalry in two rows. The infantry are either in three rows representing a column or two rows representing a line.

Note that although I usually do 12 cavalry to a base but the Dutch cavalry are only 10 because that is all I could get. It does not seem to make any difference visually. I used to fuss over getting 12 cavalry per stand, and there was a long delay with painting some figures because I could only get 11 for some units. Now I am not going to worry. If I can get 12 I will do 12 but if I can only get 10 then I will do 10. I could often only get 11 for some units is because I would buy them second hand and people would have 2 packs of troops and 1 pack of command.

9 comments to Volley and Bayonet is Easy, Fun and Challenging

  • John Kantor

    I like VnB too, but for ACW you should check out Altar of Freedom. Similar in many ways to VnB, but with some very interesting differences.

  • […] as you are playing the battle and not the rules (see Seven Balagan’s blog post about that: http://balagan.info/volley-and-bayonet-is-easy-fun-and-challenging). So that is what I will be concentrating on for 2014 (along with finishing my Adler figures for […]


    I absolutely agree with this article. These are the reasons I LOVE Volley & Bayonet. Our team in GREECE has had a lot of fun with this set of rules precisely because it is easy to learn and fast to play and enjoyable. We started Volley & Bayonet because we were disappointed and frustrated by a Number of sophisticated and complicated sets of rules that didnt catch with teh feeling of the period.
    KEEP IT UP !
    PS. As for the basing I think that 12 cavalry to a base is extremely too much even for the 15 mm soldiers you use. 10 figures of cavalry is perfect visually. On the other hand I woould prefer more infantry figures per base in the 15 mm.

  • I like V&B too. Of course, the new version could be used for a tournament style game since it has a point system plus the Road to Glory system that makes parts of your forces come on as reinforcements.

    As for 10 or 12 cav on a base, I say 12 – V&B units represent 1500-3000 men so you want to cram a lot of figures on a base to get a sense of mass. Having said that, I do prefer the larger 15mm figures over the smaller scales – I want to be able to see some uniform details. 15mm gives me a balance between “mass” and detail.

  • Steve Preston

    Absolutely agree.
    Introduce VnB (SYW) to a young group of Warhammer 40K players. Games initially were all over the place, but after a few games, lines were formed, cavalry was on the wings and artillery was placed along the front or at key points.

    OMG – without any proscription, the rules rewarded historical thinking and the tactics developed as they did in the time period being played.

    Well done, Frank – an elegant game of subtle complexity. I continue to enjoy this game, years later – many other systems having come and gone in the meantime……….

  • Steve Preston

    I actually vary the number of figures on a base – fewer for lighter cavalry, more for the “heavies”. Gives a quick visual cue to the relative weight and shock of the brigade in question.

  • What a great definition for “elegance” in gaming. I especially like tenet “c” :c) Being elegant means that the player focuses on their choices and the consequences of those, rather than on the rules themselves

    You should be maneuvering and fighting your opponent’s army, not the rules.

    I,too, love Volley & Bayonet for its simplicity and when I want refight a historical battle, Volley & Bayonet is always my rules of choice.

  • Geoffrey Coe

    What basing sizes would one use for 28mm scale

    • Steven Thomas

      Same base sizes regardless of figure size. I played an amazing looking game once, Franco-Prussian War with 28mm figures, and 10 or so to a base. Awesome.

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