Liberty or Deeeeeeeeeath

Liberty or Deeeeeeeeeath

Okay, I think my brain has finally stopped adding wrinkles and/or has fully decompressed from our first playthrough of Liberty or Death. 

Quick reminder that this is a COIN game from GMT Games. It’s a wargame but not really that kind of wargame: read my thing at to catch up.

Well, my initial impression was wrong; Liberty or Death is definitely easier than my previous COIN game, Fire in the Lake. There are fewer choices, a smaller map, and everything is in good old fashioned American. This doesn’t make the game “easy” though! It took us oh…say about six hours of actual play time (about seven hours total at the table) to work through the rules, back up and rewind when we discovered that my version of doing a thing is different than your version of doing a thing, and so on. It felt like the mid-length game should be playable in 3-4 hours. It’s a spicy meatball so don’t be misled about density nor time involved.

That said, it’s really cool and accessible. I know much less about the Revolutionary War than the Vietnam War, so the dynamics of the forces were a little opaque to me: the Indians looked like they were nearly irrelevant (but their player seemed to be doing things), the Brits (me!) felt woefully outgunned and outhustled (but we had royally (get it?) screwed up one major advantage the Brits have), the French just felt weird and aloof, and the Patriots felt like they were pretty much in control all game long. That, to me, is quite different than my Fire in the Lake experience, in which the counterinsurgency felt like it held all the cards and the insurgents had to be slippery and clever.

One of the big differences in Liberty or Death over Fire in the Lake (and, to my knowledge, the rest of the COIN series before this one) is that you roll dice to randomize losses. Interesting! When I saw there were dice involved I reflexively gritted my teeth: COIN is supposed to be luck-free, dammit! But honestly it not only worked well, it integrated really well into the vibe of the battles.

The other big difference is that manipulating a space’s “support” (ie how much the insurgents/counterinsurgents are winning by) largely happens via the outcomes of big battles. That’s super interesting! In FitL, you need to spend time and resources building up/tearing down support, and warfare doesn’t have much impact. Really a good way to make pre-modern insurgency warfare feel different. Smart. I like it.

That said, holy hannah: George mfing Washingon! Each side has a leader (also a new thing, also probably important for pre-modern insurgency warfare), and the Patriots’ leader is singularly awesome. He doubles the support shift after he’s won a battle, and the overflow (it’s trivially easy to completely outrun the support capacity of a space) splashes out into adjacent spaces! So wherever George mfing Washington has just won a big battle, all the neighbors hear about it. 

As the British, I super-stupidly just kept feeding this machine: GmfW holed up in Massachusetts and I kept going to war up there. Then he’d come back and get double the benefit that I did for winning a battle. Of course. Stupid.

As with Fire in the Lake, I feel like I won’t really understand the game until I’ve played the other three factions. The Patriots won largely due to British kingmaking: I helped close the royalist/rebel kill ratio even while George mfing Washington — as per actual history! — started wandering the backcountry in search of Indian villages to burn (the Patriots’ victory condition has to do with having more forts than there are Indian villages). 

Very impressive game. I’ll be playing at least three more times for the Full Revolutionary War Experience, and almost certainly more beyond that.

And then maybe, maybe I’ll be ready to tackle Fire in the Lake again. (I haven’t played since BigBadCon two years ago and I’m still feeling traumatized.)

8 thoughts on “Liberty or Deeeeeeeeeath”

  1. Playing the Patriots, I felt like the British option to Reward Loyalty after a Muster made up for Washington’s awesomeness. (Those redcoats are impressive!)

  2. As soon as I ran through the 4 win conditions and realized what those outcomes implied for the “what if” of history, I was hooked. It really is brilliant. The Indians are in no way shape or form “allies” with the British. They just want to blunt the speed at which the Europeans are penetrating into the interior. If they can help a bunch of Red Coats who will eventually go home, kill off a bunch of locals and keep the frontier from expanding…that’s a win.

    The French don’t give a shit about anything except embarrassing the British. For them, and for the rest of the world…this is just a continuation of a war they’ve been fighting (and mostly losing) for a couple generations at this point. To stay relevant on the world stage they need to tweak the nose of the British Empire…and don’t really care about the fate of the colonies beyond that.

    And for the patriots…all the freedom and liberty in the world doesn’t mean shit, if they have the natives breathing down their neck. They’d be relegated at best to a minor player on the world stage like so many Latin American countries if they can’t exploit the entire interior of the continent…which they can’t do unless they get rid of the people who live there. So defeating the British is important…but not more important than continuing the frontier expansion that happened during the prequel (a side show to a global conflict that almost noone else cared about or even remembers).

    So good. It captures the whole trade off so beautifully. I can’t wait to play it.

  3. Ralph Mazza there was a beautiful sequence in the game when, rather than attack the British army in NH, Washington marched his army (with a lot of French regulars and Rochambeau) into the Northwest to raze Indian villages there! Wonderfully historical intersection of asymmetrical and coalition warfare

  4. That is wild! We had a very similar arc to our game: the Patriots couldn’t close the gap because they ran out of forts, so the only other way to secure a win was to hit the Indians.

    Now I hope it’s not overly programmatic that way. If that’s how it plays out every time, jeez.

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