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 https://plus.google.com/u/0/+PaulBeakley/posts/Lj9j8xbRkyc 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.)