Judd Vance
United States
Wichita
Kansas
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Liberty: The American Revolution 1775-83 is Columbia Games' contribution to the American Revolutionary War library.






Details:

Liberty is a block game using the Hammer of the Scots foundation, but with a hexagonal mapboard, instead of area-movement. It is for 2 players. The game does not contain scenarios, only the full length game, which takes about 3 hours to play. Tom Dalgliesh and
Mark Kwasny designed it and Columbia published it in 2003.


Background:

The game covers the American Revolution focusing on Canada and the 13 American Colonies, which took place from April 19, 1775 through 1783.

Components:

The rule book is and 8 page 8.5" x 11" black-and-white document. The rules are divided by numbered sections and sub-sections. It contains illustrations, examples of play, and extra notes in the margins. The rules are very clearly written. After one read, I was ready to play. Finding rules during game play was easy and were written without ambiguity.

The map is a 11” x 34” full color paperboard map that displays the 13 colonies and Canada, along with an "Atlantic" box area and spaces for the French and British West Indies. It also contains the turn track.






That is a picture of the entire map. While it may appear to look busy, it is really not. It is colorful and sharp looking, yet easy to read. There is little doubt as to the terrain make up of each hex as a closer look reveals:





The map has a hexagonal overlay and various types of terrain and historically important towns. For historical background (that has nothing to do with game play), it displays sites and years of battles from the actual war.

The map is folded into 3 sections. I would recommend plexiglas for it in order to hold it down.

The game contains 25 cards. They are not on heavy card stock, so I would not recommend trying to riffle-shuffle this deck.

Finally, the game also contains 50 blocks (25 red, 25 blue) with a sticker sheet containing 48 stickers.



The blocks contain various strength factors up to 4 different values, as well as a "to hit" number in combat an a combat order, and a name for the leader of that unit. The logo in the center tells more information. If it contains a flag (American or British) that is one of the handful of "leader" blocks (ex: George Washington or William Howe). The color of the British symbol tells if it is a loyalist (tory) militia (green), a Hessian unit (blue), a British regular unit (red), a warship (gray), or an Indian unit (orange). Meanwhile, the American blocks are separated by Continental regular (blue), rifle corps (brown), Militia (buff), or French unit (white).



Objective of Play:

The objective in the game deals with capturing "supply" spaces, which are towns with a number on them (see close-up map picture above -- as an example, Philadelphia has a number "4" by it). If the British player controls less than 12 points at the end of any turn, the American player wins. If the British player controls 30+ points at the end of any turn, he wins. If the game reaches the last turn without either, the American player wins.


Overview of Play:

Before going into the specifics of a game turn, understanding the map and the blocks are important.


Blocks and combat:

As the case in block games, the players sit across from each other with the stickered-side of the block facing the owning player and the other side (blue or red) facing the other player, creating fog of war. The following picture shows the view from the American (blue) player's perspective:




The blocks contain various values around the edges. In the picture below, the warship shows values of 3, 2, and 1. The value on top (3) is its strength. (The "2" by itself in the box is the maximum number of hexes it can move).



The ship also shows "A2". When a group of blocks from both sides are in the same hex, they battle. The blocks are laid down, so that they are revealed and their strength value is facing the opponent. Every block has a code like the "A2" shown above. It will have a letter: A, B, or C, followed by a number from 1-4. Units with "A" roll first, and if both sides have it, the defender rolls first. If this ship rolled, it would roll 3 dice (because its strength is 3) and would cause one hit for each die that rolls a 2 or lower (from the 2 in "A2"). Hence a unit with 4 strength and C3 would roll last, would roll 4 dice and hit for each die that got a 1, 2, or 3.

Hits are applied IMMEDIATELY, never simultaneously. Hits are applied individually and to the strongest unit first. So if you had 3 blocks with strengths 4, 3, and 2 and you took 4 hits, your first hit would apply to the 4 strength block (you rotate it from 4 showing toward your opponent to 3 -- and after the battle, you flip the block up, so the 3 is now at the top). Now your 3 blocks' strengths are 3-3-2. The next two hits would apply to the 3 strength blocks, making your set now 2-2-2 and for the last hit, you would choose which block took the final hit.

When it comes time for a block to roll the dice, it has the option to retreat instead of fighting. However, unlike traditional war games, not all units retreat at once. In this case, only this particular A2 warship could retreat when it is his time to retreat. Any other blocks in the hex will take the hits on future die rolls.

So lets say the battle has these units:

Attacker A, B, C

Defender A, C, C

The defending A block goes first (note, I'm ignore A2, because I'm only explaining the order, not the "to hit" number).

The attacking A block goes 2nd.

The attacking B block goes 3rd.

The defending C blocks go fourth & fifth.

The attacking C block goes last.

If the defending A block chose to retreat, that is fine, but the hits from the attacking A & B blocks would be applied to the remaining defending C blocks. They cannot retreat until their turn (4th & 5th) comes around.

When you have the option to select your hit, it can be a painful decision. Let's say the C blocks are both C1. That means they only hit on a 1. Let's then say the attacking B block scored a hit and all defending units are at the same strength. Do you apply it to the C unit? If you do, he hasn't fired yet. He fires next, and he will roll one less die. Or do you apply it to the A unit that has already fired, but has a better "to hit" number (A2 -- hits on a 1 or 2).

This is basic Columbia block game combat in the Hammer of the Scots system.



Cities and hex control

The cities with points by them are supply cities. If the dot representing the city is blue, it is loyal to the American player. If it is red, it is loyal to the British player. That means if no blocks are in the space, the control of that hex will revert to the default (blue = American, red = British). The only way to control such a hex is to garrison it with at least one block at the end of the turn. Moving through a hex does not change control and having a unit in the hex does not change control until the end of the turn.



The supply cities factor not only in victory point calculation, but also in resupplying units (building up the strength of a unit) as well as wintering a unit (all discussed later).


Sequence of play

As stated earlier, the game is built on the Hammer of the Scots system. At the start of the turn, each player receives 5 cards (except turn 1, which was a shortened year, so only 3 cards). Each player selects a card and plays it face down, before revealing them simultaneously. Whoever plays "supply" is player 1. If neither played a supply card, the higher number card (1, 2, or 3) is player 1. If there is a tie, the British player is player 1. Unlike Hammer of the Scots, if both players play a supply card, the turn is not over (supply being like an Event in Hammer).

After the cards have been revealed, one of the players rolls a die and consults the chart to see if there are storms in the south or north. The map has a dividing north-south red line on it and if there are storms in either, attacks cannot be made in any hex in that region.

Each player takes his action. If he played a supply card than he can increase the strength of 3 separate blocks by 1 point (rotating to the next higher number) so long as each of those blocks is in a supply town in a hex that he controls.

If he plays a number card, he can do one of two things: move or replace. Movement means activate up to all blocks in a hex for movement. Replace means he blindly draws a block from the replacement pool and put it into play. The number of actions equal the number on the card. For example, if he played a "3", he could activate the blocks in 2 hexes and draw one replacement block or he could draw 3 replacements and no movement, or any other combination of the two equaling three. But he must perform all movement before drawing replacements.

For replacements, American units and British loyalists militia enter at any friendly controlled supply town. British regular units, Hessian units, and French units enter in the "Atlantic" box.

When moving blocks, there is a hex side limit. There are 3 types of land terrain in the game: clear, forest, and marsh. If blocks are moving across a hex side that is clear, a maximum of 4 units may cross that hex side. For forest and marsh, the limit is 2 blocks per hex side. These limitations are for the entire card play. You cannot move 4 units across an adjacent clear hex side and then move a 5th block with movement factor of 2 across that hex side from 2 hexes away.

Also, all non-Indian units must immediately stop when crossing a marsh or forest hex side, even if it had a movement rate of 2. Indian units do not have to stop when moving in forest, but all units must stop when they enter a hex with any enemy blocks.

If a forest or marsh hex side has a river crossing it, the stop requirement and hex side limit do not apply. Units using river movement may move 2 hexes and the hex side limit is 3.

For ocean movement, British and French units have a choice: they can move two ocean hexes so long as they begin and end in a friendly port space (which has an anchor). Note: you cannot move a ground unit on to an enemy port (ex: blue dot if you are the British) and then use sea movement to bring troops there. That is not a friendly port because hex control does not change until the END of the turn.

Another form of sea movement is the "Atlantic" box. For 1 action point (on the card), any and all British or French units can move from a friendly port to the Atlantic box or vice-versa. They can also move from the Atlantic box to the West Indies and vise-versa for 1 action point (but they cannot move from a friendly port to the West Indies if they played a 2 card. They have to stop at the Atlantic box and then use a different card to complete the move.

They can also perform a sea attack. All sea attacks must originate in the Atlantic box and must contain 1 warship block and at least 1-3 foot units. They can target an unfriendly port space or one of the two West Indies spaces. Ground and sea attacks cannot be combined. Because they must originate in the Atlantic box, that means if you have a large force in Boston, you cannot swing them down and hit New York. You must first use a card to move them to the Atlantic box and then use another card to attack New York, which is historically accurate, since they left Boston for Halifax before hitting New York.

After player one has moved his blocks and drawn replacements, the other player moves and draws replacements. If player 1 had placed 3 blocks into a hex that contained 5 of his blocks, 3 of the defending blocks cannot leave the hex. They are pinned. The other 2 may leave if player 2 wishes to spend an action point to do so.

After this phase, if both players have blocks in the same hex, they conduct combat as described above. If after 3 rounds, the defender has blocks in the hex, then the attacker must retreat.

If the attacker brought in blocks from two different hex sides, one is the main force and the other is the reserves (his choice). Likewise, if player 2 is the defender and rushes more blocks to reinforce his forces in the hex, these additional blocks are reserves. Reserves are not revealed and do not fight until round 2. If one side is eliminated or retreats out of the box before round 2, there is no round 2: the reserves must stop one hex short.

In addition, retreating brings up tricky situations. Attackers must retreat out of the hex side from which they came. If player 1 is the attacker and he left that hex side vacant and player 2 moved a unit across that same hex side to join the battle, then the last player to move across that hex side "controls" it for the battle, meaning the attacker may not retreat.

Also, if he did not control the hex from which he came (remember, control changes at the END of the turn, he may not retreat). Because more of the hexes have blue dots, this makes it more tricky for the British, resulting in catastrophic situations similar to the battle of Saratoga.

The winner may regroup, which means he may then move any blocks in that hex up to their full movement (following all movement rules listed above).

After this, the players play another card and repeat. They do this until they have exhausted their hands.

Then players may have any blocks on the board disband, which puts them back in the draw pool, and may only be brought back through playing a future point card and selecting it from the pool (and this is a blind draw, so nothing is certain).

Next is the wintering phase. Any units in the Atlantic box are immediately lost. Any non-Indian units not in supply cities are lost. For each supply city, it can hold a number of blocks equal to its number plus the maximum strength value of a leader (ex: Washington/Howe) if he is in that town. Any excess blocks are lost. And when I say lost, I mean they go to the other player in his captured pool. Other blocks that end up here are units that are eliminated in combat or cannot retreat when forced to after 3 turns.

Because of wintering rules, that is why it is advisable to have a unit disband, so that it goes to your draw pool rather than the opponents "captured pile."

And just like in the American Revolution, players may barter and trade captured units to place back in their draw pools.

Beginning with the end of 1776, the American player rolls two dice and if the value is 8 or more, the French blocks are available for his draw pool.

This concludes one year. Play continues until an auto-victory condition has occurred or the 1783 year is completed, in which case the American player wins.

Note: there are other rules, such as Indians units, marches, and optional combat rules, but I'm covering the core of the game with this review.



Results:

I played Hammer of the Scots about 15 months ago, so I am fuzzy on some of the details, but I remember liking it. At the same time, I couldn't understand how it could work for the American Revolution. The British SHOULD have more fire power. If this is portrayed, then I would think you could build up large force and steamroll across the map.

Instead, there are many clever ways to prevent it: the hexside limitations prevent steam rolling. The wintering rules prevent you from keeping them huddled up.

In addition, having blue and red cities was a brilliant stroke because that forces the British to keep them garrisoned.

(and if these rules were part of Hammer, like I said, it's been a long time. I only remember parts of it.)

Having the British win ties on point cards when they are revealed was also a great rule. When they go first and try to launch an offensive, the Americans can come in and cut off their retreat paths (hold out 3 combat rounds and the British are captured), or take lightly garrisoned cities. This makes the British slow and deliberate.

The Americans should never be able to stand toe-to-toe and slug it out with the British, but they should be able to play an annoying game of whack-a-mole with them, that makes them too difficult to pin down and makes victory very difficult to achieve by conventional means.

Besides the theme (because let's face it, I'm a sucker for this time period), I like how the rules capture a lot of little things in the conflict. In other words, for a simple game, I like the chrome.


Conclusion:

If you are looking for a solid simulation of the American Revolution, this is not it. I have played a lot of American Revolution games and I have yet to see one that is a good simulation.

Part of the problem with creating such a simulation was that it was an unconventional war for its time. It wasn't two separate nations going at it, but rather, the subjects rebelling, so it became a battle for political control and for the hearts and minds of the populace, which is never easy to simulate. We the People abstracted the political concept through a Go-like mechanic, but it was still a very abstract game, rather than a detailed simulation.

Most of them use a similar model as this, using victory point cities. The problem was, at one point, the British controlled America's 3 most important cities (New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston), but it did them no good. It wasn't about strategic centers.

If you want to know a step-by-step layout of the progression of the American Revolution along with how the events shaped the battles, read a book, and there are plenty I would recommend: shoot me a Geekmail, or look around on BGG, as this has been discussed in the Wargames forum.

Now, with all that said, is this a FUN game? Oh yeah! I had a blast. I like block games. I like easy war games. I like low unit density and I like bright and pretty colors. (I also like to chase strings and laser lights on carpets ... oh wait, that's not me, that's a cat). Even though I play a lot of games from this time period, and even though Washington's War is my all-time #1 favorite game, covers the same scope and plays faster, Liberty scratched an itch for me in terms of American Revolution grand-strategic games. It's very light, moves quickly, and is extremely fun.

So would I recommend it? If you like block games, give it a try. If you like American Revolution-themed games, by all means, give it a try.

Based on my initial playing of this, I will rate it an 8-9. Since I don't do decimal ratings, I'll go with the 9 because I tend to give a bonus to any American Revolution game.

Note: all images used from the Liberty images forum.
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C Sandifer
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Lutherville
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airjudden wrote:
Beginning with the end of 1776, the American player rolls two dice and if the value is 8 or more, the French blocks are available for his draw pool.


I agree, great game.

As a side note, many folks play with the variant rule for French entry:

At the end of...

1776: Roll 11 or higher (enter in 1777)
1777: Roll 8 or higher (enter in 1778)
1778: Roll 5 or higher (enter in 1779)
1779: Automatic (enter in 1780)

(Taken from Columbia Web site.)
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
United States
New Orleans
Louisiana
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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I was about to write up a detailed review, but you beat me to it!

Well, I'm glad I was beat by this excellent review.
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Jon
Canada
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I agree with Sean. This is a wonderful review. Thanks for doing it Judd.

You hit the nail on the head for me and the "easier" Columbia games. That is, there is a veil of simulation with them, but they are mostly just simple, fun games. HotS and RIII fill a similar niche. Puzzles in some ways.

There was an interesting podcast interview with the designer talking about this very game. If I can find it I will post a link.
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Gordon Stewart
United States
Bowie
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Great review!
Here are the maps to extend it into the all-important Caribbean:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/17823/bourbonlibertyma...
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Jon Karlsson
Sweden
Linköping
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I have just fiddled with this solo, but I think as a wargame it looks generally fine. But I also feel that to ignore the political side of the conflict so completely, together with the bleak (meaning that there are not many landmarks or interesting features) map makes the game as a whole rather bland, almost abstract.

In Liberty, I do not feel like I am leading (or trying to stamp out) a revolution, trying to win battles and hearts and minds. I am moving blocks and trying to get victory cities. Some of the victory cities have recognizeable names, but that is all.
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Severus Snape
Canada
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"So teach us to number our days, that we may get us an heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12 RV
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"I'm not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back." Brian Hanrahan
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Sho Nuff, you are much too kind to this abomination, which, along with Richard III and Sam Grant, belongs in one of Dante's nine circles. devil
Oh, and Athens & Sparta too.

goo

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