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LIBERTY

Reviewed by Herb Levy

LIBERTY (Columbia Games, 2 players, ages 12 and up, 2-3 hours; $49.99)

 

Columbia Games is well known for their wood block wargame simulations. Liberty, the latest in the line, focuses on the military events of the American Revolution from 1775 to 1783 as American, British, French and Native American forces clash to decide the question of colonial independence.

Liberty, a Tom Dalgliesh and Mark Kwasny design, comes bookshelf boxed with 50 blocks (in blue and red) and stickers to affix to them, 25 cards, 2 six-sided dice, a long (11″ x 32″) rectangular map of colonial America and an 8 page rulebook.

The play area on the map shows the eastern coast of North America running from Quebec, Canada down to Georgia. The map is divided into large hexes containing contain features such as towns (some of which have numbered values making them Supply Towns, critical in earning a victory) and ports (marked by an anchor) as well as rivers and a box representing the Atlantic Ocean. The player controlling the British sits at the eastern edge of the map while the American player sits at the west.liberty

Each block (red for the British, blue for the Americans) contains each unit’s vital information. This includes strength (maximum strength ranges from 2 to 4) and combat ability (i.e. how many dice are thrown during combat). Each hit sustained by a block reduces its strength. If the strength value goes below 1, that block is captured! There is also a movement rating (1 or 2) which notes how many hexes a particular unit may traverse and combat rating. Combat ratings contain a number and a letter (e.g. A1 or B2).

Five types of blocks populate the game: Leaders (with the ability to supply units over the winter), Foot (lower rated combat forces), Dragoons (capable of greater movement), Warships (required for sea attacks), and Indians (who are restricted to operating in Wilderness hexes).

Game play begins with the year 1775 and continues from there. Within each year, there are five Game Turns and within each Game Turn four phases: Card Phase, Weather, Action and Battle.

Each game turn begins with players holding a hand of five cards. (On the first turn of the game, 1775, players only receive 3 cards each.) At the beginning of each turn, one of these cards is played, face down and then revealed simultaneously. The highest card (and they range in value from 1 to 3) gets the initiative and goes first. Supply cards have no “number” but win if one player chooses to use that card. (If tied, the British get the initiative.) Now, the player who LOST the initiative rolls to determine the weather (a roll of 1 or 2 restricts areas of attack).

During the Action Phase, cards valued at 1, 2 or 3 indicate how many actions may be done by that player. An action may be moving a block or replacing a block (reinforcements). Blocks that occupy the same hex are considered a “Group” and Groups may be moved, together, as ONE movement. Attacking blocks prevent an equal number of enemy blocks from moving (what the game calls “Pinning”). However, “surplus” enemy blocks (those NOT pinned) may move. Units may also “Force March” allowing them to move an additional hex but at the possible cost (50-50) of losing 1 step in strength (determined by a die roll). Blocks may move two hexes up or down a river. However, sea movement is done through the Atlantic box. (At the cost of 1 Movement, blocks may be moved from the Atlantic to a friendly port or from a friendly port to the Atlantic. This option is not available to American or Indian units as they may NOT move by sea.) Movement is done BEFORE any replacements. Replacements are randomly chosen from a face down pool of blocks. The first player does all his actions before the second player does his.

Battles occur when blocks of both sides occupy the same hex. Battles may be fought for a maximum of three combat rounds. Blocks may either fire or retreat and the sequence of Combat Turns is decided by the letter of the blocks in battle. The letter on a block determines when a block fires (A fires before B which fires before C). The number on a block indicates the maximum roll that scores a hit.

To fire, dice are rolled (equal to the current Strength of the firing unit) with a hit scored for each roll equal to or lower than the block’s Combat Rating. Hits are applied to the strongest enemy unit. Retreat is possible for surviving units in their normal battle turn. Naval warfare, including bombardment of units occupying a shore hex and sea attacks/landings are also possible. Once battles are resolved, a new Game Turn begins. (When the current year ends, however, there is an additional turn played called the Winter Turn. This determines if any units are lost due to attrition. Once the Winter Turn is resolved, all cards are shuffled, both players are dealt five new cards and the next Game Year begins.)

At the end of each Game Year, the values of the Supply Towns controlled by the British are totaled. A British total of 30 or more is a victory for the Crown. If the British total falls below 12, American independence is secured. (American victory is also declared if the British fail to achieve victory by the end of the 1783 turn.)

At the end of the 1776 Game Year, if neither side has claimed victory and the French have not already entered the war, the American player rolls both dice. With a roll of 8 or more, France enters the fray on the side of the Americans.

As might be expected, Liberty shares some similarities with Columbia’s popular and award-winning Hammer of the Scots (Winter 2003 GA REPORT) including the battle procedure and use of battle cards. This makes the learning curve for those familiar with the block system very slight. But there are significant differences. For example, here the play of supply cards by both players does not end the turn. Instead, play continues with ties going to the British. Other differences arise from the nature of this conflict (e.g. naval warfare, the imminent entry of France into the fray).

The game seems well balanced (although the entry of France can give an edge to the American side, often becoming a pivotal factor). It seems advisable for the British player to strike hard and fast, holding onto New England, capturing New York if possible, building support in the South and targeting the West Indies. The Americans need to avoid a crushing blow by building defenses against British forces to scatter British strength while hoping that time (and the French) will be on their side.

Liberty is a wargame that rivals Hammer of the Scots with its high level of excitement and strategic challenges but with a flavor all its own. For those interested in the American Revolution, I’d follow the advice of Patrick Henry, “Give me Liberty…..” – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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