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Posted on Aug 2, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

For Liberty! – Game Review (PC)

By Michael Peck

We hereby declare these truths to be self-evident: That all wargames are created equal, that they are endowed by their Designers with certain unalienable rights, that among these are the right to simulate conflicts that do not include Napoleon, the Confederate States of America, or Stalingrad.

This Declaration of Independence that is long overdue. For too many years, wargaming has been confined to pushing panzers. But lately there has been a trend toward covering other conflicts that don’t involve the 3 N’s: NATO, Nukes, and Nazis. This year alone has seen two games on the American Revolution; Birth of America and For Liberty!

It’s incredible that this conflict has been neglected for so long. Generations of textbooks and used car commercials have reduced the American Revolution to patriotic platitudes, July 4th cookouts, and paintings of bewigged generals who resemble our grandmothers. Those images are not just tacky. They’re wrong. The Revolutionary War was a complex conflict whose lessons are relevant today. A global giant with a highly trained professional army thinly spread over a vast area; an insurgency often defeated on the battlefield but still coming back for more; a civilian population violently split loyalists and rebels. Instead of Boston in 1776, it could be Saigon in 1966 or Baghdad in 2006.

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What’s especially interesting is that For Liberty! and Birth of America were designed by Europeans. Given that most wargames on European conflicts are designed by Americans, it’s a nice bit of fair play. For Liberty! actually covers two wars; the Hungarian Rakoczi’s War of Independence (1703-1711), and the American Revolution. Given that most wargamers (American ones, at any rate) know as much about the former War as they do about the War of Jenkin’s Ear, the North American conflict will likely receive the most attention. The publisher also offers the free game 1848, which covers the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848.

Gameplay

For Liberty! may be focused on revolutionary wars, but it is not a revolutionary game. Gameplay is hexagon-based (though without a hex grid) and of the standard point-and-click variety. Combat units are regimental, with artillery represented in batteries.

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Trouble brewing…

The army management screen presents lots of useful data

Players maneuver armies (composed of an unlimited number of regiments and batteries) over the main map. Armies can be given a variety of orders that affect their movement and combat capabilities, including attack, retreat, and train. Movement is fluid on the roads along the coast, but slower in the forests in the interior. Armies have a chance to react in support of other armies battling in adjacent hexes. There are also rules for forts, sieges, and entrenchments.

The economic system will be familiar to anyone accustomed to empire-building games. Both sides have varying amounts of recruits, weapons, cannon, money and influence, which are used to purchase or upgrade units and build fortifications. Troops are mostly various flavors of infantry, including grenadiers, light infantry and militia, plus artillery and a handful of cavalry. Influence points can be spent to procure additional manpower or weapons, or change leaders. The British can also raise Indian irregulars.

Combat is resolved either via quick combat on the main map, or a tactical combat mini-game. There’s been a trend lately toward detailed tactical combat in strategic games such as For Liberty! and Matrix’s Crown of Glory. It’s a concept that sounds better than it works. Liberty’s tactical system lacks the command control rules needed to simulate Eighteenth Century warfare. Units – especially artillery – fire, move, and change formation with incredible rapidity. Because each unit can do multiple actions in the same turn, a large tactical battle can easily take more than an hour to resolve.

There are many fascinating historical touches to For Liberty!, especially for Americans who don’t know much about their own war of independence. Both sides have a huge roster of leaders, each with his own special attributes. Clinton, the British commander, is skilled but jealous, making him less likely to aid neighboring armies. The American ranks are riddled with officers who are incompetent but influential, making them hard to replace. The various combat units have special abilities, such as rifle units picking off enemy officers (simulated by reducing the target unit’s experience level). There are also colorful though goofy random events each turn, such as a fort garrison paralyzed by drunkenness.

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Economics are a vital factor Sometimes, Army leaders just have to be fired…

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