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Subject: Gaming the AWI: What if Mark Herman was never born? rss

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Judd Vance
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First of all, the title is a reference to the classic Frank Capra 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life where the protagonist gets a glimpse of how much different life would be for everyone in his hometown if he had never been born.

Mark Herman turned the gaming world on its ear in 1994 with We the People, the first OPS/EVENT card driven game. It was a innovative way to conceptually cover the American War for Independence (AWI) in 2-3 hours, looking at "what if" historical scenarios while capturing the political struggle.

To my knowledge, there are only two other boxed games (not counting Washington’s War) that cover this war in its entirety: Avalon Hill’s 1974 classic 1776 and Columbia’s block game from 2003 Liberty: The American Revolution 1775-83.



Details:

Give Me Liberty is a point-to-point, counter-based wargame for 2 players. Scenarios (Invasion of Canada, Saratoga, Southern Campaign) take about 1-2 hours to play, while playing the entire war takes significantly longer. Robert Markham designed it and 3W published it in 1992.



Background:

The game takes place in America and Canada back in their British colonial days. The time frame can occur anytime between 1775 and 1781.



Components:

The rulebook is 16 pages (8.5" x 11") and in black-and-white. Outside of pictures of the counters, there are no illustrations. An appropriate amount of examples are included to demonstrate the points. The game is not that complex and the instructions are written clearly.

The map is a different matter. It is a garish monstrosity. Two large paper maps are required to play the campaign game or a single map to play a scenario. With the amount of creasing, you should plan on using Plexiglas with this beast.

The map is a point-to-point map, using numerous squares across the 13 American colonies and Canada (Quebec). The area covered is from Halifax in the northeast, to Detroit in the Northwest, down to Savannah Georgia. The map is divided into states and also into regions (New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Central, South, Northwest Territories, and Canada). These regions are used in the campaign game. The problem is that it is hard to distinguish the borders of either. So while it is not pretty to look at, it is not particularly functional, either. On the bright side, it does contain holding area boxes with names attached of the major generals (the ones who can command a large number of troops). This is like the holding areas on the map of GMT’s Wilderness War (released in 2000).



The game includes 400 1/2" cardboard counters representing various leaders, armies, artillery, and naval units (American, British, Hessians, and French), as well as militia (Rebel and Tory). The artwork on the counters is very unimpressive and the leaders' names have been truncated, which can cause a bit of confusion if you know your AWI history, and are searching for Carleton, while you keep passing over the "Carle" counter.



Objective of Play:

The objective in this game is to control victory point towns in the scenarios or collect the most victory points in the campaign (mostly tied to control of victory point towns). While this appears to make a British victory easy, the British cannot control a town with Tory militia, whereas the American player may control with Rebel militia. Control is established by being the last player to enter that space. That means when the British leave, a rebel militia may pop up and walk through it. There are many victory point towns on the map, making it difficult for the British to be everywhere at once.


Overview of Play:

This game is not that complex. Many compare it to A House Divided: War Between the States 1861-65, a game I only played once about 8 months ago with only the basic rules, so I cannot remember enough about the specifics to confirm this. I do remember parts of it and see a resemblance. A typical game turn of Give Me Liberty looks like this:

1) Activation Phase: A player chooses to either activate a unit or a leader. A leader in turn may activate multiple units and/or leaders in the same space. A player may instead choose to roll on the activation table, which may be a gamble. The result may be somewhere between 0-6 activated, or it may result in the opponent getting to activate a unit (with a re-roll to follow).

2) Roll a die to determine how many units may be transported by sea movement. This is for units in a non-blockaded port, and is not affected by units already at sea or by land-based movement.

3) Move units at sea and/or attempt to intercept if a unit moves into a sea space with enemy units.

4) Activate land units. Based on the results of the 1st step, an activated unit may choose to either a) move, b) entrench, or c) go into reserve, which means the unit is on hold -- when the opponent moves, you may temporarily stop the opponent in mid-move, and move any unit in reserve (and fight) before he can complete his movement with the unit(s).

5) Combat

6) Roll for militia reinforcement: going to each of the six regions, determine how many victory point towns the British control in that region, and based on that result (none, some, all, or no presence in the region), roll in the corresponding column. If you succeed and you have militia counters from one of the states in the region, you may place a single militia unit from one of the states in this region.

7) Check for supply


COMBAT

Combat more closely resembles A House Divided, in that each unit rolls its hit number rather than totaling the units, calculating the odds ratio, and using a combat results table. The map has a section with numbered spaces (1-7). You place your units in the numbered space that corresponds to that unit's combat factor (a unit with a "4" combat factor goes in the "4" space), or its modified combat factor. (an entrenched "3" unit gains a +1 modifier, and thus, goes into the "4" box.) Also, leaders may add attack or defense points to units. The map combat section is extremely convenient, as you are able to constantly adjust your units and easily track your "to hit" numbers.

Once placed, the basic concept is that you roll a D10 die and try to get a roll equal to or less than your modified combat value. If you succeed, the opponent has to take a step loss -- either flip a counter or eliminate a flipped counter. Combat continues until one side retreats or is eliminated. All surviving units flip back to their full strength side, which I believe was also the case in A House Divided.

If certain conditions applied to the battle (minimum number of units, professional army units involved, and leaders), then it can qualify as a "major victory", which may result in the French joining the American side, leaders being removed from the game, and promotions for infantry units (similar to A House Divided).

There are rules for artillery attacks on entrenchments, defense firing first in the first round of combat, checking for Indian/Militia desertion, as well as retreat limitations.

There are also rules for sea battles (including determining the wind advantage and attempting to retreat without this advantage.), and there are rules for amphibious attacks. So while it is not complicated, it is more detailed than what I am listing here. I am just covering the core basics.


SUPPLY

The supply rule is neat -- unless it has negative consequences happen to you. Units have to have an uninterrupted path to a victory point town and be within so many spaces of such a town. Otherwise, there are supply issues. The first 3 combat units (owner's choice) are free of consequences, but the others have to roll on the foraging table. A failed result removes that unit from the game. Different units have different success rates: Indian and experienced Continental Army units have the easiest roll while Hessian army units and inexperienced militia have the most difficult roll.


STRATEGIC INTERLUDES

In the campaign game, each year contains four seasonal "interphase" sequences in which periodic bookkeeping occurs, such as:

• British player rolls a die and checks the "Lord Germain table." This table may list a colony, and if so, the British player is required to control all victory point cities in that colony at the next interphase. Success or failure will move the political track in favor of the beneficiary. It reminds me of the "Hitler's/Stalin's orders" in GMT's World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin.

• Check political track, award victory points and readjust: besides the Lord Germain objectives, various events move the tract, such as major battlefield victories, losing generals in combat, and having the French enter the war.

• Militia demobilization and Continental Army attrition: Every militia unit (both sides) and Continental Army units rolls a die: a failed roll results in the unit being removed from play. This occurs only in the winter interlude (once per year, or every 4th interlude).

• Strategic reinforcement: this is where additional leaders, armies, naval, and artillery units are brought into play, by rolling a die and consulting a table.

• Indian alliance: Leaders in Indian settlements roll for recruitment. The British have a better chance of recruiting and certain leaders get a DRM.

• Captured leaders exchanged: following the actual history, both sides may exchange captured leaders. The terms are completely up to the players.


LEADERS



The leaders are the backbone of the game. Leadership rules have a resemblance to those rules used in Wilderness War (released 8 years later): they may activate a certain number of units based on their rating. They may also activate a subordinate leader, to help activate all of the units in a large stack.

As mentioned earlier, leaders add combat bonuses to units. But the most fascinating section of the leader rules is the special abilities for each leader. Some are useful and some are not, but all are based on historical facts. Some examples include:

• Francis Marion: when defending in a swamp his force gets to roll first and fire twice at a enemy unit and then retreat without the enemy being allowed to return fire. Other leaders may receive an initiative bonus or penalty due to a die roll: when attacking, Charles Grey’s side fires first, but if Frederick Baum is the only leader in an attacking group, they might not be able to fire in the first round because of his poor English language skills.

• John Burgoyne: all units stacked with him have their movement rate reduced by one. Some leaders receive a movement bonus, such as John Glover and Friedrich von Riedesel, while others, such as Barry St. Leger receive a similar penalty as Burgoyne.

• Charles Cornwallis: Beginning in the Fall Interlude of 1777, roll a die at each interlude. On a failed roll, put him back in the leader pool (he went home to be with his sick wife). He may be drawn later. Other leaders have a similar chance of being removed from play altogether without returning, such as William Howe (after the first major American victory), Augustine Provost (recalled), Daniel Morgan (sciatica), and Leopold von Heister and John Sullivan (illness).

• Henry Knox: One artillery under his command has its combat rating increased by 2 (does not count against his modifier that he can give to other units). Other leaders receive a combat bonus such as Thaddeus Kosciusko (defense) and George Rogers Clark (attacking Indian units only). When William Alexander fails a roll, he is drunk and may not use his attack/defense bonus.

• Horatio Gates: If he scores a major victory, roll a die during the next Strategic Interlud. On a successful roll, he is promoted to top general and George Washington is demoted. This is also a possibility for Charles Lee (a darling of the Continental Congress in 1776).



Results:

The game is clever. Many aspects of the Revolution are captured, especially in terms of the leaders and their abilities and the strength and unreliability of the militia.

The British naval advantage is not accurately modeled: the Americans (unlike the French) really should not be able to use naval transport at all, because the British had such an overwhelming advantage at the sea. This rule can create "gamey" situations.

For a simple, conceptual high-level game, there is a remarkable amount of historical accuracy and "feel" to the conflict, such as the frustration the British feel from playing "whack-a-mole" with an army that they cannot pin down (one rule says that when the British enter an American space, the American unit may automatically retreat, and continue doing so every time their space is entered). The Americans really cannot slug it out toe-to-toe with the British if the British do not want them to (because their military units are superior, they probably will not be defeated in battle if the British player properly defends a space). The leaders also provide a lot of historical detail to the game.

The other strength is that the game is not difficult. The complexity on this game is low. It’s easy to understand, set-up, and play.

The biggest drawback is that the map is ugly, hard to read, and entirely too big.

My knowledge of wargame history is limited, so I am sure this game was not as innovative as I make it appear to be, and it probably is not even the source of ideas, but I find it remarkable how many of its ideas popped up in many subsequent card driven games, such as the importance of individual historical leaders and a point-to-point map for the AWI (We the People), Leader holding areas on the map and activation limits (Wilderness War), and rolling for required orders (World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin). For all I know, this may have been advanced rules from A House Divided.


Conclusion:

I actually like this game quite a bit more than 1776, but in full disclosure, I have only read and played with 1776’s original rules, and not all of the leader variants and other additions. To me, 1776 felt too "Avalon Hilly," with the hexes, movement (terrain) modifiers, which do not translate well to a large scale conflict. Also, the supply rules in that game, to me, are a bit fiddly and more complicated than they should be for a high-level conflict. If you want complexity, go for the gusto, but if not, then keep stuff like this simple.

But with that said, Give Me Liberty has a big wart on the end of its nose, and that is that the campaign takes about 130 player turns (each player having a phase each turn) PLUS the 25 strategic interludes. It makes for too long of a game. In 1992, that was to be expected, but two years later, Mark Herman designed We the People and made a grand-scale AWI game that could be played in 3 hours. That instantly made this game obsolete and pretty much killed it in its infancy. After We the People, why buy this game to play the Canadian, Saratoga, or Canadian campaign when you can do the same with 1776, where its hex-and-counter style and supply rules are better suited? Top it off with the GMT games that cover specific battles (Saratoga, Guilford, Savannah), and suddenly this game becomes the proverbial "red-headed step child." Why play a short, conceptual 13 turn game on Saratoga, when you can play a 2 hour game on that battle that covers the specifics? Why play a simple, conceptual marathon on the American War for Independence when you can play a simple, conceptual game that covers the same war in only takes 3 hours?

That is why I gave this review the title that I did. Had it not been for We the People, I feel that this game would have went down as maybe the best grand scale game covering the American War for Independence, instead of being a forgotten relic limited to collectors such as myself.

Keep in mind, I am not complaining, as We the People used to be my favorite of all games until Washington’s War came out. I’m just theorizing on a "what if?"

Edit: Grammar correction.
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Steve Herron
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Re: Gaming the AWI: What if Mark Herman were never born?
Well done Judd, if someone invents a time machine and does in Mark Herman, it may become the top dog. laugh Some people might enjoy a long game like this. It could be possible it could get a makeover and be republished. I didn't know much about the game till I read your review. I have a cousin in Wichita.
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Colin Hunter
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Great Review. The game looks intriguing, I agree with Steve, a long game is much more appealing to me personally, than the shorter WW. I'll pick a small nit, that is
Quote:
the first OPS/EVENT card driven game
While I will concede that in common usage we talk about We the People being the first CDG, generally when people talk about Ops/Event card driven games they mean games with ops and events on the same card (the first of these would of course been Hannibal). Anyway probably more a perspective thing, thanks for the great review on a game I haven't heard of.
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Steve Herron
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Another point, I have We the People and was very pleased with it, it was one game I played with my son. He beat me as the Americans. I had put off getting Washington's War because it was a 3 on the solitaire scale. I play most of my games by myself. Give Me Liberty probably would be more solitaire friendy.
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Judd Vance
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Steve,

If you have the time and space, this is a really neat one to play the campaign solitaire. These were turnoffs for me -- it took up 2/3 of my table and would take me weeks to play (I play after the kiddos go to bed), but if you can spare it, I think you will be pleased.

As for Washington's War, you might want to check out this thread on how to play it solitaire. It is better with 2-players (I'm about to jump into the Vassal world for the first time, so maybe this is a way for you to play it also?), but you can get very acquainted with strategies by playing solitaire.
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Jon
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A fun read, Judd. Thanks for taking the time to put it together. I wouldn't trust an AWI review without at least your opinion on it, so this was having my cake and eating it too!
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Steven Apergis
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Actually in the mid-seventies, SPI release an American Revolution Game. It was an area movement game played on a 17" x 22" map with very simple graphics. It was very abstract and had a only few pages of rules. It had also many alternative scenarios like the French do not intervene. The main problem was that only ten people in the country liked it. My wife and I were two of them.
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Richard Marshall
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Eleven people...
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Kim Meints
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Adam Deverell
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Cool review. I bought this game a few years after release on sale. I had played very few war games but was intrigued by the subject. Could never really get a handle on it and sold it around 2001. Never knew the entire campaign took that long to play! Would never have done it. I played We the People around 2001 and knew I'd never get back to this! Love the time period, but unfortunately this was totally destroyed when WtP came out.
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Severus Snape
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Excellent review, Judd. The only area where I disagree is with the praise of WtP; but that's to be expected.

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