Posted by: gschloesser | August 4, 2011

Liberté

Designed by:  Martin Wallace
Published by:  Warfrog Games
 3 – 6 Playes, 2 – 3 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser
 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review first appeared in Fire & Movement magazine #129 

From the moment I first heard word of this game I knew I just had to have a copy.  The French Revolution is a fascinating period in history and, sadly, there have only been precious few games designed utilizing this rich period in history.  One of particular note was Azure Wish’s La Revolution Francaise, but the rules were so complicated and butchered that it was virtually impossible to play.  

Granted, this new Martin Wallace design is not a highly detailed simulation of the Revolution.  It is, after all, a German-style game which stresses playability over historical reality.  That’s OK, however, as it does inject at least some of the flavor of the period and avoids being simply an abstract representation.  The best news, of course, is that it is quite fun and exciting to play.  I just wish it provided more opportunity for one to shout, “Off with their heads!” 

Warfrog has taken tremendous steps in upgrading the production quality of their most recent games.  Liberté is no exception.  Included are a forest of wooden bits, an attractive map of France and sturdy, high quality cards.  My one gripe … and it is a biggie … is that the colors on the cards do not match the colors of the provinces on the map.  Since many of these subdued colors are similar, there was considerable confusion in determining the proper province represented on the cards.  True, the borders on the map illustration on the cards do vaguely correspond with the map provincial borders, but this is difficult to spot without close scrutiny.  This was a constant source of confusion in all of the games I’ve played.  I understand that the map and cards were printed by different printers using supposedly ‘universal’ colors, but the proof is in the pudding.  They simply don’t match.  How this managed to get past the final development process is outrageous. 

This one major snafu aside, the remainder of the components are top-notch, functional and pleasing to the eye. This makes the enjoyment factor of the game even greater.  Plus, I’m really impressed with the artwork on the box, which was done by Peter Dennis.  The entire box cover appears as if it is a painting hanging in the luxurious halls of Versailles. 

On to the game.  France is divided into six regions, each containing four to five provinces.  Three main factions are vying for political control:  the Royalists (white blocks), the Moderates (blue blocks) and the Radicals (red blocks).  Players will take turns placing these faction blocks into these regions in order to grab the majority of blocks (influence) in as many of the provinces as possible.  Ultimately, this will earn votes for the factions and hopefully translate into victory points for the player.  This certainly doesn’t sound original, but the rules governing the placement of these blocks and the breaking of ties makes the game truly unique.  

Game play is largely determined by the use of cards.  The majority of the cards depict a particular region, along with 1 – 3 faction block symbols, all of the same color.  When a player plays a card, he may place the indicated number and color of faction blocks into one or more of the provinces within the region depicted on the card. A few cards, known as ‘Club Cards’, afford the player the ability to place a faction block in ANY region and province.  The power of these cards, however, is somewhat limited by the fact that they only allow the placement of one faction block.  Clearly, a player’s strategy is certainly heavily influenced by the cards he possesses.  However, new cards are selected via a ‘drafting’ method, as three cards are always face-up beside the deck.  Players can either take one of these face-up cards, or draw the top card from the face-down deck.  Thus, a player does have some control as to which cards he obtains, and choosing which cards to take is a key element to success. 

The only problem encountered with this aspect of the game is that it is quite possible that all three of the cards that are face-up in the drafting pile will be the less desirable “1 block” cards.  This will usually prompt the players to draw the top card from the face-down draw pile, meaning the face-up pile will remain stagnant for an extended duration.  One idea is to help rectify this occurrence is to discard the three face-up cards when this occurs and place three new ones in their place.  This will also help the deck recycle faster. 

As mentioned, there are some significant restrictions governing the placement of blocks into the provinces, most centered around the magic number of “3”.  When a player places blocks into a province, he marks that stack of blocks with one of his control markers.  If he adds more blocks to that particular province on a subsequent turn, they must be of the same color and must be added to the existing stack.  Further, a stack may contain no more than three blocks and, of course, they must all be of the same color.  A province may contain no more than three stacks of faction blocks (there may be more than one stack of the same color, but each will be controlled by a different player) and each player may only control one of those stacks.  Thus, deciding which faction to place into a particular province is a crucial decision and will have long-term implications on a player’s ultimate success or lack thereof. 

Instead of playing a card in order to place faction blocks into the provinces, a player may play a card bearing a cannon symbol to place a control marker into the battle box.  France will fight three battles during the course of the game, one following turns 2 – 4, respectively.  The player who has provided the most support for these battles AND has the best General in his personal display will earn valuable victory points.  So, one has to make a decision on whether to utilize a card to place faction blocks in the province, or place a control marker in the battle box in an attempt to lead France to victory.  Another tough decision in a game filled with them! 

When a player opts to play a card and place blocks, in addition to the decision as to where to place the faction blocks, a player must also decide whether he wishes to retain the played card in his ‘personal display’ or discard it.  A player may only possess four cards in his display (plus a one card bonus if the card depicts the ‘Sans Culotte’ symbol) and these cards are incredibly critical in the breaking of ties during the election process.  Generally, a player will only want to maintain cards which depict 2 or 3 blocks, as these are much more valuable in the tie-breaking process.  To further make this decision tougher, however, a player must carefully analyze the board to determine the provinces wherein he is likely to be in a tie-breaking situation, as well as the particular faction he is backing in that province.  Maintaining cards of these factions is very important. 

The decision factors don’t stop there, however.  When resolving the battles following turns 2 – 4, even if a player has the most control markers in the battle box, he cannot claim the victory if he does not have a General present in his personal display.  Some cards .. a scant 10 in the entire deck .. depict the silhouette of a General, so these cards are essential to maintain if the player has a desire to win one or more of these battles. 

During the course of a turn, the only way a player can acquire new cards is to not play a card.  Since a round can end fairly quickly, the choice on whether to grab a new card and pass on the opportunity to place faction blocks or a control marker is tricky.  Of course, the three cards which are currently available in the face-up ‘drafting’ row will greatly influence the decision on whether to play a card or select a card. 

A turn ends when the blocks of one faction expire.  In the interests of fairness, however, each player will get an equal number of turns.  Once this occurs, an election is held in each province to determine the faction which receives the most votes. 

Elections are held in a pre-set order, which is critical when making a decision whether to participate in a tie-breaking procedure or not.  Often, a player will elect to NOT attempt to break a tie in an early province, as it would be wiser to save a particular card in his personal display for a more crucial election later in the round. 

Each province is examined independently in rectifying the election process.  There are several possible outcomes: 

1) One stack of faction blocks has the most of any stack in the province.  This is a clear-cut victory for that particular faction and their marker is moved up one space on the Election Track.  The player who controlled this stack receives one of the blocks from that stack, while ALL of the remaining blocks and stacks remain in place on the board. 

2) Two or more stacks are tied for the most faction blocks.  This is a fairly common occurrence, particularly since no one stack can contain more than three faction blocks.  In this case, the players controlling the tied stacks each have, in turn order, the opportunity to break the tie in their favor by sliding forward a card from their personal display.  The card must depict blocks which match the faction they control which is involved in this tie.  For example, if Keith controls a Royalist (white) stack and is involved in a tie with Jim, who controls a Moderate (blue) stack, Keith must, if he desires to attempt to break the tie in his favor, slide forward a card from his personal display which depicts white blocks.  Jim would have to slide forward a card depicting blue blocks. 

If only one player opts to slide forward a card, he immediately wins the election.  He receives one faction block from the stack he controls and that faction’s marker is moved up one space on the Election Track.  The card he slid forward is discarded.  Unlike the case when there is an outright victory, however, ALL remaining faction blocks in that province are returned to the general stockpile.  This helps maintain an ample supply of blocks in the general stockpile from round to round.  Plus, it opens up that province again for more heated competition in subsequent rounds.  

If both players slide forward cards, the player whose card depicts the most faction block symbols wins the election, with the same consequences as listed above.  If both cards have an identical number of blocks depicted, however, then the election is deadlocked and NO faction receives the vote.  ALL faction blocks are removed from the province and returned to the general stockpile.  Both cards are discarded.  

This election resolution procedure is quite entertaining and novel.  I don’t recall another game which uses a mechanism quite like this one.  Cards played not only determine the location and quantity of markers you can place, but are subsequently used in election resolution procedures.  The multiple uses of these cards makes proper card selection, play and hand management critical skills.  The game is filled with tough, tough decisions and a multitude of choices.  More than one player commented on just how many decisions and choices are present throughout the game.  Very, very nice. 

The only exception to this election procedure is the capital city of Paris.  When resolving the election in this grand city, players do not cease sliding forward cards if there is a tie after the first tie-breaking round.  Rather, each player involved in the tie may continue to slide forward a card until the tie is broken. All cards slid forward are discarded.  If the tie is not broken, the same fate as discussed above is suffered (no votes receives, all faction blocks in the province are discarded and the players discard all of the cards they slid forward).  However, if a player does claim an election victory, he receives ALL of the faction blocks in the stack he controlled and that faction’s marker is moved up a number of spaces on the Election Track equal to the number of blocks in that stack!  Such is the power of controlling Paris! 

When elections in all of the provinces have been resolved, the faction whose marker is furthest along on the Election Track has won the overall election and forms a new government.  Victory points are awarded to the players as follows: 

1) The player who gained the most blocks of the ruling faction during the election province receives 5 victory points. 

2) The player who received the second-most blocks of the ruling faction receives 2 victory points. 

3) The player who received the most blocks of the faction which finished second in the election (the major opposition party) receives 3 victory points. 

From this victory point schedule, one can readily see the importance of backing the winning and secondary factions in the elections.  With so many provinces and so many card playing options, properly managing such a task is quite daunting, indeed. 

So, what if there is a tie in determining the faction who won the overall election?  A similar procedure as used in resolving ties in the provincial elections is utilized to break the tie.  All players, in turn order, have the opportunity to slide forward one card from their personal display.  As usual, the card slid forward must depict blocks which match one of the tied factions.  The faction receiving the most additional votes (blocks depicted on the cards) wins the election.  Of course, the cards slid forward are discarded. 

Every player who possesses a block of the new ruling faction is considered to have a presence in the new government, which is very important as it allows the playing of certain action cards.   Thus, it is usually wise to attempt to gain at least one faction block of each of the three factions in order to insure that you will have a presence in whatever faction takes control of the government. 

If there is a tie in determining the player who possesses the most blocks in the winning or opposition faction, players break the tie by sliding forward cards in a similar fashion.  If a tie ultimately cannot be broken, then the first place players each receive 3 points, while players tied for control of the opposition faction would each receive 2 points.  Ties for second place in the majority party would yield 1 point apiece for the tied players. 

Rounds 2 – 4 offer additional methods in which to earn victory points.  I’ve mentioned the battles, wherein beginning in turn 2, players can commit control tokens to the battle box in an effort to lead France to victory in battles at Valmy, Fleurus and Arcola.  A battle is resolved at the conclusion of turns 2 – 4, with the player possessing the most control markers in the battle box claiming the victory … but ONLY if he has a General in his personal display.  If more than one player tie for the most control markers and each have a General, the strongest General (as determined by the number of blocks depicted on his card) carries the day.  If there is still a tie, another subordinate General card may be slid forward by each player in an effort to break the tie.  If the tie cannot be broken, the battle is lost and a Royalist marker is placed in that battle box.  This will be an important consideration as the game progresses.  Of course, the spent General cards are discarded. 

Battles are extremely important as they will earn the victor 4, 3 and 5 victory points, respectively, in rounds 2 – 4.  However, by committing troops to these battles, a player is forgoing the opportunity to place faction blocks into the provinces.  Further, the struggle for control of the battle box is usually quite intense and the winner takes all.  There are no points for second place.  Determining whether the risk is worth it is yet another tough choice. 

In turns 3 and 4, several provinces become increasingly important.  If a player manages to win the election in one of these provinces, he earns 1 or 2 victory points, depending upon the province.  Naturally, this makes these provinces a hotbed of contention in the latter rounds amongst the players. 

I can hear the questions already … how do you catch the leader or bring down a player who got lucky with the cards?  The game provides a devastating method by the inclusion of a variety of special action cards.  These are drawn in the usual manner and can be used in addition to the playing of a regular card.  The effects are numerous, most having the result of forcing a player to discard a card from his personal display or remove faction blocks from the map.  By using such cards as Purge or Guillotine, a powerful ‘3 block’ General or Personality can be removed from a player’s display.  This can be quite effective when utilized just prior to the end of a turn and the resolution of a key province or battle.  Trust me.  I’ve been victimized by just such a tactic, costing me a key battle. 

Further, another key tactic is for the remaining players to attempt to force ties in the provinces wherein the player who is ahead on the victory point track has control of faction blocks.  Ties will force that player to utilize his powerful cards from his personal display in efforts to break these ties.  Thus, he will soon find himself depleted of these cards, thereby making it easier to overcome his advantages. 

The most powerful card in the deck is the Terror card, as it allows for the removal of an entire stack of faction blocks from a province AND the guillotining of one personality card from any player’s display.  However, the power of the card is mitigated by the fact that it can only be played when the Radicals are in power, a situation which did not occur in one of our games until the end of the final turn.  In another game, however, three Terror cards were played in one round with devastating effects.  If a player can maneuver the Radicals into power and make sure he has a presence in their government, he can wield a mighty and terrible power. 

After all elections have been resolved and victory points awarded, a new turn is begun.  Markers on the Election Track are set to zero and the Order of Play for the new turn is determined.  This is done in victory point order, with the player possessing the most victory points going first.  This does give a bit of an advantage to the players on the bottom of the victory point chart as they will have the opportunity to play last in the round, which is a desirable position. 

Players then retrieve back into their hands any cards remaining in their personal display.  Then, they may discard cards before drawing new cards to bring their hand back up to seven cards.  The rules aren’t clear on this, but we drew one card at a time in turn order until we all possessed seven cards.  Since cards may be selected from the three face-up cards or the top of the draw pile, we figured it would be fairer to have each player draw one card, then repeat this cycle until we all had completed our hands.  Otherwise, if we allowed each player to fill to seven cards before the next player had the same opportunity it would be possible for one player to get lucky and have the opportunity to draw several powerful cards in succession. 

The game continues in this fashion for four complete turns, after which the player with the most victory points is victorious.  Maybe. 

Maybe?  You see, there are two other conditions which can trigger the end of the game.  If either of these conditions occurs, the game ends and victory points are inconsequential.  

1) Royalist Counter-Revolution.  Fourteen provinces on the map are marked ‘CR’.  If at ANY time during turns 3 or 4 that the Royalist (white) faction controls seven or more of these provinces, the game ends with a Royalist Counter-Revolution.  Every battle which was lost by the players and thereby marked with a Royalist block is considered part of this seven province requirement. 

If this does occur, the winner is the player who possesses the most ‘white’ points.  This is determined by adding together the number of Royalist faction blocks you control on the map, together with the number of white blocks on the cards you possess in your personal display AND in your hand.  It matters not who currently has the most victory points!  

This is an extremely clever mechanism, one which requires constant vigilance by the players, especially those ahead on the victory point track.  It hasn’t occurred in any of our  games, but I can only imagine the wind being sucked right out of the apparent leader if the Counter-Revolution were to occur, denying him the victory.  Delicious! 

This also provides an opportunity for players who may be far behind on the victory point track to ultimately turn the game in their favor.  Undoubtedly it would require careful planning and plotting, but it no doubt could be managed. 

2) Radical Landslide.  If at the end of any election phase the Radicals gain 17 or more votes, they have won an electoral landslide.  In this event, the winner is determined in a similar manner as that used in the event of a Royalist Counter-Revolution.  The player possessing the most ‘red’ points wins.  These points are determined by adding the number of Radical faction blocks you possess, the number of Radical blocks you control on the map and the number of red blocks on the cards in your personal display AND in your hand.  

Again, this provides a method wherein players who are far behind on the victory point chart can still radically alter the course of the game and claim a victory.  Since the cards are a bit weighted in favor of the Royalists and Moderates in the early turns, but sway more to the Radical influence in the latter turns, this Radical Landslide is much more possible in turns 3 and 4.  Just one more thing players need to worry about and prepare for. 

Wow!  These sure sound like a truck-load of rules, doesn’t it?  But, in reality, it isn’t.  In fact, the rule book is a very concise 3 1/2 pages.  For the most part, it is easy to understand and follow.  It does take a turn or so for everyone to adjust to the mechanics and proper use of the cards, but once this understanding is gained, the game flows very smoothly.  After an initial playing, the rules can easily be taught and understood in about fifteen minutes. 

As you can tell, I am thoroughly enjoying this game, as have most of the players I’ve had the pleasure to play it with.  I feel very confident that my enjoyment and appreciation of this fine game will continue climb as I gain more experience and a better understanding of the strategies to be employed.  It’s a journey I’m certainly looking forward to as the game appears to have great depth and is loaded with that most important factor of all:  FUN!

Advertisements

Responses

  1. I like this one. This may have been when I first learned of Martin Wallace as a game designer. Interesting dynamics. Area control with country wide implications. Various ways to score. 8/10


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: