Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT, 2016)- Challenging Perspectives

Courtesy GMT Games

I am late to the COIN series of games. The COIN (Counter Insurgency) series from GMT Games usually focuses on modern insurgencies using a unique card driven mechanic. The games are somewhat “Euro-like” often with area movement and tokens or other markers vice a traditional hex-n-chit wargame. I initially passed on the COIN series because, a) they were a subject I was not very interested in, b) the game mechanics didn’t appeal to me, and c) I was unsure they were even wargames.

After moving to the East Coast of the US a few years back, I started studying the American Revolution more. So when GMT offered Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (LoD) as a P500 second printing option, I took a chance that the game subject alone could overcome my doubts as to game mechanics or “wargaminess.”

I am so glad I did.

Courtesy GoodReads

LoD is not only a subject I am interested in, but it made me (finally) challenge much of my stubbornness as to what I define as a “wargame.” What LoD offers is a unique view of the American Revolution, one that certainly looks beyond the military-only, battlefield-perspective that dominates “wargames.” As luck would have it, the first book I knocked off my 2017 reading list – and finished just days before LoD arrived – was Alan Taylor’s American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804. As the dust jacket puts it:

…Revolution builds like a ground fire field by local conditions, destructive, hard to quell. Conflict ignited on the frontier, where settlers clamored to push west into Indian lands against British restrictions, and in seaboard cities, where commercial elites mobilized riots and boycotts to resist British tax policies. When war erupted, Patriot crowds harassed Loyalists and nonpartisans into compliance with their cause. Brutal guerrilla violence flared all along the frontier from New York to the Carolinas, fed by internal divisions as well as the clash with Britain. Taylor skillfully draws France, Spain, and native powers into a comprehensive narrative of the war that delivers the major battles, generals, and common soldiers with insight and power.

LoD is the perfect compliment to American Revolutions. In LoD you have the four major factions; the British, the Patriots, the French, and the American Indians. Each has their own objectives. LoD brings life to the conflicts Taylor lays out in American Revolutions and the game greatly enhances one’s understanding of many of the issues surrounding the birth of the United States.

Part of the way LoD brings the American Revolution to life is through its game mechanics. Although I have had several card-driven games (CDG) in my collection since the late 1990’s, I have only recently become a true believer and convert to the game concepts that CDGs offer. For the longest time I looked at CDGs as being restrictive on my game play; i.e. what should I be subject to the whims of a card? I can create my own strategy!  I now appreciate how a good CDG mixes historical drivers and player flexibility. Do I play the card as an Event (often associated or derived from a historical situation) or do I play it as an Operation (player strategy choice)? Often times, the cards also deal fate in ways unexpected or that reflect uncertainty (like the semi-randomness of Winter Quarters in LoD when a campaign season – one turn – ends). The cards also inspire more learning because many reference people or events. Some are known, some are lesser recognized. All were chosen for a reason, and all have an impact (that is, if the designer did a good job).

Courtesy BoardGameGeek

What this old grognard discovered is that “wargame” requires a fluid definition. LoD is the catalyst of a revolution in my perspective of wargaming. LoD is a “wargame” of the American Revolution that captures more than a battlefield or military-only situation. This change in perspective should not be a real surprise to me; my perspective of tabletop roleplaying games has also changed over the years and I started wargaming and RPGs at the same time (proud grognard since 1979!). But it is still a nice revelation, and one that will ensure that games like LoD don’t get (imprudently) pushed off but rather explored for what they offer. I play wargames not only to simulate or replay history, but I also use wargames to explore the past. LoD offers a powerful exploration of the American Revolution and is a shining example of gaming as a teacher of history.

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