Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Originally published in 1979 by SPI, Freedom in the Galaxy (subtitled "The Star Rebellions, 5764 AD"), it was later picked up by Avalon Hill and re-released in 1981, which is the edition I saw. If there are any changes between the two releases, I have no idea; someone more knowledgeable than I can specify them in the comments below. Its designers were Howard Barasch and John H. Butterfield, the latter of whom was known to me as the creator the starship combat system used in Universe.
If you look at the cover of the game's box, it's not hard to see why this game held such an interest to me. Freedom in the Galaxy quite clearly riffed off of themes and situations from Star Wars and its imitators. The idea of a two-player simulation of a rebellion against an evil galactic empire is actually quite compelling, even though I thought then, as I do now, that the game would have been even cooler if the game had included more factions than just the rebels and imperials. Of course, the actual coolness of Freedom in the Galaxy in play something at which I can only guess, as it had a hefty rulebook and very complex rules -- certainly not what my 12 year-old self was expecting based on the cover illustration!
And that's a shame, because, having looked at the game again in recent years, there are actually some very interesting ideas in it. For example, the rebel player's goal is to foment unrest throughout the Empire, in the process shifting the loyalty of worlds and races to his cause. If he plans his strategy properly, he can initiate a "domino effect" whereby not just one world but many will follow his flag, providing him with the military units he lacks earlier in the game. On the contrary, the imperial player needs to find ways to make shows of strength in order to keep planets in line, including well-timed atrocities (like blowing up entire planets), but not tightening his grip so tightly that star systems slip through his fingers, so to speak. Both sides thus require different approaches to succeed and there are enough random factors in the game that playing it sounds like it might be a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, an average game is supposed to take 20 hours to complete and I can believe it. As I noted above, the rulebook is complex, with combat (both ground and space), movement, resources, loyalty, missions, and other topics all demanding a great deal of attention, or at least more attention than I could ever muster. Instead, I found myself staring at its fascinating map of the empire and its provinces and the many "characters" the game includes. These characters are noteworthy rebels and imperials with special abilities that might help their side in significant ways. Think Darth Vader or Han Solo and you've got the general idea.
That was the real shame about Freedom in the Galaxy from my point of view. The game has such delightfully suggestive chrome that it pained me mightily that it was pressed into the service of such a terribly complicated military simulation that I'd never play, even if I ever did manage to wrap my mind around its rules (which I never did). Even now, I think about how wonderful it would be either to simplify Freedom in the Galaxy or to simply create my own pulpy, space operatic wargame manqué, because I honestly think either approach would be more worthwhile than trying to play this monstrosity as it was intended to be played.
Lest anyone think I'm being too harsh, I should point out that I nevertheless did derive a lot of enjoyment out of Freedom in the Galaxy. I often lifted some of its setting details for my various Traveller campaigns and I'd do it again. Heck, I seem to recall someone round these parts (Jeff Rients perhaps?) suggesting that someone ought to do to Freedom in the Galaxy what Arneson and Gygax did to Chainmail by creating a new RPG out of it. I think that's a superb idea and had I the time -- and a copy of the game, my own having disappeared years ago -- I might take up that gauntlet. Wouldn't that be awesome?