Thursday, October 22, 2020

Rebellion Victorious!

A few weeks ago, I posted about my foray into the world of tabletop wargaming (though, at the moment, it's a virtual tabletop, thanks to VASSAL). Having completed Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt against Caesar, my friends and I took up Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection, another game in the same series. Like all the other COIN games, this one is only partly a "war" game in that military conflict is but one facet of its play. Just as important, especially for the player(s) of the rebel faction(s), is influence. 

Since I was playing the American rebels (Patriots), I opted not to fight many pitched battles, knowing that the Royalist regulars were more numerous and effective. Instead, I opted to wage a campaign of propaganda and rabble-rousing against the Crown in order to bring as many colonies to my side as I could. I likewise made the decision to focus almost entirely on the northeastern colonies, since the southern ones were more sparsely populated and sympathetic to the Royalists. Swaying them to the Patriot cause would be costly in terms of my very limited resources – the primary weakness of the faction – and in terms of exposing my underground militias. 

The strategy paid off fairly well, though, over the course of the game there were many moments when I thought I was doomed. In fact, just prior to the last few turns, I was certain the Royalists had won, since they had done a good job of simultaneously keeping the French at bay, aiding their Iroquois allies (under Joseph Brant), and shifting opinion against the insurrection. Their mistake was in marching a large army of regulars under Howe into Massachusetts, where the Continental Army was holed up with Washington, supported by French regulars under Lauzon. Though the Royalists outnumbered the combined Patriot/French forces and Howe is an excellent commander, fortune did not favor them. A greater blow was dealt to the Royalist forces, resulting in the perception that the Patriots had "won the day," which increased support for the rebellion across the region. Given that the game's countdown clock was close to signaling the end of the game, there was nothing the Royalists could do and I won.

I have to say I was surprised. I'm frankly terrible at strategy and only marginally better at tactics. Plus, my inexperience with wargames of any sort, let alone those in the COIN series, is considerable. I suspect that, since all the COIN games are based on historical counterinsurgencies, there's probably a slight mechanical bias in favor of the rebels. That said, the Royalist player admitted afterward that he probably erred in spending too much time in the early game trying to seize control of a colony rather than waging a "hearts and minds" campaign against the rebels. Control has some value, but it's secondary to winning over the loyalty of the people. 

What made Liberty or Death most enjoyable for me was being able to look at the flow of events and understand better why individuals at the time made the choices that they did, even if – perhaps especially if – the choices ultimately proved to be the wrong ones. I think that's something wargames have the potential to do well: provide insight into historical conflicts and the decisions, good and bad, made by the leaders of those conflicts. I'm very glad to have the opportunity to play these games and look forward to more in the weeks to come. Next up: Here I Stand: Wars of the Reformation.


  1. The only wrong choice is really not making a choice. You do your best on the information that you have at the time. Anyone (and especially historians) like to second-guess the commander on the ground. But they heave the benefit of hindsight.

    Also the best wargame campaigns don't limit themselves to just the combat. It has to all tie in together if you want to achieve victory.

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