I got a chance to play Liberty again.
At the end of the day, I like all of the games in Columbia’s line, with the possible exception of Victory. There are two, however – Pacific Victory and Liberty – that will always be plagued in my mind with serious questions about how balanced they are.
In the case of Pacific Victory, somehow it doesn’t bother me. Pacific Victory is such a fascinating little game system, that I’m happy to play it a couple times a year even though the Japanese are in an extraordinarily difficult position. There are a couple suggested fixes to the problem, but somehow I’ve never tried them. I think it’s just a matter of re-jigging the number of VPs required for victory, but I’ve never gotten enough experience to know what those values should be. But I’ve still always enjoyed Pacific Victory quite a bit, because the game is engrossing and the Japanese always feel like they might win until you look up the scores at the end.
Liberty, though, I just have no sense of how the British are ever even supposed to feel like they might win.
In the past, I’ve played a “southern” strategy as the British. The Americans are concentrated in the North early, so you use your sea movement advantage to rapidly switch forces south, clean up Charleston and vicinity, and head towards Delaware. The problem with this strategy is that there are simply so many small towns to garrison, you end up very short of troops and it’s almost impossible to take the last few cities you need with just a handful of guys. That, plus the long coastline and dispersed garrisons are very vulnerable to French landings once they show up. I’ve never had any success with this approach.
So this time, I went for the heartland of the rebellion – New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, places where a lot of victory points can be gained with a few cities. This turned out to be no easier. On turn three I lost 4 good units (including both B2s) in an assault on Ticonderoga to some hot American dice (8 hits in 9 shots in the opening round). Since I then proceeded to draw no supply cards for the next 4 years (we were playing with the optional that you could force a prisoner exchange with a Supply card), I couldn’t get those units back, and was playing short-handed. I could never get an offensive off the ground, and a victory in the game never even appeared a remote possibility.
Now, part of this was that I felt I played a bit sub-optimally. I had drawn some mistaken lessons from previous games – I think the British should probably build out their force pool to the max right away before embarking on major offensive operations since they have a big unit advantage early, something I did not do. And my best unit (the Guards, a C4) was mis-allocated and idle for the first couple years. And I had some bad luck, both with the dice and with the cards.
But still … I’ve played about 5 times now and I’ve never seen the British even close, which is unfortunate, because if I had any sense that the balance were reasonable I think I’d like this better even than Hammer of the Scots. It’s a great game system, one filled with tough and interesting choices, both strategic and tactical, but of very low complexity (for a wargame). But even my friends who are much smarter than I am haven’t been able to come close to winning with the Brits.
It’s quite possible that there are simply some techniques that we’re missing, and BoardGameGeek does seem to have quite a few high ratings from people who seem to know what they’re talking about. So I think I’ll maybe cruise around Consimworld and Columbia’s discussion forums and see what people have to say about this. Until I find some answers, though, it’s likely Liberty will continue to have a reputation for balance problems around here and be infrequently-played.