Libertad o Muerte! Review16 Jun 2020 1
Libertad o Muerte! Review
Released 12 Jun 2020
There are many conflicts that really deserve to be covered, discussed, and known, but are blocked out by the Big Bois of World War 1, World War 2, Napoleonic etc... So you can imagine my surprise and joy at hearing that Libertad o Muerte! (formerly known as Liberatadores) was under development, as the game promised to cover the wars of liberation in Spanish America in the early 19th century, from 1810 to around 1825, depending on scenario.
Finally would we get to fight in Venezuela with Bolivar, perform the long marches across the Andes, and liberate la Plata from the Bourbons. Well, the game has finally arrived, in all its turn-based glory.
So, certainly the setting is interesting and filled with opportunity, but is the game itself interesting? Well..
So, let’s first talk about how the game plays: you control either the Spanish crown forces or the rebels (called ‘Patriots’ in this game), moving them from province to province on a pretty large map of South America in turn-based gameplay. The end goal of the game for a scenario is to capture certain specified territories/ cities, or to have more overall 'Victory Points' by the end, which can be granted by random cards or are given out at the end of a battle… though when exactly a battle is important enough to cause this isn’t exactly laid out clearly (we’ll talk more about battles further down).
Each turn has a pretty long sequence of events, starting with the summary of the last turn’s events, and moving through a few more statistical updates before you can even take an action. A few steps in, you are issued some cards that you can play with various effects. For example, you can play a card that references the local Congress forming an army and you’ll have a few more units pop up that turn. BUT NOT YET. The game is very restrictive on when you can play cards, and it doesn’t clearly define when you can play many of them, other than the card being highlighted when it’s time to play it. Sometimes you are actually forced into playing cards in a certain phase. There almost doesn’t seem to be a point to most of the cards, when many of them could be replaced by random or scripted events.
After the card drawing phase, you receive income from your provinces and are then directed to buy units. This is mostly straightforward, but the deployment is puzzling because the units can only be placed in certain provinces but the unit doesn’t tell you which, so you have to scroll around the map until you find the highlighted provinces that you can drop your new guy in. The only indicator of area you get are area colored backgrounds to the unit cards, but they aren’t a one-to-one match of the flags, so you’ll either have to reference the PDF for the scenario or memorize.
After all that, we move on to the movement and combat phases. This is simple enough to understand, you take your unit and drag it into neighboring provinces, drawing a path for them to take. Naval units go first, but frankly, the naval aspects of the game aren’t really the focus, so there generally isn’t much to do during that phase. After you push your couple of ships around the map, you finally get to move your land units, which feels similar to most other games powered by Avalon Digital’s engine. Moving costs points, more points are expended when travelling over a river or into mountains. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s comfortable, and the pathing for units across the map is generally pretty clear and easy to follow.
So, after the 300 phases you’ve gone through, playing cards, buying units, placing units and pushing them around the map, you finally get to the important part: the combat. Combat is easy enough to understand: an army stack engages an enemy if they have been placed in the same province. After an initial artillery barrage, the sides take turns shooting at each other, one at a time, until all of the units that can fire in a round have fired.
The amount of volleys each side can fire varies between terrain types, with more rough terrain types allowing less units to fire in a round of combat. Outside of playing an occasional battle card, these battles are entirely automated, with your only option being to decide when to cut and run. These battles are heavily RNG-based; each attack is a roll of a d10. 1-2 means a hit on the enemy, 3-4 damages their morale by 1, everything else is a miss. Outside of some units who get a combat modifier to lower their roll by 1 (extremely rarely will there be a 2 modifier), that’s pretty much all there is to it. Targeting of enemy units is random, so there’s no way to focus fire on a dangerous enemy or wounded one to knock it out. On top of that, combat seems to end randomly. I’ve had my army flee when half of my troops have had their morale depleted, all of them had their morale depleted, only 1 out of 5 been killed on my side… it’s hard to plan for a battle or know what to expect.
You can’t even send a second army stack from a neighboring province into a battle, which further reduces player agency in combat. Sure, other games with this kind of scale generally don’t let players affect much in combat, but there’s not much else to do in general on the map. Other similar games, like the ones made by AGEOD, involve logistics, building infrastructure, reinforcing units, managing veteran units, and planning out pre-battle tactics. There’s none of that here, so the game just feels… empty.
After essentially gambling with your troops, the losing army pulls back, granting the territory to the remaining army. And that’s pretty much it, the game is a cycle of pushing and pulling with the enemy forces across the map, looking to either defeat an enemy army decisively to hopefully get Victory points, or to capture the necessary provinces, which you can only find after starting by looking at the PDF guide for the scenario. The lack of available information on the screen is disappointing, as the UI is pretty slick for a wargame.
There isn’t a lot to understand here and it’s pretty easy to power your way through a session: most of the scenarios listed at about a 3 hour playtime. The scenarios largely cover smaller parts of the rebellion, like Mexico’s or the rebellion in La Plata ( which covers the south-eastern part of South America and Chile), good ol’ Bolivar/Venezuela and one last one that makes you the supreme commander of all of these regions, but with a smaller amount of turns. The region specific scenarios have about 25 turns each, starting in 1810 and going on to 1823-ish, while the grand commander scenario only has 11 turns, covering 1810 to 1815. There is one last 8-hour mega scenario that makes you the master commander for the entire map for the full 1810 to 1825 timeline, but I don’t recommend that one unless you’re very passionate about this period.
I want to like Libertad O Muerte!, as it’s the only game with a focus on this area during the revolutions. I want to, but I don’t. It is a game without much depth or substance, with the only variables coming from random cards or the player deciding to move his troops into a specific province. I could see it possibly being a better time when playing hot seat or over PBEM as the AI doesn’t feel as if it has a soul.There isn’t enough character here to overcome the game’s shortcomings. I hope that it sees future updates to cut down on the fluff and adds more options for player agency, but until then, I can’t recommend it at this time.