Thursday, 14 April 2011


Plays: 5Px1, 3Px1.

The Game

Liberte is a 2001 Martin Wallace game, recently republished by Valley Games. It has the French revolution as a backdrop. Players influence and support the three factions in the game, the Royalists, the Radicals and the Moderates, and try to win the game generally by being the biggest supporter of the most successful factions.

The game is played on a map of France, divided into 6 regions and each region further divided into a number of provinces. During the game you draw cards, or play cards to put blocks (representing the presence of one of the three factions) into provinces. The game is played over 4 game turns, and at the end of each game turn there's an election. The two biggest supporters of the winning faction scores points. The biggest supporter of the second most popular faction, i.e. the opposition party, also scores points. You can support any, even all factions. If you happen to be the leading supporter of both governing and opposition parties, well done!

Blocks represent the three factions, red for Radicals, blue for Moderates, white for Royalists. The round tokens are players' markers.

This is the 2001 edition of the game. The recent Valley Games reprint has different artwork.

There are other ways to score points. You can compete to lead battles. Some provinces give points during provincial elections. Other than victory points, there are two alternative game end conditions which completely ignore victory points. If the Radicals win a landslide at an election, victory is determined by your influence with the Radicals. If the Royalists control certain provinces, and this isn't even restricted to during elections, the Counter Revolution succeeds, and victory is determined by your influence with the Royalists. These alternative game end conditions are interesting and thematic.

Ties occur frequently and in many situations. They are resolved by spending cards from your personal display. Cards are added to your personal display when you play them to do something. Normally you discard the card to the discard pile. However you can choose to instead add it to your personal display, up to a maximum of 5 cards. Managing your personal display is an interesting aspect.

How faction blocks get removed from provinces make the game quite dynamic. Whenever a faction wins a provincial election, one block is removed, making this faction weaker for the next election. Also when there is a tie, all blocks get removed. So sometimes there's a bit of brinkmanship in whether you dare or want to tie the leader, knowing that regardless of whether the tie is subsequently broken, all blocks in that province will be removed.

There are some special cards in the game which let you remove blocks from the board, cards from personal displays, even whole stacks of blocks from the board. They can be very useful if played at the right moment. They add some spice to the game.

The cards. The one on the left is a general, with a fluffy bunny tail thingy on his hat. The colour of the cards determine which region it can be used, and the coloured blocks on the upper left indicates how many blocks can be placed. The card on the right is a special card.

The Play

So far I have played two games. The first game had 5 players - Afif, Atiqah, Han, Allen and I. We played quite many rules wrong, most of which we corrected at different points in the game, but there was one which we only realized after the game. Despite so, the game still played very well and we had a good feel for the game.

Atiqah did very well from the start, and at one point even managed to be biggest supporter of both the government and the opposition party. There were a lot of nasty moves to remove others' blocks and cards. With five players, competition was fierce. There weren't that many points to go around. The elections typically give out 10 points, the battles potentially 3-5 points to a single player, and in the second half 4 provinces give a total of 6 points per game turn. No wonder the score track only went up to 20.

With 5 players things are a little chaotic and it is not so easy to plan far ahead because the board situation can change a lot between your turns.

There were attempts made towards both the Royalist Counter Revolution and the Radicals Landslide. They didn't really come close to succeeding, but they did impact how we played.

Turn order was important. It changed every game turn and trailing players got to go later, which was good because you could react to what others had done. It was important when competing to be biggest supporter of the battles. Going later meant generals that played could not be targeted by special cards.

Afif, who stayed the longest at 0 points, was a big supporter of the Radicals and sprinted ahead in the second half to win the game with 18 points.

The Radicals (red) are doing very well.

The second game I played was a 3-player game, and this time we played correctly. At first I worried whether the game would be less interesting with only three (the game supports 3 to 6). It turned out that 3P played very well. Individual players had more control and could plan better. The game took longer than I had expected. Because it was now easier to analyse and plan, we (OK, maybe that should be "I") took longer to think and take actions. AP! AP! (Analysis Paralysis - we often tease one another when anyone takes too long to complete a turn)

Similar to the first game, the Moderates did very well in the first half. They won the 3rd election too. Allen and I were ahead and close in scores. However my board positioning deteriorated badly in the second half and things went downhill from there. I find that I have a tendency to do well in mid game and then die ugly deaths at game end. Maybe I should pick more games that take half the time to play compared to what I usually play.

We had a very real threat of a Royalist Counter Revolution. In the fourth and last game turn, both Han and Allen suddenly pushed for this. I panicked because I had very little Royalist influence. I quickly pointed out to Allen that he'd likely lose to Han if the Royalist Counter Revolution happened.

Han had kept two strength 3 generals to compete in the last 5-point battle. I had hoped to win that, but the two generals I had were weaker, and I only had one special card to remove one of his generals. In hindsight, knowing that I was pretty much screwed in the election, I probably should have concentrated my effort on putting control tokens in the battle box. That way I might win by simply having more tokens without needing to rely on the strength of my general to tie-break. Another thing I could have gambled on at the start of the last game turn was to discard cards and hope to draw better ones. At the start of every game turn you take all cards from your personal display into your hand, discard any number of your cards, and then draw up to 7. Since I already had more than 7, I couldn't resist keeping all of them. Bad bad hoarder habit.

Final score: Han 25 Allen 20 me 13. In both games I scored 13 points and came 3rd, but one was a 5-player game and the other was a 3-player game.

The Thoughts

This is an excellent game. You are restricted by what cards you get, but there is still a lot you can do. You have to read the intentions of your opponents. If many players support one faction, it is more likely to win the election, but it also means there are more people competing to be the biggest supporter of this faction. Similarly for the two alternative game end conditions. If you want to work towards one of them, you probably need someone else's cooperation. But then that condition needs to be attractive to him in the first place (i.e. it gives him a reasonable chance of winning), and also you need to ensure he doesn't do better than you and take the victory instead. It's a fine balance.

Long term planning is important. The game is very strategic. In the 3-player game I almost ran out of player markers at one point. That's an interesting challenge to have that we didn't see in the 5-player game.

This is a thinky game in which you are constantly analysing the board situation. It is a lot of hard work to fight over a measly number of points. The game is brutal.

The rules are not complex. The game is thematic. I am impressed by the design.


GeekInsight said...

I'm a fan of Liberte. I played the reprint recently and enjoyed it. It has a good amount of depth and decisionmaking while still supporting up to six players.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

the 2001 version has colour issues - cards colours not exactly matching board region colours. is there any component issue with the 2010 valley games version?

DiStefano said...

Hi, i have read both your review's of Liberte and Tammany Hall. However I have not played Liberte yet.

Can you compare these games?

And what are the main differences?



Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Tammany Hall feels very much like a Martin Wallace design, although it is not by him. Now that you ask for a comparison, I realise these games have many similarities. Yet I don't feel it is redundant to own both. I can't explain why. Somehow they feel unique. Liberte I think should be played with more than 3 players, so that there are more factions than players. I have only played Tammany Hall with three, and at first I thought it might be less than ideal with three, but it turned out to work quite well.

One difference that I see between the two games is in Liberte you need to be careful with the balance of power between the three factions, because these impact scoring (you want to be the biggest supporters in the more successful factions) as well as the sudden death victory conditions. In Tammany Hall, you don't have something like this among the four immigrant groups. The importance of influence among the immigrants is securing the favour chips which is ammo for the next elections.

Liberte has some hidden information in the player cards, unlike Tammany Hall which is fully open information. So you are restricted a little by the cards, and also there is some bluffing. There is also some brinkmanship in competing for the war box.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hmm... I just reread my blog post and was surprised that the 3P Liberte game was good. My memory of Liberte is blurry, so, sorry about my previous comment about Liberte probably being unsuitable for 3P.

DiStefano said...

Hello Again,

Thank you for your reply to my question. I am trying to figure out if backing Tammany Hall on kickstarter makes sense. This seems to be the only feasable option to buy a copy of the game.

However i am not yet fully convinced it will be worth the money, including shipping to europe (with the risk of import duties as well).

Regards Stefan

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Stefan, you are most welcome. One way that may help you decide is to try getting a few friends together to play a game of Tammany Hall on It's free to play.