I was lucky enough to be sent a pre-release copy of Land and Freedom from the lovely people at Osprey.
This is the latest in their steady stream of rulesets that seem to be coming out every month at present. I’d expected these to be in the same format as the other Osprey rules I’ve played [In Her Majesty’s Name, Ronin and World in Flames] which are relatively slight softcover rules but this is a much chunkier 192 page hardback book, retailing at £25. It’s a very pretty book to look at with lots of illustrations, both the artwork you’d expect to see in an Osprey, but also lots of photos of figures on the tabletop.
As the title suggests it covers conflicts in North America, from the French Indian War through to the War of 1812. Most of my FIW gaming is at a very skirmish scale with rulesets such as Musket and Tomahawk and La Longue Carabine [the Sharpe Practice variant] and these rules would appear to allow the player to field units ranging from ‘tiny’, consisting of 2-6 men, up to ‘large’ units of up to 30 figures.
Throughout the rules the author stresses that there is no mandatory size of unit of composition of armies other than each side having to field a Force Commander and a minimum of 2 Group Commanders to take charge of parts of the army [which in turn have between 2 and 6 ‘elements’]. Because of this attempt to keep things flexible, the rules use quite generic terms for units/regiments/companies etc: the unit of manoeuvre is referred to throughout as an ‘Element’ which I must admit I found a little confusing at first... too much DBA in the past perhaps!
Each Element has a number of stats including its Manoeuvre rating [the number of movement actions it can take each turn ...move, change formation, reload etc], Combat rating [the number of times it can fire or melee in an activation], Discipline [how well it maintains cohesion/casualties], Morale [kind of obvious] and Action Dice which are added to firing or melee. These stats vary depending on the size of the unit . At this point in the rules I was a bit concerned as the unit descriptions seem very generic with no distinction between different armies etc...more on this later.
Units.. sorry...Elements... are activated each turn by either the Force Commander or their respective Group Commander, each of whom has a Command rating. This gives him a variable number of points each turn with which he can order Elements to do additional things such as extra actions. Boosting morale, an inspirational charge or a concentrated volley among others. Each commander has a sphere of influence dependent on his skill rating , so has to make sure his troops are within a specific radius.
Combat seems fairly straightforward with each factor adding or subtracting a d6 from a starting total and 5s or 6s needed to cause a hit. Melee follows a similar structure. These sections of the rules, like the others, are well illustrated with examples of play and there are plenty of diagrams to aid clarification.
Casualties aren’t represented by figure removal but instead cause units to take a Discipline Morale test which can force a unit to withdraw if they fail and also degrade the units Discipline level, moving it from ‘Fit’ down to ‘Shattered’ [via ‘Shaken’ and ‘Exhausted’...actually this sounds like the effects of my normal day at work!] but this can be improved by Commanders judicious use of Command points to rally the troops. This is likely to involve the use of markers or tokens which may be a turn-off for some gamers. Apparently tokens are already in production....
There is a comprehensive, and again well illustrated, section on the effects of terrain and then a section of Advanced Rules. These include ‘specialist’ unit types which are specific to different theatres or combat roles. This came as a bit of a relief after my worries about the generic feel. Here there are troops such as Dragoons, Hessians, Grenadiers, Light Infantry, Indians, Militia etc as well as special skills for some troop types such as Vanguard units, Ambushing, Woodsmen, Marksmen etc, allowing you to tailor your army to suit the period and scenario.
There are a series of general scenarios ranging from straightforward encounters to Flank Attacks and Ambushes before the rules conclude with 20 Historical Scenarios: 4 from the FIW, 7 for the AWI, 2 for the Northwest Indian War and 7 for the War of 1812.
So, what’s the verdict?? ......
Well, I haven’t played them yet, but plan to soon. The rules seem clear and well-explained once you get past the use of terms like Force Commander and Element which do feel a bit generic and don’t give a feel for the period. I like the way they reflect combat with casualties degrading the units morale and ability to fight rather than figure or stand removal [shades of Black Powder].
There are lots of explanations and illustrations which was helpful]. No index sadly which might have helped, but there’s a pretty clear contents and the layout and sequence makes sense [which is more than can be said for some rules!].
On first reading I’d been a bit concerned as it places a lot of emphasis on each unit/Element being made up of a number of stands and has a section of how these should be made up, but having read them again it’s clear that this isn’t really necessary. All my FIW troops are based singly and although this can be a bit of a pain when manoeuvring them, it wouldn’t really make a difference to using these rules. My only reservation is that they might lack some of period and theatre specific flavour that works so well in Musket and Tomahawk but could make a good alternative to other rulesets covering this period and are well worth looking out for... definitely worth looking out for if you've an interest in this period.